Monday, November 30, 2009

Slave Labor to Build DC

Slave labor was used to build many of the original buildings in DC, including the White House (which shouldn't be surprising given that many of our early leaders were slave owners and DC is so close to many slave states):
....the President's House, as the White House was first known, was constructed with significant help from slave labor, as well as free blacks and whites. Slaves lived in huts amid a cacophony of brick kilns and sawing operations, probably on the site of what is now Lafayette Park. One slave, George, was owned by James Claggett and leased to the federal government for five months, according to a pay stub recently put on display by the National Archives. The document, in elegant script, says that "the commissioners of the Federal District" paid Claggett "for hire of Negro George," for "working at the President's House."

The construction of the President's House began in 1792, with slaves often toiling "seven days a week during the high construction summer months alongside white workers and artisans," according to a history compiled by the White House Historical Association. An estimated 120 slaves helped dig the foundation of the White House and brought stonework to the site. Some of the stonework can still be seen in the exterior of the original, central portion of the building.

I also posted awhile ago an excerpt from A Colored Man's Reminisences of James Madison by Paul Jennings (who was a former slave) if you are interested as well.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

History of Thanksgiving

We think of the Pilgrims when we think of Thanksgiving, but as an official holiday, this day is much younger than that. This piece from the National Archives gives a short history of the national holiday as well as includes images of the documents in question. I'm posting the history here and you go go the National Archives site to see the documents if you are interested:
On October 3, 1789, President George Washington issued a proclamation naming Thursday, November 26, 1789 as an official holiday of "sincere and humble thanks." The nation then celebrated its first Thanksgiving under its new Constitution. On October 3, 1863, President Lincoln made the traditional Thanksgiving celebration a nationwide holiday to be commemorated each year on the fourth Thursday of November. In the midst of a bloody Civil War, President Lincoln issued a Presidential Proclamation in which he enumerated the blessings of the American people and called upon his countrymen to "set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of "Thanksgiving."

In 1939 President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday to the third Thursday of November to lengthen the Christmas shopping season and boost the economy still recovering from the Depression. This move, which set off a national debate, was reversed in 1941 when Congress passed and President Roosevelt approved a joint house resolution establishing, by law, the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Bush Pardons Turkeys

A look back at President George W. Bush and his legacy of pardoning turkeys. I question the legality of these numerous pardons though. Don't you have to be convicted or charged with something first before you can be pardoned?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Martin Van Buren and Slavery

Michael posted a piece on “Which US Presidnets Owned Slaves?”. I don’t know about you, but as I looked over the list one named jumped out at me as being unexpected (except Grant, who we’ve already discussed, so that wasn’t a new surprise) – Martin Van Buren. I know Van Buren as an abolitionist who ran for under the Free-Soil Party. I had never associated Van Buren with slavery even though I knew he played the political game on the subject as President. Yet it turns out that this is not the entire story [this is the specific PDF on Van Buren, but this is from the New York State Council for Social Studies and they have entire section on New York and slavery that is very interesting], as Van Buren and his family personally owned slaves.

Van Buren’s father owned six slaves in Kinderhook, New York. Van Buren himself owned a slave named “Tom.” Tom escaped and was caught ten years later. When he was caught, Van Buren simply sold him to the captor for $50.

Later Van Buren would call slavery “an evil of the first magnitude,” but while running for President, he said he wouldn’t interfere with local politics – meaning slavery – and would protect slave-owners’ property rights.

It was after his defeat in 1840 that Van Buren became a “Free Soiler” and this was because he believed that white labor couldn’t compete with enslaved black labor, which I found very interesting as it paints a much different picture than simply being slavery was wrong because you shouldn't own other human beings.

This piece certainly paints an interesting picture of Van Buren as someone who obviously played many sides of this controversial field during his life.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sesame Street

If you remember my earlier post on Michelle Obama being on Sesame Street I talked about possibly finding footage of the earlier First Ladies who were on this well-known children’s show. Well, I managed to find two out of three and so am posting them here as well as some other Sesame Street related information.

The first First Lady to appear on Sesame Street was Barbara Bush, so I’m going to start with the footage from her appearance.

I wasn’t able to find footage of Hillary Clinton on Sesame Street (if anyone knows where I can find it, I would be willing to post it), but I did find a TV Guide cover of Mrs. Clinton and Big Bird to share.

I was also able to find Laura Bush on Sesame Street – she appropriately reads a book to the characters.

I also found an article that calls Obama the first Sesame Street president – meaning that he is the first President who grew up watching this program and learning from it. The article goes on to compare Sesame Street and the Obama Presidency:
The Obama presidency is a wholly American fusion of optimism, enterprise and earnestness — rather like the far-fetched proposal of 40 years ago to create a TV show that would prove that educational television need not be an oxymoron.

This article also includes information on how Michelle Obama felt about appearing on Sesame Street:
When Michelle Obama visited the set in Queens, N.Y., to talk about "healthy habits" a few weeks ago, she was practically fizzing. "I'm on a high," she said. "I never thought I'd be on Sesame Street with Elmo and Big Bird." Let it be noted that this visit came after she'd met the Queen of England at Buckingham Palace and welcomed Stevie Wonder to the White House and enjoyed all kinds of other not-too-bad perks of being First Lady. "I think it's probably the best thing I've done so far in the White House."

I have one more YouTube video for you – President Obama at the Annual Sesame Street Workshop Benefit Gala – his video is brought to you by the number 40!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Marie Curie and two American Presidents

I admit it – when I was looking up the information for my last series of posts, I got distracted looking at other winners in all the fields (I had to find my personal favorite....actually not a US President, so if you are really curious, you'll have to check out my personal blog), but I found a fun little connection to share, so hey, I can call it productive time!

Marie Curie shared the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics for her work on spontaneous radiation She shared this award with her husband and Antoine Henri Becquerel. Madame Curie actually also won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1911 for her work in radioactivity.

Madame Curie is best known for her work with radium, but she refused to patent it or its application and its price skyrocketed and she was unable to obtain the supplies she needed for her experiments. So an American woman, Mrs. W.B. Meloney, launched a campaign to raise money to by the radium for her. To receive the radium, Madame Curie and her daughters came to the US. On May 20, 1921, President Harding presented her with one gram of radium (worth $100,000) at the White House (well, they didn’t bring the radium to the White House, but it was well represented).

Madame Curie came back to the US in 1929 to receive another gift of radium from the US and this time was presented with a check for $50,000 (the price had dropped by half in 8 years) from President Hoover to buy the radium. This visit was overshadowed by the stock market crash two days earlier, but Hoover did still take the time to meet with Madame Curie.

Here are his remarks upon the presentation:
I am sure that I represent the whole American people when I express our gratification to Madame Curie that she should have honored our country by coming here. We give to her the welcome of a people who are grateful for the beneficent service she has given to all mankind.
It is not necessary for me to recount the great fundamental discovery associated with the names of her late husband and herself. The discovery of radium was an outstanding triumph of research in the realm of pure science. It was indeed a great and successful exploration into the unknown from which a new truth has brought to the world a practical revolution in our conceptions of substance. It has advanced all thought on the constitution of matter. And like all great discoveries of fundamental substance and fact it has found application to human use. In the treatment of disease, especially of cancer, it has brought relief of human suffering to hundreds of thousands of men and women.

