Buffalo News quiz: How well do you know birthday boy Millard Fillmore?

January 7, 2016

Inscription on the statute of Millard Fillmore at Buffalo's City Hall. Fillmore's better qualities crowd out critical elements. Buffalo News file photo.

Inscription on the statute of Millard Fillmore at Buffalo’s City Hall. “Lawyer, Educator, Philanthropist, Statesman.” Fillmore’s better qualities crowd out critical elements. Buffalo News file photo.

The venerable Buffalo News offers a quiz on our 13th president, Millard Fillmore, native son of Buffalo.

Happy birthday, Millard Fillmore, born January 7, 1800.

Nice of the Berkshire-Hathaway owned Buffalo News to make such a great tool for teachers, eh?


Happy birthday, Millard Fillmore! Mo Rocca’s profile, from our archives to yours

January 7, 2016

Millard Fillmore as a younger man? Several sites claim this is a painting of Fillmore, but as with much about our mysterious 13th president, it's difficult to confirm, partly because images of Fillmore really are rather rare.

Millard Fillmore as a younger man? Several sites claim this is a painting of Fillmore, but as with much about our mysterious 13th president, it’s difficult to confirm, partly because images of Fillmore really are rather rare.

Our 13th president, Millard Fillmore, was born January 7, 1800. He’s 216 years old today, though he’s been dead most of that time.

After commemorating Fillmore’s birthday each year for the past several years, I’m running out of ideas to write about him that seem novel, at least to me. Several years I’ve called the University of Buffalo to try to get copies of the remarks officials make at Fillmore’s gravesite, but those remarks rarely come through — so we don’t get enlightenment from them.

Reality? Few people remember anything about Fillmore even after we feature it here. For Fillmore’s 216th, let’s review what little we really know about him, with some encore posts.

Raconteur Mo Rocca profiled Fillmore for CBS’s Sunday Morning, a while back. That may be as good a place as any to review the highlights of Fillmore’s life, and meaning and place in U.S. history.

Most historians give Fillmore bad marks as a president, despite his having opened Japan for trade, and despite his having procured a steady supply of bird poop for U.S. industry.

I get this eerie feeling Fillmore would fit right in today in the GOP presidential scraps, and would be a serious challenge to fellow New Yorker Donald Trump. Do you agree?

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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25 most-viewed presidents’ documents at the American Presidency Project

December 4, 2015

Every U.S. history teacher is familiar with a great on-line resource assembled by John Woolley and Gerhard Peters at the University of California – Santa Barbara, The American Presidency Project.  Or, if by some oversight any teacher is not familiar with it, someone should do them a favor and let them know.

It’s an ambitious project of cataloging and making available in one place all the official papers of the presidents of the United States, speeches, press conferences, executive orders, and miscellaneous material including election speeches. The project started in 1999, and as of today contains more than 111,000 documents.

Masthead photo collage from the American Presidency Project at the University of California - Santa Barbara

Masthead photo collage from the American Presidency Project at the University of California – Santa Barbara

In 2008, the project started counting access to the documents, and can now give us seven years of data as to which documents of presidents, from George Washington to Barack Obama, are the most popularly accessed.

Before you read further, ponder this question: Which presidential speeches, documents and miscellanea do you think should be in the top 25 documents people look in a decade? Surely students and scholars, and policy wonks, would be interested in Lincoln’s inspiring words at Gettysburg, perhaps his two inaugural addresses, or the Emancipation Proclamation. FDR’s first inaugural address, “nothing to fear but fear itself,” ought to be among the top. Wilson’s 14 Points, perhaps? Washington’s Farewell? John Kennedy’s inaugural? Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society speech? Eisenhower’s farewell, warning of the “military-industrial complex?”

Now look at the list. What does it tell us that these are the top 25 sought-after documents from the American Presidency Project? What does it tell us that what we might expect to be in the top 25, are not? Tell us in comments what you think.

