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For those who prefer their history to be more linear, with a definite story arch, Most Blessed of the Patriarchs: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination by Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter Onuf is a book that is likely to be endured rather than enjoyed. It is not a biography of its subject, Thomas Jefferson, in the traditional sense, and it presumes that the reader has a good knowledge of Jefferson's life. The authors acknowledge this up front. Instead, the authors present a profile of their subject, using a collection of his letters and writings, in an effort to infer his innermost thoughts on a variety of complex subjects. The most prominent of these is slavery, and much of the book is spent highlighting the obvious contradiction between Jefferson's words and his actions when it came to this "peculiar institution".

The authors break down Jefferson's life into three sections: Patriarch, Traveller, and Enthusiast. They focus on his connection to his home in Virginia, especially on his mountain top plantation named "Monticello", as well as his time in France, his love of music, his religious and spiritual beliefs and studies and his connections to his family, both his acknowledged family (including his daughters, their spouses and his grandchildren) and the family that he kept in the shadows (Sally Hemings and her children). Jefferson's political life, his elections to the presidency, and other aspects of his history are addressed only tangentially in reference to the topics specifically addressed by the authors. This book is more about what Jefferson thought and what he wrote, less so about what he did.

For those readers who are interested in finding out what kind of person Jefferson was, what he was thinking, how he attempted to reconcile what in retrospect we see as glaring moral contradictions and what it might have been like to be around him, the authors do a superb job in their effort to get into the mind of the third president. Gordon-Reed and Ruf are careful not to jump to their own conclusions about Jefferson, but rather to let the man speak for himself, enabling the reader to make up his or her own mind about the man. A powerful example of this is when the authors discuss a series of letters between Jefferson and Abigail Adams in 1804 following the death of his daughter Maria (known as Polly). The authors let Jefferson's correspondence speak for itself, leaving the reader to decide whether or not Jefferson is being intentionally blind or willfully ignorant to his own part in the breakdown of his relationship with his former friends the Adams, or if he genuinely believes that he has nothing to apologize for.

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This book has not received favorable reviews and one of the reasons is likely the level of its prose. It is a book written by intellectuals for intellectuals about an intellectual and it is not an easy read. It is certainly not a page-turner and can be a laborious read because of the attention required to grasp what the authors are trying to convey and because of the authors' frequent lapses into pedantry. Before picking up this book, the reader should examine his or her expectations. If one is looking for a biography of Thomas Jefferson or a history of his presidency, this is not a good selection. But for those readers interested into looking into the mind of a deep thinker with a tremendous imagination, for those readers who are wondering just what made Jefferson tick, these authors offer up just such a menu.
In a letter that John Adams wrote to James Lloyd in January of 1815, the second president told his friend, "I desire no other inscription over my gravestone than: Here lies John Adams, who took upon himself the responsibility of the peace with France in the year 1800." One might imagine that not starting a war was something reasonably expected, but Adams had to contend with significant political pressure, and by not taking his nation into war, he likely paid a political price in order to do the right thing.

Peace with France was not the obvious choice for Adams, given the times. During Adams' term, he struggled to keep the United States out of the expanding conflicts taking place in Europe, especially the war between Britain and France. Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists favored Britain, while Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans favored France. The French wanted Jefferson to be elected president, and when he lost the election of 1796, the French displayed antagonism against the Adams administration. When Adams entered office, he realized the importance of continuing Washington's policy of staying out of the European war. This was difficult because many Americans felt short-changed by the Jay Treaty of 1795. This polarized politics within the nation.

The French saw America as too closely allied with Britain and as a result, they began seizing American merchant ships that were trading with the British. Many Americans remained pro-French, because of France's assistance during the Revolutionary War. Because of this, many Americans turned against Adams. But support for France declined with an incident that became known as the "XYZ Affair."

When an American team of diplomats were sent to France to negotiate a solution to French seizure of American ships, the French demanded huge bribes before any discussions could commence. When Americans learned of this, support for France in the United States rapidly declined. The Jeffersonians, who were friends to France, lost popularity and many Americans called for war with France. Adams and his advisers knew that America would be unable to win a war against such a strong military nation. Instead, Adams pursued a strategy in which American ships harassed French ships in an effort to stop the French assaults on American interests. This was in effect an undeclared naval war between the U.S. and France that became known as the Quasi-War, which began in 1798.

