Ghosts do talk: JFK’s advice to Barack Obama

November 18, 2014

Didn’t sleep well over the weekend.  Maybe I should have gone camping with the Scouts in the cold at Camp Wisdom — I always sleep better out of doors, in a tent.

But I fell asleep waiting for the weather forecast, wading through another round of news in which, it seems, Santayana’s Ghost is telling us too many people, especially conservatives, did not study history adequately.  We may have to repeat some of the ugly lessons of history.

Does anyone remember the SS St. Louis?  No one remembers when the braceros from Mexico flooded over the border to take up the hoes and plows, and harvest buckets, when our men were at war beating back a Fascist horde?  No one remembers the difficulty America had getting war materials from one coast where it was stockpiled, to the other coast where it was needed, and Dwight Eisenhower’s doubling down on the national debt to build a road system that would sustain us in war?

No one remembers?

It wasn’t Santayana who shook me awake, though.  It wasn’t the Spanish-born Harvard professor, but a Boston-born Harvard student, with that Boston Brahmin accent.

“Can you get a message to Mr. Obama?” he asked me.

I blinked. I didn’t speak.

Dickens didn’t get it quite right, I thought.  I can close my eyes and this apparition disappears.

But I couldn’t close my eyes.

“The torch isn’t burned out.  If there is not a willing torch bearer to take it up, it can’t be passed,” he said.

I wondered what in the hell he was talking about.  I http://www.paulreverehouse.org/ride/ I heard a horse’s galloping hooves and a warning.  It was after midnight I assumed; I couldn’t make out the warning.  Was that the same Boston accent?

“There’s a dark path still ahead. He’ll have to run it on his own, for a while longer.”

A podium appeared, and the apparition stepped behind it, and smiled.  I almost recognized the room. A luncheon. Reporters.  I found myself in that balcony upstairs where I’d often sat, having not paid for the lunch. Late again, I missed the introduction.

His chin held high, he stared straight at me.  My midnight ideas notebook was open to a blank page, and I fumbled for a pen. Did I imagine that gibberish squeal audio tape makes when it’s rewound?

I missed some joke.  The audience below me laughed.  The apparition, more solid than before but faded in color, nodded as I understood he meant I should take notes. If it was a dream, surely his voice would not be so clear.

The modern presidential campaign covers every issue in and out of the platform from cranberries to creation. But the public is rarely alerted to a candidate’s views about the central issue on which all the rest turn. That central issue–and the point of my comments this noon– is not the farm problem or defense or India. It is the presidency itself.

Cranberries?  It’s close to Thanksgiving.  Oh!  The cranberry scare!  I remember that Thanksgiving we swore off the things.  Some pesticide issue — I was a child — I strained to recall the details.  We lived in Burley, Idaho, then.  It must have been the early 1960s.  Some message about pesticides? I wondered.

Of course a candidate’s views on specific policies are important, but Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft shared policy views with entirely different results in the White House. Of course it is important to elect a good man with good intentions, but Woodrow Wilson and Warren G. Harding were both good men with good intentions; so were Lincoln and Buchanan; but there is a Lincoln Room in the White House and no Buchanan Room.

Campaigns. We just ended one. Does this guy know what he’s talking about?  How weary we are?

The history of this Nation–its brightest and its bleakest pages– has been written largely in terms of the different views our Presidents have had of the Presidency itself. This history ought to tell us that the American people in 1960 have an imperative right to know what any man bidding for the Presidency thinks about the place he is bidding for, whether he is aware of and willing to use the powerful resources of that office; whether his model will be Taft or Roosevelt, Wilson or Harding.

Not since the days of Woodrow Wilson has any candidate spoken on the presidency itself before the votes have been irrevocably cast. Let us hope that the 1960 campaign, in addition to discussing the familiar issues where our positions too often blur, will also talk about the presidency itself, as an instrument for dealing with those issues, as an office with varying roles, powers, and limitations

During the past 8 years, we have seen one concept of the Presidency at work. Our needs and hopes have been eloquently stated–but the initiative and follow-through have too often been left to others. And too often his own objectives have been lost by the President’s failure to override objections from within his own party, in the Congress or even in his Cabinet.

