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

July 9, 2014

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

What would have happened had Taylor lived?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[more at the blog site]

In any case, Taylor died on July 9.

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

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

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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

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Honoring James Madison, the go-to guy, on his birthday

March 16, 2014

James Madison, the fourth President of the United States, and the Father of the Constitution, was born March 16, 1751, in the Tidewater area of Virginia.

Is it sinful that we do not celebrate his birthday with a federal holiday, fireworks, picnics and speeches and concerts?

Maybe you could fly your flag to day.  If the neighbors ask why, tell them you’re flying it for freedom on James Madison’s birthday.  They’ll say, “Oh,” and run off to Google Madison.  You will have struck a blow for the education that undergirds democracy.

A few years ago I was asked to talk about freedom to a group of freedom lovers in North Texas.  I chose to speak about James Madison’s remarkable, and too-often unremarked-upon life. Later, when I started this blog, I posted it here, with an introduction.  All of that is below, in honor of the birth of James Madison.

Did you know that Madison is the shortest man ever to have been president?  His stature is measured in freedom, not in feet and inches.

(Originally a post on July 31, 2006)

James Madison, 1783, by Charles Wilson Peale.  Library of Congress collection

James Madison, 1783, miniature by Charles Wilson Peale. Madison would have been 32. Library of Congress collection

I don’t blame students when they tell me they “hate history.”  Heaven knows, they probably have been boringly taught boring stuff.

For example, history classes study the founding of the United States. Especially under the topical restrictions imposed by standardized testing, many kids will get a short-form version of history that leaves out some of the most interesting stuff.

Who could like that?

Worse, that sort of stuff does damage to the history and the people who made it, too.

James Madison gets short shrift in the current canon, in my opinion. Madison was the fourth president, sure, and many textbooks note his role in the convention at Philadelphia that wrote the Constitution in 1787. But I think Madison’s larger career, especially his advocacy for freedom from 1776 to his death, is overlooked.

Madison was the “essential man” in the founding of the nation, in many ways. He was able to collaborate with people as few others could, in order to get things done, including his work with George Mason on the Virginia Bill of Rights, with George Washington on the Constitution and national government structure, Thomas Jefferson on the structure and preservation of freedom, Alexander Hamilton on the Constitution and national bank, and James Monroe on continuing the American Revolution.

We need to look harder at the methods and philosophy, and life, of James Madison. This is an opinion I’ve held for a long time. Below the fold I reproduce a “sermon” I delivered to the North Texas Church of Freethought in November 2001.

James Madison White House portrait, John Vanderlyn, 1816

James Madison’s official White House portrait, by John Vanderlyn in 1816; in the White House collection

I have left this exactly as it was delivered, though I would change a few things today, especially emphasizing more the key role George Washington played in pushing Madison to get the Constitution — a view I came to courtesy of the Bill of Rights Insitute and their outstanding, week-long seminar, Shaping the Constitution: A View from Mount Vernon 1783-1789. The Bill of Rights Institute provides outstanding training for teachers, and this particular session, at Washington’s home at Mount Vernon, Virginia, is well worth the time (check with the Institute to see whether it will be offered next year — and apply!). I am especially grateful to have had the opportunity to discuss these times and issues with outstanding scholars like Dr. Gordon Lloyd of Pepperdine University, Dr. Adam Tate of Morrow College, and Dr. Stuart Leibiger of LaSalle University, during my stay at Mount Vernon.

James Madison by Gilbert Stuart c. 1821

James Madison, portrait by Gilbert Stuart c. 1821; National Portrait Gallery

My presentation to the skeptics of North Texas centered around the theme of what a skeptic might give thanks for at Thanksgiving. (It is available on the web — a misspelling of my name in the program carried over to the web, which has provided me a source of amusement for several years.)