Fearing the danger of invasion from the much larger and more powerful French forces, Adams and the Federalist congress built up the army, bringing back Washington at its head. Washington wanted Hamilton to be his second-in-command and, given Washington's fame, Adams reluctantly agreed. Adams also built up the US Navy, adding six fast, powerful frigates, most notably the USS Constitution. To pay for the new Army and Navy, Congress imposed new taxes on property, known as the Direct Tax of 1798. This in turn angered taxpayers. In southeast Pennsylvania, the bloodless Fries's Rebellion broke out among rural German-speaking farmers.

As Hamilton asserted greater control over the War department, the rift between Adams and Hamilton's supporters grew wider. Hamilton tried to usurp presidential power by demanding that he control the army. He refused to recognize the necessity of giving prominent Democratic-Republicans positions in the army, while Adams wanted to balance power in order to gain Democratic-Republican support. Many became uncomfortable with Hamilton building a large standing army, adding to political divisions in the nation.

Adams knew victory in an all out war against imperial France would be folly. In spite of the adverse affect on his popularity, Adams sought peace with France. In February 1799, he sent diplomat William Vans Murray on a peace mission to France. Napoleon, not wishing to spread his army too thin, realized that the conflict was unwise, and expressed a willingness for friendly relations. At the Convention of 1800, a peace was achieved. Adams demobilized the emergency army.

Adams avoided war, but in the process, he split his own party. Peace hurt his popularity and probably cost him a second term in office. Nevertheless, Adams found satisfaction at having kept the nation out of what could have been a costly and potentially disastrous war.
Benjamin Harrison, like many of his Republican President predecessors, had been a General in the Civil War for the Union and had been an opponent of slavery. He was elected President at a time when animosity against the south over the war was starting to decline in the north and when the nation was starting to lose its appetite for protecting the rights of former slaves and their families, in part because of the cost of this policy as well as the fact that it was not politically expedient for his party to concede a number of southern states to the Democrats each election. To his credit, these were not factors is Harrison's approach to the issue of civil rights for African-Americans. He chose instead to be led by his principles, even if his party was not marching lock step behind him.

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When Republicans regained their majority in both Houses of Congress, Harrison urged his party to pass legislation to protect African-Americans' civil rights. Harrison's Attorney General, William H. H. Miller and the Justice Department instituted a number of prosecutions for violation of voting rights in the South. But this proved largely ineffective because white juries almost always failed to convict or indict offenders. Harrison asked Congress to pass legislation that would "secure all our people a free exercise of the right of suffrage and every other civil right under the Constitution and laws." He endorsed the proposed Federal Elections Bill written by Representative Henry Cabot Lodge and Senator George Frisbie Hoar in 1890, but the bill was defeated in the Senate. After the failure to pass that bill, Harrison continued to speak in favor of African American civil rights in addresses to Congress. On December 3, 1889, Harrison went before Congress and said:

"The colored people did not intrude themselves upon us; they were brought here in chains and held in communities where they are now chiefly bound by a cruel slave code, When and under what conditions is the black man to have a free ballot? When is he in fact to have those full civil rights which have so long been his in law? When is that quality of influence which our form of government was intended to secure to the electors to be restored? In many parts of our country where the colored population is large the people of that race are by various devices deprived of any effective exercise of their political rights and of many of their civil rights. The wrong does not expend itself upon those whose votes are suppressed. Every constituency in the Union is wronged."

Harrison was critical of the idea of putting authority over civil rights in the hands of the states because he recognized that many states ignored this responsibility. He supported a bill proposed by Senator Henry W. Blair, which would have granted federal funding to schools regardless of the students' races. He also endorsed a proposed constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court ruling in the Civil Rights Cases (1883) that declared much of the Civil Rights Act of 1875 unconstitutional. None of these measures gained congressional approval, but Harrison cemented his reputation as a principled and genuine supporter of civil rights for African-Americans.

