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.]

More:

"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.

More:


April 30, 1789: George Washington’s first inauguration as President of the U.S.

April 30, 2014

Mural by Allyn Cox in the U.S. Capitol depicts George Washington taking the oath of office in 1789 on the balcony of Federal Hall in New York City. Architect of the Capitol photograph

Mural by Allyn Cox in the U.S. Capitol depicts George Washington taking the oath of office in 1789 on the balcony of Federal Hall in New York City. Architect of the Capitol photograph

Not on March 4, as the Constitution specified, because Congress had not been able to organize itself to count the ballots of the electoral college, but on April 30, 1789, George Washington met with the U.S. Senate on the second floor of a building now called Federal Hall; then to the balcony, where Robert Livingston, Chancellor of the State of New York, administered the oath of office to Washington.  Washington put his left hand on a Bible borrowed from St. John’s Masonic Hall — there were no Bibles to be found in Federal hall where the First Congress was meeting.

That’s how it started.

The Library of Congress Today in History feature links to a wealth of resources for scholars and teachers:

Father of Our Country

George Washington

Detail from Gilbert Stuart’s unfinished portrait of George Washington, from the collections of the Library of Congress.

George Washington [detail],
Gilbert Stuart, artist.
Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

On April 30, 1789, George Washington delivered his first inaugural address to a joint session of Congress, assembled in Federal Hall in the nation’s new capital, New York City. The newly-elected president delivered the speech in a deep, low voice that betrayed what one observer called “manifest embarrassment.” Washington had not sought the office of president and was humbled by the request to serve.

Aside from recommending constitutional amendments to satisfy citizens demanding a Bill of Rights, Washington confined his address to generalities. He closed by asking for a “divine blessing” on the American people and their elected representatives. In delivering his address, Washington went beyond the constitutional requirement to take an oath of office and thus established a precedent that has been followed since by every elected president.

Two weeks before his inauguration, Washington had made an emotional speech to the citizens of his hometown, Alexandria, Virginia. He expressed regret at leaving his Mount Vernon estate where he had retired, and stated: “no earthly consideration, short of a conviction of duty, could have prevailed upon me to depart from my resolution,’never more to take any share in transactions of a public nature.'” The reluctant leader served two terms in office.

To learn more about George Washington, explore the following American Memory resources:

More:


Mo Rocca’s profile of Millard Fillmore

April 7, 2014

You may view Mo Rocca’s “profile” of President Millard Fillmore for CBS Sunday Morning, on YouTube:

“CBS Sunday Morning” correspondent Mo Rocca, far left, poses with Kathy Frost, curator of the Millard Fillmore Presidential Site, and Robert Lowell Goller, town historian and director of the Aurora Historical Society, during his recent visit to East Aurora.  Photo by  Robert Lowell Goller

East Aurora Advertiser caption: CBS Visits East Aurora “CBS Sunday Morning” correspondent Mo Rocca, far left, poses with Kathy Frost, curator of the Millard Fillmore Presidential Site, and Robert Lowell Goller, town historian and director of the Aurora Historical Society, during his recent visit to East Aurora. Photo by Robert Lowell Goller

CBS broadcast this piece on February 16, 2014.

 974

More:


The Gospel About Millard Fillmore – a Unitarian paean to our 13th president

March 26, 2014

This sermon was delivered at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco, by the Rev. John Robinson, on September 18, 2005.

Choir practice at First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Francisco.

Choir practice at First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Francisco.

That church used to keep this text in its sermon archives, but Irecently discovered that archives had gone away.  I was happy to find I could get a historic version of the page, from which I got this text below.

I offer this here for scholars of the history of the presidency, and for scholars and fans of Millard Fillmore.  Oh, and to update the link in my list of sources on Millard Fillmore.

The Gospel About Millard Fillmore

This sermon began many years ago, over 30. Elliot Richardson had been invited to speak at the Annual Meeting of our Association of Free churches. He was then the martyred hero who had resigned as Attorney General of these United States rather than obey Richard Nixon’s order to fire Archibald Cox as Special Watergate Prosecutor. He was a Unitarian from an old Unitarian family.

Not all Unitarians were happy to have him as speaker. There was much agitation about the choice. Protesters tried to interrupt his speech, but were finally prevailed upon to let him make it.

In the question and answer period that followed, one of the dissenters demanded to know how Elliot Richardson, when Nixon’s Secretary of Defense, could have authorized the infamous December bombings of Hanoi and Haiphong.

Elliot Richardson pointed out to the questioner that he had not been appointed to Secretary of Defense until after the bombings, indeed until after the Vietnam Truce had been declared. He could have stopped there. Gotten off, as so many of us are apt to do, looking good. But he did not. He told the truth. He continued saying: “But, I think the decision to bomb was right.” It was the sort of candor that impresses.

Later that evening a young minister, this was years ago, was on a hotel elevator on to which Elliot Richardson stepped, unsuspectingly. Emboldened by spirits if not spirit. The young minister thanked Mr. Richardson for his speech and apologized for the rude behavior of some self-righteous Unitarians who treat those others of this tradition with whom they disagree so intolerantly. And then, as an illustration he launched into an impromptu sermon on Millard Fillmore. Ever polite, Elliot Richardson said he would like to see a full text. The young minister sent it to him, at the Court of St. James, where Mr. Richardson was at the time United States Ambassador to Great Britain. The Ambassador sent back a letter thanking the young minister for his sermon, saying that he had enjoyed it immensely. As a not so young minister, I still treasure that letter. Here for you this morning is the text of that sermon.

History has been unkind to Millard Fillmore, often referred to as “Millard Who?”. Forgetting that he was 13th president of the United States. One of the few accomplishments for which he is given credit is installing the first bath tub in the White House. There is serious doubt about that.

One historian said of Fillmore: “He came to the Presidency by the only road available to a man of limited ability, the death of his predecessor.” He was accused of being both pro-slavery and abolitionist. It was said he did “not have courage” “but was just inflexible.” They accused him of having “no position except equivocation,” that he was “without personal earnest conviction, personal force, or capacity for strong personal leadership.” His general rating as a president has been, until recently, below average, way below. He is judged bad or poor in his religiousness by those who judge such things. He was rejected by the religious community of which he was a member. He was a Unitarian.