The American people in 1952 and 1956 may have preferred this detached, limited concept of the Presidency after 20 years of fast-moving, creative Presidential rule. Perhaps historians will regard this as necessarily one of those frequent periods of consolidation, a time to draw breath, to recoup our national energy. To quote the state of the Union message: “No Congress . . . on surveying the state of the Nation, has met with a more pleasing prospect than that which appears at the present time.”

Unfortunately this is not Mr. Eisenhower’s last message to the Congress, but Calvin Coolidge’s. He followed to the White House Mr. Harding, whose sponsor declared very frankly that the times did not demand a first-rate President. If true, the times and the man met.

But the question is what do the times–and the people–demand for the next 4 years in the White House?

They demand a vigorous proponent of the national interest–not a passive broker for conflicting private interests. They demand a man capable of acting as the commander in chief of the Great Alliance, not merely a bookkeeper who feels that his work is done when the numbers on the balance sheet come even. They demand that he be the head of a responsible party, not rise so far above politics as to be invisible–a man who will formulate and fight for legislative policies, not be a casual bystander to the legislative process.

Today a restricted concept of the Presidency is not enough. For beneath today’s surface gloss of peace and prosperity are increasingly dangerous, unsolved, long postponed problems–problems that will inevitably explode to the surface during the next 4 years of the next administration–the growing missile gap, the rise of Communist China, the despair of the underdeveloped nations, the explosive situations in Berlin and in the Formosa Straits, the deterioration of NATO, the lack of an arms control agreement, and all the domestic problems of our farms, cities, and schools.

This administration has not faced up to these and other problems. Much has been said–but I am reminded of the old Chinese proverb: “There is a great deal of noise on the stairs but nobody comes into the room.”

The President’s state of the Union message reminded me of the exhortation from “King Lear” but goes: “I will do such things–what they are I know not . . . but they shall be the wonders of the earth.”

In the decade that lies ahead–in the challenging revolutionary sixties–the American Presidency will demand more than ringing manifestoes issued from the rear of the battle. It will demand that the President place himself in the very thick of the fight, that he care passionately about the fate of the people he leads, that he be willing to serve them, at the risk of incurring their momentary displeasure.

Whatever the political affiliation of our next President, whatever his views may be on all the issues and problems that rush in upon us, he must above all be the Chief Executive in every sense of the word. He must be prepared to exercise the fullest powers of his office–all that are specified and some that are not. He must master complex problems as well as receive one-page memorandums. He must originate action as well as study groups. He must reopen channels of communication between the world of thought and the seat of power.

Ulysses Grant considered the President “a purely administrative officer.” If he administered the government departments efficiently, delegated his functions smoothly, and performed his ceremonies of state with decorum and grace, no more was to be expected of him. But that is not the place the Presidency was meant to have in American life. The President is alone, at the top–the loneliest job there is, as Harry Truman has said.

If there is destructive dissension among the services, he alone can step in and straighten it out–instead of waiting for unanimity. If administrative agencies are not carrying out their mandate–if a brushfire threatens some part of the globe–he alone can act, without waiting for the Congress. If his farm program fails, he alone deserves the blame, not his Secretary of Agriculture.

“The President is at liberty, both in law and conscience, to be as big a man as he can.” So wrote Prof. Woodrow Wilson. But President Woodrow Wilson discovered that to be a big man in the White House inevitably brings cries of dictatorship.

So did Lincoln and Jackson and the two Roosevelts. And so may the next occupant of that office, if he is the man the times demand. But how much better it would be, in the turbulent sixties, to have a Roosevelt or a Wilson than to have another James Buchanan, cringing in the White House, afraid to move.

Nor can we afford a Chief Executive who is praised primarily for what he did not do, the disasters he prevented, the bills he vetoed–a President wishing his subordinates would produce more missiles or build more schools. We will need instead what the Constitution envisioned: a Chief Executive who is the vital center of action in our whole scheme of Government.

This includes the legislative process as well. The President cannot afford–for the sake of the office as well as the Nation–to be another Warren G. Harding, described by one backer as a man who “would when elected, sign whatever bill the Senate sent him–and not send bills for the Senate to pass.” Rather he must know when to lead the Congress when to consult it and when he should act alone.