As an indication of the appreciation and the respect which our people feel for Madame Curie, generous-minded men and women under the leadership of Mrs. William B. Meloney have provided the funds with which a gram of radium is to be purchased and presented to the hospital and research institute which bears her name in Warsaw. The construction of this hospital was a magnificent tribute by the city of her birth and the Polish people, in which the American people are glad to have even this opportunity of modest participation. The whole of this occasion where we pay tribute to a great scientist is again a recognition of the fundamental importance of scientific research and a mark of public appreciation of those who have given their lives to human service through its profession.

Madame Curie’s remarks are also recorded [I’m including these because I rather liked her mention of President Hoover’s humanitarian work]:
Mr. President, Dr. Welch [of John Hopkins], ladies and gentlemen:
I am conscious of my indebtedness to my friends in America, who for the second time, with great kindness and understanding, have gratified one of my dear wishes. My work is very much my life, and I have been made happy by your generous support of it.

I feel deeply the importance of what has been said by the President of the United States about the value of pure science; this has been the creed of my life. Scientific research has its great beauty and its reward in itself; and so I have found happiness in my work.

It has been, however, an additional as well as an unexpected happiness to know that my work could be used for relief in human suffering.

I do not believe that I deserve all the praise that has been given me, but I highly value the friendly feeling expressed by the President and by Dr. Welch.

Mr. President, in my native land your name is revered for having saved, by your humanitarian work, a large part of the young generation. Your kind work of today will add to the gratitude of the Polish people toward you.

In accepting this precious gift, which will hasten the opening of the radium institute in Warsaw, I offer you and my American friends my most profound thanks. My laboratory in Paris will keep in close relation to the Warsaw institute, and I will like to remember the American gifts of radium to me as a symbol of enduring friendship binding your country to France and to Poland.

I hope you've all enjoyed all little sojourn through Presidential Nobel Prize history and we will be sure to share President Obama's Nobel Lecture when he gives it this winter.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Jimmy's Nobel Peace Prize

The most recent presidential Nobel Prize winner is Jimmy Carter, who won it in 2002, well after his presidency. Carter was awarded this honor for his decades of work for international peace:
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2002 to Jimmy Carter, for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.

During his presidency (1977-1981), Carter's mediation was a vital contribution to the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt, in itself a great enough achievement to qualify for the Nobel Peace Prize. At a time when the cold war between East and West was still predominant, he placed renewed emphasis on the place of human rights in international politics.

Through his Carter Center, which celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2002, Carter has since his presidency undertaken very extensive and persevering conflict resolution on several continents. He has shown outstanding commitment to human rights, and has served as an observer at countless elections all over the world. He has worked hard on many fronts to fight tropical diseases and to bring about growth and progress in developing countries. Carter has thus been active in several of the problem areas that have figured prominently in the over one hundred years of Peace Prize history.

In a situation currently marked by threats of the use of power, Carter has stood by the principles that conflicts must as far as possible be resolved through mediation and international co-operation based on international law, respect for human rights, and economic development.

Here is Carter’s Nobel lecture – you’ll note he mentions Woodrow Wilson’s award:
Your Majesties, Members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is with a deep sense of gratitude that I accept this prize. I am grateful to my wife Rosalynn, to my colleagues at The Carter Center, and to many others who continue to seek an end to violence and suffering throughout the world. The scope and character of our Center's activities are perhaps unique, but in many other ways they are typical of the work being done by many hundreds of nongovernmental organizations that strive for human rights and peace.

Most Nobel Laureates have carried out our work in safety, but there are others who have acted with great personal courage. None has provided more vivid reminders of the dangers of peacemaking than two of my friends,
Anwar Sadat and Yitzak Rabin, who gave their lives for the cause of peace in the Middle East.

Like these two heroes, my first chosen career was in the military, as a submarine officer. My shipmates and I realized that we had to be ready to fight if combat was forced upon us, and we were prepared to give our lives to defend our nation and its principles. At the same time, we always prayed fervently that our readiness would ensure that there would be no war.

Later, as President and as Commander-in-Chief of our armed forces, I was one of those who bore the sobering responsibility of maintaining global stability during the height of the Cold War, as the world's two superpowers confronted each other. Both sides understood that an unresolved political altercation or a serious misjudgment could lead to a nuclear holocaust. In Washington and in Moscow, we knew that we would have less than a half hour to respond after we learned that intercontinental missiles had been launched against us. There had to be a constant and delicate balancing of our great military strength with aggressive diplomacy, always seeking to build friendships with other nations, large and small, that shared a common cause.

In those days, the nuclear and conventional armaments of the United States and the Soviet Union were almost equal, but democracy ultimately prevailed because of commitments to freedom and human rights, not only by people in my country and those of our allies, but in the former Soviet empire as well. As president, I extended my public support and encouragement to
Andrei Sakharov, who, although denied the right to attend the ceremony, was honored here for his personal commitments to these same ideals.

The world has changed greatly since I left the White House. Now there is only one superpower, with unprecedented military and economic strength. The coming budget for American armaments will be greater than those of the next fifteen nations combined, and there are troops from the United States in many countries throughout the world. Our gross national economy exceeds that of the three countries that follow us, and our nation's voice most often prevails as decisions are made concerning trade, humanitarian assistance, and the allocation of global wealth. This dominant status is unlikely to change in our lifetimes.

Great American power and responsibility are not unprecedented, and have been used with restraint and great benefit in the past. We have not assumed that super strength guarantees super wisdom, and we have consistently reached out to the international community to ensure that our own power and influence are tempered by the best common judgment.

Within our country, ultimate decisions are made through democratic means, which tend to moderate radical or ill-advised proposals. Constrained and inspired by historic constitutional principles, our nation has endeavored for more than two hundred years to follow the now almost universal ideals of freedom, human rights, and justice for all.

Our president,
Woodrow Wilson, was honored here for promoting the League of Nations, whose two basic concepts were profoundly important: "collective security" and "self-determination." Now they are embedded in international law. Violations of these premises during the last half-century have been tragic failures, as was vividly demonstrated when the Soviet Union attempted to conquer Afghanistan and when Iraq invaded Kuwait.

After the second world war, American Secretary of State
Cordell Hull received this prize for his role in founding the United Nations. His successor, General George C. Marshall, was recognized because of his efforts to help rebuild Europe, without excluding the vanquished nations of Italy and Germany. This was a historic example of respecting human rights as the international level.

Ladies and gentlemen:
Twelve years ago, President Mikhail Gorbachev received your recognition for his preeminent role in ending the Cold War that had lasted fifty years.

But instead of entering a millennium of peace, the world is now, in many ways, a more dangerous place. The greater ease of travel and communication has not been matched by equal understanding and mutual respect. There is a plethora of civil wars, unrestrained by rules of the Geneva Convention, within which an overwhelming portion of the casualties are unarmed civilians who have no ability to defend themselves. And recent appalling acts of terrorism have reminded us that no nations, even superpowers, are invulnerable.