There are three reasons to tell the story of Millard Fillmore: First, he illustrates the on-going tension in our free religious community, between the prophetic and the practical – the privilege of moral purity and the necessity to make real world decisions. Second, he illustrates well how difficult it is to judge our contemporaries. And third, to help restore Millard Fillmore to his rightful place in history.

The list of reasons for Fillmore’s lack of fame or infamy is long. His presidency was very short, only 2 years 236 days. His presidency is greatly overshadowed by the momentous events of the Civil War, eight years later. He was not liked by either the abolitionist historians or those historians who were apologists for the south. His association with the Know-Nothings tarnished his memory. And perhaps most important, the principal source of information about him came from the writings of his arch rival and enemy, the New York political boss Thurlow Weed, who called Fillmore derisively, “That incorruptible man from Buffalo.” Weed was very corruptible.

Millard Fillmore was born in a log cabin January 1, 1800, in upstate New York on his father’s poor, unproductive, isolated, farm. Millard was his mother’s maiden name. His education was sparse, no more than three months a year. He said that in the nine months working on his father’s farm, he forgot more than he learned the other three months. But his ambitious father apprenticed Millard to a cloth cutter, and then later got him a job in a law office. Millard’s Education was mostly self-learning, though by 20 he had a position as a schoolteacher. And then he became a lawyer. At 26 he married Abigail Powers who had taught him as he tried to catch up on his education. At 28 he was elected to the New York State Assembly.

At age 31 he joined a group of like-minded citizens in Buffalo New York where he now made his home. These were the founding and charter members of the First Unitarian Church of Buffalo New York.

Millard fought many good fights in the New York State Assembly. He fought for repeal of a law that required anyone testifying in court to swear that they believed in God and the hereafter. He pushed for an end to imprisonment for debt, and bankruptcy laws to protect small business interests. He fought for separation of church and state.

Millard was a party switcher right from the beginning. He was elected to the assembly as a National Republican, the party of Jefferson. Then He was elected as an Anti-Mason, a party he had helped to form. The Anti-Masons held that the Masonic Order with its lodges, secret rites and oaths, loyalties to something other than the Constitution, constituted an invisible Empire, a dangerous intrusion in a democracy. He wanted to get Masons out of government.

Fillmore was elected to Congress as a National Republican in 1832. His first term saw the formation of the Whig Party, an event he supported, as he wanted to see a party of National Union.

Unfortunately for those who look for titillation in sermons there were no publish rumors of moral turpitude. He served but one term in Congress, (perhaps an early supporter of term limits) and then went home to Buffalo and devoted himself to cultural and intellectual enrichment of Buffalo. (I know, you may think that an oxymoron.) He supported good causes like free public education and free public libraries.

In 1836 he was again elected to the House of Representatives. There he was made chair of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. He also was chair of a Select Committee charged with investigation of election fraud in New Jersey (yes, I know, no change there). Incredibly Fillmore’s committee found 5 congressmen of his own party guilty, threw them out of congress, and thus handed control of The House to the opposition party! (IMAGINE!)

In 1842 he again left Congress, this time as a prominent Whig. The next year Horace Greely, editor of the NEW YORK TRIBUNE (also an alleged Unitarian), urged Fillmore’s candidacy for Vice-President. (Years later Fillmore repaid the favor by getting Greely out of debtors’ prison in Paris.)

1844 was not the year for Millard to get the nomination. He was held to be anti-slave and anti-Southern. He opposed the annexation of Texas as an attempt to swell slavery forces.

Later Millard opposed the Mexican War, which he believed would spread slavery and weaken the North’s industrial economy.

1848 was the year when Fillmore was tapped as the Whigs vice-presidential candidate. He balanced the ticket, with General Zachary Taylor, a Southerner, and slave owner, who was a hero of the Mexican War (ironically). Taylor ran on a rough and ready image. Leading abolitionists bolted the party, particularly New Englanders, notably the leading Unitarian, Charles Francis Adams.

The Taylor-Fillmore ticket had no platform because whatever was said would alienate part of the country. Abe Lincoln supported this ticket. On November 7, they won.

On July 9, 1850, rough and ready Zachary Taylor died from illness. Fillmore became President, the third President to be Unitarian. (In October of that same year this church was founded.) Within a month Fillmore had aroused the ire of the North by signing the Compromise of 1850. He did it, knowing that he had ruined any hope he had to run for the Presidency on his own. He also earned the animosity of many Unitarians.

The Compromise of 1850 preserved the balance between the North and South that dated from the Missouri Compromise and earlier. By it: California was admitted as a free state; New Mexico and Utah became Territories with no restriction on slavery; Texas was paid 10 million dollars to accept the Texas-New Mexico boundaries; slavery was to be decided by the people of Texas. The balance of concessions was further kept by prohibiting the slave trade in Washington, D.C. but continuing the right (better said the wrong) of slave ownership in the capital. The provision that enraged the abolitionists most was the strengthening of the fugitive slave laws. It empowered federal agents to enforce the act. The Whig Party split over Fillmore’s signing of the law.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (Unitarian) said of the fugitive slave law, “I will not obey it, by God.” Theodore Parker (author of the opening words this morning), a Boston Unitarian minister, led an armed band of vigilantes that confronted slave hunters up from the South; intimidated them into leaving; and saved a slave couple who had escaped to Boston. Parker had acted in direct defiance of the Fugitive Slave Law. With loaded pistol and sword ready on his writing desk Unitarian Parker wrote the Unitarian President, Fillmore, telling what he had done and challenging Fillmore to enforce his “damned law.”