Having served 14 years in the legislative branch, I would not look with favor upon its domination by the Executive. Under our government of “power as the rival of power,” to use Hamilton’s phrase, Congress must not surrender its responsibilities. But neither should it dominate. However large its share in the formulation of domestic programs, it is the President alone who must make the major decisions of our foreign policy.

That is what the Constitution wisely commands. And even domestically, the President must initiate policies and devise laws to meet the needs of the Nation. And he must be prepared to use all the resources of his office to ensure the enactment of that legislation–even when conflict is the result.

By the end of his term Theodore Roosevelt was not popular in the Congress–particularly when he criticized an amendment to the Treasury appropriation which forbade the use of Secret Service men to investigate Congressmen.

And the feeling was mutual, Roosevelt saying: “I do not much admire the Senate because it is such a helpless body when efficient work is to be done.”

And Woodrow Wilson was even more bitter after his frustrating quarrels. Asked if he might run for the Senate in 1920, he replied: “Outside of the United States, the Senate does not amount to a damn. And inside the United States the Senate is mostly despised. They haven’t had a thought down there in 50 years.”

But, however bitter their farewells, the facts of the matter are that Roosevelt and Wilson did get things done–not only through their Executive powers but through the Congress as well. Calvin Coolidge, on the other hand, departed from Washington with cheers of Congress still ringing in his ears. But when his World Court bill was under fire on Capitol Hill he sent no message, gave no encouragement to the bill’s leaders, and paid little or no attention to the whole proceeding–and the cause of world justice was set back.

To be sure, Coolidge had held the usual White House breakfasts with congressional leaders–but they were aimed, as he himself said, at “good fellowship,” not a discussion of “public business.” And at his press conferences, according to press historians, where he preferred to talk about the local flower show and its exhibits, reporters who finally extracted from him a single sentence–“I’m against that bill”–would rush to file tongue-in-cheek dispatches claiming that: “President Coolidge, in a fighting mood, today served notice on Congress that he intended to combat, with all the resources at his command, the pending bill . . .”

But in the coming months we will need a real fighting mood in the White House–a man who will not retreat in the face of pressure from his congressional leaders–who will not let down those supporting his views on the floor. Divided Government over the past 6 years has only been further confused by this lack of legislative leadership. To restore it next year will help restore purpose to both the Presidency and the Congress.

The facts of the matter are that legislative leadership is not possible without party leadership, in the most political sense–and Mr. Eisenhower prefers to stay above politics (although a weekly news magazine last fall reported the startling news, and I quote, that “President Eisenhower is emerging as a major political figure”). When asked early in his first term, how he liked the “game of politics,” he replied with a frown that his questioner was using a derogatory phrase. “Being President,” he said, “is a very great experience . . . but the word ‘politics’ . . . I have no great liking for that.”

But no President, it seems to me, can escape politics. He has not only been chosen by the Nation–he has been chosen by his party. And if he insists that he is “President of all the people” and should, therefore, offend none of them–if he blurs the issues and differences between the parties–if he neglects the party machinery and avoids his party’s leadership–then he has not only weakened the political party as an instrument of the democratic process–he has dealt a blow to the democratic process itself.

I prefer the example of Abe Lincoln, who loved politics with the passion of a born practitioner. For example, he waited up all night in 1863 to get the crucial returns on the Ohio governorship. When the Unionist candidate was elected, Lincoln wired: “Glory God in the highest. Ohio has saved the Nation.”

But the White House is not only the center of political leadership. It must be the center of moral leadership–a “bully pulpit,” as Theodore Roosevelt described it. For only the President represents the national interest. And upon him alone converge all the needs and aspirations of all parts of the country, all departments of the Government, all nations of the world.

It is not enough merely to represent prevailing sentiment–to follow McKinley’s practice, as described by Joe Cannon, of “keeping his ear so close to the ground he got it full of grasshoppers.” We will need in the sixties a President who is willing and able to summon his national constituency to its finest hour–to alert the people to our dangers and our opportunities–to demand of them the sacrifices that will be necessary. Despite the increasing evidence of a lost national purpose and a soft national will, F.D.R.’s words in his first inaugural still ring true: “In every dark hour of our national life, a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory.”

