December 2: Millard Fillmore’s Guano Day!

December 1, 2014

Why December 2?

(You couldn’t make this stuff up if you were Monty Python.)

English: Millard Fillmore White House portrait

Millard Fillmore’s White House portrait, via Wikipedia

President Millard Fillmore, in the State of the Union Address, December 2, 1850

Peruvian guano has become so desirable an article to the agricultural interest of the United States that it is the duty of the Government to employ all the means properly in its power for the purpose of causing that article to be imported into the country at a reasonable price. Nothing will be omitted on my part toward accomplishing this desirable end. I am persuaded that in removing any restraints on this traffic the Peruvian Government will promote its own best interests, while it will afford a proof of a friendly disposition toward this country, which will be duly appreciated.

Did any other U.S. President spend so much time thinking about guano?  Did any president ever mention it in a State of the Union Address?  The curious case of Millard Fillmore, Seer, just grows.

Guano, or bird poop (and its relative, bat poop), contains phosphorus, which is an essential element for life.  Consequently, it turns out to be a key ingredient in effective agricultural fertilizers.  In international competition for supremacy in farming and farm exports, guano became a key resource to fight over, in the 19th century.

It’s almost safe to say the fights were economic; but guano did play a key role in wars in South America (see Andrew Leonard’s article, noted below).

Fillmore figured out that the substance had great importance, coupled that with the rather esoteric knowledge that sea birds tended to deposit guano in great abundance on certain islands, often unoccupied, and ordered the U.S. Navy to claim islands found to contain guano deposits that were not claimed by other nations.

By the American Civil War, the importance of phosphorus to the production of gun powder became an issue for the armies of the North and South.  Millard Fillmore had set the stage for the North to win an important advantage in gun powder production, just one of many that led to the defeat of the South.

It’s one more thing we should thank Millard Fillmore for doing. Our study of history should inform us that it is, indeed, important for politicians to understand the importance of guano.

Fillmore knew his guano.

Take a moment on December 2 to toast Millard Fillmore’s prescience, on Guano Day!

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Calvin Coolidge and Boy Scouts, May 1, 1926

November 30, 2014

From Ghosts of DC:  May 1, 1926. President Coolidge and Boy Scouts on the South Lawn of the White House.

From Ghosts of DC: May 1, 1926. President Coolidge and Boy Scouts on the South Lawn of the White House.

Boy Scouts started visiting presidents at the White House about as soon as Scouting got started in the U.S.

Calvin Coolidge was the first president to have boys of Scout age during his presidency, after Boy Scouting was founded in the U.S. in 1910. At least one of Coolidge’s sons was a Scout.  There may have been meetings in the White House.

This photo comes from Ghosts of DC, and it’s loaded with unidentified ghosts. Standing behind President Coolidge is a man in a uniform — U.S. Marines? — and behind him is Scouting co-founder Dan Beard, the older man with the goatee in the campaign hat.

Who else is in that photo?  Wouldn’t it be great to know?

It was a different era.

Coolidge hosted a meeting of the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America in the East Room of the White House on that day.  This photo probably was taken shortly after the meeting.  It’s described as being on the South Lawn of the White House.

Courtesy of the American Presidency Project at the University of California – Santa Barbara, here is the text of Coolidge’s remarks that day:

Members of the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America:

The strength and hope of civilization lies in its power to adapt itself to changing circumstances. Development and character are not passive accomplishments. They can be secured only through action. The strengthening of the physical body, the sharpening of the senses, the quickening of the intellect, are all the result of that mighty effort which we call the struggle for existence. Down through the ages it was carried on for the most part in the open, out in the fields, along the streams, and over the surface of the sea. It was there that mankind met the great struggle which has been waged with the forces of nature. We are what that struggle has made us. When the race ceases to be engaged in that great strength-giving effort the race will not be what it is now – it will change to something else. These age-old activities or their equivalent are vital to a continuation of human development. They are invaluable in the growth and training of youth.