History has judged Fillmore harshly for that one law – a Unitarian President perpetuating slavery – the scandal! Why did he do it? Talk of secession! Remember the times. Even before Taylor’s inauguration, Virginia had passed legislation that threatened secession if the federal government interfered with “Southern Institutions”. John C. Calhoun (also a Unitarian and charter member of the Unitarian Church in Washington D.C.) and other Southern leaders were making ominous warnings. Tension between the States in the House of Representatives kept them from selecting a Speaker for over three weeks. By the time Fillmore took office, the South was ringing with calls for secession, not only if slavery were interfered with but if its expansion were checked.

Fillmore’s predecessor, Taylor, a Southerner, a slave owner and war hero, might have held the country together had he lived to veto the compromise of 1850 as he had said he would. Fillmore knew he could not hold the Union if he vetoed it. He set one goal, to preserve the Union and the Constitution. To give up the great compromise forged in 1787-1788 would, he knew, lead to the rupture of the Union. He thought the North was at that time not yet strong enough to win a civil war. Modern historians agree.

By the end of October 1850, Fillmore had angered abolitionists by sending federal troops to assist U.S. Marshal’s in the arrest of fugitive slaves. His determination for the compromise was also felt in the South. He sent reinforcements for Charleston, South Carolina where Southerners, angry over the North’s resistance to the fugitive slave laws, were threatening to seize federal property.

Fillmore has been most severely criticized for not fighting slavery with determination. However, there is another side. John F. Kennedy in Profiles of Courage chose to profile Daniel Webster. Webster was also a Whig and a Unitarian. Kennedy praises Webster for his courage in supporting The Compromise of 1850 with its Fugitive Slave Law. Fillmore had presided as Vice-President over the debates on the Compromise. He had heard Webster’s famous speech that cost Webster the support of his Massachusetts constituents. Emerson said of Webster at this time “The word ‘liberty’ in the mouth of Mr. Webster sounds like the word ‘love’ in the mouth of a courtesan.”

Webster and Fillmore thought slavery would die a natural death in the industrial revolution (Why invest capital in slave ownership when an Irishman could be rented for next to nothing in wages.) They saw the tension, not so much as slave vs. free, as agriculture vs. industry.

Webster was but one vote for the bill. Fillmore alone shouldered the final responsibility to veto or sign the bill. Fillmore bore the blame for the Compromise of 1850. Do not forget that Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, said that if he could preserve the Union by keeping slavery, he would.

When the Compromise of 1850 fell apart, the Civil War began. The Whigs were terribly weakened by abolitionist outrage.

Perhaps Fillmore’s next most far-reaching act was to send Commodore Perry to Japan. But Fillmore was done. The Whigs were done.

In the election of 1852 Fillmore and Webster fought over the nomination for President at the next Whig Convention, for 47 ballots to a deadlock. In the end, a man neither of them could support was nominated and lost the election. A saddened Fillmore attended, with his wife, the cold rainy inauguration of Franklin Pierce. Three weeks later Fillmore’s wife died of pneumonia contracted that inauguration day. Fillmore’s 22 year old daughter died the year after he left office.

After he had stepped down from office, the Officers of the American Unitarian Association invited Millard Fillmore to preside over the Annual Meeting. But abolitionists refused to allow him to be seated after he got there. They would have no part of this man who would not follow their conscience. One hopes that this free religion might be gentler today but I am not sure. After the Civil War, Fillmore stung by their action resigned from the Buffalo Church when its minister and his friend died.

By 1856 the Whig party had disintegrated. The lines grew harder: Democrats to the South, Republicans to the North. Millard Fillmore wanted a party for the Union. He then made the second mistake for which he has been charged harshly. He offered himself to the American Party, the Know-Nothings, anti-foreign and anti-Catholic, as candidate — a devil of a thing for a free religionist to do. He hoped to gather there the remnants of the Whigs. He then went off to Europe on a 12-month vacation.

Ironically he was on foreign soil, after just completing an audience with the Pope when he was notified that he had received the Know-Nothing’s nomination for President. He was chosen because he was the only person of stature that they could get.

But many Know-Nothings were unhappy with him and bolted the party. Fillmore is not known to have ever expressed any anti-Catholic sentiments. This though he had lost a bid for Governor of New York because Catholics were angry that his militancy for separation of church and state made him oppose state funding they sought for various Catholic institutions.

Fillmore expressed no support for the Know-Nothing goal of removing all Catholics from office alleging they would be loyal to the Pope rather than the U.S.A. He did, however, believe that foreigners should be fully Americanized in their views before becoming citizens. He was also concerned that immigrants, who joined our diplomatic service, were sent to the countries from which they had come. He thought it a potential conflict of interest.

In 1856, he ran for President as the American Party candidate with a Southern slaveholder as his running mate. They emphasized in the campaign regional compromise and preservation of the Union. They carried only the State of Maryland. However they also were the spoilers that kept the Republicans from winning and thus put the Civil war off four more years. It is important remember that the changes happening in this nation, at this time, were more dramatic and far reaching in many ways than the computer revolution in our own. These were the years of the industrial revolution. The dramatic growth of railroads and factories, was changing the North for a subsistence farm economy to market agriculture and industrial growth. These changes radically altered the balance between North and South, increasing the might of the North disproportionately.

It is difficult to know whether Millard was in any sense a believer in Know-Nothingism, or if he knew of the violence in which some of its members engaged, or if he merely compromised himself to win his objective of continued Union of the States. He wouldn’t be the first prejudice Unitarian. He was not a radical Abolitionist. He said, however, that he thought the fugitive slave law odious but constitutional.

Slavery was a despicable practice. There is no apology for it. It is easy to condemn compromisers. But it is harder to make the difficult decisions that the real world demands. If it had not been for the courage of Fillmore the Civil war would have come sooner. And if the South had succeeded in becoming independent, how long and how entrenched by bitterness would slavery have lasted? Until today? And if cooler heads had prevailed, compromise succeeded, would slavery possibly have collapsed anyway without the blood shed and bitterness engendered by that fratricidal war?

The tension between the ideal and the real, the promise and what is practical, between moral purity and the sin of every day life, is very real. It is a tension that we humans are both burdened and blessed with. I leave you to struggle with these hard dilemmas. You do each time you vote. I believe that we are at our best when we walk with each other talk with each other, even in our differences, rather than separating.

