Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Washington's Philadelphia Household

This is a neat look into the household records of Washington when he was living in Philadelphia.  Here are some interesting tidbits from it:
For most of his presidency, Washington lived in a rented house in Philadelphia that served as both home and office. His household there consisted of his wife, Martha Washington; her two grandchildren, Eleanor (Nelly) Parke Custis and George Washington Parke Custis; secretaries; and a household staff consisting of both servants and slaves. What did this household buy?  To keep the house running, they bought ice in January to store in the ice house and use later on, wood and candles, the services of chimney sweeps, brooms for the stable, oats for the horses, and “grease for the horses feet.”

In March 1794, Washington paid for “mending an umbrella to be kept at the door.” This is something we can all relate to – who doesn’t keep an umbrella by the door? But Washington had his umbrella mended – something that likely most of us don’t do. Washington’s umbrella was made by hand, possibly in Philadelphia, and it would have been expensive, worth mending.

The Washingtons bought themselves things that defined their status as a well-to-do 18th-century family: gloves for servant Patrick Kennedy to wear while placing “table ornaments;” hair powder for the president; feathers and ribbons for the first lady; French and painting lessons, a harpsichord and a “pair of gold ear drops” for Eleanor Custis; a Latin book and fishing tackle for her brother; theater and museum tickets; tailoring and hairdressing; butter, sugar and wine; picture frames; and books and newspapers.

Both George and Martha Washington gave alms to the poor when they encountered them. The president also responded to direct appeals. One came from “two distressed French women,” refugees from the Haitian revolution. Another was from Peregrine Fitzhugh, a Revolutionary War veteran, down on his luck, who raised money for himself with a lottery, offering tracts of land as prizes.

This gives a great glimpse into the staffing and running of the household.  While records like this might seem mundane they are really a treasure trove.  You can even find out about the reading habits:
One of the most revealing things in this little book is the record of the Washingtons’ reading. Martha Washington, who read for both pleasure and enlightenment, bought most of the books. She bought a play, poetry, religious works, geography books, two books about the French Revolution (the worst part of which, the “Terror,” was then in progress), and two books about the yellow fever epidemic that ravaged Philadelphia in 1793. She also bought “Thoughts on the Education of Daughters” (1787) by Mary Wollstonecraft, well-known author of the 1792 “A Vindication of the Rights of Women.” All of these books are briefly described, so it is hard to tell which edition the first lady bought, but editions of most of them were published in Philadelphia in the 1790s. Mrs. Washington may have seen them in a Philadelphia shop or heard about them at her own dinner table.

Similarly evocative is a March 7, 1794, notation of “sundry books bought by the president.” Maybe that day George Washington grabbed the old umbrella by the door, went out for a walk and wandered into a bookshop. It hadn’t occurred to anybody yet that a president couldn’t go out without a motorcade, even one pulled by horses.

You can also see the entire book this is based from online.

Monday, February 24, 2014

LBJ on Nixon

I tend to love hearing Presidents' opinions of each other and this article states that LBJ believed Nixon committed treason to win the 1968 election:
On June 17, 1971, (one year to the date before the Watergate arrests, by impure coincidence) Nixon ordered his inner circle to break into the Brookings Institution. “Blow the safe and get it,” the president said. “It” was a file of secret government documents on the 1968 bombing halt.“

What good will it do you, the bombing halt file?” asked National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger seconds after the president ordered his top aides to commit a felony.“

To blackmail him,” Nixon replied. President Lyndon Johnson had halted the bombing of North Vietnam less than a week before Election Day. Nixon claimed LBJ did it for political reasons, to throw the election to his vice president, Hubert Humphrey.

Kissinger knew better, since he had inside information about the talks. Having worked on an abortive bombing halt deal for Johnson in 1967, Kissinger used his connections with LBJ’s negotiators then to gain access to the Paris talks in 1968 -- access he used as a secret informant to the Nixon campaign.

“You remember, I used to give you information about it at the time,” Kissinger reminded the president. “To the best of my knowledge, there was never any conversation in which they said we’ll hold it until the end of October. I wasn’t in on the discussions here. I just saw the instructions to [Ambassador Averell] Harriman,” the chief U.S. negotiator in Paris. (Kissinger’s words on tape contradict his later claim that he didn’t even have access to classified information at the time.)Nixon had his own reasons to realize that the bombing halt file didn’t contain blackmail material on Johnson. He knew from classified briefings during the campaign that Johnson had remained unwavering in demanding three concessions: If Hanoi wanted a bombing halt, it had to (1) respect the DMZ dividing Vietnam, (2) accept South Vietnamese participation in the Paris peace talks, and (3) stop shelling civilians in Southern cities. Throughout the negotiations, LBJ didn’t budge from these three demands. Hanoi remained equally adamant, insisting on an “unconditional” bombing halt -- until October 1968. Then Hanoi suddenly reversed course and accepted all three. Johnson didn’t decide the timing of the bombing halt; Hanoi did