Towns and cities and industrial life are very recent and modern acquirements. Such an environment did not contribute to the making of the race, nor was it bred in the lap of present-day luxury. It was born of adversity and nurtured by necessity. Though the environment has greatly changed, human nature has not changed. If the same natural life in the open requiring something of the same struggle, surrounded by the same elements of adversity and necessity, is gradually passing away in the experience of the great mass of the people; if the old struggle with nature no longer goes on; if the usual environment has been very largely changed, it becomes exceedingly necessary that an artificial environment be created to supply the necessary process for a continuation of the development and character of the race. The cinder track must be substituted for the chase.

Art therefore has been brought in to take the place of nature. One of the great efforts in that direction is represented by the Boy Scout movement. It was founded in the United States in 1910. In September of that year the organization was given a great impetus by the visit of the man whom we are delighted to honor this evening, Sir Baden-Powell. This distinguished British general is now known all over the world as the originator of this idea. That it has been introduced into most every civilized country must be to him a constant source of great gratification. The first annual meeting was held in the East Room of the White House in February, 1911, when President Taft made an address, and each of his successors has been pleased to serve as the honorary president of the association. It has been dignified by a Federal character granted by the Congress to the Boy Scouts of America in 1916, and thereby ranks in the popular mind with the only two other organizations which have been similarly honored, the Red Cross and the American Legion.

The Boy Scouts have been fortunate in enlisting the interest of prominent men of our country to serve as the active head of the organization. For the current year that position was held by no less a figure than the late James J. Storrow. His untimely taking off was a sad experience to all of us who knew him. I cherished him personally as a friend. I admired him for the broad public spirit that he always exhibited. Amid all the varied and exacting activities as one of our foremost business men, he yet found time to devote his thought and energy and personal attention to the advancement of this movement. His memory will constantly bring to us all that sentiment which he uttered in the New Year message that he gave to the scouts, in expressing the hope that it might bring “A more vivid realization that it is the spirit and the spiritual sides of life that count.”

The more I have studied this movement, its inception, purposes, organization, and principles, the more I have been impressed. Not only is it based on the fundamental rules of right thinking and acting but it seems to embrace in its code almost every virtue needed in the personal and social life of mankind. It is a wonderful instrument for good. It is an inspiration to you whose duty and privilege it is to widen its horizon and extend its influence. If every boy in the United States between the ages of 12 and 17 could be placed under the wholesome influences of the scout program and should live up to the scout oath and rules, we would hear fewer pessimistic words as to the future of our Nation.

The boy on becoming a scout binds himself on his honor to do his best, as the oath reads:

“1. To do my duty to God and country, and to obey the scout law.
“2. To help other people at all times.
“3. To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.”

The 12 articles in these scout laws are not prohibitions, but obligations; affirmative rules of conduct. Members must promise to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. How comprehensive this list! What a formula for developing moral and spiritual character! What an opportunity or splendid service in working to strengthen their observance by all scouts and to extend their influence to all boys eligible for membership! It would be a perfect world if everyone exemplified these virtues in daily life.

Acting under these principles, remarkable progress has been made. Since 1910, 3,000,000 boys in the United States have been scouts – one out of every even [sic – eleven? seven?] eligible. Who can estimate the physical, mental, and spiritual force that would have been added to our national life during this period if the other six also had been scouts?

On January 1, 1926, they was an enrollment of nearly 600,000 boys, directed by 165,000 volunteer leaders and divided among 23,000 troops. Such is the field that has been cultivated. The great need now is for more leaders, inspired for service and properly equipped to carry out the program. It is estimated that 1,000,000 additional boys could be enrolled immediately if adequate leadership could be provided. We can not do too much honor to the 500,000 men who in the past 16 years have given freely of their time and energy as scout masters and assistant scout masters. Such service is service to God and to country. The efforts to get more devoted volunteers and to find and train those fitted and willing to make this their life work is worthy of the most complete success.