It is clear that global challenges must be met with an emphasis on peace, in harmony with others, with strong alliances and international consensus. Imperfect as it may be, there is no doubt that this can best be done through the United Nations, which
Ralph Bunche described here in this same forum as exhibiting a "fortunate flexibility" - not merely to preserve peace but also to make change, even radical change, without violence.

He went on to say: "To suggest that war can prevent war is a base play on words and a despicable form of warmongering. The objective of any who sincerely believe in peace clearly must be to exhaust every honorable recourse in the effort to save the peace. The world has had ample evidence that war begets only conditions that beget further war."

We must remember that today there are at least eight nuclear powers on earth, and three of them are threatening to their neighbors in areas of great international tension. For powerful countries to adopt a principle of preventive war may well set an example that can have catastrophic consequences.

If we accept the premise that the United Nations is the best avenue for the maintenance of peace, then the carefully considered decisions of the United Nations Security Council must be enforced. All too often, the alternative has proven to be uncontrollable violence and expanding spheres of hostility.

For more than half a century, following the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, the Middle East conflict has been a source of worldwide tension. At Camp David in 1978 and in Oslo in 1993, Israelis, Egyptians, and Palestinians have endorsed the only reasonable prescription for peace: United Nations Resolution 242. It condemns the acquisition of territory by force, calls for withdrawal of Israel from the occupied territories, and provides for Israelis to live securely and in harmony with their neighbors. There is no other mandate whose implementation could more profoundly improve international relationships.

Perhaps of more immediate concern is the necessity for Iraq to comply fully with the unanimous decision of the Security Council that it eliminate all weapons of mass destruction and permit unimpeded access by inspectors to confirm that this commitment has been honored. The world
insists that this be done.

I thought often during my years in the White House of an admonition that we received in our small school in Plains, Georgia, from a beloved teacher, Miss Julia Coleman. She often said: "We must adjust to changing times and still hold to unchanging principles."

When I was a young boy, this same teacher also introduced me to Leo Tolstoy's novel, "War and Peace." She interpreted that powerful narrative as a reminder that the simple human attributes of goodness and truth can overcome great power. She also taught us that an individual is not swept along on a tide of inevitability but can influence even the greatest human events.

These premises have been proven by the lives of many heroes, some of whose names were little known outside their own regions until they became Nobel laureates:
Albert John Lutuli, Norman Borlaug, Desmond Tutu, Elie Wiesel, Aung San Suu Kyi, Jody Williams and even Albert Schweitzer and Mother Teresa. All of these and others have proven that even without government power - and often in opposition to it - individuals can enhance human rights and wage peace, actively and effectively.

The Nobel prize also profoundly magnified the inspiring global influence of
Martin Luther King, Jr., the greatest leader that my native state has ever produced. On a personal note, it is unlikely that my political career beyond Georgia would have been possible without the changes brought about by the civil rights movement in the American south and throughout our nation.

On the steps of our memorial to Abraham Lincoln, Dr. King said: "I have a dream that on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood."

The scourge of racism has not been vanquished, either in the red hills of our state or around the world. And yet we see ever more frequent manifestations of his dream of racial healing. In a symbolic but very genuine way, at least involving two Georgians, it is coming true in Oslo today.

I am not here as a public official, but as a citizen of a troubled world who finds hope in a growing consensus that the generally accepted goals of society are peace, freedom, human rights, environmental quality, the alleviation of suffering, and the rule of law.

During the past decades, the international community, usually under the auspices of the United Nations, has struggled to negotiate global standards that can help us achieve these essential goals. They include: the abolition of land mines and chemical weapons; an end to the testing, proliferation, and further deployment of nuclear warheads; constraints on global warming; prohibition of the death penalty, at least for children; and an international criminal court to deter and to punish war crimes and genocide. Those agreements already adopted must be fully implemented, and others should be pursued aggressively.

We must also strive to correct the injustice of economic sanctions that seek to penalize abusive leaders but all too often inflict punishment on those who are already suffering from the abuse.

The unchanging principles of life predate modern times. I worship Jesus Christ, whom we Christians consider to be the Prince of Peace. As a Jew, he taught us to cross religious boundaries, in service and in love. He repeatedly reached out and embraced Roman conquerors, other Gentiles, and even the more despised Samaritans.

Despite theological differences, all great religions share common commitments that define our ideal secular relationships. I am convinced that Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, and others can embrace each other in a common effort to alleviate human suffering and to espouse peace.

But the present era is a challenging and disturbing time for those whose lives are shaped by religious faith based on kindness toward each other. We have been reminded that cruel and inhuman acts can be derived from distorted theological beliefs, as suicide bombers take the lives of innocent human beings, draped falsely in the cloak of God's will. With horrible brutality, neighbors have massacred neighbors in Europe, Asia, and Africa.

In order for us human beings to commit ourselves personally to the inhumanity of war, we find it necessary first to dehumanize our opponents, which is in itself a violation of the beliefs of all religions. Once we characterize our adversaries as beyond the scope of God's mercy and grace, their lives lose all value. We deny personal responsibility when we plant landmines and, days or years later, a stranger to us - often a child – is crippled or killed. From a great distance, we launch bombs or missiles with almost total impunity, and never want to know the number or identity of the victims.

At the beginning of this new millennium I was asked to discuss, here in Oslo, the greatest challenge that the world faces. Among all the possible choices, I decided that the most serious and universal problem is the growing chasm between the richest and poorest people on earth. Citizens of the ten wealthiest countries are now seventy-five times richer than those who live in the ten poorest ones, and the separation is increasing every year, not only between nations but also within them. The results of this disparity are root causes of most of the world's unresolved problems, including starvation, illiteracy, environmental degradation, violent conflict, and unnecessary illnesses that range from Guinea worm to HIV/AIDS.

Most work of The Carter Center is in remote villages in the poorest nations of Africa, and there I have witnessed the capacity of destitute people to persevere under heartbreaking conditions. I have come to admire their judgment and wisdom, their courage and faith, and their awesome accomplishments when given a chance to use their innate abilities.

But tragically, in the industrialized world there is a terrible absence of understanding or concern about those who are enduring lives of despair and hopelessness. We have not yet made the commitment to share with others an appreciable part of our excessive wealth. This is a potentially rewarding burden that we should all be willing to assume.

Ladies and gentlemen:

War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always an evil, never a good. We will not learn how to live together in peace by killing each other's children.

The bond of our common humanity is stronger than the divisiveness of our fears and prejudices. God gives us the capacity for choice. We can choose to alleviate suffering. We can choose to work together for peace. We can make these changes - and we must.

Thank you.

Since we talked about what Roosevelt and Wilson did with their prize money, I wanted to include what Carter did (this article was speculating on what Obama will do with his and talks about various winners and what they did, including Wilson and Roosevelt) with his:
Jimmy Carter, who received the prize in 2002, redirected most of the award to his Carter Center in Atlanta and a portion to the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving at Georgia Southwestern University.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed our small Nobel series leading up to President Obama accepting the award this winter. Tomorrow I have a fun little Nobel sideline for you all that I found writing while these posts.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Which former American President would you most like to have a beer with?

The poll has closed for the question, "Which former American President would you most like to have a beer with?" Thanks to all who particpated by voting.