Here’s the top 25 Most Viewed Documents since 2008 at the American History Project; hotlinks go to the document at AHP:

The 25 Most Viewed Documents Since 2008
#1 John F. Kennedy
Inaugural Address
#2 Republican Party Platforms
Republican Party Platform of 1956
#3 Democratic Party Platforms
2008 Democratic Party Platform
#4 Republican Party Platforms
2008 Republican Party Platform
#5 John F. Kennedy
Executive Order 10990 – Reestablishing the Federal Safety Council
#6 Democratic Party Platforms
2012 Democratic Party Platform
#7 Republican Party Platforms
2012 Republican Party Platform
#8 George W. Bush
Address to the Nation on the Terrorist Attacks
#9 Ronald Reagan
Inaugural Address
#10 John F. Kennedy
Executive Order 11110 – Amendment of Executive Order No. 10289 as Amended, Relating to the Performance of Certain Functions Affecting the Department of the Treasury
#11 Franklin D. Roosevelt
Fireside Chat on Banking
#12 Barack Obama
Inaugural Address
#13 Franklin D. Roosevelt
Letter on the Resolution of Federation of Federal Employees Against Strikes in Federal Service
#14 John F. Kennedy
Remarks at a Dinner Honoring Nobel Prize Winners of the Western Hemisphere
#15 Franklin D. Roosevelt
1944 State of the Union Message to Congress
#16 Franklin D. Roosevelt
Inaugural Address
#17 Barack Obama
Executive Order 13603 – National Defense Resources Preparedness
#18 Franklin D. Roosevelt
Executive Order 6102 – Requiring Gold Coin, Gold Bullion and Gold Certificates to Be Delivered to the Government
#19 Republican Party Platforms
Republican Party Platform of 1860
#20 George Bush
Executive Order 12803 – Infrastructure Privatization
#21 Abraham Lincoln
Inaugural Address
#22 George Washington
First Annual Message to Congress on the State of the Union
#23 William J. Clinton
Inaugural Address
#24 Democratic Party Platforms
Democratic Party Platform of 1960
#25 John F. Kennedy
Address of Senator John F. Kennedy Accepting the Democratic Party Nomination for the Presidency of the United States – Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles

Thanksgiving 2015 – Fly your flag today!

November 26, 2015

Mt. Timpanogos and the U.S. flag. Photo by Bob Walker of Orem, Utah; from Orem, circa September 2012. That's Mt. Baldy on the left. This site is about six miles from our old home in Pleasant Grove, Utah.

Mt. Timpanogos and the U.S. flag. Photo by Bob Walker of Orem, Utah; from Orem, circa September 2012. That’s Mt. Baldy on the left. This site is about six miles from our old home in Pleasant Grove, Utah, where we celebrated a few dozen Thanksgivings.

Fly  your flag on Thanksgiving — it’s one of those dates Congress designated specially to fly the flag, in the U.S. flag code.

Americans load up this particular holiday with significance, often for no particular reason.  As a holiday, it is really rather uniquely American.  There were feasts of thanksgiving from time to time throughout recorded history, but most often they were one-shot affairs, after a particular event. Some of the first thanksgivings in America, by Europeans, predated the New England celebrations by a century or more (nachos and margaritas at Palo Duro!).

In America, Americans eagerly seized on the idea of one day set aside “to give thanks,” both with the religious overtones some wanted to see, and with the commercial overtones others wanted, especially during the Great Depression.  In our 239th year since the Declaration of Independence, the 226th year since the Constitution was enacted, we come to Thanksgiving as a major period of travel to old family homesteads, to Thanksgiving as a period of genuine thanks to American troops fighting in foreign lands half a world away, and as a commercial celebration that sucks the sobriety and spirituality out of all but the most dedicated of profiteers, or bargain hunters.

