On July 10, 1850, Millard Fillmore ascended to the presidency

July 10, 2018

The popular hero of the Mexican-American War, Zachary Taylor, died on July 9. For the second time, a vice president was sworn in to replace the elected president.

Millard Fillmore was that vice president.

Millard Fillmore, in 1873, 20 years after he left the presidency. Portrait by C. M. Bell. From the Library of Congress.

Millard Fillmore, in 1873, 20 years after he left the presidency. Portrait by C. M. Bell. From the Library of Congress.

Fillmore ended the run of presidents by Whig Party members, the last Whig. He served out the term of Taylor, but despite trying, never succeeded in winning election on his own.

Most people including historians know little about Fillmore, except his unsavory role in signing the Fugitive Slave Act, and thereby pushing the nation closer to civil war. The hoax on Fillmore’s allegedly introducing a plumbed bathtub to the White House, by H. L. Mencken in 1917, stained Fillmore’s reputation and chased out most information about good things he had done, such as opening Japan to trade.

There are morals about hoaxes and fake news in Fillmore’s story. Those morals are much lost to history now.

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The author and a bronze likeness of Fillmore meet on a street in Rapid City, South Dakota, August 2016

The author and a bronze likeness of Fillmore meet on a street in Rapid City, South Dakota, August 2016

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Trump is most like Millard Fillmore? Perhaps in his failures . . .

July 5, 2018

One story says Queen Victoria commented that Millard Fillmore was the handsomest man she'd ever met; true or not, imposing Trump's face on Fillmore doesn't improve anything. Illustration from BBC

One story says Queen Victoria commented that Millard Fillmore was the handsomest man she’d ever met; true or not, imposing Trump’s face on Fillmore doesn’t improve anything. Illustration from BBC

Millard Fillmore was a self-educated man, an ardent reader, the founder of the White House library.

Millard Fillmore understood the strategic geography of Japan, an opened Japan up to the world.

Has Trump done anything beneficial? Logical? Based on good, accurate information?

We may have a bone to pick with BBC.

BBC’s article, by Jude Sheerin from the Washington bureau, actually is quite well done. The article compares the nativism in Fillmore’s time, to which Fillmore fell victim, with Trump’s nativism — and the comparison is troubling.

In the end, the Whigs refused to nominate Fillmore to run for his own term in 1852 (he had succeeded President Zachary Taylor on Taylor’s death, remember); Fillmore was courted by the American Party, better known to school kids as the Know-Nothings. Fillmore led the Know-Nothings to a crushing defeat in 1852 (they did get Maryland), but the Whigs never recovered either. In 1856, partly in the ashes of the Whigs, rose the Republican Party to run John C. Fremont for President.

And in 1860, the new Republican Party managed to knock a homerun, getting Abraham Lincoln elected to the presidency on the party’s second try.

“What is past is prologue,” the wall of the National Archives tells us, and Santayana warns that those who do not remember history will repeat it. What lessons can we learn from comparing Donald Trump to Millard Fillmore?

Other than the fact that Fillmore was actually quite a bit better looking, that is.


“Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos Canyon)” with Arlo Guthrie and Hoyt Axton

June 21, 2018

Marker to the 28 Mexico citizens who died in the Los Gatos Canyon crash in 1948. University of Arizona image via Smithsonian Magazine

Marker to the 28 Mexico citizens who died in the Los Gatos Canyon crash in 1948. University of Arizona image via Smithsonian Magazine

Deportations plague much of recent U.S. history. It never works out well for the U.S., on the whole, especially mass deportations.

Hoyt Axton and Arlo Guthrie joined to sing Woody Guthrie’s account of one catastrophic deportation incident.

A more urgent version of the song, by Lance Canales and the Flood, featuring the names of the 28 who died.

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Lifting children to freedom over the barbed wire – should we choose freedom now?

June 17, 2018

August, 1961. First the barbed wire went up surrounding West Berlin, separating those in the Russian sector, and East Germany, from those in the French, British and U.S. sectors, an island of non-communist rule in a sea of communists.