Roosevelt fulfilled the role of moral leadership. So did Wilson and Lincoln, Truman and Jackson and Teddy Roosevelt. They led the people as well as the Government–they fought for great ideals as well as bills. And the time has come to demand that kind of leadership again.

And so, as this vital campaign begins, let us discuss the issues the next President will face–but let us also discuss the powers and tools with which we must face them.

For we must endow that office with extraordinary strength and vision. We must act in the image of Abraham Lincoln summoning his wartime Cabinet to a meeting on the Emancipation Proclamation. That Cabinet ha[d] been carefully chosen to please and reflect many elements in the country. But “I have gathered you together,” Lincoln said, “to hear what I have written down. I do not wish your advice about the main matter–that I have determined for myself.”

And later, when he went to sign, after several hours of exhausting handshaking that had left his arm weak, he said to those present: “If my name goes down in history, it will be for this act. My whole soul is in it. If my hand trembles when I sign this proclamation, all who examine the document hereafter will say: ‘He hesitated.'”

But Lincoln’s hand did not tremble. He did not hesitate. He did not equivocate. For he was the President of the United States.

It is in this spirit that we must go forth in the coming months and years.

There was applause.  Am I waking up? I wondered. My apparition stepped from behind the podium and the scene vanished as if Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas were cutting from one Indiana Jones adventure to the next.  Are my eyes even open?

The hand on my shoulder gripped firmly.  “You don’t even have to update the years. Just pass the message.”

I turned, but there was nothing, just the Charlie Rose theme quietly chirping from the television. That’s not even the channel I’d fallen asleep to.

‘Lincoln’s hand didn’t tremble?’  I remembered the story. That’s a story Doris Kearns Goodwin told about Lincoln.  I can find that story, see if what I scribbled in my dozing note-taking makes any sense.

I Googled it this morning.  It wasn’t Goodwin I found telling the story, nor her words the ghost had spoken.

More rum in the kefir eggnog next time.

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Senator John F. Kennedy speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on January 14, 1960. (Henry Burroughs/AP) (Via The Atlantic)

Senator John F. Kennedy speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on January 14, 1960. Photo by Henry Burroughs/AP (Via The Atlantic)


A Scout camp absorbed William McKinley’s boyhood home

November 5, 2014

From the photo archives of the Boston Public Library, we get this postcard:

Scout camp with home of Wm McKinley, circa 1940 post card from Boston PL

Post card from the archives of the Boston Public Library: “Boyhood Home of President Wm. McKinley, Lisbon, Ohio. Now Part of Columbiana County Boy Scout Reservation. Built in 1808.

From the Boston Library’s Flickr files, we learn a little more:

Boston Public Library

Boyhood home of President Wm. McKindley, Lisbon, Ohio. Now part of Columbiana County Boy Scout Reservation, built in 1808

File name: 06_10_016732
Title: Boyhood home of President Wm. McKinley, Lisbon, Ohio. Now part of Columbiana County Boy Scout Reservation, built in 1808
Created/Published: Tichnor Bros. Inc., Boston, Mass.
Date issued: 1930 – 1945 (approximate)
Physical description: 1 print (postcard): linen texture, color; 3 1/2 x 5 1/2 in.
Genre: Postcards
Subjects: Historic buildings

Notes:
Collection: The Tichnor Brothers Collection
Location: Boston Public Library, Print Department
Rights: No known restrictions

Is this historic building still part of a Scout camp?

According to Buckeye Council, BSA, the home is still part of what is now Camp McKinley.  It’s the home of the camp ranger.

Camp McKinley is located in Columbiana County, near Lisbon, Ohio. The 300 acre camp has been owned and operated by the Boy Scouts of America since 1934.

Camp McKinley is the Buckeye Council’s most historic camp. The modern history of the area began back in 1807 when Ohio was a new state of only three years. Gideon Hughes, a local businessman, built a blast furnace in “new Lisbon” to supply the needs of the settlers heading west. The remains of the Rebecca Furnace are still visible on the camp property. Mr. Hughes also built a stone “mansion” across from his furnace. The house, known as the McKinley homestead, was the home of President William McKinley’s grandparents for a number of years. President McKinley no doubt spent many summers wandering the hills of the present Camp McKinley. The Stone House is now the residence of the Camp Ranger.