Millard Fillmore lived out the balance of his days quietly in private life. He supported Lincoln, met Lincoln in Buffalo when Lincoln was on his way from Illinois to his First Inaugural. He took Lincoln to services at the First Unitarian Church of Buffalo. He thought that the Republicans had provoked the Civil War but gave it his support at rallies. He thought Lincoln too harsh – he strongly supported Andrew Johnson’s efforts at conciliation.

Fillmore was no Saint if you look for moral purity, nor was he our most brilliant President. He refused an Honorary Degree from Oxford, because he had no earned degree of any kind. He said he was “not entitled to it.” (Give him high marks on humility). But he was more than most have given him credit for. He risked and lost his reputation to keep the vision of a United States, even as others risked much to purify that vision. In looking up Eliot Richardson on the Internet, I find that he is listed as an Episcopalian/Anglican. Perhaps he too felt the sting of our righteousness at the General Assembly.

May we, O God, be people who understand that the course of truth and good is never so easy, and that the tread of evil runs through each of us, most surely when we are convinced of our own righteousness.

Amen and Amen.

Mostly accurate, so far as I can tell.  No, I haven’t figured out how you cite this under MLA standards.


Presidents Day 2014: Fly your flag today

February 17, 2014

Come on, you didn’t really need me to remind you, did you? It’s Presidents’ Day on most calendars, though the official U.S. holiday is Washington’s Birthday.

You’re already flying your flag today, right?  Let’s recapitulate from last year

Dr. Bumsted reminds us we need to emphasize that the federal holiday is Washington’s Birthday, not a day to honor presidents generically.  See the explanation from the U.S. National Archives.

Presidents Day is February 17, 2014 — fly your U.S. flag today.

National Park Service photo, Lincoln Memorial through flags at Washington Monument

The Lincoln Memorial, seen through flags posted at the Washington Monument, Washington, D.C.; National Park Service Photo via About.com

Oddly enough, some controversy arises from time to time over how to honor President Washington and President Lincoln, and other presidents.  Sometimes the controversy simmers over how to honor great Americans — if Lincoln deserves a day, why not FDR?  Why not Jefferson? — and sometimes the controversy covers more mundane ground — should the federal government give workers a day off?  Should it be on a Monday or Friday to create a three-day weekend to boost tourism?  About.com explains the history of the controversy:

Presidents’ Day is intended (for some) to honor all the American presidents, but most significantly George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. According to the Gregorian or “New Style” calendar that is most commonly used today, George Washington was born on February 22, 1732. But according to the Julian or “Old Style” calendar that was used in England until 1752, his birth date was February 11th. Back in the 1790s, Americans were split – some celebrated his birthday on February 11th and some on February 22nd.

When Abraham Lincoln became president and helped reshape our country, it was believed he, too, should have a special day of recognition. Tricky thing was that Lincoln’s birthday fell on February 12th. Prior to 1968, having two presidential birthdays so close together didn’t seem to bother anyone. February 22nd was observed as a federal public holiday to honor the birthday of George Washington and February 12th was observed as a public holiday to honor Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.

In 1968, things changed when the 90th Congress was determined to create a uniform system of federal Monday holidays. They voted to shift three existing holidays (including Washington’s Birthday) to Mondays. The law took effect in 1971, and as a result, Washington’s Birthday holiday was changed to the third Monday in February. But not all Americans were happy with the new law. There was some concern that Washington’s identity would be lost since the third Monday in February would never fall on his actual birthday. There was also an attempt to rename the public holiday “Presidents’ Day”, but the idea didn’t go anywhere since some believed not all presidents deserved a special recognition. [Take THAT you Franklin Pierce and Millard Fillmore fans!]

Even though Congress had created a uniform federal holiday law, there was not a uniform holiday title agreement among the individual states. Some states, like California, Idaho, Tennessee and Texas chose not to retain the federal holiday title and renamed their state holiday “President’s Day.” From that point forward, the term “Presidents’ Day” became a marketing phenomenon, as advertisers sought to capitalize on the opportunity for three-day or week-long sales.

In 1999, bills were introduced in both the U.S. House (HR-1363) and Senate (S-978) to specify that the legal public holiday once referred to as Washington’s Birthday be “officially” called by that name once again. Both bills died in committees.

Today, President’s Day is well accepted and celebrated. Some communities still observe the original holidays of Washington and Lincoln, and many parks actually stage reenactments and pageants in their honor. The National Park Service also features a number of historic sites and memorials to honor the lives of these two presidents, as well as other important leaders.

Fly your flag, read some history, enjoy the day.

More, Resources, and Related Articles:

English: Air Force One, the typical air transp...

President’s airplane, Air Force 1, flying over Mount Rushmore National Monument, in South Dakota – Image via Wikipedia; notice, contrary to Tea Party fears, the bust of Obama is not yet up on Rushmore (and also note there remains no room for another bust).

Yes, this is mostly an encore post.  This event occurs every year.


Millard Fillmore: Ready for his closeup with CBS Sunday Morning?

February 16, 2014

http://twitter.com/fillmoremillard/status/434912774716915712

Millard Fillmore as

Millard Fillmore as “Bad President,” by jimmyemery at deviantart. How will Mo Rocca’s story portray Fillmore?

If other news doesn’t interfere, Millard Fillmore is scheduled to get a Presidents Day treatment from reporter and humorist Mo Rocca, on CBS’s “Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood,” on February 16.

What a fine collision!  Fillmore’s story is really pretty good.  Osgood and Sunday Morning are top of the genre.  Rocca is smart, and often funny.  Even if they perform below their par, the segment should be enlightening.

Blogging for the venerable Buffalo News, TV writer and critic Alan Pergament gives more details:

If you’re tired of me telling you how wonderful “CBS Sunday Morning” with Charles Osgood is, better look away now.

Correspondent Mo Rocca — whose chicken wing piece ran on Super Bowl Sunday — is back again this Sunday with a piece on President Millard Fillmore.

