December 2: Happy Guano Day! (Thank you, Millard Fillmore)

December 2, 2016

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:  

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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George H. W. Bush’s letter to Bill Clinton reminds us what we have lost

October 28, 2016

Do they make Republicans so patriotic and thoughtful any more?

1992’s election was unnecessarily nasty, I thought. Incumbent George H. W. Bush had fallen from record approval ratings after Gulf War I, due to economic problems. GOP campaigning targeted Bill Clinton’s failings in personal life, and imaginary policies — much of what were real issues were ignored, I thought.

Transition was relatively smooth. GOP continued the tactic’s they’d adopted in 1977 against Jimmy Carter, constant harping on small issues, some refusal to cooperate.

George H. W. Bush is always gracious. In his last hours in office, he penned a personal letter to the man who had defeated him, Bill Clinton. He left the letter on the President’s Desk in the Oval Office, one of the first things Clinton would see after the ceremonies, and as the weight of his new job began dragging him into reality.

Bush’s grace, then, shines now as an example of a lost time, when despite deep divisions, Washington politicians understood the nation needed to run, and were willing to compromise to make the laws and appointments necessary to help America.

Bush wrote:

Letter from President George H. W. Bush to President Bill Clinton, January 20, 1993. Image via NBC News.

Letter from President George H. W. Bush to President Bill Clinton, January 20, 1993. Image via NBC News.

Bush wrote to Clinton:

You will be our president when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well.

Your success is now our country’s success. I am rooting for you. Good Luck.

Are there any such Republicans left in the party? Does anyone make Republicans like that now?

We need that grace, and resolve to make America a better and happier place, back again. Send a thank-you letter to someone you know today.

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Cluster of presidents’ birthdays in August

July 22, 2016

If presidents’ birthdays were spread out through the months evenly, we’d be approaching four births per month as we approach 48 presidents (Obama is 44th administration, of 43 presidents; Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms, screwing up numbering for all time).

August has just more than its share of presidential births, five. In date order as we go through August:

  • Barack Obama, our 43rd President, was born August 7, 1961, in Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Herbert Hoover, 30th President, was born August 10, 1874, in West Branch, Iowa
  • Bill Clinton, 42nd President, was born August 19, 1946, in Hope, Arkansas
  • Benjamin Harrison, 22nd President, was born August 20, 1833, in North Bend, Ohio
  • Lyndon Baines Johnson, 34th President, was born August 27, 1908, in Stonewall, Texas

Obama will get cards and letters, and network news programs will probably make a light-hearted mention of his birthday. Are the other August presidents celebrated, even in their hometowns?

Barack Obama as an infant. Buzfeed

Barack Obama as an infant. Buzzfeed

Barack Obama, about age two, with his mother.

Barack Obama, about age two, with his mother. Parade Magazine image.

Herbert Hoover as an infant. Difficult to find photos of young Hoover. He was orphaned.

Herbert Hoover as an infant. Difficult to find photos of young Hoover. He was orphaned.

Bill Clinton, about age two. Parade Magazine image.

Bill Clinton, about age two. Parade Magazine image.

 

Lyndon Johnson's birthday is August 27. Even near his birth he looked like the cowboy-hatted president we remember. Image from Readers Digest

Lyndon Johnson’s birthday is August 27. Even near his birth he looked like the cowboy-hatted president we remember. Image from Readers Digest

Photos of Benjamin Harrison as an infant or young child appear to be exceedingly rare.

March and November also feature births of five presidents.

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Happy birthday, Gerald Ford, July 14, 1913

July 14, 2016

Today is the 103rd anniversary of President Gerald Ford‘s birth.

Happy birthday, Mr. President!

Gerald Ford, as an officer in the US Navy in 1945. Wikipedia image in the public domain.

Gerald Ford, as an officer in the US Navy in 1945. Ford left the Navy in 1946, and ran for Congress in 1948. Wikipedia image in the public domain.

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Happy birthday John Quincy Adams, July 11, 1767

July 11, 2016

Today is the 249th anniversary of the birth of the sixth President of the United States (1825-1829), John Quincy Adams. Adams’s father was John Adams, who played key roles in the creation of the Declaration of Independence and establishment of the United States after adoption of the U.S. Constitution.

Quincy Adams is famous for returning to Congress as a member of the House of Representatives after his presidency, for his advocacy for freedom for slaves on a slave ship, and for being probably the first president ever to sit for a photographic portrait — though the sitting wasn’t until 1843, 14 years after he left the presidency.