.If the bombing halt file didn’t contain dirt on Johnson, what made Nixon want it desperately enough to risk impeachment and prison? Over the decades, evidence has slowly accumulated that Nixon had a far more compelling motive: the fear that the bombing halt file contained dirt on him.Throughout the 1968 campaign, the Republican nominee promised not to interfere with the Paris talks. “We all hope in this room that there’s a chance that current negotiations may bring an honorable end to that war,” he told the Republican convention in Miami, “and we will say nothing during this campaign that might destroy that chance.” Publicly, Nixon claimed to put the quest for peace above his own quest for votes, although it was clear that any negotiating breakthrough by Johnson before Election Day would help Vice President Humphrey’s campaign.

One week before Election Day, Johnson got a tip that Nixon was trying to sabotage the negotiations. It came from a highly credible source, the legendary Alexander Sachs.

Sachs entered world history when, clutching a report from Albert Einstein, he warned Franklin Roosevelt in 1939 that Nazi Germany could corner the world uranium market and build an atomic bomb, a warning that led to the Manhattan Project. Sachs was also credited with predicting the Great Depression and the rise of Hitler, so he was not someone whose warnings could be safely ignored.

Sachs, chief economist for Lehman Corporation, informed Johnson that he had learned from Wall Street colleagues “closely involved with Nixon” that the Republican nominee “was trying to frustrate the president, by inciting Saigon to step up its demands, and by letting Hanoi know that when he took office ‘he could accept anything and blame it on his predecessor.’

”By that point, North Vietnam had already accepted Johnson’s terms. So had South Vietnam, privately, in meetings with the U.S. ambassador.

But America’s allies in Saigon saw risk and opportunity in the upcoming U.S. presidential election. The risk was the election of Hubert Humphrey, a dove who had urged LBJ not to Americanize the war in the first place and whose supporters hoped he’d withdraw from Vietnam quickly if elected. The opportunity was to elect the premiere anti-Communist politician of the Cold War, Richard Nixon. All Saigon had to do to tip the election to their preferred candidate was refuse to take part in the Paris talks. No talks, no peace -- there could be no settlement of the war if one side of it refused to even negotiate. The hopes for peace stirred by the bombing halt would evaporate.

Once LBJ received the warning from Sachs, he took a closer look at diplomatic intelligence collected by the National Security Agency (which intercepted cables from the South Vietnamese Ambassador Bui Diem in Washington, DC, to his home government in Saigon) and Central Intelligence Agency (which bugged South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu’s office). “[I am] still in contact with the Nixon entourage, which continues to be the favorite despite the uncertainty provoked by the news of an imminent bombing halt,” Ambassador Diem cabled President Thieu on Oct. 28, 1968. “I [explained discreetly to our partisan friends our] firm attitude.” The president ordered the Federal Bureau of Investigation to put a wiretap on the embassy’s phone and tail one of “our partisan friends,” Anna Chennault, the Republican Party’s top female fundraiser.

It didn’t take long for the FBI to strike pay dirt. Three days before the election, the bureau sent the White House this wiretap report: “Mrs. Anna Chennault contacted Vietnamese Ambassador Bui Diem and advised him that she had received a message from her boss (not further identified) which her boss wanted her to give personally to the ambassador. She said the message was that the ambassador is to ‘hold on, we are gonna win’ and that her boss also said, ‘Hold on, he understands all of it.’” That day, President Thieu had announced that the South would not send a delegation to Paris, rendering any settlement of the war impossible for the time being and stalling Humphrey’s surge in the polls.

A furious president telephoned the highest elected Republican in the land, Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen of Illinois, and declared, “This is treason.” He wasn’t exaggerating. The Logan Act of 1799 prohibits private citizens (including presidential candidates) from interfering with negotiations between the U.S. and foreign governments.

Nevertheless, Johnson decided not to go public with what he’d learned. He had many reasons, one of which remained secret until his own White House tapes were released in the twenty-first century. The others trickled out faster: LBJ didn’t want to compromise U.S. diplomatic intelligence sources, didn’t want to cripple Nixon’s presidency before it began, and didn’t have “smoking gun” proof that Nixon himself had broken the law.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

10 Wealthiest Presidents

I found this list of the 10 wealthiest US presidents. Most are not surprising (Washington was the wealthiest), but I will admit one surprised me:
4. Andrew Jackson
> Net worth: $119 million
> In office: 1829 to 1837
> 7th president
While he was considered to be in touch with the average middle-class American, Jackson quietly became one of the wealthiest presidents of the 1800s. “Old Hickory” married into wealth and made money in the military. His homestead, The Hermitage, included 1,050 acres of prime real estate. Over the course of his life, he owned as many as 300 slaves. Jackson entered considerable debt later in life.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Presidents' Day Activities