Bill Clinton came in first with 44%. George W. Bush was second with 24%. Jimmy Carter was third with 20%. Finishing last was George H.W. Bush with 10%.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Parent's Love...

Halloween night Mr. EHT and I received a phone call that every parent dreads…one from a stranger identifying himself as an EMT.

My mind worked furiously to comprehend what he was saying, but all I wanted to say was, “Surely sir, you have the wrong number.” He just kept rattling off information ---he was with my daughter, there had been an accident, he and his wife ( a nurse) had been driving by, he assured me they would stay by Dear Daughter’s side until she was in the ambulance.


I finally got the words out…..”Is she….is she ok?”

The voice on the other end of the phone said, “Yes, she’s complaining

(hmmmm…….complaining….that’s good, I thought) of back and neck pain, and they have her on a backboard to stabilize her until they can see what is causing her pain.

After arriving at the hospital, Mr. EHT and I discovered barring any findings from the x-rays, Dear Daughter was just very scared and hurting from the slam of the airbag deploying and the strain against the seatbelt.

Dear Daughter’s Youth Minister had at arrived at the hospital about the same time her father and I had walked in. We left him in a near empty waiting room to see our daughter. Fifteen minutes later I returned to the waiting room to advise Pastor Danny how Dear Daughter was doing and to see if he wanted to go back to see her.

I was taken aback. The empty room, in that very short span of fifteen minutes had filled up with various members of our church and several teens. The room was full. We were overwhelmed with the support we had. Most stayed until Dear Daughter went home later that night.

Friends and family…..they certainly come in handy in the time of a crisis, don’t they?

Since that night I’ve continued to think about the support that was freely given to my family and as I tend to do I began to put a historical spin on the whole episode. My thoughts zeroed in on Thomas Jefferson and his daughters. He certainly knew what it was like to depend on friends and family during moments of crisis and upheaval.

Thomas Jefferson married Martha Wayles Skelton in 1772 when he was 29 and she was 23. For the majority of her life Jefferson’s wife was described as a fragile beauty. Some sources state that diabetes could have been the cause of her frailty. Of the six children she gave birth to only two children, Martha Jefferson Randolph (Patsy) and Mary Jefferson Eppes (Maria or Polly), lived past the age of three.

Mary Jefferson Eppes was born on in 1778. Burstein advises in his book, The Inner Jefferson: The Portrait of a Grieving Optimist, that Jefferson was spending much of his time during Mary’s birth and the months following at Monticello planning fruit trees and overseeing the making of bricks to finish constructing the grand home. Mary took after her mother possessing frail health coupled with great beauty, yet….as she grew older she didn’t want to be known as a great beauty. She preferred being known as an educated woman. She most certainly was her father’s daughter.

This Library of Congress site advises Thomas Jefferson was devastated by the death of his wife Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson who died after giving birth to their sixth child, Lucy Elizabeth (1782-1784). Jefferson wrote little about his wife's death, making this entry into his account book on September 6, 1782: "My dear wife died this day at 11H -45' A.M." More than two months later he haltingly wrote to a French officer and friend, Marquis de Chastellux (1734-1788), that he was... "emerging from the stupor of mind which had rendered me as dead to the world as [she] was whose . . . loss occasioned it." A copy of the letter can be seen here.

This Library of Congress site continues…After the death of his wife, Jefferson carefully planned the education and training of his daughters, Martha (1772-1836), Maria [Mary] (1778-1804), and Lucy (1782-1784). In this letter, he laid out a plan of study for his daughter Martha, so that she would be able to fulfill the social role of plantation mistress. Learning the social graces of music, dancing, letter writing, as well as knowledge of literature and language ability were skills that he considered essential.

Soon after her mother’s death Mary and her younger sister Lucy were sent to live with their aunt, Elizabeth Wayles Eppes at Eppington, a plantation along the James River, while their father became the U.S. minister to France. While at Eppington, in 1785, little Lucy became sick and also tragically died.

After Lucy’s death, Jefferson decided that Mary…not quite nine…should reside in Paris along with him and Patsy.

But Mary, had become very attached to her mother’s family at Eppington and told her father she didn’t want to go to leave. The Monticello website advises Mary stated she wanted to stay with Aunt Eppes.

Jefferson was not only meticulous with his daughters’ schooling he was also meticulous with their safety. Prior to Mary’s crossing he researched various ships and determined the safest age for a ship traveling to France per Burstein in The Inner Jefferson before he booked her passage. Passage was also booked for Sally Hemings to accompany Mary to Paris. Sally’s brother, James, was already serving the Jefferson family in Paris.

In his book, Understanding Thomas Jefferson, EM Halliday explains that Mary became very fond of Captain Andrew Ramsay , the ship’s captain and was very sad to leave the ship. Apparently Captain Ramsay became fond of the very inquisitive and lovely child as well and sent Jefferson a note regarding his fondness for Mary.

In June, 1787, Mary arrived in England where she resided with John and Abigail Adams for a time. Abigail Adams wrote Jefferson at once informing him that his daughter had charmed everyone in the Adams household, and she was very fond of Mary. When it came time for Mary to leave the Adams household she became very indignant when Jefferson did not break free from his duties and sent a representative to fetch her to Paris.

While in Paris….Jefferson stayed busy socializing with the French elite and worked on trade agreements between the United States and Prussia. He immediately enrolled Mary in the very exclusive Abbaye Royale de Panthemont, a convent school, however, when Patsy expressed her desire to take her vows as a nun Jefferson, a Protestant, quickly pulled his daughters from the school.

Jefferson and his daughters returned to the United States in 1789, and Mary resided with her father for a time in Philadelphia while Jefferson served as Secretary of State. Ten years later Mary married her cousin, John Wayles Eppes in a ceremony at Monticello. As a wedding present she received a 14-year-old slave named Betsy Hemings .

Mary and John’s first child born in 1800 only lived a few days. The second child, born in 1801, was nursed by Betsy Hemngs and survived infancy. Unfortunately it was following the birth of their third child in February, 1804, Mary’s health took a devastating turn.

When President Jefferson heard of Mary’s condition he rushed to her side following the adjournment of Congress on March 27, 1804. Patsy and President Jefferson moved Mary to Monticello where she could be cared for, but tragically she passed away on April 17th. Mary was only 25 years old.

At this point you have to wonder just how much tragedy could one man bear?

Losing his young wife after only ten years of marriage, losing children at such young ages, and then Mary…..

The Monticello website advises following Mary’s passing President Jefferson wrote to a friend he had “lost even the half of what he had left.”

It is said that Mary’s death helped to end the long silence between the Adams and Jefferson families following a rift involving political differences and the tumultuous Election of 1800. (See my post from 2006 here for clarification) Abigail Adams letters to Jefferson from 1804 clearly show how bad the feud really was.

In fact, Burstein states in The Inner Jefferson that Abigail Adams was the first to make a move to mend the rift by sending a letter of condolence to Jefferson upon hearing of Mary’s passing. President Jefferson responded and invoked the word “friendship” six times in the two-page reply.