Here is the presentation:

Being Thankful For Religious Liberty

As Presented at the November, 2001 Sunday Service of The North Texas Church of Freethought

Historians rethink the past at least every generation, mining history for new insights or, at least, a new book. About the founders of this nation there has been a good deal of rethinking lately. David McCullough reminds us that John Adams really was a good guy, and that we shouldn’t think of him simply as the Federalist foil to Thomas Jefferson’s more democratic view of the world. Jefferson himself is greatly scrutinized, and perhaps out of favor — “American Sphinx,” Joseph Ellis calls him. The science of DNA testing shows that perhaps Jefferson had more to be quiet about than even he confessed in his journals. While Jefferson himself questioned his own weakness in his not freeing his slaves in his lifetime, historians and fans of Jefferson’s great writings wrestle with the likelihood of his relationship with one of his own slaves (the old Sally Hemings stories came back, and DNA indicates her children were fathered by a member of the Jefferson clan; some critics argue that Jefferson was a hypocrite, but that was Jefferson’s own criticism of himself; defenders point out that the affair most likely was consensual, but could not be openly acknowledged in Virginia at that time). Hamilton’s gift to America was a financial system capable of carrying a noble nation to great achievement, we are told – don’t think of him simply as the fellow Aaron Burr killed in a duel. Washington is recast as one of the earliest guerrilla fighters, and in one book as a typical gentleman who couldn’t control his expenses. Franklin becomes in recent books the “First American,” the model after which we are all made, somehow.

Of the major figures of these founding eras, James Madison is left out of the rethinking, at least for now. There has been no major biography of Madison for a decade or more, not since Ralph Ketcham’s book for the University of Virginia press. Madison has a role in Joseph Ellis’s Founding Brothers, but he shares his spotlight with Hamilton and Jefferson. I think this is an oversight. As we enter into the first Thanksgiving season of the 21st century, we would do well to take a look back at Madison’s life. Madison gives us a model of reason, and more important, a model of action coupled to reason. America’s founding is often depicted as a time of great thunder — if not the thunder of the lightning Ben Franklin experimented with, an experiment he parlayed into worldwide respect for Americans, it is the thunder of the pronouncements of Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, or of George Washington, just generally thundering through history.

The use of a bolt of lightning as a symbol for this group is inspired, I think. I’m a great fan of Mark Twain, and when I see that bolt of electricity depicted I think of Twain’s observation:

“Thunder is good; thunder is impressive. But it is lightning that does the work.”

Thunder at the founding is impressive; where was the lightning?

I’d like to point out two themes that run through Madison’s life, or rather, two activities that we find him in time and again. Madison’s life was marked by periods of reflection, followed by action as a result of that reflection.

We don’t know a lot about Madison’s youth. He was the oldest son of a wealthy Virginia planter, growing up in the Orange County area of Tidewater Virginia. We know he was boarded out for schooling with good teachers – usually clergymen, but occasionally to someone with expertise in a particular subject – and we know that he won admission to Princeton to study under the Rev. John Witherspoon, a recent Presbyterian transplant from across the Atlantic. Madison broke with tradition a bit in attending an American rather than an English school. And after completing his course of study he remained at Princeton for another year to study theology directly under Witherspoon, with an eye toward becoming a preacher.

Witherspoon is often held up as an example of how religion influenced the founders, but he was much more of a rationalist than some would have us believe. He persuaded the young Madison that a career in law and politics would be a great service to the people of Virginia and America, and might be a higher calling. After a year of this reflection, Madison returned to Virginia and won election to local government.

In his role as a county official Madison traveled the area. He inspected the works of government, including the jails. He was surprised to find in jail in Virginia people accused of — gasp! — practicing adult baptism. In fact Baptists and Presbyterians were jailed on occasion, because the Anglican church was the state church of Virginia, and their practicing their faith was against the common law. This troubled Madison greatly, and it directed an important part of his work for the rest of his life. In January of 1774, Madison wrote about it to another prominent Virginian, William Bradford:

“Poverty and Luxury prevail among all sorts: Pride ignorance and Knavery among the Priesthood and Vice and Wickedness among the Laity. This is bad enough. But it is not the worst I have to tell you. That diabolical Hell conceived principle of persecution rages among some and to their eternal infamy the Clergy can furnish their Quota of Imps for such business. This vexes me the most of any thing whatever. There are at this time in the adjacent County not less than 5 or 6 well meaning men in close Gaol for publishing their religious Sentiments which in the main are very orthodox. I have neither patience to hear talk or think of any thing relative to this matter, for I have squabbled and scolded abused and ridiculed so long about it, to so little purpose that I am without common patience. So I leave you to pity me and pray for Liberty of Conscience to revive among us.”