Vintage Thanksgiving greeting card, from HubPages

In the early 20th century, some people sent greeting cards for Thanksgiving; this is a tradition overtaken by Christmas, Hanukkah and New Years cards, today. (Image from HubPages, unknown year — credit for cards, “Images courtesy VintageHolidayCrafts.com

Thanksgiving often stumbled into controversy.  George Washington issued proclamations calling for a day of thanks, but struck out all references to Christianity.  Some president’s issued similar proclamations up to the Civil War, When Abraham Lincoln used the holiday as a time to remind  Americans that they had a lot to be thankful for, partly as a means to keep Americans focused on the war to be won, and keep supporting troops in the field.  During the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt juggled dates for Thanksgiving, moving it earlier in November to create a longer Christmas shopping season, hoping to stimulate sales, and thereby push America further out of the Depression.

In 2001 George W. Bush urged Americans to go shopping so terrorists would know America was not defeated by the attack on the World Trade Center, knowing that a stimulus to the economy would help garner support for other policies.

Vintage thanksgiving card, Boy riding turkey with American flag, from HubPages, original date unknown

Children riding large turkeys, waving American flags, made popular images in several years of the early 20th century.

2012 saw controversy over Big Box stores and other major, national retailers pushing their post- Thanksgiving, Christmas sales, into Thanksgiving day itself.  Is this fair to employees?  Is this too much emphasis on purchasing, and too little emphasis on family and giving thanks?

In 2014, we had the same arguments about Big Box stores pushing “Black Friday” into the holiday, and even more arguments about Christmas creep reducing the importance of Thanksgiving to Americans. In 2015, REI announced their stores would be closed on Black Friday, and urged Americans to go outdoors for recreation. “Ditch the malls and head for the hills,” Time Magazine said.  REI is on to somehitng.

You can be sure of one thing:  It’s safe to fly your American flag on Thanksgiving, as Congress suggested.  It won’t make your turkey more moist  or your pumpkin pie taste any better.  It won’t boost your sales, if you’re a retailer, nor find you a bargain, if you’re a shopper.

If you have the flag, it costs nothing.  Flying the flag makes no particular religious statement, supports no particular political party, supports no one’s favorite football team.  Flying the flag earns you nothing, usually.

But as a free act of patriotism, support for our nation, and our troops, and a demonstration that even after a divisive election, we’re all one nation, it’s a pretty good deal.

Fly your flag today.

More:

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

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


Strange crossings: Booth asked the president for an umbrella

November 17, 2015

This is just so odd that it merits our attention, something I found a while ago researching about presidents and umbrellas.

On November 17, 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.

Tinfoil hatters, conspiracy nuts, historical psychanalyzers, and the rest of us, might wonder if this played any role in the sad crossing of these two people almost exactly six months later, in Ford’s Theatre.

More:

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

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


Happy birthday, Jimmy Carter (he’s 91)

October 1, 2015

Photo and caption from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: It’s been a busy few days for former President Jimmy Carter, who turns 91 today. This past Saturday, he was out and about at the annual Plains Festival, including watching the parade with his wife, Rosalynn , from the balcony of the Plains Inn. Ben Gray / bgray@ajc.com

Photo and caption from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: It’s been a busy few days for former President Jimmy Carter, who turns 91 today. This past Saturday, he was out and about at the annual Plains Festival, including watching the parade with his wife, Rosalynn , from the balcony of the Plains Inn. Ben Gray / bgray@ajc.com

 

Jimmy Carter was born 91 years ago today in Plains, Georgia.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner still lives there, today. Maybe there are exceptions to Thomas Wolfe’s rule? Especially for those who stay at home.

A short note in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution website suggests celebration activities, if you’re in Atlanta:

Jimmy Carter turns a youthful 91 today. While the former Georgia governor and president of the United States celebrates with family and friends, the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum in Atlanta has a way for everyone to join the fun. Admission is reduced to 91 cents all day Thursday (those 16 and under are always admitted free of charge), and there’ll be a special drawing for a signed copy of Carter’s book, “Keeping Faith.” In addition, if you bring a birthday card along with you, the library says they’ll make sure President Carter sees it.

The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum is located at 441 Freedom Parkway, and is open from 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m Mondays-Saturdays, and from noon to 4:45 p.m. on Sundays. For more information call (404) 865-7100 or go to www.jimmycarterlibrary.gov.

 


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.


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