January 9 was Richard Nixon’s birthday

January 10, 2018

President Richard Milhous Nixon was born in Yorba Linda, California, on January 9, 1913.

Interesting to see so little public acknowledgement of Nixon’s presidency and his trials and vexations, which history offers insight and perhaps solutions to problems the nation has today.

Some views of Richard Nixon.

National Archives and Records Administration image: Nine-year old Richard Nixon in Yorba Linda, 1922. National Archives Identifier: 306-PSD-68-3769.

National Archives and Records Administration image: Nine-year old Richard Nixon in Yorba Linda, 1922. National Archives Identifier: 306-PSD-68-3769.

Richard Nixon, age 15, holding his violin, ca 1927-1928. Richard Nixon learned to play the violin, clarinet, saxophone, piano, and the accordion. When he was 12, Richard was sent to live and study music with his mother’s sister in central California. He returned home six months later and eventually discontinued his studies, but his love of music continued. Richard Nixon Presidential Library & Museum.

Richard Nixon, age 15, holding his violin, ca 1927-1928. Richard Nixon learned to play the violin, clarinet, saxophone, piano, and the accordion. When he was 12, Richard was sent to live and study music with his mother’s sister in central California. He returned home six months later and eventually discontinued his studies, but his love of music continued. Richard Nixon Presidential Library & Museum.

Richard Nixon with two friends, Fullerton High School, Fullerton, CA, circa 1929. (Surely someone could identify the other two men. I wonder who they are? What happened to them?) Richard Nixon Presidential Library & Museum Identifier: WHPO-B-0199.

Richard Nixon with two friends, Fullerton High School, Fullerton, CA, circa 1929. (Surely someone could identify the other two men. I wonder who they are? What happened to them?) Richard Nixon Presidential Library & Museum Identifier: WHPO-B-0199.

1945 photograph of Lt. Commander Richard Nixon wearing his Navy uniform. When Richard Nixon ran for Congress in 1946 he wore his Navy uniform as he declared at the time that he did not have a civilian suit. Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, used with permission of the Richard Nixon Foundation and Julie Nixon Eisenhower.

1945 photograph of Lt. Commander Richard Nixon wearing his Navy uniform. When Richard Nixon ran for Congress in 1946 he wore his Navy uniform as he declared at the time that he did not have a civilian suit. Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, used with permission of the Richard Nixon Foundation and Julie Nixon Eisenhower.

Vice-President Richard Nixon, with wife Pat and daughters Tricia and Julie, watch the antics of their pet cocker spaniel

Vice-President Richard Nixon, with wife Pat and daughters Tricia and Julie, watch the antics of their pet cocker spaniel “Checkers” while on a weekend visit to the Jersey Shore in Mantoloking, NJ, August 16, 1953. Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, used with permission of the Richard Nixon Foundation and Julie Nixon Eisenhower.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Vice President Richard Nixon at the White House before the Vice President’s Ambassador of Goodwill tour departure to the Far East, October 5, 1953. Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, used with permission of the Richard Nixon Foundation and Julie Nixon Eisenhower.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Vice President Richard Nixon at the White House before the Vice President’s Ambassador of Goodwill tour departure to the Far East, October 5, 1953. Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, used with permission of the Richard Nixon Foundation and Julie Nixon Eisenhower.

Vice-President Nixon spars with Premier Khrushchev before reporters and onlookers, including Politburo member Leonid Brezhnev at the American National Exhibition at Sokolniki Park, in Moscow, 1959. Nixon and Khrushchev are photographed in front of a kitchen display – the impromptu exchanges came to be known as the Kitchen Debate, July 24, 1959. Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, used with permission of the Richard Nixon Foundation and Julie Nixon Eisenhower.

Vice-President Nixon spars with Premier Khrushchev before reporters and onlookers, including Politburo member Leonid Brezhnev at the American National Exhibition at Sokolniki Park, in Moscow, 1959. Nixon and Khrushchev are photographed in front of a kitchen display – the impromptu exchanges came to be known as the Kitchen Debate, July 24, 1959. Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, used with permission of the Richard Nixon Foundation and Julie Nixon Eisenhower.

Nixon’s life offers many interesting twists and turns. His Watergate scandal rather overshadows much of the rest — I think high school textbooks do not spend enough time on telling why Nixon was considered a good candidate for the presidency after losing to John F. Kennedy in the 1960 election, nor do they dwell enough on the effect of the Cold War on his career, and his effect on the Cold War. Check your kid’s U.S. history book — is the Kitchen Debate even mentioned?

Nixon would have been 105 years old on January 9. We might pause to reflect, and learn, from his life and trials.