By April, Madison’s views on the matter had been boiled down to the essences, and he wrote Bradford again more bluntly:

“Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise.”

Madison must have done a fine job at his county duties, whatever they were, because in 1776 when Virginia was organizing its government to survive hostilities with England, Madison was elected to the legislative body.

Madison was 25, and still raw in Virginia politics. He was appointed to the committee headed by George Mason to review the laws and charter of the colony. Another who would serve on this committee when he was back from Philadelphia was Thomas Jefferson. George Mason was already a giant in Virginia politics, and by the time Madison got to Williamsburg, Mason had already completed much of the work on a bill of rights to undergird the new Virginia government. Madison noted that freedom of religion was not among the rights enumerated in Mason’s version — but it was too late, Mason said. The work was done.

Madison quietly went to work on Mason, in committee, over dinner, during social occasions — noting the great injustice of jailing people solely because of their beliefs, and urging to Mason that it did Virginia no good to keep these fathers from providing for their families.

Mason ultimately agreed to accept the amendment.

The pattern was set.

Perhaps a better example of this reflection and action cycle occurred nearly a decade later. By 1785 the war was over, independence was won, but the business of government continued. While serving as governor of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson had drafted about 150 proposals for laws, really a blueprint for a free government. About half of these proposals had been passed into law. By 1785, Jefferson was away from Virginia, representing the Confederation of colonies in Paris. Jefferson had provided several laws to disestablish religion in Virginia, and to separate out the functions of church and state. With Jefferson gone, however, his old nemesis Patrick Henry sought to roll back some of that work. Henry proposed to bring back state support for the clergy, for the stated purpose of promoting education. (Yes, this is the same battle we fight today for church and state separation.) After Jefferson’s troubled term as governor, Virginia turned again to Henry – Henry ultimately served six terms as governor. His proposal was set for a quick approval in the Virginia assembly. It was late in the term, and everyone wanted to get home.

Henry was, of course, a thundering orator of great note. Madison was a small man with a nervous speaking style, but a man who knew the issues better than anyone else in almost any room he could be in. Madison came up with an interesting proposal. Picking the religion for the state was serious stuff, he said. A state doesn’t want to pick the wrong religion, and get stuck with the wrong god, surely – and such weighty matters deserve widespread support and discussion, Madison said. His motion to delay Henry’s bill until the next session, in order to let the public know and approve, was agreed to handily.

You probably know the rest of this story. With a year for the state to reflect on the idea, Madison wrote up a petition on the issue, which he called a “Memorial and Remonstrance.” In the petition he laid out 15 reasons why separation of church and state was a superior form of government, concluding that in the previous 1,500 years, every marriage of church and state produced a lazy and corrupt church, and despotic government. Madison’s petition circulated everywhere, and away from Patrick Henry’s thundering orations, the people of Virginia chose Madison’s cool reason.

When the legislature reconvened in 1786, it rejected Henry’s proposal. But Madison’s petition had been so persuasive, the legislature also brought up a proposal Thomas Jefferson had made six years earlier, and passed into law the Virginia Statue for Religious Freedom.

This was a great victory for Madison, and for Virginia. He celebrated by convening a convention to settle disputes between Virginia and Maryland about navigation on the Chesapeake Bay. Having reflected on the nature of this issue — a dispute between colonies — Madison had sought advice from others having the same problems, such as New York and New Jersey. In that effort he got the support of a New Yorker working on the same problems, Alexander Hamilton. In the course of these discussions Madison thought it clear that the difficulty lay with the form of government that bound the colonies together under the Articles of Confederation. Hamilton agreed, and they got their respective states and conferences to agree to meet in Philadelphia in 1787 to try to fix those problems. [Since I first wrote this, I've learned that it was George Washington's desire to get a federal government, to facilitate the settling of the Ohio River Valley where Washington had several thousands of acres to sell, that prompted him to push Madison into the Annapolis Convention, and who made the introduction between Madison and Washington's old aide and friend, Alexander Hamilton; Madison's work with Washington runs much deeper than I orignally saw.]