Because the principles of this movement are affirmative, I believe they are sound. The boy may not be merely passive in his alliance to righteousness. He must be an active force in his home, his church, and his community. Too few people have a clear realization of the real purposes of the Boy Scouts. In the popular mind the program is arranged or play, for recreation, is designed solely to utilize the spare time of the boy in such a way that he may develop physically while engaged in pleasurable pursuits. This is but a hint conception, one almost wholly misleading. The program is a means to an end. Its fundamental object is to use modern environment in character building and training for citizenship.

Character is what a person is; it represents the aggregate of distinctive mental and moral qualities belonging to an individual or a race. Good character means a mental and moral fiber of high order, one which may be woven into the fabric of the community and State, going to make a great nation – great in the broadest meaning of that word.

The organization of the scouts is particularly suitable for a representative democracy such as ours, where our institutions rest on the theory of self-government and public functions are exercised through delegated authority. The boys are taught to practice the basic virtues and principles of right living and to act for themselves in accordance with such virtues and principles. They learn self-direction and self-control.

The organization is not intended to take the place of the home or religion, but to supplement and cooperate with those important factors in our national life. We hear much talk of the decline in the influence of religion, of the loosening of the home ties, of the lack of discipline – all tending to break down reverence and respect for the laws of God and of man. Such thought as I have been able to give to the subject and such observations as have come within my experience have convinced me that there is no substitute for the influences of the home and of religion. These take hold of the innermost nature of the individual and play a very dominant part in the formation of personality and character. This most necessary and most valuable service has to be performed by the parents, or it is not performed at all. It is the root of the family life. Nothing else can ever take its place. Theses duties can be performed by foster parents with partial success, but any attempt on the part of the Government to function in these directions breaks down almost entirely. The Boy Scout movement can never be a success as a substitute but only as an ally of strict parental control and family life under religious influences. Parents can not shift their responsibility. If they fail to exercise proper control, nobody else can do it for them.

The last item in the scout “duodecalogue” is impressive. It declares that a scout shall be reverent. “He is reverent toward God,” the paragraph reads. “He is faithful in his religious duty – respects the convictions of others in matters of custom and religion.” In the past I have declared my conviction that our Government rests upon religion; that religion is the source from which we derive our reverence for truth and justice, for equality and liberty, and for the rights of mankind. So wisely and liberally is the Boy Scout movement designed that the various religious denominations have found it a most helpful agency in arousing and maintaining interest in the work of their various societies. This has helped to emphasize in the minds of youth the importance of teaching our boys to respect the religious opinions and social customs of others.

The scout theory takes the boy at an age when he is apt to get ensnared in the complexities and false values of our latter-day life, and it turns his attention toward the simple, the natural, the genuine. It provides a program for the utilization of his spare time outside his home and school and church duties. While ofttimes recreational, it is in the best sense constructive. It aims to give a useful outlet for the abundant energies of the boy, to have valuable knowledge follow innate curiosity, to develop skill and self-reliance – the power to bring things to pass – by teaching one how to use both the hand and the head. In the city-bred boy is developed love for the country, a realization of what nature means, of its power to heal the wounds and to soothe the frayed nerves incident to modern civilization. He learns that in the woods and on the hillside, on the plain, and by the stream, he has a chance to think upon the eternal verities, to get a clarity of vision – a chance which the confusion and speed of city life too often renders difficult if not impossible of attainment. There is a very real value in implanting this idea in our boys. When they take up the burdens of manhood they may be led to return to the simple life for periods of physical, mental, and spiritual refreshment and reinvigoration.

Scouting very definitely teaches that rewards come only after achievement through personal effort and self-discipline. The boy enters as a tenderfoot. As he develops he becomes a second-class scout and then a first-class scout. Still there is before him the opportunity, in accordance with ability and hard work, to advance and get merit badges for proficiency in some 70 subjects pertaining to the arts, trades, and sciences. It is interesting to learn that in the year 1925, 195,000 merit badges were awarded as compared with 140,000 in 1924. Twenty-one such awards make the boy an “eagle scout,” the highest rank. Not only does one learn to do things, but in many instances he learns what he can do best. He is guided to his life work. Vocational experts will tell you in dollars and cents what this means to society where so often much valuable time and effort is wasted by the young before they have tested, proven, and trained their individual powers.