President McKinley slept here, as a boy.

Scout camp ranger’s house does not seem to you to be a respectful enough use of a president’s boyhood home?  Buckeye Council has preserved the home at least in its exterior appearance.

Another of McKinley’s boyhood homes is now a bank parking lot.


Millard Fillmore’s term ended, 1853; another shot in 1864?

August 20, 2014

PrintsOldandRare.com had a copy of an 1864 Illustrated News with Millard Fillmore on the cover.

Prints Old and Rare:

Prints Old and Rare: “1853 Portrait of Millard Fillmore. Antique engraved portrait of Fillmore from the May 28, 1853 issue of the Illustrated News, surrounded by text discussing the history of his administration. 11×16 in. SOLD”

What was the contemporary judgment on the last Whig President, whose own party refused to nominate him for a term of his own?

One wonders if there isn’t another copy of that newspaper floating around out there, or whether it might be available at the Library of Congress.

Just about a decade later, some people thought Fillmore might be a good nominee for the Democrats, against Lincoln.  In a look back in history in the Columbia (Missouri) Daily Tribune, we find this news report out of Fulton, Missouri, repeated by Rudi Keller:

FULTON — Former President Millard Fillmore was a tested leader who would preserve the Union and heal political divisions, Editor John Williams wrote, announcing his preference for the Democratic presidential nomination.

“We have tried him and we know that he will do us justice,” Williams wrote.

The Democratic National Convention was scheduled to begin Aug. 29 at Chicago. Fillmore, 64, was gaining some notice as a potential candidate, but most Democrats were focused on Maj. Gen. George McClellan. Nicknamed “The Young Napoleon,” McClellan was a meticulous officer who thoroughly organized the Army of the Potomac but was relieved of command because of his cautious approach to combat.

Missouri had 22 delegate seats at the convention, with U.S. Rep. William Hall of Randolph County, banker Weston Birch of Howard County and former U.S. Rep. Thomas Price of Cole County included in the delegation.

Williams wrote that while he preferred Fillmore, “McClellan will do — he is a Christian — a soldier and a patriot. Although a war man we believe he would favor peace at once, with the most liberal terms, and on the condition of the Union. If not McClellan, then some other good man…”

Democrats nominated McClellan.  Lincoln won.

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Sunshine on Harry Truman’s place

August 20, 2014

Sunset at the home of President Truman. @GoParks @Interior #POTUS

Sunset at the home of President Truman. @GoParks @Interior #POTUS

In the late afternoon light, one gets a better view of just why Harry Truman was so fond of this house.  Who wouldn’t be?

Something to visit when you’re next in Independence, Missouri.

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August 3, 1923: Calvin Coolidge sworn in as president

August 2, 2014

Calvin Coolidge taking the oath of office August 3, 1923, upon learning of the death of President Warren G. Harding. Curtis Publishing Company image (artist?), 1924; from the American Memory Collection at the Library of Congress

Calvin Coolidge taking the oath of office August 3, 1923, upon learning of the death of President Warren G. Harding. Curtis Publishing Company image (artist?), 1924; from the American Memory Collection at the Library of Congress

Vice President Calvin Coolidge took the oath of office for the presidency first from his father, a notary public, in New Hampshire, after having been officially informed of the death of President Warren G. Harding while on a tour, in San Francisco.

Coolidge is the only president to have been sworn in by a member of his immediate family.

More on Calvin Coolidge from the Library of Congress “Today in History” feature:

Calvin Coolidge

After all, the chief business of the American people is business.

President Calvin Coolidge,
address before the American Society of Newspaper Editors,
Washington, D.C., January 17, 1925.
Foundations of the Republic (1926), 187.

Calvin Coolidge
Calvin Coolidge, full-length portrait, seated at desk, facing front, holding pen and paper, wearing black armband in mourning for President Harding,
Washington, D.C.,
August 4, 1923.
Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929

Calvin Coolidge took the presidential oath of office on August 3, 1923, after the unexpected death in office of President Warren Harding. The new president inherited an administration plagued and discredited by corruption scandals. In the two remaining years of this term, Coolidge, long recognized for his own frugality and moderation, worked to restore the administration’s image and regain the public’s trust.  He went on to win the presidential election of 1924 in his own right.