The famous wall of concrete, steel and barbed wire would be built soon. Germans living in Berlin were sometimes trapped by arbitrary lines on a map, lines that meant the difference between freedom and a communist dictatorship.

Why am I thinking of this now? This photo, from the U.S. Information Agency, in the files of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The photo tells a sad story, that should never be repeated.

Berlin residents pass children over the barbed wire separating the free West Berlin from Soviet-occupied West Berlin. August 1961. U.S. National Archives image, from U.S. Information Agency.

Berlin residents pass children over the barbed wire separating the free West Berlin from Soviet-occupied West Berlin. August 1961. U.S. National Archives image, from U.S. Information Agency.

The guard, a “Vopo,” looked the other way. And that made all the difference in that child’s life.

Caption for photo from USIA, on the back of the photo.

Caption for photo from USIA, on the back of the photo.

Why does this image call out to me now, as if from the voice of that child, pleading for help? Does it call to you, too?


June 2018: On what dates should we fly the flag?

June 11, 2018

“Flag Day, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.” 1942 photo by John Vachon (1914-1975) for the U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information. Image from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)

June holds only two days designated for flying the U.S. flag out of the specific days mentioned in the U.S. Flag Code, and six statehood days, when residents of those states should fly their flags.  Plus, there is National Flag Week.

Two Flag Code-designated days:

  • Flag Day, June 14
  • Fathers Day, third Sunday in June (June 17 in 2018)

Several states celebrate statehood. New Hampshire, Virginia, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia celebrate statehood; Kentucky and Tennessee share the same date.

  • Kentucky, June 1 (1792, 15th state)
  • Tennessee, June 1 (1796, 16th state)
  • Arkansas, June 15 (1836, 25th state)
  • West Virginia, June 20 (1863, 35th state)
  • New Hampshire, June 21 (1788, 9th state), and
  • Virginia, June 25 (1788, 10th state)

Additionally, Congress passed a resolution designating the week in which June 14th falls as National Flag Week, and urging that citizens fly the flag each day of that week.  In 2018 that would be the week of June 10, which falls on Sunday, through June 16.

Flag-flying days for June, listed chronologically:

  1. Kentucky and Tennessee statehood, June 1
  2. Flag Day, June 14; National Flag week, June 10 to 16
  3. Arkansas statehood, June 15 (duplicating a day in National Flag Week)
  4. Fathers Day, June 17
  5. West Virginia statehood, June 20
  6. New Hampshire statehood, June 21
  7. Virginia statehood, June 25

As you know, any resident may fly the flag any day of the year, under the etiquette provided in the Flag Code.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Mike’s Blog Rounds at Crooks and Liars — thanks for the plug!

National Archives caption: This illustration entitled, “Flag Day - 1900”, by cartoonist Clifford Berryman, which appeared in the Washington Post on June 14, 1900, depicts the growth of American influence in the world as the European powers watch in the background as new century is ushered in.

National Archives caption: This illustration entitled, “Flag Day – 1900”, by cartoonist Clifford Berryman, which appeared in the Washington Post on June 14, 1900, depicts the growth of American influence in the world as the European powers watch in the background as new century is ushered in.

Flag Day, 1918, at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Photo by Miles F. Weaver (1879-1932), from the collection of the National Archives (NARA)

Flag Day, 1918, at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Photo by Miles F. Weaver (1879-1932), from the collection of the National Archives (NARA)

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Greatest leadership example in history? Eisenhower’s astonishing D-Day plan B, “Blame . . . is mine alone”

June 6, 2018

It is a model of leadership, an example more leaders should follow — though too few do. It’s one more example of the high caliber leadership Dwight Eisenhower demonstrated throughout his life. In its imperfections, handwritten, it should take your breath away.  Eisenhower was a leader down to the bone.

So again, today, on the 74th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, we remember.

Eisenhower's unused statement on the failure of D-Day

Eisenhower’s contingency statement, in case D-Day failed – image from the National Archives

This quote actually isn’t a quote. It was never said by the man who wrote it down to say it. It carries a powerful lesson because of what it is.