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Though he would only serve one term as President, Harrison demonstrated considerable integrity, to the detriment of his political career. Although Benjamin Harrison is one of the least remembered presidents, he was ahead of his time in many ways, especially in the field of civil rights and in seeing education as a way for many to escape poverty. His reputation for integrity was justified, especially for his refusal to give away patronage to the party bosses. He paid a political price for this, but he was willing to do so. Harrison's support for African American voting rights and education would be the last significant attempts to protect civil rights until the mid 20th century.
Although he had been a career soldier for pretty much all of his adult life, towards the end of his Presidency, Dwight Eisenhower developed a mistrust for those whose financial interests were tied to national defense spending. On January 17, 1961, Eisenhower addressed the nation on television for his farewell address. In the speech, he warned Americans to be on guard against what he called "the Military Industrial Complex". In the speech Eisenhower also expressed concerns about the dangers of massive spending generally, especially deficit spending, as well as about Federal influence on scholars, and about a "technological elite".


When he delivered this speech, Eisenhower had served two full terms as President and was the first president to be term-limited. He had presided over a period of considerable economic expansion, as well as over the growing Cold War. Three of his national budgets had been balanced, but spending pressures mounted, especially from the Department of Defense. His farewell speech followed the election of John F. Kennedy. It was a time of significant transition as the oldest American president in a century was about to hand the reins of power to the youngest man ever elected president. Eisenhower was concerned about Kennedy's lack of experience and his susceptibility to being influenced by his generals. Sometime in 1959, Eisenhower had decided to make a final statement as he left public life.

In the speech Eisenhower expressed concern over a lack of planning for the future. In the speech he told Americans that they "must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for our own ease and convenience the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow."

Eisenhower warned the nation about the potentially harmful and corrupting influence of what he termed the "military-industrial complex". He said:

"Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense. We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security alone more than the net income of all United States corporations. Now this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence, economic, political, even spiritual, is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet, we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved. So is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together."

Here is a brief excerpt from that speech, along with some comments by historian Michael Beschloss:

Eisenhower also said that "the prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocation, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded... [I]n holding scientific discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite."

Eisenhower's speech is remembered primarily for its reference to the military-industrial complex. The phrase gained increased usage during the Vietnam era and man have expressed the opinion that a number of the fears raised in his speech have come true. An excellent 2005 documentary directed by Eugene Jarecki entitled Why We Fight follows up on the remarkable foresight that Eisenhower showed in giving this warning. Eisenhower's granddaughter Susan appears prominently in the film.
On November 30, 1995, President Bill Clinton visited Northern Ireland, and spoke in favour of the Northern Ireland peace process. He spoke at a huge rally at Belfast's City Hall. In the course of his speech he referred to terrorists as "yesterday's men". During his presidency, Clinton worked to end the conflict in Northern Ireland and tried arranging a peace agreement between the nationalist and unionist factions.


Two days before Clinton's speech, on November 28, 1995, a Joint Communiqué by British and Irish Governments, had outlined a 'twin-track' peace process. Preparatory talks were scheduled to lead to all-party negotiations beginning by the end of February 1996. Senator George Mitchell was appointed to lead an international body to provide an independent assessment of the main issues. On January 22, 1996 the report of the International Body on arms decommissioning (also known as the Mitchell Report) set out the six "Mitchell Principles" under which parties could enter into all-party talks. The main conclusion was that decommissioning of paramilitary arms should take place during (rather than before or after) all-party talks. The report was welcomed by the Irish government and opposition parties, and the Alliance Party. It was accepted as a way forward by Sinn Féin and the Ulster Democratic Party (UDP), who both had paramilitary links. The moderate Unionist Party, (the UUP) expressed reservations, and the more hardline DUP rejected it outright. Twin-track talks began a week later with the SDLP, the Progressive Unionist Party, and the UDP. The UUP declined the invitation.

On February 28, 1996, the British and Irish prime ministers set a date of June 10, 1996 for the start of all-party talks, and stated that participants would have to agree to abide by the six Mitchell Principles. Sinn Fein agreed to participate and in May, Prime Minister Tony Blair endorsed the Mitchell Report.

Two years later, on October 17, 1997 a peace commission known as the Parades Commission was announced by the British Government, but its membership and powers attracted criticism from unionists. On November 6, 1997 12 members of Sinn Féin resigned in protest at the acceptance of the Mitchell Principles. The IRA also had problems with the report.