Coolidge believed that government should interfere as little as possible with business and industry. His administration supported tax reductions for U.S. businesses as well as high protective tariffs in support of U.S. goods—which were being produced in greater quantities than ever before. Technological and managerial innovations, improvements in the methods of production, and growing distribution networks made consumer items more generally available.  Many Americans purchased cars and radios, vacuum cleaners, and washing machines—taking advantage of increasingly obtainable consumer credit.

Vacuum Cleaners on Display at the J.C. Harding & Co. Store
Vacuum cleaners on display at the J. C. Harding & Co. Store, probably in Washington, D.C.,
[1909-32].
Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929

Raleigh Haberdasher Show Window
Raleigh Haberdasher show window
Washington, D.C., circa 1925.
Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929

Automobiles in Window of the Washington-Cadillac Co.
Automobiles in window of the Washington-Cadillac Co.,
Washington, D.C., 1927.
Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929

Some groups did not participate fully in the emergent consumer economy, notably both African-American and white farmers as well as immigrants. While one-fifth of the American population made their living on the land, rural poverty was widespread. Despite agricultural overproduction and successive attempts in Congress to provide relief, the agricultural economy of the 1920s experienced an ongoing depression. Large surpluses were accompanied by falling prices at a time when American farmers were burdened by heavy debt. Between 1920 and 1932, one in four farms was sold to meet financial obligations and many farmers migrated to urban areas.

Restrictive immigration laws, aided by a resurgence of nativism in America in the 1920s, contributed to an atmosphere hostile to immigrants. The Emergency Quota Act of 1921 discriminated against immigrants from southern and eastern Europe. The National Origins Act of 1924 completely excluded Japanese and other Asian immigrants and further reduced those admitted from southern and eastern Europe.

Visitin' 'Round at Coolidge Corners
Visitin’ ‘Round at Coolidge Corners,
1924.
Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929

The economic growth of the 1920s spurred the rise of consumer organizations and campaigns. Some, such as the Truth-in-Advertising Movement, which pursued ethics and self-regulation in advertising, were industry-based. Other campaigns and organizations sought to educate consumers. The Better Homes Movement celebrated home ownership, home maintenance and improvement, and home decoration in towns and cities across the country. The Thrift Movement sought to teach children and citizens how to save and spend wisely. Stuart Chase worked to educate consumers about unfair advertising and pricing practices used by manufacturers of consumer products. Lastly, there were campaigns such as the Playground Movement which began in response to popular anxieties about material excess, misuse of leisure time, and the loss of traditional values.

Learn more about Calvin Coolidge and his era:

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From the Library of Congress collections: Calvin Coolidge, full-length portrait, seated at desk, facing front, holding pen and paper, wearing black armband in mourning for President Harding. Coolidge took the oath of office in Plymouth Notch, VT early in the morning of Friday, August 3rd, and arrived in Washington late that night, the day after the death of President Warren Gamaliel Harding (1865-1923). Coolidge was the nation’s thirtieth president.


July 10, 1850: Millard Fillmore sworn in as president

July 10, 2014

Millard Fillmore was elected vice president largely because he was on the ticket with the very popular Gen. Zachary Taylor, hero of the Mexican War.

About 15 months into his presidency, President Taylor took ill  after presiding over July 4 festivities in blazing heat.  He died on July 9, 1850; Vice President Millard Fillmore took the oath as president the next day, and served out the term.  164 years ago today, Millard Fillmore served his first day as President.

Fillmore became the second person to take the presidency of the U.S. without having been elected.  John Tyler was William Henry Harrison’s vice president when Harrison died of pneumonia a mere 31 days after being sworn in as president.

Millard Fillmore in an 1850 lithograph by Francis DAvignon after a photograph by Matthew Brady (unclear if this was before or after his ascending to the presidency) - Library of Congress image

Millard Fillmore in an 1850 lithograph by Francis D’Avignon after a photograph by Matthew Brady (unclear if this was before or after his ascending to the presidency) – Library of Congress image

Zachary Taylor had encouraged New Mexico and California to draw up state constitutions, which would have disallowed slavery in those states.  To southern leaders who threatened secession, Taylor promised to personally lead the army that would hold the union together by force, and personally hang those who had proposed rebellion.