James Madison, 1792 portrait by Charles Wilson Peale, Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa

James Madison, 1792 portrait by Charles Wilson Peale, Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa

Amending the Articles of Confederation was a doomed effort, many thought. The colonies would go their separate ways, no longer bound by the need to hang together against the Parliament of England. Perhaps George Washington could have got a council together to propose a new system, but Washington had stayed out of these debates. Washington’s model for action was the Roman general Cincinnatus, who went from his plow to lead the Romans to victory, then returned to his farm, and finding his plow where he had left it, took it up again.

Madison invited Washington, and persuaded Washington to attend. Washington was elected president of the convention, and in retrospect that election guaranteed that whatever the convention produced, the colonies would pay attention to it.

You know that history, too. The convention quickly decided the Articles of Confederation were beyond repair. Instead, they wrote a new charter for a new form of government. The charter was based in part on Jefferson’s Virginia Plan, with lots of modifications. Because the Constitution resembles so much the blueprint that Jefferson had written, and because Jefferson was a great founder, many Americans believe Jefferson was a guiding light at that Philadelphia convention. It’s often good to reflect that Jefferson was in Paris the entire time. While America remembers the thunder of Washington’s presiding, Franklin’s timely contributions and Jefferson’s ideas, it was Madison who did the heavy lifting, who got Washington and Franklin to attend the meeting Madison had set up, and got Jefferson’s ideas presented and explained.

It was Madison who decided, in late August of 1787, that the convention could not hang together long enough to create a bill of rights, and instead got approval for the basic framework of the U.S. government. In Virginia a few months later, while Patrick Henry thundered against what he described as a power grab by a new government, it was Madison who assembled the coalitions that got the Constitution ratified by the Virginia ratifying convention. And when even Jefferson complained that a constitution was dangerous without a bill of rights, it was Madison who first calmed Jefferson, then promised that one of the first actions of the new government would be a bill of rights. He delivered on that promise as a Member of the House of Representatives in 1789.

It is difficult to appreciate just how deeply insinuated into the creation of America was James Madison. In big ways and small, he made America work. He took the lofty ideas of Jefferson, and made them into laws that are still on the books, unamended and unedited, more than 200 years later.

When the ratification battle was won, when Madison had won election to the House over Patrick Henry’s strong objection, partly by befriending the man Henry had picked to defeat Madison, James Monroe, Madison could have savored the moment and been assured a place in history.

James Madison in 1804, by Gilbert Stuart

James Madison in 1804, by Gilbert Stuart. Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Virginia. Gift of Mrs. George S. Robbins

That’s not what a lightning bolt does. Journeying to New York for the opening of the First Congress and the inauguration of Washington as president, Madison stopped off at Mount Vernon to visit with Washington, apparently at Washington’s request. In what was a few hours, really, Madison wrote Washington’s inaugural address. While there at Mount Vernon, Madison stumbled into a discussion by several others on their way to New York, wondering what high honorific to apply to the new president. “Excellency” was winning out over “Your highness,” until Washington turned to Madison for an opinion. Madison said the president should be called, simply, “Mr. President.” We still do.

Once in New York, Madison saw to the organizing of the Congress, then to the organizing of the inauguration. And upon hearing Washington’s inauguration address — which Madison had ghosted, remember — Congress appointed Madison to write the official Congressional response.

Years later, in Washington, Madison engineered the candidacy of Thomas Jefferson for president, and after Jefferson was elected, Madison had the dubious honor as Secretary of State of lending his name to the Supreme Court case that established the Supreme Court as the arbiter of what is Constitutional under our scheme of government, in Marbury v. Madison.

Wherever there was action needed to make this government work, it seemed, there was James Madison providing the spark.