Progress was made on Sunday November 9, 1997, when Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, in a radio interview on the tenth anniversary of the Enniskillen bombing, which killed 11 people, said that he was "deeply sorry about what happened". But a month later more violence erupted when on December 27, 1997 members of the Irish National Liberation Army shot and killed Billy Wright, the Loyalist Volunteer Force leader, in violation of a ceasefire that had been in place.

On January 26, 1998, the talks moved to Lancaster House in London. The UDP were barred from the talks, following their involvement in three more murders. The governments stated that the UDP could re-enter the talks if it maintained the ceasefire. Progress was made, but more violence occurred. Finally on March 25, 1998, Senator Mitchell, set a two week deadline for an agreement.

On Good Friday, April 10, 1998 at 5:36 pm (over 17 hours after the deadline) George Mitchell stated: "I am pleased to announce that the two governments and the political parties in Northern Ireland have reached agreement". President Clinton had made a number of telephone calls to party leaders to encourage them to reach this agreement.

The Good Friday Agreement called for the British Parliament to pass legislative and executive authority of the province to a new Northern Ireland Assembly. A period of stalemate followed the agreement, mainly due to the refusal of the IRA to decommission its weapons. Mitchell returned to the region and arranged yet another blueprint for a further peace settlement that resulted in a December 1999 formation of the power-sharing government agreed the previous year, which was to be followed by steps toward the IRA's disarmament. That agreement eventually faltered as well, although Clinton continued peace talks to prevent the peace process from collapsing completely.

It wasn't for another six years, in 2005, that the IRA finally decommissioned all of its arms and, in 2007, Sinn Féin expressed a willingness to support the reformed Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). Power was restored to the Assembly in May 2007, marking renewed promise for the fulfillment of the Good Friday Agreement.


On December 8, 2007, Northern Ireland's First Minister Ian Paisley and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness visited President George W. Bush in the White House. McGuinness said to the press "Up until the 26th of March this year, Ian Paisley and I never had a conversation about anything – not even about the weather – and now we have worked very closely together over the last seven months and there's been no angry words between us. This shows we are set for a new course."
Presidents have made what have seen to be some outlandish and bold pronouncements while in office, and in some cases they have been able to make good on them. For example, John F. Kennedy promised that America would land a man on the moon by the end of the decade, a promise that ultimately came true. Calvin Coolidge was not so fortuitous when he and several other nations signed a treaty renouncing war as a means of resolving international conflict. While the sentiment was a noble one, we all know how well the idea worked.


As President, Coolidge was not strictly an isolationist, but he was also reluctant to enter into foreign alliances. Coolidge interpreted the landslide Republican victory of 1920 that elected Warren Harding as President as a rejection of the idea that the United States should join the League of Nations. Coolidge was not completely opposed to the idea, but like many others, he believed that the League did not serve American interests. However he was in favor of the United States joining the Permanent Court of International Justice, provided that the nation would not be bound by advisory decisions. The Senate agreed with Coolidge and eventually approved joining the Court in 1926, though it suggested some modifications. The League of Nations accepted the reservations, but it suggested some modifications of their own. The Senate failed to approve these and the United States never joined the World Court.

But it was the Kellogg–Briand Pact of 1928, named for Coolidge's Secretary of State, Frank B. Kellogg, and French foreign minister Aristide Briand, that was Coolidge's most famous peacemaking endeavor. This treaty, ratified in 1929, committed all of its signatories (which included the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan) to "renounce war as an instrument of national policy in their relations with one another." While well-intentioned, the treaty did not achieve its intended result. Coolidge once said of the folly of war, "No nation ever had an army large enough to guarantee it against attack in time of peace, or ensure it of victory in time of war." Coolidge, Kellogg, along with Briand, wrote the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which condemned war and made it a criminal act of aggression.

Unfortunately, less than a decade after it was signed, Germany invaded neighboring nations, leading to the conflict that would become the second world war. The treaty wasn't completely useless however. It did provide many of the key principles for international law which would apply after the war.