Abigail Adams wrote in May, 1804:

Had you been no other than the private inhabitant of Monticello, I should, ere this time, have addressed you with that sympathy which a recent event has awakened in bosom; but reasons of various kinds withheld my pen, until the powerful feelings of my heart burst through the restraint, and called upon me to shed the tear of sorrow over the departed remains of your beloved and deserving daughter. An event which I most sincerely mourn. The attachment which I formed for her, when you committed her to my care upon her arrival in a foreign land, under circumstances peculiarly interesting, has remained with me to this hour; and the account of her death, which I read in a late paper, recalled to my recollection the tender scene of her separation from , when with the strongest sensibility, she clung around my neck and wet my bosom with her tears, saying, “Oh! now I have learned to love you, why will they take me from you.”
It has been some time since I conceived that any event in this life could call forth feelings of mutual sympathy. But I know how closely entwined around a parent’s heart are those cords which bind the parental to the filial bosom; and when snapped asunder, how [agonizing] the pangs. I have tasted of the bitter cup and bow with reverence and submission before the great Dispenser of it, without whose permission and overruling Providence, not a sparrow falls to the ground. That you may derive comfort and consolation in this day of your sorrow and affliction from that only source calculated to heal the wounded heart, a firm belief in the being, perfections and attributes of God, is the sincere
and ardent wish of her, who once took pleasure in subscribing herself your friend
Abigail Adams

President Jefferson and Abigail Adams exchanged a few letters over the next few months. provides a different take on the end of the rift discussing the involvement of Dr. Benjamin Rush stating that he was instrumental in getting the flow of letters to commence between John Adams and Jefferson, but one cannot doubt that Abigail Adams’ letter of condolence went a long way in drawing the period of silence to a close.

Later when Jefferson heard Abigail Adams had passed away he wrote to Adams:

Tried myself, in the school of affliction, by the loss of every form of connection which can rive the human heart, I know well, and feel what you have lost, what you have suffered, are suffering, and have yet to endure. The same trials have taught me that, for ills so immeasurable, time and silence are the only medecines. I will not, therefore, by useless condolances, open afresh the sluices of your grief nor, altho' mingling sincerely my tears with yours, will I say a word more, where words are vain, but that it is of some comfort to us both that the term is not very distant at which we are to deposit, in the same cerement, our sorrows and suffering bodies, and to ascend in essence to an ecstatic meeting with the friends we have loved and lost and whom we shall still love and never lose again. God bless you and support you under your heavy affliction.

Jennie W wrote about Patsy and Polly (Mary) earlier here at American Presidents Blog

Source for the letters of Abigail Adams: Letters of Mrs. Adams, The Wife of John Adams With an Introductory Memoir by Her Grandson, Charles Francis Adams, Volume II, 1840

The image seen at the beginning of the post is an actual letter to Thomas Jefferson written by his daughter Mary.

Woodrow’s Nobel Peace Prize

After Teddy Roosevelt, the next US President to win a Nobel Peace Prize was Woodrow Wilson in 1919. Wilson received his Nobel Peace Prize for his work ending the First World War and creating the League of Nations:
On this day in 1920, the Nobel Prize for Peace is awarded to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson for his work in ending the First World War and creating the League of Nations. Although Wilson could not attend the award ceremony in Oslo, Norway, the U.S. Ambassador to Norway, Albert Schmedeman, delivered a telegram from Wilson to the Nobel Committee.

Wilson’s involvement in devising a plan to prevent future international conflict began in January 1918 when he laid out his "Fourteen Points." The plan addressed specific territorial issues in Europe, equal trade conditions, arms reduction and national sovereignty for former colonies of Europe’s weakening empires, but the primary thrust of his policy was to create an international organization that would arbitrate peaceful solutions to conflicts between nations. Wilson’s Fourteen Points not only laid the foundation for the peace agreement signed by France, Britain and Germany at the end of World War I, but also formed the basis for American foreign policy in the 20th and early 21st centuries. Although the League of Nations never materialized, largely due to the fact that it was never ratified by the U.S. Congress, it formed the blueprint for the United Nations, which was established after the Second World War.

When Wilson learned of his win, he was a lame-duck president battling the residual effects of a paralyzing stroke he suffered in October 1919; he was therefore unable to accept his award in person. (The stroke occurred in the midst of an arduous cross-country tour to ask the American electorate to pressure a reluctant Congress to ratify the Versailles peace treaty and the League of Nations.) In his telegram to the Nobel Committee, Wilson said he was grateful and "moved" by the recognition of his work for the cause of peace but emphasized the need for further efforts to "rid [mankind] of the unspeakable horror of war." Wilson did not live to see the United Nations take shape in place of his League of Nations. He died at age 68 in February 1924.

Wilson was not able to go to Norway to accept the award as by that time he had already suffered his debilitating stroke so the US Ambassador to Norway, Albert Schmedeman, accepted it for him and read his written message at the ceremony:
Mr. President, I have the honor to inform you that I am the bearer of a telegram from Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States, in which he requests me to express his thanks and appreciation for the honor which has been conferred upon him by the Nobel Peace Committee of the Storting in awarding him the prize for the year 1919. Therefore, I have the honor, Mr. President, to request that permission will be granted me to read the message and make a few remarks to the honorable body.

I have been instructed by President Wilson to convey the following message of appreciation to President [Chairman] Løvland and the members of the Nobel Peace Committee of the Storting:

"In accepting the honor of your award I am moved not only by a profound gratitude for the recognition of my [sincere and] earnest efforts in the cause of peace, but also by a very poignant humility before the vastness of the work still called for by this cause.

May I not take this occasion to express my respect for the far-sighted wisdom of the founder in arranging for a continuing system of awards? If there were but one such prize, or if this were to be the last, I could not of course accept it. For mankind has not yet been rid of the unspeakable horror of war. I am convinced that our generation has, despite its wounds, made notable progress. But it is the better part of wisdom to consider our work as one
1 begun. It will be a continuing labor. In the indefinite course of [the] years before us there will be abundant opportunity for others to distinguish themselves in the crusade against hate and fear and war.

There is indeed a peculiar fitness in the grouping of these Nobel rewards. The cause of peace and the cause of truth are of one family. Even as those who love science and devote their lives to physics or chemistry, even as those who would create new and higher ideals for mankind in literature, even so with those who love peace, there is no limit set. Whatever has been accomplished in the past is petty compared to the glory and promise of the future.
Woodrow Wilson"

Since he wasn’t there, Wilson didn’t write a Nobel lecture, he simply had Ambassador Schmedeman read a few short remarks:
I regret that I am unable to address this honorable body in the Norwegian language; even if I were, there are no words which can fully express my appreciation for the high honor conferred upon my country by the award of the Nobel Peace Prize for the year 1919 by the Nobel Committee of the Storting to one of America's greatest statesmen, Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States of America. This honor which has been bestowed on President Wilson is one of significance and of utmost satisfaction to me - an occasion which will always remain in my memory. To have the privilege of accepting, on behalf of the President of the United States, this evidence of appreciation of his efforts to replace discord with harmony by appealing to the highest moral forces of each nation, is an event to be cherished.