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A wreath-laying ceremony commemorating President Richard Nixon’s 105th birthday is moved indoors because of rain. The wreath was placed by a large photo of the 37th president in Yorba Linda on Tuesday, Jan 9, 2018. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Orange County Register caption: A wreath-laying ceremony commemorating President Richard Nixon’s 105th birthday is moved indoors because of rain. The wreath was placed by a large photo of the 37th president in Yorba Linda on Tuesday, Jan 9, 2018. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

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Happy 218th birthday, Millard Fillmore!

January 8, 2018

Millard Fillmore, bronzed, sitting at the corner of 9th and St. Joseph Streets in Rapid City, South Dakota. He still gets around. Photo by Ed Darrell. Please use.

Millard Fillmore, bronzed, sitting at the corner of 9th and St. Joseph Streets in Rapid City, South Dakota. He still gets around. Photo by Ed Darrell. Please use. Creative Commons copyright.

Millard Fillmore, our 13th President, was born on January 7, 1800.

That was 24 days after the death of our first President, George Washington.

Yes, I’m a day late in noting the anniversary. Fillmore’s birthday isn’t such a big deal anymore, since fun organizers discontinued the bathtub races once word got out that the story of Millard Fillmore putting the first bathtub in the White House, is a hoax.

Historians from the University of Buffalo — an institution founded by Fillmore after his presidency — usually hold a graveside ceremony with speeches. But for at least the second time in recent years, they got frozen out. (About as cold as the response I get from the University of Buffalo when I ask for a copy of the speech or paper to publish here.)

It’s a shame, really. Fillmore is the victim of fake news, a hoax perpetrated by H. L. Mencken 100 years ago, in 1917. Mencken claimed, falsely, that Fillmore’s sole good, memorable deed was putting that fictitious bathtub in the White House. That story crowds out the real history, and any good Fillmore should be remembered for.

Fillmore did a few notable things as president.

  • Fillmore secured a steady supply of bird guano for the United States. Funny as that may be, the guano was essential for making gun powder, which in turn helped fuel the military might of the United States for years (including through the Civil War).
  • Millard Fillmore and his first wife, Abigail, read books all the time. Deprived of the opportunity of going to school much in his youth, Fillmore became an ardent reader, read for the law, became a lawyer, got into politics and was selected Vice President for President Zachary Taylor. When Taylor died (probably of typhoid) in 1850, Fillmore succeeded to the presidency. In the White House, the Fillmores found few books to read, and so established the White House Library. Say prayers that library survives the current president.
  • Fillmore thought globally, and he could see world trade as a huge opportunity for a young nation with a strong navy and army, and a lot of resources including intellectual capacity to manufacture things. Trade in the Pacific was problematic, and a large number of problems stemmed from Japan’s closing itself off from the world. Japan had coal, which could refuel steamships. Japan instead closed its ports. An occasional U.S. sailor would be executed if he washed up on Japanese shores. Fillmore sent a small fleet of “black ships” under Commodore Matthew Perry, to tell Japan it was time to open up to trade and assume its place among nations. Perry was successful, after a second visit and a small round of cannon fire. Japan became a strong economic power in the West Pacific, and in its march to glory decided to take over resources of several other Asian nations. We might say Fillmore started the slide to World War II in the Pacific.

History should be kept to accuracy. Mencken upset the ship of accuracy with his essay, and America has not recovered, nor has Millard Fillmore’s reputation. There’s a moral there: Don’t spread hoaxes; seek the truth, and glorify it. (Mencken apologized for the hoax, but too late.)

Rapid City, South Dakota, is a booming town. Mineral wealth and oil in the state combine with an Air Force Base, great housing prices and good weather to the benefit of the town. One of its civic watchdogs got the idea of putting statues of all U.S. presidents on downtown corners. That is how Millard Fillmore comes to be seated at a desk with a book nearby, at the corner of 9th Street and St. Joseph Street, where I met him last August. Altogether a fun little history enterprise for Rapid City, very well executed, and worthy of a stop there if you’re passing by.

Perhaps someday Rapid City will take to decorating the statues on the birthdays of the men (so far!) represented. I hope they won’t be frozen out like Buffalo, New York, is, if they commemorate Millard Fillmore’s birthday.

Millard Fillmore and Ed Darrell meet, in Rapid City, South Dakota, August 2017

Millard Fillmore and Ed Darrell meet, in Rapid City, South Dakota, August 2017; photo by Kathryn Knowles

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President Warren Harding, a voice for the ages

December 29, 2017

In 1922, President Warren G. Harding made a sound recording of his voice, for archival purposes. He died in 1923, succeeded by Calvin Coolidge. National Archives image.

In 1922, President Warren G. Harding made a sound recording of his voice, for archival purposes. He died in 1923, succeeded by Calvin Coolidge. National Archives image.