Coolidge continued to advocate for peaceful solutions to international conflicts. He represented the U.S. at the Pan American Conference in Havana, Cuba, making him the first sitting President to ever visit the country. (Barack Obama recently became the second. Theodore Roosevelt went there as a soldier in the Spanish-American War, and Jimmy Carter visited as a former President). Coolidge withdrew American troops from the Dominican Republic in 1924. Though best remembered for his domestic issues such as budget controls and spending cuts, Coolidge's foreign policy was one that looked for peaceful solutions to world problems.
The Camp David Accords were a series of agreements signed by Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin on September 17, 1978. The accords were the result of thirteen days of secret negotiations taking place between the two leaders at Camp David, the presidential retreat. The two formal framework agreements were signed at the White House, and were witnessed by President Jimmy Carter. The second of these, entitled "A Framework for the Conclusion of a Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel", led to the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty. Sadat and Begin later received the shared 1978 Nobel Peace Prize for their work in bringing about the agreement.

The Camp David Accords were the product of fourteen months of diplomatic negotiations between Egypt, Israel, and the United States. They began during the Carter presidency. Shortly after his inauguration, President Carter decided to attempt to resurrect the Middle East peace process that had stalled throughout in 1976. He received advice from a Brookings Institution report, and based on that advice, Carter decided to replace the incremental plan formulated by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger with a multilateral approach.

Israel's Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin and his successor, Menachem Begin, were both skeptical of the chances of any sort of agreement being reached. Begin, who took office in May 1977, was in favor of convening the conference, and even accepted the presence of Palestinian representatives. Secretly however the Israelis and the Egyptians were formulating a framework for bilateral talks. A major obstacle was Israeli refusal to relinquish control over the West Bank.

In the first year of his presidency, Carter met with Anwar El Sadat of Egypt, King Hussein of Jordan, Hafez al-Assad of Syria, and Yitzhak Rabin of Israel. King Hussein supported Sadat's peace initiative, but refused to take part in the peace talks for fear of provoking Syria and the PLO. Hafez al-Assad also refused to participate, but agreed to meet with Carter in Geneva.

On August 7, 1978, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance traveled to the Middle East to discuss the negotiations that had been taking place between Israel and Egypt. The following day, Tuesday, August 8, the parties agreed to the Camp David meetings, which was scheduled to take place on September 5, 1978. The plan required Israel to return the certain land to Egypt, in order to enhance Sadat’s waning popularity.

Both leaders met at Camp David for 13 days of negotiations, taking place from September 5th to the 17th. Carter is said to have been very active in pressing the two world leaders to reach agreement. Carter pushed for an Egyptian-Israeli agreement which would lead to an eventual solution to the issue of Palestine. Numerous times both the Egyptian and Israeli leaders wanted to end negotiations, only to be drawn back into negotiations by personal appeals from Carter. Begin and Sadat were said to have had mutual distrust toward one another and they seldom had direct contact. Carter shuttled between the two, holding one-on-one meetings with either Sadat or Begin in one cabin, then returning to the cabin of the other.

On the tenth day of the talks a contentious issue arose concerning Israeli settlement withdrawal from the Sinai and the status of the West Bank. The talks appeared to have reached an impasse. Carter chose to press on, going so far as to take the two leaders to nearby Gettysburg National Military Park in the hopes of using the American Civil War as an example of the hazards of conflict. Carter was able to obtain an Israeli-Egyptian agreement,in part due to the absence of the media, which prevented the leaders from using it for political posturing.

The Camp David Accords resulted in two separate agreements: "A Framework for Peace in the Middle East" and "A Framework for the Conclusion of a Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel". The second accord led to the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty signed in March 1979. The first accord, in part, established an autonomous self-governing authority in the West Bank and the Gaza strip. The Accords recognized the "legitimate rights of the Palestinian people". A process was to be implemented guaranteeing the full autonomy of the Palestinians within a period of five years. The withdrawal of Israeli troops from the West Bank and Gaza was agreed to occur after an election of a self-governing authority to replace Israel's military government. The Accords did not mention the Golan Heights, Syria, or Lebanon. This accord was less clear than the agreements concerning the Sinai, and was later interpreted differently by Israel, Egypt, and the United States. The fate of Jerusalem was purposely left out of this agreement.