It is unnecessary for me to dwell upon any of those achievements of President Wilson which justify the bestowal of this honor upon him; his comprehensive understanding of international affairs and his discerning and convincing methods of procedure in matters affecting the welfare and success of entire peoples, which, due to his earnest and forceful endeavors, resulted in the formation of the League of Nations, are well known to us all. He, perhaps as much as any public man, is conscious of the fact that the time is past when each nation can live only unto itself, and his labors have been inspired with the idea and hope of making peace universal a living reality. It is impossible to make a proper estimate of Woodrow Wilson and his great work for international peace until time has revealed much that must, for the present, be a sealed book.

Let me assure you, members of the Norwegian Storting, that words fail to convey the deep emotion which stirs within me at this time, when it falls within my province to receive this testimonial on behalf of the President of the United States of America. No more fitting word of appreciation could be voiced than that contained in the President's message, in which he acknowledges the great honor that has been conferred upon him by the Nobel Peace Committee of the Storting.

Michael wrote an earlier post on an article that compared President Obama and President Wilson’s Nobel Peace Prizes as both rewarding failure.

An interesting tidbit comparison between Wilson and Roosevelt that I noticed was what they did with the prize money. TR gave his away, but Wilson actually seemed to need it. Phyllis Lee Levin wrote this in her Edith and Woodrow about the prize money:
Unlike Roosevelt, who had a fortune of his own, augmented by income from writings, and unlike Taft, who had regular profitable sources of funds, Wilson was largely dependent on his salary….The accompanying monetary award [from the Nobel] of over 133,000 Swedish crowns, amounting to $40,000, had augmented the president’s savings. (Levin, 459)

Come back to see my post on Jimmy Carter’s Nobel Peace Prize.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Teddy’s Nobel Peace Prize

I’m going in order, which means I need to start with Teddy Roosevelt’s 1906 Nobel Peace Prize. Roosevelt was awarded the peace prize for his negotiations to end the Russo-Japanese War, which he was asked to help with by the Japanese:
The Japanese asked U.S. President Roosevelt to negotiate a peace agreement, and representatives of the two nations met in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1905. For the sake of maintaining the balance of power and equal economic opportunity in the region, Roosevelt preferred that the war end on terms that left both Russia and Japan a role to play in Northeast China. Though excited by the Japanese military victories, Roosevelt worried about the consequences to American interests if Japan managed to drive Russia out entirely.

The negotiations centered on access to ports and territories in Manchuria and Korea, control of Sakhalin Island, and the question of who was responsible for paying war costs. The chief aims of the Japanese negotiator included first control in Korea and South Manchuria, then the negotiation of an indemnity and control of Sakhalin Island. The Russians wanted to maintain Sakhalin Island, refused to pay a war costs indemnity to the Japanese, and hoped to maintain their fleet in the Pacific. The indemnity issue, along with the dispensation of Sakhalin Island, were the major sticking points in the negotiation, although given its financial straits in 1905, Russia was likely unable to pay an indemnity even if required by a treaty to do so.

When negotiations reached an impasse, Roosevelt stepped in with the proposal that Russia “buy back” the northern part of Sakhalin from Japanese control. The Russians were adamant that they would not pay any amount of money, which would act as a disguised indemnity, when the territory ought to be theirs. After long internal debate, Japan eventually agreed to take only the southern half of the island, without any kind of payment. Theirs had not been a decisive enough victory to force the point.

The Treaty ultimately gave Japan control of Korea and much of South Manchuria, including Port Arthur and the railway that connected it with the rest of the region, along with the southern half of Sakhalin Island; Russian power was curtailed in the region, but it was not required to pay Japan?s war costs. Because neither nation was in a strong financial position to continue the war easily, both were forced to compromise in the terms of the peace. Still, the Japanese public felt they had won the war, and they considered the lack of an indemnity to be an affront. There was a brief outbreak of protests and rioting in Tokyo when the terms of the agreement were made public. Similarly, the Russian people were also dissatisfied, angry about giving up half of Sakhalin.

Throughout the war and the peace talks, American public opinion largely sided with Japan. Believing that the Japanese were fighting a “just war” against Russian aggression, and that the island nation was equally committed to the Open Door and the territorial integrity of China, the American people were anxious to support it. This sense did not really change over the course of the negotiations, in spite of the best efforts of the Russian negotiator to improve the press coverage of his nation's position. The final decision of the Japanese to forgo an indemnity only served to strengthen U.S. approval of Japan’s actions throughout the conflict. The anti-treaty and, at times, anti-American demonstrations in Tokyo that followed the ratification of the treaty caught many Americans off-guard.

The Treaty of Portsmouth marked the last real event in an era of U.S.-Japanese cooperation that began with the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Instead, competition between the two nations in the Pacific grew over the years that followed. Conversely, Japanese relations with Russia improved in the wake of the treaty. Although the actual importance of Roosevelt?s mediation and personal pressure on the leadership in Moscow and Tokyo to the final agreement is unclear, he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in moderating the talks and pushing toward peace.

TR didn’t actually accept his prize until 1910 and he gave away the prize money. He had wanted to have it create an industrial peace foundation, but that never came to be and instead in 1918 he donated the funds to the war effort and you can see his various bequests written out fully at the link above, but this small piece is a nice summary of the larger ones [if you go look, notice that he gave money to Herbert Hoover for use in Belgium!]:
He made twenty-eight different donations of various amounts. A few of the gifts included $6,900 to the Red Cross; $5,000 to Eleanor for her Y.M.C.A. project; an additional $4,000 to the YMCA National War Work Council; and $1,000 to Edith's sister, Emily Carow, a volunteer with the Italian Red Cross at Porto Maurizo, Italy.

I also wanted to post his Nobel Lecture, which was given in 1910, when he finally accepted the award (he felt he shouldn’t accept it while still in office):
It is with peculiar pleasure that I stand here today to express the deep appreciation I feel of the high honor conferred upon me by the presentation of the Nobel Peace Prize. The gold medal which formed part of the prize I shall always keep, and I shall hand it on to my children as a precious heirloom. The sum of money provided as part of the prize by the wise generosity of the illustrious founder of this world-famous prize system, I did not, under the peculiar circumstances of the case, feel at liberty to keep. I think it eminently just and proper that in most cases the recipient of the prize should keep for his own use the prize in its entirety. But in this case, while I did not act officially as President of the United States, it was nevertheless only because I was President that I was enabled to act at all; and I felt that the money must be considered as having been given me in trust for the United States. I therefore used it as a nucleus for a foundation1 to forward the cause of industrial peace, as being well within the general purpose of your Committee; for in our complex industrial civilization of today the peace of righteousness and justice, the only kind of peace worth having, is at least as necessary in the industrial world as it is among nations. There is at least as much need to curb the cruel greed and arrogance of part of the world of capital, to curb the cruel greed and violence of part of the world of labor, as to check a cruel and unhealthy militarism in international relationships.