Rocca visited the Fillmore home in East Aurora on the same week he was here to sample chicken wings.

According to a CBS spokesperson, Rocca explains in the piece “why Fillmore should be remembered for more than just his unusual name.”

The spokesperson added that University at Buffalo professor Claude Welch is one of the experts that Rocca spoke to “about what made the 13th president stand out.”

“Sunday Morning” airs at 9 a.m. Sundays on Channel 4, the local CBS affiliate.

The timing of the Fillmore piece makes sense since this is President’s Day weekend.

Prof. Welch delivered the annual address at Fillmore’s grave this year, on Fillmore’s birthday, January 7 (delayed a couple of days this year because of cold and snow).

“Sunday Morning” runs from 8:00 to 9:30 a.m. on KTVT, Channel 11, in Dallas.  I’ll be ringing bells, and I’ll have to record the show.  Check your local schedule. 

You could do worse on Presidents Day Eve than to learn something more about Fillmore, arguably the man who set up World War II in the Pacific.

That’s something even H. L. Mencken didn’t blame Fillmore for.


If you’re not remembered as much as Millard Fillmore . . .

January 10, 2014

The University of Buffalo honored Millard Fillmore today in a graveside ceremony on Thursdaypostponed from Fillmore’s birthday on January 7 due to cold and icy weather.

Is Fillmore forgotten as much as many claim?

Compare to notes on the births of other presidents.

Richard Nixon was born on January 9, 1913 (same year as my mother!)  He’d be 101 today, and still not a crook in his view.

US Senate History tweeted:

Not quite so good as a graveside ceremony.  Funnier picture, perhaps.

But consider Andrew Johnson.  His birthday was a couple of weeks ago, on December 29.

Andrew Johnson, the seventeenth president of the United States, was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, on December 29, 1808. His father’s death when the boy was three left the family in poverty. From age fourteen to age seventeen, young Johnson was apprenticed to a tailor. He then moved with his mother and stepfather to Greeneville, Tennessee, where he established himself as a tailor. Johnson never attended school but taught himself to read and write—he all but memorized the U.S. Constitution—and after his 1827 marriage to Eliza McCardle, a shoemaker’s daughter, acquired a good common education under her tutelage.

A gifted orator, Johnson quickly ascended the political ladder. In 1829, he won his first office, as an alderman. In steady succession he became mayor of Greeneville, a member of the Tennessee state legislature (1835-37, 1839-43), U.S. congressman (1843-53), governor of Tennessee (1853-57), and U.S. senator (1857-62). In Congress, Johnson supported the annexation of Texas and the Mexican-American War, and sponsored a homestead bill that anticipated the 1862 Homestead Act. He also was the only Southern senator who firmly supported the Union and remained in the Senate throughout both the secession crisis and the Civil War. In the spring of 1862, after federal forces captured portions of Tennessee, President Lincoln appointed him military governor of the state, an office he held despite constant danger to his life.

Two years later, influential moderates such as William Seward worked to secure Andrew Johnson, a Democrat, as Lincoln’s running mate on the Republican Party ticket. According to a May 20, 1865, editorial in Harper’s Weekly, Seward had seen in Johnson “that his fellow-Senator, a land-reformer, a stern Union man, a trusted representative of the people of the South as distinguished from the planting aristocracy, was the very kind of leader by whom the political power of the aristocracy was ultimately to be overthrown in its own section.”

After Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865, little more than a month after their inauguration, Johnson assumed the presidency. His administration ran more smoothly in the foreign than the domestic arena: in 1867, Secretary of State Seward purchased Alaska and helped negotiate France’s withdrawal of troops from Mexico.

If nothing else, Johnson is notorious for having been the first president to be impeached (he was acquitted at trial by the Senate; best account probably in John Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage).

Was there much of a peep in popular media on his birthday?

Any note?  I didn’t find it except in a very few of the “Today in History” columns.

Johnson may be forgettable, though — not considered a good president (who could be following Lincoln!).

What about Woodrow Wilson?  His birthday also cropped up a couple of weeks ago, on December 28, the day before Johnson’s.

It is not needful or possible at this time, whilst yet he lives, to say that Wilson is a Washington or another Lincoln, but he is a great American. He is one of the great presidents of American history.

Rabbi Stephen A. Wise in a tribute to Woodrow Wilson.
American Leaders Speak: Recordings from World War I and the 1920 Election, 1918-1920

Anyone notice?  I mean, anyone outside of Staunton, Virginia, his birthplace?  (Well, yeah — see below.)

What is a fair measure of ignominy? If the world forgets the great man’s birthday, is that a sign?

Photo by Michael Bupp, The Carlisle Sentinel:

Photo by Michael Bupp, The Carlisle Sentinel: “For 88 years, there has been a Woodrow Wilson Birthday Association of Cumberland County that organized an annual observance around Dec. 28 to remember Wilson. Pat Stumbaugh is the current treasurer and has been involved in the association since she was a little girl.”

More:


Stretching celebration of Millard Fillmore’s birthday through the week

January 7, 2014

Summerhill, New York, got a jump on celebrating Millard Fillmore’s birthday with a Sunday ceremony; today’s scheduled graveside commemoration is postponed due to weather, to Thursday — nearly a full week of Millard Fillmore!

Summerhill’s annual birthday party continued a tradition of uncertain age.  Fillmore was born in a log cabin in Summerhill.

Details come from the Auburn, New York, Citizen:

Three members of Flock of Free Range Children John Davis, from left, Ron Van Nostrand and Don Watkins perform at the birthday party for former President Millard Fillmore Sunday in the Summerhill Town Hall.   (Photo by Jessica Soule)

Music for the Summerhill, New York, celebration of Millard Fillmore’s 214th birthday was provided, again, by Flock of Free Range Children. Caption from the Auburn Citizen: Three members of Flock of Free Range Children John Davis, from left, Ron Van Nostrand and Don Watkins perform at the birthday party for former President Millard Fillmore Sunday in the Summerhill Town Hall. (Photo by Jessica Soule)

SUMMERHILL | Summerhill’s town hall was taken over Sunday with the delights of a birthday party – cake, live music and community members coming together in celebration. Millard Fillmore was born 214 years ago, on Jan. 7, 1800, in a log cabin there.