The UN General Assembly rejected the Framework for Peace in the Middle East, because the agreement was concluded without participation of UN and PLO and because it did not comply with the Palestinian right of return, of self-determination and to national independence and sovereignty. On December 6, 1979, the UN condemned Israel's continued occupation and demanded withdrawal from all occupied territories. In another resolution on December 12, the UN rejected specific parts of the Camp David Accords regarding the Palestinian future and declared them to be invalid.

The second framework outlined a basis for the peace treaty six months later, in particular deciding the future of the Sinai peninsula. Israel agreed to withdraw its armed forces from the Sinai, evacuate its 4,500 civilian inhabitants, and restore it to Egypt in return for normal diplomatic relations with Egypt, guarantees of freedom of passage through the Suez Canal and other nearby waterways and a restriction on the forces Egypt could place on the Sinai peninsula. Israel also agreed to limit its forces near the Egyptian border, and to guarantee free passage between Egypt and Jordan. Israel also returned Egypt's Abu-Rudeis oil fields in western Sinai. The agreement resulted in the United States committing to several billion dollars worth of annual subsidies to the governments of both Israel and Egypt, subsidies which continue to this day.

President Sadat's signing of the Camp David Accords on September 17th, 1978 and his shared 1978 Nobel Peace Prize with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin were seen as contributing factors that led to his assassination by dissatisfied Islamic extremists. The group that took responsibility for the assassination said that it was enraged over the president's decision to make peace with Israel. Sadat was assassinated on October 6, 1981 by members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad during the annual victory parade held in Cairo to celebrate Egypt's crossing of the Suez Canal. The president's personal protection was infiltrated by four members of the organization. As a truck in the parade approached the president, the leader of the belligerents--Lieutenant Khalid Islambouli emerged from the truck and threw three grenades at Sadat. Only one of the three exploded. The rest of the team opened fire with automatic assault rifles and struck President Sadat with 37 rounds. He was airlifted to a military hospital where, despite the efforts of 11 doctors and surgeons, he died just 2 hours after arriving.

The normalization of relations between Israel and Egypt went into effect in January 1980. Ambassadors were exchanged in February. Some trade began to develop, though less than Israel had hoped for. In March 1980 regular airline flights began and Egypt began supplying Israel with crude oil.

The Camp David Accords were followed by the disintegration of a united Arab front in opposition to Israel. Many of the Arab nations blamed Egypt for not putting enough pressure on Israel to deal with the Palestinian problem in a way that would be satisfactory to them.

In his 2008 book The Much Too Promised Land, author Aaron David Miller wrote of President Carter: "No matter whom I spoke to — Americans, Egyptians, or Israelis — most everyone said the same thing: no Carter, no peace treaty."
After his second term in office ended, President Ulysses Grant embarked on a grand world tour that lasted over two years. After leaving the White House, Grant and his family stayed with friends for two months, before setting out on the trip. The Grants arrived in Liverpool in May 1877, where enormous crowds greeted the ex-president. Grant and his wife Julia dined with Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle, and Grant gave several speeches in London. After a tour on the continent, the Grants spent a few months with their daughter Nellie, who had married an Englishman and moved to England several years before. The Grants then traveled to France and Italy, spending Christmas 1877 aboard USS Vandalia, a warship docked in Palermo. They next went to the Holy Land and they visited Greece before returning to Italy where they had a meeting with Pope Leo XIII. The Grants then toured Spain before moving on to Germany, where Grant discussed military matters with Chancellor Otto von Bismarck.


The Grants left from England by ship, sailing through the Suez Canal to India. After touring India, they toured Burma, Siam (where Grant met with the King), Singapore, and Cochinchina (as Vietnam was known at the time). The next stops on the tour were Hong Kong, Canton, Shanghai, and Peking, China. Grant then visited Japan where he met with the Emperor Meiji, and negotiated a settlement in a dispute between China and Japan, avoiding a war between the two nations.

The Grants returned to the United States in September 1879, arriving in San Francisco where they were met by cheering crowds. After a visit to Yosemite Valley, they returned home to Philadelphia on December 16, 1879. Grant's world tour had been very expensive and had depleted most of his savings. Grant needed to earn money once again to provide for his family. Some wealthy friends had bought him a home on Manhattan's Upper East Side, and to make an income, Grant, Jay Gould, and former Mexican Finance Secretary Matías Romero chartered the Mexican Southern Railroad, with plans to build a railroad from Oaxaca to Mexico City. Grant lobbied President Chester A. Arthur to negotiate a free trade treaty with Mexico. Arthur was supportive of the idea and and the Mexican government also agreed, but the Senate rejected the treaty in 1883. The railroad was unsuccessful, and ceased operations in 1884.