We must ever bear in mind that the great end in view is righteousness, justice as between man and man, nation and nation, the chance to lead our lives on a somewhat higher level, with a broader spirit of brotherly goodwill one for another. Peace is generally good in itself, but it is never the highest good unless it comes as the handmaid of righteousness; and it becomes a very evil thing if it serves merely as a mask for cowardice and sloth, or as an instrument to further the ends of despotism or anarchy. We despise and abhor the bully, the brawler, the oppressor, whether in private or public life, but we despise no less the coward and the voluptuary. No man is worth calling a man who will not fight rather than submit to infamy or see those that are dear to him suffer wrong. No nation deserves to exist if it permits itself to lose the stern and virile virtues; and this without regard to whether the loss is due to the growth of a heartless and all-absorbing commercialism, to prolonged indulgence in luxury and soft, effortless ease, or to the deification of a warped and twisted sentimentality.

Moreover, and above all, let us remember that words count only when they give expression to deeds, or are to be translated into them. The leaders of the Red Terror
prattled of peace while they steeped their hands in the blood of the innocent; and many a tyrant has called it peace when he has scourged honest protest into silence. Our words must be judged by our deeds; and in striving for a lofty ideal we must use practical methods; and if we cannot attain all at one leap, we must advance towards it step by step, reasonably content so long as we do actually make some progress in the right direction.

Now, having freely admitted the limitations of our work and the qualifications to be borne in mind, I feel that I have the right to have my words taken seriously when I point out where, in my judgment, great advance can be made in the cause of international peace. I speak as a practical man, and whatever I now advocate I actually tried to do when I was for the time being the head of a great nation and keenly jealous of its honor and interest. I ask other nations to do only what I should be glad to see my own nation do.

The advance can be made along several lines. First of all there can be treaties of arbitration. There are, of course, states so backward that a civilized community ought not to enter into an arbitration treaty with them, at least until we have gone much further than at present in securing some kind of international police action. But all really civilized communities should have effective arbitration treaties among themselves. I believe that these treaties can cover almost all questions liable to arise between such nations, if they are drawn with the explicit agreement that each contracting party will respect the others territory and its absolute sovereignty within that territory, and the equally explicit agreement that (aside from the very rare cases where the nation's honor is vitally concerned) all other possible subjects of controversy will be submitted to arbitration. Such a treaty would insure peace unless one party deliberately violated it. Of course, as yet there is no adequate safeguard against such deliberate violation, but the establishment of a sufficient number of these treaties would go a long way towards creating a world opinion which would finally find expression in the provision of methods to forbid or punish any such violation.

Secondly, there is the further development of the Hague Tribunal, of the work of the conferences and courts at The Hague. It has been well said that the first Hague Conference framed a Magna Charta for the nations; it set before us an ideal which has already to some extent been realized, and towards the full realization of which we can all steadily strive. The second Conference made further progress; the third should do yet more
. Meanwhile the American government has more than once tentatively suggested methods for completing the Court of Arbitral Justice constituted at the second Hague Conference and for rendering it effective. It is earnestly to be hoped that the various governments of Europe, working with those of America and of Asia, shall set themselves seriously to the task of devising some method which shall accomplish this result. If I may venture the suggestion, it would be well for the statesmen of the world, in planning for the erection of this world court, to study what has been done in the United States by the Supreme Court. I cannot help thinking that the Constitution of the United States, notably in the establishment of the Supreme Court and in the methods adopted for securing peace and good relations among and between the different states, offers certain valuable analogies to what should be striven for in order to secure, through the Hague courts and conferences, a species of world federation for international peace and justice. There are, of course, fundamental differences between what the United States Constitution does and what we should even attempt at this time to secure at The Hague; but the methods adopted in the American Constitution to prevent hostilities between the states, and to secure the supremacy of the Federal Court in certain classes of cases, are well worth the study of those who seek at The Hague to obtain the same results on a world scale.

Finally, it would be a masterstroke if those great powers honestly bent on peace would form a League of Peace, not only to keep the peace among themselves, but to prevent, by force if necessary, its being broken by others. The supreme difficulty in connection with developing the peace work of The Hague arises from the lack of any executive power, of any police power to enforce the decrees of the court. In any community of any size the authority of the courts rests upon actual or potential force: on the existence of a police, or on the knowledge that the able-bodied men of the country are both ready and willing to see that the decrees of judicial and legislative bodies are put into effect. In new and wild communities where there is violence, an honest man must protect himself; and until other means of securing his safety are devised, it is both foolish and wicked to persuade him to surrender his arms while the men who are dangerous to the community retain theirs. He should not renounce the right to protect himself by his own efforts until the community is so organized that it can effectively relieve the individual of the duty of putting down violence. So it is with nations. Each nation must keep well prepared to defend itself until the establishment of some form of international police power, competent and willing to prevent violence as between nations. As things are now, such power to command peace throughout the world could best be assured by some combination between those great nations which sincerely desire peace and have no thought themselves of committing aggressions. The combination might at first be only to secure peace within certain definite limits and on certain definite conditions; but the ruler or statesman who should bring about such a combination would have earned his place in history for all time and his title to the gratitude of all mankind.

Look for a post on Wilson tomorrow!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Presidential Nobel Peace Prizes

I thought I'd do some posting on past presidential winners of the Nobel Peace Prize since President Obama was just awarded one. As you all know, Obama is one of four US Presidents who have won this honor.

Something interesting that I found when I was looking for information on each of the presidents was this piece at the Jimmy Carter NPS which connects the first three winners all to Georgia. Now Carter is the obvious Georgia connection, but here is what they say about Roosevelt and Wilson:
The three Presidents who have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize all have family ties to the state of Georgia.

Theodore Roosevelt was awarded the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize for mediating the Russo-Japanese War, reached a Gentleman's Agreement on immigration with Japan, and sent the Great White Fleet on a goodwill tour of the world. His mother, Mittie Bulloch, was born in Hartford, Connecticut but was raised in Savannah, Georgia and then moved to Roswell, Georgia when she was five.

Woodrow Wilson was awarded the 1919 Nobel Peace Prize for his work to bring peace to all nations but died without seeing the Leagues of Nations happen. Wilson was born in Staunton, Virginia but spent the formative years of his childhood in Augusta, years that would affect him for the rest of his life. While living in Augusta Wilson experienced the hardships of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

We'll have to see if they can manage to connect Obama to Georgia now! [Update: Thanks to Frances Hunter, here is the Obama GA connection - a slave girl named Melvinia, valued at $475, is named in a South Carolina will and left to relatives in Georgia. Melvinia went on to become the great-great-great-grandmother of the first lady.] With this introduction, I will be posting information on each of the first three Presidential winners (TR, Wilson and Carter) over the next few days.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Which U.S. Presidents Owned Slaves?

Back in 2007, Jennie wrote Grant was a Slave Owner. As a follow up, I would like to highlight Which U.S. Presidents Owned Slaves?

The above site is by Rob Lopresti. He is a librarian and mystery writer who works at Western Washington University. I recently meet Rob when I was visiting campus and he told me about his site.

Here are the first sentences from the site:

How many presidents owned slaves? It ought to be a simple question but a search on the web produces a lot of contradictory answers. One reason is that there are really two questions: 1. How many presidents owned slaves during their lives? 2. How many presidents owned slaves while they were president? In the table below I attempt to answer both questions. I have also included selected quotations from the presidents and relevant actions they took.