In honor of his birthday, the Cayuga Owasco Lakes Historical Society partnered with the town of Summerhill to put on a party for the 13th president of the United States of America. This annual celebration has happened for years, society President Joyce Hackett Smith-Moore said.

Three members of the Flock of Free Range Children performed in the hall, as people munched on food and chatted. A banner with Fillmore’s birth year hung from the wall above a birthday cake.

“This is our opportunity for the town and our members to keep the memory of Fillmore alive,” Smith-Moore said. “After all, there’s not a lot of counties that have a president from there. There is a lot of history, but there’s so much more.”

The historical society also hosts an annual fundraiser in August. This year, the money gathered will benefit the pavilion that commemorates Fillmore’s birthplace. Specifically, the society wants to install bathrooms. The path that connects his birthplace and Fillmore Glen State Park was recently cleared, giving walkers another trail to learn more about the president who was responsible for adding indoor plumbing to the White House.

Commemorating the president with origins in Cayuga County is especially important, as he hasn’t gotten his due from national historians.

“All presidents have a library or museum, except Fillmore. We’re the only executive of his effects,” Smith-Moore said.

Fillmore only recently became the subject of his first biography, completed by a former Moravia teacher. The birthday celebration is an effort to raise awareness of his accomplishments and the many positive effects of his work on the nation, Smith-Moore said.

The historical society presented the town a frame that contained coins, one bearing Fillmore’s image and another of his wife, a photo of the deputy director of the United States Mint dedicating the Fillmore coin in 2010 and a flier of the coin dedication.

In an effort to remind the community of their local treasure, fifth-graders will be treated to a sit down between Fillmore and Abraham Lincoln in their curriculum.

“People just don’t know anything about Millard Fillmore,” Smith-Moore said.

She said one of his biggest accomplishments was to order the military to start surveying in preparation for what would become the Transcontinental Railroad. Meanwhile, town historian Florence Lansdowne said Fillmore opening up trade with Japan led to major benefits.

“We want to instill in people how important he was,” Lansdowne said.

Lansdowne is retiring, and will work with her replacement Patricia McCloy this year. McCloy lauded Lansdowne for her work in gaining recognition for the 13th president.

McCloy said she is excited to take over as local historian. She’s going to try to encourage more use of the pavilion that commemorates Fillmore’s birthplace.

“Is it amazing,” she said. “There aren’t many towns in American that can say they had a president.”

From the Auburn Citizen:  New Summerhill town historian Patricia McCloy, right, smiles during a presentation by the Cayuga Owasco Lakes Historical Society as retiring town historian Florence Lansdowne, left, and society President Joyce Hackett Smith-Moore look on. (Photo by Jessica Soule)

From the Auburn Citizen: New Summerhill town historian Patricia McCloy, right, smiles during a presentation by the Cayuga Owasco Lakes Historical Society as retiring town historian Florence Lansdowne, left, and society President Joyce Hackett Smith-Moore look on. (Photo by Jessica Soule)

What other celebrations might there be out there?  Does anyone race bathtubs anymore?

More, perhaps related:


Two presidents, a study in blue

September 27, 2013

Pete Souza photo - Pres Obama talks backstage with Pres Clinton as Hillary Clinton waits to be introduced at CGI event 9-24-2013

White House photographer Pete Souza: ‏@petesouza 24 Sep Pres Obama talks backstage with Pres Clinton as Hillary Clinton waits to be introduced at CGI [Clinton Global Initiative] event today [September 24, 2013] pic.twitter.com/TCYqyxMZa8

Pete Souza’s work as White House photographer continues to fascinate me.  He’s got more opportunity than most of us have to get great shots — but he’s also got a keen eye for a good story-telling photo, and a good eye for great photo composition on the fly.

In this photo, Souza captures two presidents lost in conversation, bathed in blue stage lights, awaiting their time on the stage; but next up is Hillary Clinton, who will introduce them.  Mrs. Clinton awaits her cue.  The presidents met at the annual meetings for the Clinton Global Initiative.

Hold on to this photo; depending on events of 2016, it may yet have many more stories to tell.


President Lincoln and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in the Oval Office

August 28, 2013

I remember, just a year ago, when the GOP candidate for president promised to make this photo impossible, replacing King with an Englishman.

150 years later, 50 years later, change gotta come, still.

A better version of the photo:

Painting of Abraham Lincoln, bust of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., together in the Oval Office, White House. (Pete Souza photo?)

Painting of Abraham Lincoln, bust of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., together in the Oval Office, White House. (Pete Souza photo?) Photo published on August 28, 2013, the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

Oval office, Martin Luther King, March on Washington, Abraham Lincoln

More:


90 years ago: Harding died in San Francisco; Coolidge rose to presidency

August 11, 2013

It’s another one of those mostly-unexplored crevices of history.  90 years ago this August, President Warren G. Harding died in a San Francisco hotel, while on a trip visiting western states.  Harding’s death promoted Calvin Coolidge to the presidency.  They were Republican presidents in one of the hottest stock market eras of all time, during the Roaring ’20s.  Their policies probably helped lead the nation to the financial ruin after the dramatic stock market crash of 1929.

Perhaps its no wonder people would like to forget that fascinating time — but shouldn’t we really give Harding and Coolidge some diligent study?  Consider: Harding and Coolidge would be the last ticket to defeat Franklin Delano Roosevelt for anything; FDR’s reputation rests on his rollback of Harding-Coolidge-Hoover policies.  But in 1920, FDR’s ticket ran on policies more similar to those policies than opposed to them.  Odd how history turns sometimes.