So what is this?  Well, it is from my son's kindergarten class as part of their Presidents' Day activities - obviously learning about Abraham Lincoln.   I've been looking at his activities as he came home on the Presidents.  While I can't say any of them outright lie (yes, I would have complained...), but, ugh....stereotype on stereotype.  And yes, again, I know, we are talking about 5 and 6 years olds.  But I also know it goes beyond this level.  And, come on, you can't ignore the fact that Washington owned slaves!  Instead, reading my son's worksheets you'd think he had to do all his own manual labor! 
So anyway, here are activities to try for Presidents' Day.  I like that so many of these are debate like and so can really get students thinking. 
I also found this recording where they asked kids about their favorite President.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Its Eleanor again....

In the latest scholarly ranking of First Ladies, Eleanor Roosevelt again topped the list.  The article reported that the rankings have been remarkably consistent over the years.  I'm annoyed as usually because Sarah Polk was mentioned no where....obviously no one asked  ME. 

They do have this quiz you can take to rate your FL knowledge.  See if you can beat my 84%.  I missed four of which was totally a trick question!  The others I just didn't know....just stuff I've never seen or had a reason to look (who was the first FL on a postage stamp for instance...I had it narrowed down to two, picked the wrong one....oh well). 

Friday, February 14, 2014

New Cleveland Letter to Frances

Happy Valentine's Day!  Here is a love letter from Grover Cleveland to Frances that was just recently released to the public:
...My message went to Congress last Tuesday. Its a pretty long one but if you could see all the papers say about it and hear all the people talk of it,  I honestly think, you would be proud of your "old man"… I had a pretty tough time writing it in the midst of numerous interruptions but it was a relief to get if off my hands. I had to put a table in my bed room to have an opportunity to do anything. And now that Congress is in Session the rush has begun again and I don't have much rest or peace. The Cabinet ladies are beginning to caucus about what they will do and will not do during the coming Session and I suppose we shall not be entirely free from the troubles among the women of the administration which usually infests a "Season" at the seat of government… Ladies always make trouble - that is when there are a lot of them together all bent on the same thing. If I can get one of them all alone, then I am all right. I dread the social part of this thing very much. I think it a regular nuisance and I keep wondering how my Darling will get along with this dreadful, dreadful bother and the constant boring and vexation. I shall give as few State dinners as possible.. I've had a Chef now since the first of November and I often wish I had the old negro woman Carla again...  I have been thinking a good deal lately how nice it would be to have a little house a few miles away and  live there  - Coming into the White House at regular times and having all the official dinners here, but have a place where it should not enter, and where the President and his family could live like other people.

While I love you Frank as dearly as I can, it pleases me very much to read what you write about your improvements and all that. I am glad to believe that you appreciate something that is before you as the wife of the President and Lady of the White House. I guess there never was anyone so young and so unused to such responsibilities, who occupied the place before; and my anxiety is my very darling Child, that you should be as well prepared as it is possible... Of course the more other people admire and praise you the more proud I should be, but I love you just exactly as you are and for just what you are; and that Darling you must never doubt…

…Lizzie [his sister Rose Elizabeth Cleveland]  and I have been walking in the East Room and have talked a good deal about you and the marriage... She thinks it would be wise to have no one at the wedding but relatives… Perhaps they [the Cabinet] could well come after the ceremony. But I'll tell you what I think… we will find some way to get married so that we can't get away from each other very easy… I've warned you "time and time again" and as nearly as I can make out you seemed bound to rush to your fate.

I am glad you contemplate paying a little attention to the science of hen raising - for I don't know what else we can do when we quit here... We must be very frugal and saving because I suppose there is no way for an Ex-President to earn money…..

Write me all the time Darling and tell me just exactly how much you love me and if you love me better and better or less and less…

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

US Presidents and the Olympics

Check out this article on the history of the US Presidents in relation to the Olympics (as I'm watching Olympics right now).  Did you know Kennedy tried to help Detroit get the Olympics?  I thought that was cool (you can watch the video if you follow the link):
In 1963, President Kennedy taped a message supporting Detroit’s bid to host the Olympics, which ultimately went to Mexico City. (To this day, Detroit is the only city to make an Olympic bid seven times and never get it.) Although that was the only time Kennedy got involved in the Olympics, he often stressed the importance of physical fitness. “We do not want our children to become a generation of spectators,” he once said. But the biggest athletic champion in his family was his sister Eunice, who founded the Special Olympics in 1968.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Reagan Myth's Debunked

This article debunks three Reagan myths:
Myth #1: Reagan was an actor reading from someone else's script.