President Warren G. Harding made a recording of his voice in 1922, for archival purposes. From the photograph it appears the recording was made to a wax or plastic disk. Hypothetically, the recording exists somewhere in the bowels of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).


It’s Martin van Buren’s birthday, December 5

December 5, 2017

Former President Martin van Buren, circa 1855-1888. Matthew Brady photograph (Imperial print of Martin Van Buren. Salted paper print from glass negative. Provenance from W.H. Lowdermilk & Co., Rare Books, 1418 F Street, Washington, DC) Metropolitan Museum image, via Wikimedia

Former President Martin van Buren, circa 1855-1888. Matthew Brady photograph (Imperial print of Martin Van Buren. Salted paper print from glass negative. Provenance from W.H. Lowdermilk & Co., Rare Books, 1418 F Street, Washington, DC) Metropolitan Museum image, via Wikimedia

Martin van Buren was our nation’s 8th president, serving one term, 1837-1841.

This photo is roughly  15 years after van Buren left office, taken in the Washington, D.C., studio of Matthew Brady, whose photography gained fame from his work photographing battle sites during the American Civil War.

Martin van Buren was born December 5, 1782, in Kinderhook, New York. He is the only president to have the first name Martin. He’d be 235 years old today, and still king of the mutton chop sideburns among presidents.

Van Buren died on July 24, 1862.

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At Broad and Hudson Streets in Kinderhook, New York, one can sit with a statue of Martin Van Buren, and see if one can decipher the newspaper he is reading. PresidentsUSA image

At Broad and Hudson Streets in Kinderhook, New York, one can sit with a statue of Martin Van Buren, and see if one can decipher the newspaper he is reading. PresidentsUSA image

 


December 2: Millard Fillmore’s Guano Day! 2017 edition

December 2, 2017

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!

More:  

You can purchase Peruvian guano today, from Amazon, GrowOrganic.com, and other sources. It's roughly $15 per pound in the U.S.

You can purchase Peruvian guano today, from Amazon, GrowOrganic.com, and other sources. It’s roughly $15 per pound in the U.S.

This is an encore post.

Yes, this is an edited encore post. Defeating ignorance takes patience and perseverance.


What President Trump blurted out; what Little Donald really meant

October 19, 2017

Bill Watterson's Calvin, on the impossibility of getting homework to do itself. Copyright Bill Watterson.

Bill Watterson’s Calvin, on the impossibility of getting homework to do itself. Copyright Bill Watterson. As Ms. Ashenhurst describes it: “SCH 4U is a university preparation course. As such some independent work is required for success.”

Do you ever get the feeling that President Donald Trump is speaking a foreign language? Or that he’s speaking what he thinks might sound like a foreign language, to cover for his not having done his homework?

Looking back now, we can see whatever it was he said about talking to families of fallen soldiers, he probably needed someone to translate it to himself.

Canadian reporter Daniel Dale explained on Twitter:

Here’s the translation into English, from Craig Battle:

Glad we got that settled.

Now Trump has, reluctantly, called the families of the fallen soldiers. Somehow, inexplicably, Trump managed to make things worse, to embarrass the entire nation. We couldn’t know that, then.

Bill Watterson's Calvin figures out that obfuscation sometimes buys you a few minutes before the authorities and voters catch on to your game. Copyright Bill Watterson.

Bill Watterson’s Calvin figures out that obfuscation sometimes buys you a few minutes before the authorities and voters catch on to your game. Copyright Bill Watterson.

It’s graveyard humor. It seems to me Trump often leaves us fearful, and looking at great tragedy, with no coping mechanism apart from trying to find humor in what he’s done.

Which suggests, to me, it’s time for Trump to go away on his own. He’s damaging the nation.

What do you think?

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September 14, 1901: McKinley died, Teddy Roosevelt ascended to presidency

September 14, 2017

September 14, 1901, front page of the Boston Morning Journal, announcing the death of President William McKinley. Image from Timothy Hughes Rare & Early Newspapers.

September 14, 1901, front page of the Boston Morning Journal, announcing the death of President William McKinley. Image from Timothy Hughes Rare & Early Newspapers.

Lincoln, Garfield, then McKinley.

September 14, 1901, President William McKinley died in Buffalo, New York, eight days after having been shot at Buffalo’s Pan American Exposition a sort of World Fair.

Within hours, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt took the oath as president.

Ken Burns explained the events of the day well in his long series of films on the Roosevelts:

Interesting to read the newspapers from an era before television, radio or especially internet.

Front page of the

Front page of the “3:00 p.m. edition” of the Buffalo Enquirer, September 14, 1901. Image from Nate D. Sanders Auctions

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