Warren Gamaliel Harding won the election to succeed Woodrow Wilson, some said simply because he looked like a president.  Harding was a little laid back for the times — considering McKinley was assassinated, his successor, the hyper-caffeinated Teddy Roosevelt would die young of a heart attack, obesity nearly took out Teddy’s successor, William H. Taft, and Wilson had suffered a stroke about half-way through his second term.  It was an era when high blood pressure had no particular treatment, and the Type A men who presided over the nation could suffer from all the syndromes high blood pressure can cause.  At the White House website [links added here]:

In 1921, President Warren Harding spoke into a recording apparatus to create a phonographic copy of one of his speeches.  Photo from the Miller Center, University of Virginia

In 1921, President Warren Harding spoke into a recording apparatus to create a phonographic copy of one of his speeches. Photo from the Miller Center, University of Virginia

Before his nomination, Warren G. Harding declared, “America’s present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise; not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality….”

A Democratic leader, William Gibbs McAdoo, called Harding’s speeches “an army of pompous phrases moving across the landscape in search of an idea.” Their very murkiness was effective, since Harding’s pronouncements remained unclear on the League of Nations, in contrast to the impassioned crusade of the Democratic candidates, Governor James M. Cox of Ohio and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Thirty-one distinguished Republicans had signed a manifesto assuring voters that a vote for Harding was a vote for the League. But Harding interpreted his election as a mandate to stay out of the League of Nations.

Harding took office promising to be a business-friendly president, meaning he supported the big money guys.  Laying out a lesson of history that too many today never learned, Harding led Washington to cut taxes on the upper income levels and bigger businesses, and set up the Roaring ’20s economy that would lead to the financial collapse of the U.S. in 1929, plunging the nation into the Great Depression.  Off the job, he played poker at the White House with bootleg whiskey on the table.  No Treasury “revenuer” would bust the President and his high-rolling friends.

In 1923, Harding’s luck started to run out.  Stories of corruption in his administration began to circulate.  The Miller Center describes what led to his unexpected death:

Death of the President

Shaken by the talk of corruption among the friends he had appointed to office, Warren and Florence Harding began a tour on June 20, 1923 of the West and Alaska. He hoped to get out and meet people, to shake hands and explain his policies. Although suffering from high blood pressure and an enlarged heart, he seemed to enjoy himself—especially in Alaska. On his return journey, he became ill with what was then attributed to a touch of ptomaine (food) poisoning. The presidential train rushed to San Francisco, where his condition worsened. On August 2, he most likely suffered a heart attack in the evening, while his wife was reading to him. He died quietly and instantaneously.

Word quickly spread that Mrs. Harding, the last person to be with him that evening, had poisoned him to prevent him from being brought up on charges of corruption that soon engulfed his administration. A sensationalist book published in 1930 detailed the allegations against her. Her refusal to allow an autopsy of the President only fed the rumors. Harding left the bulk of his estate, valued at $850,000, to his wife.

It was August, after all.  Coolidge retreated from Washington to his home in Vermont.  The Miller Center’s account is a good one:

On August 2, 1923, John Coolidge woke his vacationing son and daughter-in-law at the family home in Plymouth Notch, Vermont, to tell them of President Harding’s death from a heart attack. Coolidge knelt, prayed, and went downstairs. Although the old house had no phone, it was soon abuzz with reporters. At 2:24 a.m., with the newspaper men settled and a copy of the Constitution retrieved, the elder Coolidge, a justice of the peace, administered the oath of office to his son by the light of a kerosene lamp. Soon after, Calvin Coolidge went back to bed as the 30th President of the United States.

Coolidge is the only president to have been sworn in by a close family member.  The “Constitution retrieved”  should be a point of study of presidential aides.  After the assassination of President John Kennedy in Dallas, federal Judge Sarah Hughes got a call to administer the oath of office to Lyndon Johnson before Johnson flew back to Washington.  Hughes said she’d do it, but she needed a copy of the oath.  Apparently not giving adequate thought, this spurred a furious search for a copy of the oath.  After too long, a lawyer in the U.S. attorney’s office recalled the oath is in the Constitution, and a copy in a law book was taken to where Johnson and the presidential entourage awaited aboard Air Force 1 at Love Field.

You never know when you’re going to need to remember history, and know where to retrieve some bit of law.

Coolidge used a calm hand at the tiller during his presidency, continuing what he and others thought to be wise policies to encourage the growth of business.  He’s always struck me as one of the better balanced men in the White House.  Coolidge brought Scouting into the mansion, for his two sons, John, and Calvin, Jr. — he was devoted to his family, and to outdoor recreation (though usually in a coat and tie — the fashion of the time).  John attended Amherst College during his father’s term.

He won his own term of office in 1924, but lost his younger son.  Calvin, Jr., played his brother in tennis, but developed a blister on his foot from the match.  The blister got infected, and the boy developed blood poisoning, which took his life on July 7, 1924.  Although Coolidge, Sr., won the election that fall, after his son’s death he appeared anxious to get out of the White House.  Using the “two-term” precedent as his excuse, and claiming the small part of Harding’s term as his first, Coolidge did not run for re-election in 1928.

Coolidge enjoyed wearing various hats, and did not blanch at posing in clothing created for him, which means we have a rich (though limited) catalog of photographs of Coolidge in strange attire.  Campaign staffs for presidential candidates since at least 1960 have made a study of this, working hard to avoid such photos, failing with some consequences.

President Calvin Coolidge and a 10-gallon hat.  Library of Congress image

President Calvin Coolidge and a 10-gallon hat. Library of Congress image

More:

 


49 years ago: August 7, 1964, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

August 7, 2013

August 7 is the 43rd anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, the resolution which authorized President Lyndon B. Johnson to move troops into South Vietnam to defend U.S. interests.

Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, passed by Congress on August 7, 1964, as presented to President Lyndon Johnson, and signed by him on August 10.  This is the document that authorized U.S. involvement in Vietnam.  Image from the National Archives, Our Documents display.

Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, passed by Congress on August 7, 1964, as presented to President Lyndon Johnson, and signed by him on August 10. This is the document that authorized U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Image from the National Archives, Our Documents display.

The resolution passed Congress after what appeared to be attacks on two U.S. Navy ships in the Gulf of Tonkin.  At the time, and now, evidence is weak that such attacks took place.