At the same time, Grant's son Ulysses Jr. had opened a Wall Street brokerage house with a man named Ferdinand Ward. Ward was regarded as some sort of rising star in the financial world and the firm, Grant & Ward, was very successful at first. In 1883, Ulysses Grant joined the firm and invested $100,000 of his own money. Investors bought securities through the firm, and Ward used the securities as collateral to borrow money to buy more securities. Grant & Ward pledged that collateral to borrow more money to trade in securities on the firm's own account. There was nothing wrong with this practice. However unbeknownst to Grant, Ward had been pledging the same securities as collateral for multiple loans. When the trades went bad, multiple loans came due, all secured by the same collateral. As he had done as president, Grant had put his trust in a dishonest party, unaware of Ward's tactics.

In May 1884, enough investments went bad to convince Ward that the firm would not survive bankruptcy. Ward falsely told Grant that this was a temporary shortfall. Grant approached businessman William Henry Vanderbilt, who gave him a personal loan of $150,000. Grant invested the money in the firm, hoping that this would be enough for the firm to ride out the financial storm, but it was not. The business failed, leaving Grant penniless, and costing those who had trusted him their investments. Ward served ten years in New York State's Sing Sing Prison for fraud.

Grant could have walked away from the problem, but he felt compelled by a sense of personal honor not to leave the investors high and dry. He repaid as much as he could by selling off his Civil War mementos, as well as whatever other assets he could. The proceeds were not enough to pay off the loan, but Vanderbilt insisted the debt had been paid in full. The experience left Grant destitute.

Grant was left with the problem of how to provide for his family. To restore his family income, Grant wrote several articles on his Civil War campaigns for The Century Magazine at $500 each. The articles were well received by critics, and the editor, Robert Underwood Johnson, suggested that Grant write a book of memoirs. His friend William Tecumseh Sherman and many others had done so successfully, and Grant had the advantage that the articles he had written could be used as the basis for several chapters.

Grant's writing career met with another setback. In the summer of 1884, Grant complained of a soreness in his throat, but he procrastinated about seeing a doctor until late October. At that time he learned that he was suffering from cancer of the throat, likely the result of years of heavy cigar smoking. In March of the following year, the New York Times finally announced that Grant was dying of cancer. Grant, who had forfeited his military pension when he assumed the presidency, was honored by his friends and by Congress when he was restored to the rank of General of the Army with full retirement pay.

Despite his painful illness, Grant worked diligently on his memoirs at his home in New York City, and later from a cottage on the slopes of Mount McGregor. He finished them just days before he died. Century magazine offered Grant a book contract with a 10 percent royalty, but Grant received a better offer from his friend, Mark Twain, who proposed a 75 percent royalty. The memoir covered the period of Grant's life up to the end of the Civil War. Unfortunately it does not cover the post-war years, including his presidency. The book is entitled Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, was a critical and commercial success. It has never gone out of print and is wonderful to read. The prose is timeless and Grant writes with an understated sense of humor. I highly recommend it for anyone who has not yet read this book.

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In the end, Julia Grant received about $450,000 in royalties. The memoir has been highly regarded by the public, military historians, and literary critics. Twain called the Memoirs a "literary masterpiece."

After a year-long struggle with the cancer, Grant died at 8 o'clock in the morning in the Mount McGregor cottage on July 23, 1885, at the age of 63. In his final years, Grant showed remarkable character, first by selling off personal property and mementos of a remarkable career in order to repay those swindled by Ferdinand Ward, and later by racing the grim reaper in order to finish his memoirs so that his family could be provided for after he was gone. Grant's powerful examples of unselfishness are yet another chapter in the life of this remarkable man.
Throughout history it seems that whenever America was at war or war seemed imminent, free speech and first amendment rights were among the first casualties. For example, in 1798, when war with France appeared possible, the administration of John Adams brought about the Alien and Sedition Acts, which, among other things, restricted speech which was critical of the federal government. During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln put limits on free speech, even going so far as to "deport" Ohio Congressman Clement Vlandingham to Confederate territory for his activities that were critical of the government's prosecution of the war and his efforts to organize a peace movement, called "Copperheads" by their critics. Sometimes these limitations are justified, other times they are not, or they go too far. Sometimes the law is enforced not for valid security reasons, but for political ones.