In preparing for the D-Day invasion, Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower carefully contemplated what would happen if the invasion failed.  What if the Germans repulsed the Allies, and no foothold was established to re-take the main body of Europe from the Germans?

Ike’s answer is a model of leadership:  He would take the blame.  Regardless what happened, Ike took full responsibility for the failure, giving credit to the soldiers who would have sacrificed in vain, perhaps their lives.

The Bathtub recently posted Gen. Dwight Eisenhower’s “order of the day” to the troops about to conduct the Allied invasion of Normandy — D-Day — to establish the toehold in Europe the Allies needed to march to Berlin, and to end World War II in Europe. As a charge to the troops, it was okay — Eisenhower-style words, not Churchill-style, but effective enough. One measure of its effectiveness was the success of the invasion, which established the toe-hold from which the assaults on the Third Reich were made.

eisenhower-with-paratrooper-eve-of-d-day.jpg

Photo shows Eisenhower meeting with troops of the 101st Airborne Division, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, on the eve of the invasion. It was these men whose courage he lauded.

When Eisenhower wrote his words of encouragement to the troops, and especially after he visited with some of the troops, he worried about the success of the operation. It was a great gamble. Many of the things the Allies needed to go right — like weather — had gone wrong. Victory was not assured. Defeat strode the beaches of Normandy waiting to drive the Allies back into the water, to die.

Eisenhower wrote a second statement, a shorter one. This one was directed to the world. It assumed the assault had failed. In a few short sentences, Eisenhower commended the courage and commitment of the troops who, he wrote, had done all they could. The invasion was a chance, a good chance based on the best intelligence the Allies had, Eisenhower wrote. But it had failed.

The failure, Eisenhower wrote, was not the fault of the troops, but was entirely Eisenhower’s.

He didn’t blame the weather, though he could have. He didn’t blame fatigue of the troops, though they were tired, some simply from drilling, many from war. He didn’t blame the superior field position of the Germans, though the Germans clearly had the upper hand. He didn’t blame the almost-bizarre attempts to use technology that look almost clownish in retrospect — the gliders that carried troops behind the lines, sometimes too far, sometimes killing the pilots when the gliders’ cargo shifted on landing;  the flotation devices that were supposed to float tanks to the beaches to provide cover for the troops (but which failed, drowning the tank crews and leaving the foot soldiers on their own); the bombing of the forts and pillboxes on the beaches, which failed because the bombers could not see their targets through the clouds.

There may have been a plan B, but in the event of failure, Eisenhower was prepared to establish who was accountable, whose head should roll if anyone’s should.

Eisenhower took full responsibility.

Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troop, the air [force] and the navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone.

Who in the U.S. command would write such a thing today?  Who else in history would have written such a thing?  Is there any indication that Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, or any other commander of a great army in  a world-turning invasion, considered how to save and perhaps salve the reputation of his troops, though they had failed?

Leadership is more than just positive thinking.

  • The message may also be viewed here. Yes, it’s incorrectly dated July 5 — should have been June 5.  In history, little is perfect.  We can excuse his slip of the pen, considering what else he had on his mind.

 

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General Eisenhower speaks with members of the ...

Another  angle of the meeting with the troops:  General Eisenhower speaks with members of the 101st Airborne Division on the evening of 5 June 1944.  Wikipedia image

 

This is an encore post.

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


Fly your flag today? Remembering D-Day, 1944 – 74 years ago

June 6, 2018

First Flag on Utah Beach, June 6, 1944

First Flag on Utah Beach, June 6, 1944 – Photo by Mark Wainwright

Today is the 74th anniversary of the Invasion of Normandy in World War II, a date called D-Day.  I usually get at least one e-mail request:  No, you don’t have to fly your flag.  This is not one of the days designated by Congress for flag-flying.

But you may fly your flag, and probably, you should.  If there are any D-Day veterans in your town, they’ll appreciate it.

This is an encore post.

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

 


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