The boy learns “to be prepared.” This is the motto of the scouts. They are prepared to take their proper place in life, prepared to meet any unusual situation arising in their personal or civic relations. The scout is taught to be courageous and self-sacrificing. Individually he must do one good deed each day. He is made to understand that he is a part of organized society; that he owes an obligation to that society. Among the many activities in which the scouts have rendered public service are those for the protection of birds and wild life generally, for the conservation of natural resources, reforestation, for carrying out the “Safety first” idea. They have taken part in campaigns for church cooperation, in drives against harmful literature, and the promotion of an interest in wholesome, worth-while reading. In many communities they have cooperated with the police and fire departments. In some instances they have studied the machinery of government by temporary and volunteer participation in the city and State administration. During the war they helped in the Liberty-loan campaigns, and more recently they have assisted in “Get out the vote” movements.

All of this is exceedingly practical. It provides a method both for the training of youth and adapting him to modern life. The age-old principle of education through action and character through effort is well exemplified, but in addition the very valuable element has been added of a training for community life. It has been necessary for society to discard some of its old individualistic tendencies and promote a larger liberty and a more abundant life by cooperative effort. This theory has been developed under the principle of the division of labor, but the division of labor fails completely if any one of the divisions ceases to function.

It is well that boys should learn that lesson at an early age. Very soon they will be engaged in carrying on the work of the world. Some will enter the field of transportation, some of banking, some of industry, some of agriculture; some will be in the public service, in the police department, in the fire department, in the Post Office Department, in the health department. The public welfare, success, and prosperity of the Nation will depend upon the proper coordination of all these various efforts and upon each loyally performing the service undertaken. It will no longer do for those who have assumed the obligation to society of carrying on these different functions to say that as a body they are absolutely free and independent and responsible to no one but themselves. The public interest is greater than the interest of any one of these groups, and it is absolutely necessary that this interest be made supreme. But there is just as great a necessity on the part of the public to see that each of these groups is justly treated. Otherwise, government and society will be thrown into chaos. On each one of us rests a moral obligation to do our share of the world’s work. We have no right to refuse.

The training of the Boy Scouts fits them to an early realization of this great principle and adapts them in habits and thoughts and life to its observances. We know too well what fortune overtakes those who attempt to live in opposition to these standards. They become at once rightfully and truly branded as outlaws. However much they may boast of their freedom from all restraints and their disregard of all conventionalities of society, they are immediately the recognized foes of their brethren. Their short existence is lived under greater and greater restrictions, in terror of the law, in flight from arrest, or in imprisonment. Instead of gaining freedom, they become the slaves of their own evil doing, realizing the scriptural assertion that they who sin are the servants of sin and that the wages of sin is death. The Boy Scout movement has been instituted in order that the youth, instead of falling under the domination of habits and actions that lead only to destruction, may come under the discipline of a training that leads to eternal life. They learn that they secure freedom and prosperity by observing the law.

This is but one of the many organizations that are working for good in our country. Some of them have a racial basis, some a denominational basis. All of them in their essence are patriotic and religious. Their steady growth and widening influence go very far to justify our faith in the abiding fitness of things. We can not deny that there are evil forces all about us, but a critical examination of what is going on in the world can not fail to justify the belief that wherever these powers of evil may be located, however great may be their apparent extent, they are not realities, and somewhere there is developing an even greater power of good by which they will be overcome.

We need a greater faith in the strength of right living. We need a greater faith in the power of righteousness. These are the realities which do not pass away. On these everlasting principles rests the movement of the Boy Scouts of America. It is one of the growing institutions by which our country is working out the fulfillment of an eternal promise.



Citation: Calvin Coolidge: “Address Before the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America, Washington, D.C.,” May 1, 1926. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=395.

Sure it was a different time. But was it that different?


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  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 that 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. He looked briefly at his notes, smiled, then got a serious look on his face as he surveyed the crowd.

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.

More:

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.

More:


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.

More:


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:

More:

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.


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