James Madison was the lightning behind the thunder of the founding of America. We should be grateful that he lived when he did, where he did, for we all share the fruits of the freedoms he worked to obtain. And in this Thanksgiving season, let us look for appropriate ways to honor his work.

James Madison circa 1829-1839, portrait by Chester Harding.  National Portrait Gallery

James Madison, 1829, portrait by Chester Harding. National Portrait Gallery. “In 1829, Madison came out of retirement to attend a convention for revising Virginia’s constitution. While there, he posed for this portrait by the Massachusetts painter Chester Harding.”

The Madisonian model of thoughtful reflection leading to action is one that is solidly established in psychological research. It is the model for leadership taught in business schools and military academies.

I would compare religious liberty to a mighty oak tree, under which we might seek shade on a hot summer day, from which we might draw wood for our fires to warm us in winter, or lumber to build great and strong buildings. That big oak we enjoy began its life long before ours. We enjoy its shade because someone earlier planted the seed. We enjoy our freedoms today because of men like James Madison.

How do we give thanks? As we pass around the turkey to our family, our friends, we would do well to reflect on the freedoms we enjoy, and how we got them.

Finally, remembering that someone had to plant those seeds, we need to ask: What seeds must we plant now for those who will come after us? We can demonstrate our being grateful for the actions of those who came before us by giving to those who come after us, something more to be grateful for. A life like Madison’s is a rarity. Improving on the freedoms he gave us might be difficult. Preserving those freedoms seems to me a solemn duty, however. Speaking out to defend those freedoms is an almost-tangible way to thank James Madison, and as fate would have it, there is plenty of material to speak out about. A postcard to your senators and representative giving your reasoned views on the re- introduction of the Istook Amendment might be timely now – with America’s attention turned overseas for a moment, people have adopted Patrick Henry’s tactic of trying to undo religious freedom during the distraction. I have had a lot of fun, and done some good I hope, in our local school system by asking our sons’ science and biology teachers what they plan to teach about evolution. Whatever they nervously answer — and they always nervously answer that question — I tell them that I want them to cover the topic fully and completely, and if they have any opposition to that I would be pleased to lend my name to a suit demanding it be done. We might take a moment of reflection to ponder our views about a proposed Texas “moment of silence” bill to be introduced, and then let our state representatives have our thoughts on the issue.

Do you need inspiration? Turn to James Madison’s writings. In laying out his 15-point defense of religious freedom in 1785, Madison wrote that separation of church and state is essential to our form of government:

“The preservation of a free Government requires not merely, that the metes and bounds which separate each department of power be invariably maintained; but more especially that neither of them be suffered to overleap the great Barrier which defends the rights of the people.”

How can we express our gratitude for such a foundation for religious liberty? Let loose a few lightning bolts, in remembrance of Madison.

Copyright © 2001 and 2006 by Ed Darrell. You may reproduce with attribution. Links added in May 2013.

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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.”

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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

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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

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Presidents and umbrellas, continued: Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth

May 20, 2013

This is just so odd that it merits our attention, so long as we’re talking about presidents and umbrellas.

In 1864, John Wilkes Booth wrote to President Abraham Lincoln asking for money to purchase an umbrella.

Yes, Booth, the man who would eventually assassinate that same Abraham Lincoln.

Page 1 of John Wilkes Booth's 1864 letter to President Abraham Lincoln

Page 1 of John Wilkes Booth’s 1864 letter to President Abraham Lincoln

Booth to Lincoln, page 2

Booth to Lincoln, page 2

Booth to Lincoln, page 3

Booth to Lincoln, page 3

Booth to Lincoln, page 4

Booth to Lincoln, page 4

Booth to Lincoln, page 5

Booth to Lincoln, page 5

Booth to Lincoln, page 6

Booth to Lincoln, page 6

The letter is in the collection of Lincoln papers at the Library of Congress, described as “John Wilkes to Abraham Lincoln, Thursday, November 17, 1864 (Congratulations; request that Lincoln send him money to buy an umbrella).”

I have found no official transcript of the letter.

Of all the richochets of umbrellas in the history of the American presidency, this must be the strangest.

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Presidents and umbrellas

May 19, 2013

A few photos from history:

President Dwight D. Eisenhower:

President Dwight D. Eisenhower with Indian President Rajendra Prasad, in India

Two Countries, One Umbrella – President Dwight D. Eisenhower with Indian President Rajendra Prasad, in India, December 11, 1959 (anyone have the year?) 

President John F. Kennedy

Aide holds umbrella for First Lady Jacqueline and President John F. Kennedy, inaugural night, 1961.

Aide holds umbrella for First Lady Jacqueline and President John F. Kennedy, inaugural night, 1961.

President Lyndon B. Johnson

Johnson in Honololulu 1966, with umbrella

President Lyndon B. Johnson arrives for church services in Honolulu, February 6, 1966, during Vietnam negotiations. To Johnson’s immediate right, Rep. Spark Matsunaga; on Johnson’s left, a Secret Service agent. National Archives photo

President Richard M. Nixon

Nixon campaigning in the rain in Hawaii, 1960

Caption from The AtlanticWire: In 1960, Richard Nixon pledged to campaign in all 50 states. He was not even rewarded for this foolishness with nice weather in Hawaii.

My memory is that no other presidential candidate has campaigned in Hawaii since then.  Has any other candidate campaigned in Alaska?

NASA Administrator Dr. Thomas Paine holding umbrella for Nixon

Collection: NASA Great Images in Nasa Collection Title: Nixon and Paine at Apollo 12 Launch Full Description: Dr. Thomas Paine, NASA Administrator, shields First Lady, Mrs. Richard M. Nixon, from rain while the President and daughter Tricia, foreground, watch Apollo 12 prelaunch activities at the Kennedy Space Center viewing area. Following the successful liftoff, the President congratulated the launch crew from within the control center. Date: 11/14/1969 NASA photo, on Flickr

The image of Nixon in the rain was captured several times.

Nixon, staff and security, in the rain

From the AtlanticWire: Even amid his staff and security, Nixon looks like a lonely man helpless against the elements. (AP photo?)

President Gerald R. Ford

Gerald Ford in the rain

Wally McNamee photo, University of Texas Center for American History.  UPI caption for their photos:  As Betty Ford holds the umbrella, a military aide rushes forward to assist President Ford as he trips and falls on the lower steps of the plane ramp following his arrival in Salzburg, Austria on June 1, 1975. (UPI Photo/Files)

President Ronald Reagan:

President Reagan in the rain

Undated photo of First Lady Nancy and President Ronald Reagan being sheltered on an airport in an unnamed place. Image from BigotBasher.

Reagan at the White House, in the rain:

White House staff shelter President Reagan's waving.  Freakout Nation image

White House staff shelter President Reagan’s waving. Freakout Nation image

President George H. W. Bush:

G H W Bush in the rain July 1989, AtlanticWire

Barbara Bush held the umbrella for President George H. W. Bush in July 1989 (in Italy?). From The AtlanticWire.

G H W Bush in the rain, late 1989

President George H. W. Bush found himself in the rain again, in late 1989. AtlanticWire image

President Barack Obama:

Obama at Lincoln National Cemetery, Memorial Day 2010

President Barack Obama took the stage amidst a downpour at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Illinois, on Memorial Day. He announced that the event was being canceled because of the severe weather, and he told the crowd to seek shelter, May 31, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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Millard Fillmore waxes on

April 5, 2013

Millard Fillmore at Madame Tussaud's, D.C.

President Millard Fillmore, as displayed at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, Washington, D.C.; photo from About.com

Ever on the lookout for images of Millard Fillmore, I found this photo at About.com.  This is the “wax” sculpture of Fillmore displayed at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum – D.C.

Is it art?

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Monument to brevity: Remembering William Henry Harrison

April 4, 2013

(There are a few minutes left in April 4, at least in the Central Time Zone.  Bad day for posting, here.)

William Henry Harrison died on April 4, 1841, 31 days after his inauguration as president of the United States.

Perhaps during the cold and rainy inauguration, perhaps from a well-wisher, Harrison caught a cold. The cold developed into pneumonia. The pneumonia killed him.

William Henry Harrison, circa 1813, painted by Rembrandt Peale.  Naitonal Portrait Gallery

William Henry Harrison, circa 1813, painted by Rembrandt Peale. National Portrait Gallery

Harrison, a Whig, was the first president to die in office. His vice president, John Tyler, was a converted Democrat who abandoned the Whig platform as president.

Harrison won fame pushing Indians off of lands coveted by white settlers in the Northwest Territories. Harrison defeated Tecumseh’s Shawnee tribe without Tecumseh at the Battle of Tippecanoe, then beat Tecumseh in a battle with the English in which Tecumseh died in the War of 1812.

Schoolchildren of my era learned Harrison’s election slogan: “Tippecanoe, and Tyler, too!”

Congress voted Harrison’s widow a payment of $25,000 since he had died nearly penniless. This may be the first example of a president or his survivors getting a payment from the government after leaving office.

In the annals of brief presidencies, there is likely to be none shorter than Harrison’s for a long time. As you toast him today, you can honestly say he did not overstay his White House tenure. Others could have learned from his example.

This is an encore post, from 2008; new links added.

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Millard Fillmore: Still dead, still misquoted, 139 years later

March 8, 2013

Millard Fillmore wax head

A wax likeness of Millard Fillmore’s head, appearing to be for sale for $950.00 back in 2007. Did anyone ever buy it? Yes, it does bear an unusual resemblance to Tom Peters.

March 8, 2013, is the 139th anniversary of Millard Fillmore’s death.  Famous lore claims Fillmore’s last words were, “The nourishment is palatable.”

What a crock!

Manus reprints the text from the New York Times obituary that appeared on March 9:

Buffalo, N.Y., March 8 — 12 o’clock, midnight. — Ex-President Millard Fillmore died at his residence in this city at 11:10 to-night. He was conscious up to the time. At 8 o’clock, in reply to a question by his physician, he said the nourishment was palatable; these were his last words. His death was painless.

First, I wonder how the devil the writer could possibly know whether Fillmore’s death was painless?

And second, accuracy obsessed as I am, I wonder whether this is the source of the often-attributed to Fillmore quote, “The nourishment is palatable.” Several sources that one might hope would be more careful attribute the quote to Fillmore as accurate — none with any citation that I can find. Thinkexist charges ahead full speed; Brainyquote removed the quote after I complained in 2007. Wikipedia lists it. Snopes.com says the quote is “alleged,” in a discussion thread.

I’ll wager no one can offer a citation for the quote. I’ll wager Fillmore didn’t say it.

Let’s be more stolid:  The quote alleged to be Fillmore’s last words, isn’t.  No one says “palatable” when they’re dying, not even the man about whom it is claimed that Queen Victoria pronounced him the hansomest man she ever met (just try tracking that one down), and whose strongest legacy is a hoax about a bathtub, started 43 years after he died.  No one calls soup “sustenance.”

The alleged quote, the misquote, the distortion of history, was stolen from the obituary in the New York Times.  Millard Fillmore did not say, “The sustenance is palatable.”

What were Millard Fillmore’s last words?  They may be buried in the notebook of one of his doctors.  They may be recorded in some odd notebook held in the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, or in the Library of SUNY Buffalo, or in the New York State Library‘s dusty archives.

But the dying President Fillmore did not say, “The sustenance is palatable.”

Millard Fillmore: We’d protect his legacy, if only anyone could figure out what it is.

This is partly an encore post, based on a post from 2007.

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A very young John Kennedy asks his father for a raise in his allowance, to cover Boy Scout dues

March 3, 2013

Can your students write this well?  This kid was 12:

JFK asking his father for a raise in his allowance

Letter from 12 year-old John Kennedy, asking his father for a raise in his allowance, in 1929.  Click image for larger view.  Photo from Peter Lenahan

Found the image at the U.S. Scouting Service Project site, part of their celebration of the history of Scouting.

John Fitzgerald Francis Kennedy, President of the United States, was a Scout in Troop 2 in the Bronxville, NY, from 1929 to 1931. This letter was written when he was 12 years old in 1929.

Transcript:   A Plea for a raise

By Jack Kennedy

Dedicated to my

Mr. J. P. Kennedy

     Chapter I

My recent allowance is 40¢. This I used for areoplanes and other playthings of child- hood but now I am a scout and I put away my childish things. Before I would spend 20¢ of my ¢.40 allowance and In five minutes I would have empty pockets and nothing to gain and 20¢ to lose. When I a a scout I have to buy canteens, haversacks, blankets, searchlidgs [searchlights] poncho things that will last for years and I can always use it while I cant use a cholcalote marshmellow sunday with vanilla ice cream and so I put in my plea for a raise of thirty cents for me to buy scout things and pay my own way more around.

Finis

John Fitzgerald Francis Kennedy

Contributed by: Peter Lenahan, Bronxville, NY


Quote of the moment: Should we reconsider Millard Fillmore?

February 23, 2013

For an accidental president, a man who no one expected to take the office; for a guy whose term was marked by his party’s rejection of his policies so much that they did not even entertain the idea he might be the nominee in the next election; for the last Whig president, an obvious dinosaur of a dying political view; for a guy so obscure that a hoax more than a half-century later remains his greatest acknowledged point of reference, Millard Fillmore left the U.S. in good shape.

Should that be his real legacy?

Millard Fillmore for President, campaign poster from 1856 (American Party)

Campaign poster for Millard Fillmore, running for president in 1856 on the American Party ticket. He carried Maryland, which is probably ironic, considering Maryland’s Catholic roots, and the American Party’s anti-Catholic views, views probably not entirely shared by Fillmore; the American Party is more often known as the “Know-Nothings.”  Image from the Library of Congress American Memory files.

These are the last two paragraphs of his final State of the Union message, delivered on paper on December 6, 1852.  Perhaps establishing a tradition, he made the message a listing of current zeitgeist, starting out mourning the recent passing of Daniel Webster, and the abatement of epidemics of mosquito-borne plagues in several cities.  He recited activities of the government, including the abolishment of corporal punishment in the Navy and improvements in the Naval Academy; he mentioned U.S. exploration around the world, in the Pacific, in the Amazon River, in Africa, and especially his project to send a fleet to Japan to open trade there.  He noted great opportunities for trade, domestically across an expanded, Atlantic-to-Pacific United States, and in foreign markets reachable through both oceans.

The last two paragraphs would be considered greatly exaggerated had any president in the 20th century delivered them; but from Millard Fillmore, they were not.  He gave credit for these achievements to others, not himself.

In closing this my last annual communication, permit me, fellow-citizens, to congratulate you on the prosperous condition of our beloved country. Abroad its relations with all foreign powers are friendly, its rights are respected, and its high place in the family of nations cheerfully recognized. At home we enjoy an amount of happiness, public and private, which has probably never fallen to the lot of any other people. Besides affording to our own citizens a degree of prosperity of which on so large a scale I know of no other instance, our country is annually affording a refuge and a home to multitudes, altogether without example, from the Old World.

We owe these blessings, under Heaven, to the happy Constitution and Government which were bequeathed to us by our fathers, and which it is our sacred duty to transmit in all their integrity to our children. We must all consider it a great distinction and privilege to have been chosen by the people to bear a part in the administration of such a Government. Called by an unexpected dispensation to its highest trust at a season of embarrassment and alarm, I entered upon its arduous duties with extreme diffidence. I claim only to have discharged them to the best of an humble ability, with a single eye to the public good, and it is with devout gratitude in retiring from office that I leave the country in a state of peace and prosperity.

What president would not have been happy to have been able to claim as much?  Historians often offer back-handed criticism to Fillmore for the Compromise of 1850; in retrospect it did not prevent the Civil War.  In the circumstances of 1850, in the circumstances of Fillmore’s presidential career, should we expect more?  Compared to Buchanan’s presidency and the events accelerating toward war, did Fillmore do so badly?

Have we underestimated Millard Fillmore?  Discuss.

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