Here are some additional sections of the site:

Were they just “Men of their time?”
Ranking the Presidents
The Slave-owners in Your Wallet
Bibliography (Citations)

This looks well researched and worth visiting.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Michelle Obama on Sesame Street

You probably have to be the parent of a small child to understand the full importance of this, but the new season (the fortieth - Sesame Street is 40 today) of Sesame Street aired today. What is so important about this (to me and many other parents, I'm sure) is that the people at PBS choose to only air the current season and a few episodes from the one before that and do so repetitively. So that means in any given season, you see the same 10 to 15 episodes countless times. While kids don't mind, this grates on the adult mind (I have much more to say on this, but I'll spare you....if you want to hear it see my personal blog)! So I was quite excited to see a new episode - one I hadn't seen - on our DVR (yes, we DVR children's cartoons). And, guess who was on this new episode? Michelle Obama! So I thought I'd put up the footage from her segement for you all here. Michelle Obama is not the first First Lady to be on Sesame Street - that honor goes to Barbara Bush. Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush were also. I can see a kick coming...I might be putting these up if I can find them.

This is from today's episode (so the pilot of Season 40)

This is from a Sesame Street workshop on Healthy Habits for Life (obviously taped on the same day - same clothes - but it wasn't on the episode today)

Friday, November 06, 2009

Dear Harry....Love, Bess

Bess Truman, like several other First Ladies, burned most of her private papers to stop them from being able to made public. But when the Truman home was cleared out in the 1980s (Bess Truman died in 1982 in case you don't remember), some of her letters (180, in fact) were found mixed in with other things - like being used as bookmarks in old books. These letters are going to be released by her grandson, Clifton Truman Daniel, in a couple of years, but he has provided a preview of these letters in an article in Prologue. This article isn't available online (unless you want to purchase it), but it is usually pretty easy to find a copy of Prologue if you are interested (I have a subscription myself).

In the bit on the website, they talk about the content of two of the letters - one that was written to Harry by Bess while he was in National Guard training camp in 1923 and one that was written in 1925 by Bess trying to convince Harry to let her bob her hair (she eventually won).

Margaret Truman Daniel used these letters when she wrote her biography of her mother, but did not release them, Clifton wrote that was probably in deference to her mother's wishes for privacy. She did allow 15 to be displayed in 1998 at the Truman Library, but Clifton, now the owner as Margaret Truman died last year, will release them in four years.

The letters span twenty years from 1923, when the Trumans were newlyweds to 1943, when Truman was a US Senator. These letters, when released, will be a huge asset to historians of the Truman family since they finally reveal something about the extremely private Bess Truman.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Franklin Pierce and the Battle of Churubusco

Franklin Pierce served in the Mexican-American War. He achieved the rank of Brigadier General. He was reportedly a good commander but his reputation was damaged at the Battle of Churubusco.

Here is how Wikipedia reports this:

His brigade was designated the 1st Brigade in the newly created 3rd Division and joined Scott's army in time for the Battle of Contreras. During the battle he was seriously wounded in the leg when he fell from his horse. He returned to his command the following day, but during the Battle of Churubusco the pain in his leg became so great that he passed out and had to be carried from the field. His political opponents used this against him, claiming that he left the field because of cowardice instead of injury.

This became a huge political liability for Pierce during the Presidential Election of 1852. Nathaniel Hawthorne (a good friend of Pierce) wrote a campaign biography of the future president titled The Life of Franklin Pierce. In Chapter Five, he describes how Pierce handled the war injury at the Battle of Churubusco:

The commander-in-chief had already heard of the accident that befell Pierce the day before; and as the latter approached, General Scott could not but notice the marks of pain and physical exhaustion, against which only the sturdiest constancy of will could have enabled him to bear up. "Pierce, my dear fellow," said he,--and that epithet of familiar kindness and friendship, upon the battle field, was the highest of military commendation from such a man,--"you are badly injured; you are not fit to be in your saddle." "Yes, general, I am," replied Pierce, "in a case like this." "You cannot touch your foot to the stirrup," said Scott. "One of them I can," answered Pierce. The general looked again at Pierce's almost disabled figure, and seemed on the point of taking his irrevocable resolution. "You are rash, General Pierce," said he; "we shall lose you, and we cannot spare you. It is my duty to order you back to St. Augustine." "For God's sake, general," exclaimed Pierce, "don't say that! This is the last great battle, and I must lead my brigade!" The commander-in-chief made no further remonstrance, but gave the order for Pierce to advance with his brigade.

The way lay through thick standing corn, and over marshy ground intersected with ditches, which were filled, or partially so, with water. Over some of the narrower of these Pierce leaped his horse. When the brigade had advanced about a mile, however, it found itself impeded by a ditch ten or twelve feet wide, and six or eight feet deep. It being impossible to leap it, General Pierce was lifted from his saddle, and, in some incomprehensible way, hurt as he was, contrived to wade or scramble across this obstacle, leaving his horse on the hither side. The troops were now under fire. In the excitement of the battle, he forgot his injury, and hurried forward, leading the brigade, a distance of two or three hundred yards. But the exhaustion of his frame, and particularly the anguish of his knee,--made more intolerable by such free use of it,--was greater than any strength of nerve, or any degree of mental energy, could struggle against. He fell, faint and almost insensible, within full range of the enemy's fire. It was proposed to bear him off the field; but, as some of his soldiers approached to lift him, be became aware of their purpose, and was partially revived by his determination to resist it. "No," said he, with all the strength he had left, "don't carry me off! Let me lie here!" And there he lay, under the tremendous fire of Churubusco, until the enemy, in total rout, was driven from the field.

Hawthorne has made Pierce's collapse during the battle sound heroic. Further, his 1852 political opponent for the presidency (Winfield Scott) is portrayed as having begged Pierce to leave the battle with Pierce refusing! This is very good political propaganda. Hawthorne did a good job.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

White House Halloween

Check out this video of trick-or-treating at the White House this year!

Monday, November 02, 2009

James Buchanan Resource Center

When I was at Wheatland, I got a brochure on the Buchanan Resource Center, so I thought I’d include it here as well. Here is a good synopsis of the site:
Developed for educational use by teachers, students, and other researchers, the James Buchanan Resource Center offers a wealth of information regarding this Pennsylvania politician, international statesman, and 15th President of the United States. Collected here are several books on the life of James Buchanan as well as contemporary reviews of those books. Buchanan's published writings are presented, along with a selection of unpublished letters held by Dickinson College. An extensive bibliography of resources is also available to aid those interested in further study. Finally, this site includes a detailed timeline of Buchanan's life set alongside important events in U.S. history.

What is really awesome about this site is the amount of materials available full text online. They are all excellently scanned and so make a great resource if you want to study any of the primary source documents. The documents are all searchable as well, which makes it easy to find what you are looking for. The letters are also well indexed so you can flip through the list and see which you’d like to read if you just want to browse.

This really is a fabulous resource, so go check it out!

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Which President was most deserving of winning the Nobel Peace Prize?

The poll has closed for the question, "Which President was most deserving of winning the Nobel Peace Prize?" Thanks to all who participated by voting.

Teddy Roosevelt won easily with 55% of the vote. Jimmy Carter was a distant second with 17%. President Wilson got 15% and Barack Obama got 10%.

Let us hope more American presidents win this award in the future.