Fillmore had presided over the Senate during months of furious debate on issues that always seemed to come down to slavery.  Because he didn’t hold to the views of the Whig Party which had elected the Taylor-Fillmore ticket, even more than Taylor had strayed, the cabinet resigned.  Fillmore appointed Daniel Webster as Secretary of State, and proceeded to push for compromise on issues to avoid war.  His machinations helped get California admitted as a free state, but left New Mexico as a territory.  His support of the Fugitive Slave Act alienated even more Whigs, and by 1852 the Whigs refused to nominate Fillmore for a term of his own.  He left office in 1853, succeeded by Franklin Pierce.

Fillmore’s greatest accomplishment as president, perhaps, was his sending a fleet of ships to Japan to force that nation to open up to trade from the U.S.  The political furor over the Fugitive Slave Act, the Missouri Compromise, and other issues around slavery, tend to eclipse the memory of the good that Fillmore did.

Nota bene:  Controversy surrounded the death of Taylor.  Because he had threatened southern secessionists and incurred anger from several other groups, from the time of his death there were rumors he had been poisoned with arsenic.  Officially, the cause of death was gastroenteritis; popular accounts note that he had, in the heat of July, drunk milk and eaten cherries and cucumbers.  Certainly strep, staph or other bacteria in the milk could have created a problem.  In 1991 a team led by George Washington University Law Professor James Starrs exhumed Taylor’s body from his Louisville, Kentucky burial plot, and tested his remains for arsenic at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.  Analysis presented to the Kentucky medical examiner indicated arsenic levels way too low for a poisoning victim.

[This is an encore post, in parts.]

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"An Available Candidate: The One Qualific...

“An Available Candidate: The One Qualification for a Whig President”. Political cartoon about the 1848 presidential election which refers to Zachary Taylor or Winfield Scott, the two leading contenders for the Whig Party nomination in the aftermath of the Mexican-American War. Published by Nathaniel Currier in 1848, digitally restored. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)  Despite the cynicism of many , Zachary Taylor won the Whig Party nomination, and the presidency.  Taylor died just over a year after his inauguration.


July 9, 1850: Death of President Zachary Taylor; cue Millard Fillmore

July 9, 2014

President Zachary Taylor died on July 9, 1850.  The cause is still not fully clear, but poisoning by arsenic has been ruled out.

What would have happened had Taylor lived?

At the blog of the National Constitution Center, we get a few details of his death and life immediately preceding:

President Zachary Taylor’s death on July 9, 1850 shocked a nation that was in a heated debate about issues that eventually led to the Civil War. But his sudden passing also sidestepped two constitutional crises.

zachary-taylorThe details about how and why President Taylor died are still in dispute today. The president attended a ceremony at the site of the Washington Monument on July 4th on a reportedly hot summer day.

He fell ill soon after with a stomach ailment. His doctors gave him relief medication that included opium and later bled the president. Taylor died five days later at the age of 65.

Officially, he died from cholera morbus, and today, the prevalent theory is that Taylor suffered from gastroenteritis, an illness exacerbated by poor sanitary conditions in Washington.

There are other theories, including one where Taylor was poisoned by people who supported the South’s pro-slavery position. (In recent years, Taylor’s body was exhumed and a small, non-lethal amount of arsenic was found in samples taken from his corpse.)

It was Taylor’s unexpected opposition to slavery (he was from the South and was the last president to own slaves) that had caused an immediate crisis in 1850.

Taylor ran as a Whig candidate in 1848 and he wasn’t a professional politician. Taylor was a career military man and a hero in the war with Mexico.

Once he took office in March 1849, it became clear that Taylor, the military man, was more interested in preserving the Union than the art of politics.

Taylor decided to press for statehood for the newly acquitted territories of California and New Mexico, and to let the regions hold their own constitutional conventions. This guaranteed that California and New Mexico would join the Union as anti-slavery states, tipping the balance in the Senate to the North.

[more at the blog site]

In any case, Taylor died on July 9.

And on July 10, 1850, his vice president, Millard Fillmore, was sworn in as president.

No, that doesn’t mean the bathtub tale is true.

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