Myth #2: Reagan was a nuclear cowboy.
You might recall Reagan's famous gaffe in front of a live mic in 1984: "We begin bombing in 5 minutes." The truth is, Reagan actually hated the burden of nuclear weapons, was deeply fearful of wag-ing an unrestrained arms race, and wanted to abolish nuclear weapons. Critics regarded his announcement of the Strategic Defense Initiative ("Star Wars") in March 1983 as the height of cynicism. Here was a president, they said, talking about a giant shield that would actually make the prospect of nuclear war less unthinkable. The technology behind SDI was highly dubious. But the idea was very real, and very dear, to Reagan. His plan was to share SDI with the Sovi-ets so that both sides could begin to disarm. I know that sounds incredible, yet it is indeed what he pledged to both Gorbachev and his own disbelieving top advisors.

Myth #3: Reagan was a natural leader.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Julia's Julia

The fact that Julia Grant came from a slave owning family has been discussed before.  I found this article that talked about one of her long time slaves, Jule or Black Julia, who helped Julia be able to stay with her husband during the Civil War:
Ulysses Grant was a warrior, but Julia Grant was the Civil War’s road warrior. Beginning with that first journey, she covered more than 10,000 miles in four years – and nearly 4,000 in just the first year – to be with her husband. Even those numbers understate the effort required to travel at the mercy of unreliable trains, ferries and carriages, in bad weather, and over bad roads, sometimes in enemy country. On a very good day, Julia might have covered 50 miles.
With that optimistic calculation in mind, Julia spent at least 80 days on roads, rails and rivers between October 1861 and December 1862. Such travel exposed her and those with her to the same risks faced by her husband and his soldiers – disease, death and capture.
She couldn’t have managed without her slave. Though the slave’s real name was Julia, she was often called Jule or Black Julia. In Julia Grant’s memoirs, she described Jule as “my nurse and maid, a slave born in my old Missouri home.” Home was a plantation near St. Louis, called White Haven, where her father, Frederick Dent, and more than a dozen slaves lived a life more commonly associated with the Deep South. Jule was a small, “ginger colored” woman, according to one recollection.
Probably relating family lore, Julia’s biographer wrote that Dent gave the slave girl as a gift to his beloved first daughter when Julia Dent was born in 1826, but no records have been found. It is not clear if Jule ever legally belonged to Julia; historians still debate whether Dent retained legal title to the four slaves his daughter claimed to own. We know Dent influenced the Grants’ use of slaves. It was through Dent that Grant acquired a slave (whom Grant later freed), and Dent insisted that Julia leave her slaves with him when the Grants lived in the North, fearing they would escape to freedom.
When Julia and Ulysses Grant moved to Galena in 1859, Jule and the three other slaves remained with Dent in St. Louis, while Julia struggled to teach white servants to clean, care and cook like her slaves. Julia much preferred the familiar ease of Jule’s service, though. It is likely that in November 1861, when Julia traveled with her children from Galena to St. Louis and then to Cairo, she convinced her father and husband to allow her to take Jule with her.
Grant understood his tiny, cross-eyed wife’s need for familiar, reliable help to deal with unfamiliar military camp conditions and frequent moves, often with their four children in tow. As the price of having Julia with him, Grant tolerated Jule’s presence, though the slave’s arrival at his headquarters was surely an embarrassment. Almost immediately, one of Grant’s detractors tried to brandish Jule as a weapon against him. In January 1862, Abraham Lincoln received an anonymous letter from Cairo, decrying Grant’s drinking and his “secesh” wife with her slave, “as is the case now in camp here.” Though the president sought information from Grant’s congressman and sponsor, Elihu Washburne, Lincoln ultimately did nothing about the charges; perhaps his own wife’s alleged “secesh” tendencies sparked empathy for the young brigadier.
When Grant left Cairo in early February for Fort Henry, in Tennessee, he urged Julia to take her children and live with his parents in Kentucky. Several months later, after the Battle of Shiloh, he sent for her to join him in Memphis, and she followed when he moved his headquarters to Corinth, Miss. Julia, Jule and 4-year-old Jesse Grant then lived with the general in LaGrange, Tenn., before the trio pushed south to Holly Springs, Miss., in late November, courtesy of a pass that Grant issued for “Mrs. Grant servant & child.”
“When I visited the General during the war, I nearly always had Julia with me as nurse,” Julia recalled in her memoirs. “She came near being captured at Holly Springs.” Grant’s troops had seized Holly Springs only a few weeks earlier, and when Julia arrived, the sight of the Federal general’s wife with her slave provoked questions about her devotion to the Union cause. A Confederate woman who encountered Julia in a dressmaker’s shop asked, “You are Southern, aren’t you?” Julia replied, “No, I am from the West. Missouri is my native state.” The Mississippi matron persisted, “Yes, we know, but Missouri is a Southern state. Surely, you are Southern in feeling and principle.” Indignantly, Julia declared, “No, indeed, I am the most loyal of the loyal.”