John Quincy Adams, in Washington, D.C., 1843. According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art web site, this image is a copy of a lost daguerreotype of Adams taken by Philip Haas ca. 1843. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=522048

John Quincy Adams, in Washington, D.C., 1843. According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art web site, this image is a copy of a lost daguerreotype of Adams taken by Philip Haas ca. 1843. Some historians believe it may have been taken as late as 1847. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=522048


June 7, 1898, President William McKinley at his desk

June 7, 2016

Library of Congress description: William McKinley, full-length portrait, seated at desk, facing right, June 7, 1898. Library of Congress image

Library of Congress description: William McKinley, full-length portrait, seated at desk, facing right, June 7, 1898. Library of Congress image

If you think the office looks smaller than today’s Oval Office, you’re right. Creation of the Oval Office came 11 years after this photo, when President William Howard Taft expanded the permanent structure of the West Wing of the White House in 1909. On the right of the photo is the massive globe map of the world probably most famous from photos with Teddy Roosevelt, who succeeded to the presidency in 1901 when McKinley was assassinated.


Happy birthday, Thomas Jefferson! Born April 13, 1743

April 13, 2016

Library of Congress's South Reading Room. Mural of Thomas Jefferson with his residence, Monticello, in the background, by Ezra Winter. Library of Congress John Adams Building, Washington, D.C.

South Reading Room. Mural of Thomas Jefferson with his residence, Monticello, in the background, by Ezra Winter. Library of Congress John Adams Building, Washington, D.C.; photo by the great photographic historian Carol Highsmith

So, what are you doing to celebrate the birthday of Thomas Jefferson on April 13?

You might visit the Library of Congress, and see Jefferson’s advice to President Obama on a variety of issues, including freedom, labor, kids today, education, and the difficulty of keeping our democratic republic:

Murals by Ezra Winter also decorate the South Reading Room. The theme for these four murals is drawn from Thomas Jefferson’s writings, which are inscribed on the paintings and reflect Jefferson’s thoughts on Freedom, Labor, the Living Generation, Education, and Democratic Government. The characters and costumes depicted are those of Jefferson’s time. A portrait of Jefferson with his residence, Monticello, in the background is in the lunette above the reference desk at the north end of the room; the words in the lower left- had corner explain that THIS ROOM IS DEDICATED TO THOMAS JEFFERSON .

On the left half of the panel on the east wall, Jefferson’s view on Freedom is depicted:

THE GROUND OF LIBERTY IS TO BE GAINED BY INCHES. WE MUST BE CONTENTED TO SECURE WHAT WE CAN GET FROM TIME TO TIME AND ETERNALLY PRESS FORWARD FOR WHAT IS YET TO GET. IT TAKES TIME TO PERSUADE MEN TO DO EVEN WHAT IS FOR THEIR OWN GOOD.

Jefferson to Rev. Charles Clay, January 27, 1790

Jefferson’s views on labor, also on the east wall, are taken from his Notes on Virginia:

THOSE WHO LABOR IN THE EARTH ARE THE CHOSEN PEOPLE OF GOD, IF HE EVER HAD A CHOSEN PEOPLE, WHOSE BREASTS HE HAS MADE THE PECULIAR DEPOSITS FOR SUBSTANTIAL AND GENUINE VIRTUE. IT IS THE FOCUS IN WHICH HE KEEPS ALIVE THAT SACRED FIRE WHICH OTHERWISE MIGHT NOT ESCAPE FROM THE EARTH.

From Notes on Virginia, 1782

On the south wall, the panel over the clock contains a quotation about the Living:

THE EARTH BELONGS ALWAYS TO THE LIVING GENERATION. THEY MAY MANAGE IT THEN AND WHAT PROCEEDS FROM IT AS THEY PLEASE DURING THEIR USUFRUCT. THEY ARE MASTERS TOO OF THEIR OWN PERSONS AND CONSEQUENTLY MAY GOVERN THEM AS THEY PLEASE.

Jefferson to James Madison, September 6, 1789

On the left half of the panel on the west wall, Jefferson’s view of Education is illustrated:

EDUCATE AND INFORM THE MASS OF THE PEOPLE. ENABLE THEM TO SEE THAT IT IS THEIR INTEREST TO PRESERVE PEACE AND ORDER, AND THEY WILL PRESERVE THEM. ENLIGHTEN THE PEOPLE GENERALLY, AND TYRANNY AND OPPRESSION OF THE BODY AND MIND WILL VANISH LIKE EVIL SPIRITS AT THE DAWN OF DAY.

Jefferson to James Madison, December 20, 1787 (first two sentences);
Jefferson to P.S. Dupont de Nemours, April 24, 18l6 (last sentence).

Usufruct,” the Word of the Day for April 13.

Jefferson was born April 2, 1843, under the old Julian calendar (O.S., or Old System) — April 13 on the Gregorian calendar, the calendar we use today.

How should we celebrate?

Is there a monument or memorial to Thomas Jefferson in your town? Please tell us about it, and give us a photo if you can, in comments.

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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