Quick summary from the National Archives:

On August 4, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson announced that two days earlier, U.S. ships in the Gulf of Tonkin had been attacked by the North Vietnamese. Johnson dispatched U.S. planes against the attackers and asked Congress to pass a resolution to support his actions. The joint resolution “to promote the maintenance of international peace and security in southeast Asia” passed on August 7, with only two Senators (Wayne Morse and Ernest Gruening) dissenting, and became the subject of great political controversy in the course of the undeclared war that followed.

The Tonkin Gulf Resolution stated that “Congress approves and supports the determination of the President, as Commander in Chief, to take all necessary measures to repeal any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent any further aggression.” As a result, President Johnson, and later President Nixon, relied on the resolution as the legal basis for their military policies in Vietnam.

As public resistance to the war heightened, the resolution was repealed by Congress in January 1971.

Santayana’s ghost looks on in wonder.

Map of divided Vietnam, during the Vietnam War. History Place map via Mr. Roache's Place

Map of divided Vietnam, during the Vietnam War. History Place map via Mr. Roache’s Place

Considering its powerful effect on American history, the document is very, very brief.  Here’s the text [links added]:

Eighty-eighth Congress of the United States of America
AT THE SECOND SESSION

Begun and held at the City of Washington on Tuesday, the seventh day of January, one thousand nine hundred and sixty-four

Joint Resolution
To promote the maintenance of international peace and security in southeast Asia.

Whereas naval units of the Communist regime in Vietnam, in violation of the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and of international law, have deliberately and repeatedly attacked United Stated naval vessels lawfully present in international waters, and have thereby created a serious threat to international peace; and

Whereas these attackers are part of deliberate and systematic campaign of aggression that the Communist regime in North Vietnam has been waging against its neighbors and the nations joined with them in the collective defense of their freedom; and

Whereas the United States is assisting the peoples of southeast Asia to protest their freedom and has no territorial, military or political ambitions in that area, but desires only that these people should be left in peace to work out their destinies in their own way: Now, therefore be it

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the Congress approves and supports the determination of the President, as Commander in Chief, to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.

Map showing ship movements reported during the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, on August 4, 1964; reports that North Vietnamese gunboats attacked and engaged two patrolling U.S. Navy ships pushed Congress to authorize President Johnson to take extensive defensive actions.

Map showing ship movements reported during the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, on August 4, 1964; reports that North Vietnamese gunboats attacked and engaged two patrolling U.S. Navy ships pushed Congress to authorize President Johnson to take extensive defensive actions. (image from Echo Two Seven Tooter)

Section 2. The United States regards as vital to its national interest and to world peace the maintenance of international peace and security in southeast Asia. Consonant with the Constitution of the United States and the Charter of the United Nations and in accordance with its obligations under the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty, the United States is, therefore, prepared, as the President determines, to take all necessary steps, including the use of armed force, to assist any member or protocol state of the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty requesting assistance in defense of its freedom.

Section 3. This resolution shall expire when the President shall determine that the peace and security of the area is reasonably assured by international conditions created by action of the United Nations or otherwise, except that it may be terminated earlier by concurrent resolution of the Congress.

[endorsements]

And on that authority, “Congress approves and supports the determination of the President, as Commander in Chief, to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression,” the U.S. spent the next 11 years in all-out warfare in Vietnam, with up to 500,000 military troops in the conflict, and losing the lives of more than 58,000 men and women.

U.S. engagement in Vietnam continued well after the repeal of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution in 1971.  In 1973 a peace treaty was signed between the U.S., North Vietnam and South Vietnam.  The provisions of the treaty did not hold; a final North Vietnamese military push in April 1975 crumpled the South Vietnamese government and army.  The few remaining U.S. forces made an emergency withdrawal as Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops entered Saigon.  Vietnam was reunited by force, under a communist government.

Attacks on the USS Maddox and USS Turner Joy — if they occurred — took place early on August 4.  President Johnson might be excused for having done nothing on the issue at the time.  That was the same day that the bodies of three civil rights workers were discovered by the FBI, murdered by a pro-segregation mob with clear ties to the local Ku Klux Klan.  Either event, the Gulf of Tonkin, or the Mississippi civil rights murders, could be a major event in any presidency, testing to the utmost the leadership and peace-making abilities of a president.  Johnson dealt with both events at the same time.

Three American civil rights’ workers, James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael “Mickey” Schwerner, were lynched on the night of June 21–22, 1964 by members of the Mississippi White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the Neshoba County‘s Sheriff Office and the Philadelphia Police Department located in Philadelphia, Mississippi. The three had been working on the “Freedom Summer” campaign, attempting to register African Americans to vote.

On a commission from the Dallas Symphony, composer Stephen Stucky composed a piece during the Lyndon Johnson Centennial in 2008; Kathryn and I heard the world premiere of August 4, 1964, on September 18, 2008.  Stucky’s piece (with libretto by Gene Scheer) is the only place I know where anyone has seriously considered the nexus between these two, opposite-side-of-the-world tragedies, and how they set the stage for the rest of the 1960s decade.   The piece has been recorded by the Dallas Symphony.  I highly recommend it.

Here’s a video from the Dallas Symphony on the piece:

More:


July 10, 1850, Millard Fillmore succeeds to the presidency

July 10, 2013

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.  163 years ago today, Millard Fillmore served his first day 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

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.]

More:

"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.


President Obama, a man of grace and encouragement

May 27, 2013

Consoler and Encourager in Chief:

Note President Obama left at Plaza Towers Elementary in Moore, Oklahoma

Caption from Pete Souza‘s slide show: A message from President Barack Obama is seen on a Plaza Towers Elementary School sign, at Moore Fire Department Station #1 in Moore, Okla., May 26, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Pete Souza‘s work as White House photographer will ultimately make historians’ work much richer.  He’s got a great eye for a shot that needs to be snapped, and a great sense of art on the fly.  If you’re not a regular watcher of Souza’s work, you probably should be, especially if you’re teaching history.

More:


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,150 other followers

%d bloggers like this: