July 10, 1850: Last of the Whigs, Millard Fillmore sworn in as president

July 10, 2015

Bust of Millard Fillmore as Vice President, by Robert Cushing. Fillmore served 17 months as Vice President and President of the Senate. Photo from the U.S. Senate

Bust of Millard Fillmore as Vice President, by Robert Cushing. Fillmore served 17 months as Vice President and President of the Senate. Photo from the U.S. Senate

Whig Party? Does anyone know what a Whig stood for any more?

Millard Fillmore was elected vice president riding the ticket with the very popular Gen. Zachary Taylor, hero of the Mexican War.  Fillmore was a capable, yeoman politicians from a northern state; with only one president’s death in the preceding 59 years, parties had not yet figured out that the vice presidential candidate probably ought to be able to serve as president. Regional balance of the ticket was enough.

About 15 months into his presidency, President Taylor took ill  after presiding over July 4 festivities in blazing heat.  He died on July 9, 1850; Vice President Millard Fillmore took the oath as president the next day, and served out the term.  165 years ago today, Millard Fillmore served his first day as President, July 10, 1850.

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

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

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

As president, Zachary Taylor encouraged New Mexico and California to draw up state constitutions, which would have disallowed slavery in those states.  To southern leaders who threatened secession, Taylor promised to personally lead the army that would hold the union together by force, and personally hang those who had proposed rebellion.  Fillmore succeeded Taylor at a crucial time in the union’s history, on the knife-edge of states’ seceding over the issues of slavery.

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

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

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

[This is an encore post, in parts.]

More:

"An Available Candidate: The One Qualific...

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

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.


Millard Fillmore’s ascent, July 9, 1850: Death of President Zachary Taylor

July 10, 2015

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

[more at the blog site]

In any case, Taylor died on July 9.

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

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

More:

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.


Fly your flag today, July 4, 2015

July 4, 2015

Follow the example of the young Gerald Ford.

1929: #President Gerald R Ford Jr holding flag with Eagle Scout Guard of Honor Mackinac Island State Park #Michigan. Tweet from America's Gallery

1929: #President Gerald R. Ford, Jr. holding flag with Eagle Scout Guard of Honor, Mackinac Island State Park, #Michigan. Tweet from America’s Gallery

Flags up in the morning, down at sunset.

Have a good, safe and joyful Fourth of July.


Happy birthday, President George H. W. Bush, 91

June 11, 2015

Former President George H. W. Bush was born on June 12, 1924, in Milton, Massachusetts.

Former President George H. W. Bush, at 86. Portrait by Platon, via PBS

Former President George H. W. Bush, at 86. Portrait by Platon, via PBS

Happy birthday!

Undated photo of former President George H. W. Bush by Allison Slomowitz, AP, via Houston Chronicle

Undated photo of former President George H. W. Bush by Allison Slomowitz, AP, via Houston Chronicle


March 16, Freedoms Day 2015 – How to celebrate James Madison?

March 16, 2015

Celebrations of James Madison, who was born on March 16, 1751, fall to second tier, a paragraph if we’re lucky in your local newspaper’s “today in history” feature.

March 16 is not a holiday.  It’s not even a Flag Flying Day (though, if you left your flag up for March 15th’s anniversary of Maine’s statehood . . . no one would notice).

Secretary of State James Madison, who won Marb...

Secretary of State James Madison, who won Marbury v. Madison, but lost Judicial review. Photo: Wikipedia

Should we leave James Madison out of our celebrations of history with such vengeance?

Madison left a great legacy.  The question is, how to honor it, and him?

  • Madison is known popularly, especially for elementary school history studies (the few that are done anymore), as the Father of the Constitution.  It’s fitting:  Madison engaged in a great, good conspiracy with George Washington and Alexander Hamilton to get the convention to “amend” the Articles of Confederation and create a better, probably stronger, national government.  But Washington stayed behind the scenes, and pulled very few strings Madison didn’t tell him to pull. Hamilton’s support from New York was weak; while Hamilton played a hugely important role in getting the convention called, and in getting New York to ratify the Constitution with the creation of the Federalist Papers project, the day-to-day operation of the convention and direction of the political forces to make it work, fell to Madison.
  • Madison’s notes on the Philadelphia convention give us the best record of the then-secret proceedings. 

    English: James Madison, fourth president of th...

    Notice the error in this caption:  “James Madison, fourth president of the United States wrote the Constitution at his estate near Orange Virginia, called Montpelier. Pictured here after an extensive renovation.” Photo from Wikipedia.  (James Madison didn’t write the Constitution; it was hammered out in Philadelphia, not Montpelier; the patriot and rake Gouverneur Morris wrote out the final draft.)

  • Madison devised the scheme of getting conventions to ratify the Constitution, instead of colonial/state legislatures.  He had Patrick Henry in mind.  Henry opposed any centralized government for the colonies, to the point that he refused to attend the Philadelphia convention when he was appointed a delegate; by the end of the convention, Henry was off to another term as governor where he hoped to orchestrate the defeat of ratification of the constitution in the Virginia legislature.  Madison circumvented that path, but Henry still threw up every hurdle he could.  (Henry organized the anti-federalist forces in the Virginia Convention, and hoping to kill the Constitution, called it fatally flawed for having no bill of rights; when Madison’s organizing outflanked him, especially with a promised to get a bill of rights in the First Congress, Henry blocked Madison’s election to the U.S. Senate, and organized forces to stop his popular election to the U.S. House.  That failed, ultimately, and Madison pushed the legislative package that became the Bill of Rights).
  • Andrew Hamilton started writing a series of newspaper columns, with John Jay, to urge New York to ratify of the Constitution; but after Jay was beaten nearly to death by an anti-federalist mob, Hamilton invited Madison to step in and help.  Madison ended up writing more than Hamilton and Jay put together, in that collection now known as The Federalist Papers.
  • Madison backed down George Mason, and got the great defender of citizens’ rights to add religious freedom to the Virginia Bill of Rights, in 1776.  Religious freedom and freedom of conscience became a life-long crusade for Madison, perhaps moreso than for Thomas Jefferson.
  • A sort of protege of Thomas Jefferson, Madison pushed much of Jefferson’s democratic and bureaucratic reforms through the Virginia legislature, into law.  Especially, it was Madison who stoppped Patrick Henry’s plan to have Virginia put preachers on the payroll, and instead pass Jefferson’s Statute for Religious Freedom into law in 1786.
  • Madison wrote the best defense of American religious freedom in the Memorial and Remonstrance, a petition to the Virginia legislature to get Jefferson’s bill passed.
  • Madison sponsored and passed more Constitutional Amendments than anyone else in history.  We have 27 amendments to our Constitution.  Madison pushed through the first 10, now known as the Bill of Rights.  In the original package proposed out of Congress were a dozen amendments.  One of those became salient again in the late 20th century, and was finally ratified in 1992 — the 27th Amendment.  Madison is the author of 11 of the 27 amendments, including the first ten and the last one.
  • Yeah, James Madison was the defendant in Marbury v. Madison; he made history even when he didn’t do anything
  • Madison is the only president to face enemy gunfire while president, commanding troops on the frontlines during the British invasion of Washington in 1814.
  • Madison took over the creation of the University of Virginia when Jefferson’s death prevented his following through.
  • Madison’s record as an effective, law-passing legislator is rivaled only by Lyndon Johnson among the 43 people we’ve had as president.  Both were masters at get stuff done.
  • Madison is the ultimate go-to-guy for a partner In his lifetime, to the great benefit of his partners, he collaborated with George Washington to get the convention in Philadelphia; he collaborated with Ben Franklin to get Washington to be president of the Philadelphia convention, without which it could not have succeeded; he collaborated with Hamilton on the Constitution and again on the Federalist papers; he collaborated with Jefferson to secure religious freedom in 1776, 1786, and 1789; Madison collaborated with Jefferson to establish our party political system (perhaps somewhat unintentionally), and to get Jefferson elected president; Madison collaborated with Jefferson and Jay to make the Louisiana Purchase; Madison took James Monroe out of the Patrick Henry camp, and brought Monroe along to be a great federalist democrat, appointing Monroe Secretary of State in Madison’s administration, and then pushing Monroe to succeed him as president.  Also, Madison was a prize student of the great John Witherspoon at what is now Princeton; Witherspoon took Madison, studying for the clergy, and convinced him God had a greater calling for him than merely to a pulpit.

As the ultimate Second Man — when he wasn’t the First Man — Madison’s role in history should not be downplayed, not forgotten.

March 16 is Madison’s birthday (“new style”).

What would be fitting ways to celebrate Madison’s life and accomplishments, on his birthday?  Nothing done so far in the history of the Republic adequately honors this man and his accomplishments, nor begins to acknowledge the great debt every free person owes to his work.

Still, there are encouraging stirrings.

(Dolley Madison?  There are two topics for other, lengthy discussions — one on their marriage, and how they worked together; one on Dolley, a power in her own right.)

Previously, at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub:

More:

Yes, this is mostly an encore post.  Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.


Quote of the moment: Calvin Coolidge, on building America: “Look to service, not selfishness”

March 3, 2015

Calvin Coolidge, 30th president of the United States (elected vice president in 1920, and succeeding to the presidency upon the death of Warren G. Harding).  History.com image

Calvin Coolidge, 30th president of the United States (elected vice president in 1920, and succeeding to the presidency upon the death of Warren G. Harding). History.com image

Referring to progress in the U.S. after World War I, Coolidge said:

With peace has come prosperity. Burdens have been great, but the strength to bear them has been greater. The condition of those who toil is higher, better, more secure than in all the ages past. Out of the darkness of a great conflict has appeared the vision, nearer, clearer than ever before, of a life on earth less and less under the deadening restraint of force, more and more under the vitalizing influence of reason. Moral power has been triumphing over physical power. With peace has come prosperity. Burdens have been great, but the strength to bear them has been greater. The condition of those who toil is higher, better, more secure than in all the ages past. Out of the darkness of a great conflict has appeared the vision of a nearer, clearer than ever before, the  [of] life on earth less and less under the deadening restraint of force, more and more under the vitalizing influence of reason. Moral power has been triumphing over physical power. Education will tend to bring reason and experience of the past into the solution of the problems of the future. We must look to service and not selfishness, for service is the foundation of progress. The greatest lesson that we have to learn is to seek ever the public welfare, to build up, to maintain our American heritage.

Candidate for vice president Calvin Coolidge, “America and the War,” 1920

Digging a little deeper, I discover that the first part of this quote also appeared in Coolidge’s Thanksgiving Proclamation on November 27, 1919, when he was  Governor of Massachusetts.  Knowing a good turn of words when he wrote it (I’m assuming he didn’t have ghost writers then), he used the same words in making phonograph recordings of speeches to be distributed in the election campaign of 1920, before radio was available to carry speeches to voters.  I have made minor corrections in the transcript, from the earlier text and the audio delivery.

According to Talking History, the 78 rpm record and audio version were saved and made available by the Library of Congress.

You may want to listen to Coolidge say the words himself. Mp3  RealPlayer


Presidents Day 2015: Fly your flag today

February 16, 2015

It’s Presidents’ Day on most calendars, though the official U.S. holiday is “Washington’s Birthday.”

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

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

Presidents Day is February 16, 2015 — fly your U.S. flag today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More, Resources, and Related Articles:

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

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

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


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