During the first world war, the administration of President Woodrow Wilson passed the Espionage Act of 1917. This was expanded on by the Sedition Act of 1918 (technically a set of amendments to the Espionage Act), which prohibited many forms of speech, including "any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States...or the flag of the United States, or the uniform of the Army or Navy". As a Senator, Warren Harding believed that these amendments went too far. Harding had been a newspaper publisher and editor in Marion, Ohio, and he was very concerned about how far the act went to muzzle a free press and how legitimate criticism of government might be contorted into an act of subversion out of purely political motives.


Eugene Victor Debs was a former Indiana congressman, and a prominent labor leader. On three occasions, he ran for President of the United States as the candidate for the Socialist Party. When the United States entered World War One, Debs was a very vocal critic of President Wilson. He gave a number of speeches against the Wilson administration and the war. It's probably not too strong to say that Wilson hated Debs, whom he called a "traitor to his country." On June 16, 1918, Debs made a speech in Canton, Ohio, urging Americans to resist the military draft that had been established World War I. Among other things, he said that the president was using the nation's young men as "cannon fodder". Debs was arrested on June 30 and charged with ten counts of sedition. He was found guilty on September 12 and on November 18, 1918, he was sentenced to ten years in prison. When sentenced, he told the court:

"Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free."

Debs served his sentence in an Atlanta penitentiary. According to historian David Pietrusza and others, Debs was loved and admired both by his fellow prisoners, as well as by the Warden and prison staff. In his wonderful book 1920: The Year of Six Presidents, (reviewed here), Pietrusza describes Debs in almost saint-like terms in describing how well-regarded he was for his charitable manner. When Debs was transferred to the Atlanta prison, Warden Joseph Z. Terrell of Moundsville State Prison wrote to Atlanta's Warden Fred Zerbst and said of Debs, "I never in my life met a kinder man. He is forever thinking of others, trying to serve them and never thinking of himself." The prison authorities even allowed Debs to campaign for President from his prison cell in 1920. It was in that election that Debs received his greatest number of votes, 913,693.

When Warren Harding became President on March 4, 1921, he decided to review the Debs case. Later in the year, there were reports that Debs' health was deteriorating. Harding commuted Debs sentence to one of time served so that Debs could be released in time for Christmas of 1921. Harding did not issue a pardon. The White House released a statement saying this about Debs' case:

"There is no question of his guilt. He was by no means as rabid and outspoken in his expressions as many others, and but for his prominence and the resulting far-reaching effect of his words, very probably might not have received the sentence he did. He is an old man, not strong physically. He is a man of much personal charm and impressive personality, which qualifications make him a dangerous man calculated to mislead the unthinking and affording excuse for those with criminal intent."

When Debs was released from the Atlanta Penitentiary, the other prisoners sent him off with "a roar of cheers" and a crowd of 50,000 greeted his return to Terre Haute to the accompaniment of band music. On the way home to Terre Haute, Debs stopped off in Washington at the White House, where he was warmly received by President Harding. On meeting Debs, Harding said: "Well, I've heard so damned much about you, Mr. Debs, that I am now glad to meet you personally."

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Though Harding often ranks among the worst presidents because of the scandals that others in his administration perpetrated, author James David Robenalt has a more complimentary assessment of Harding, one I tend to agree with. in his 2009 book The Harding Affair (reviewed in a separate post in this community here), Robenalt writes at pages 3-4:

He had a rare political attribute: courage. In his first address to Congress, he asked for the passage of an anti-lynching law. Six months after taking office, he was the first sitting president to travel into the deep south to make a bold civil rights speech. Democracy was a lie if blacks were denied political equality, he told an enormous crowd separated by color and a chain-link fence in Birmingham, Alabama. A few months later, on his first Christmas in the White House, he pardoned Socialist leader Eugene Debs, who was rotting away in an Atlanta prison. Debs's crime? He spoke out against the draft and the war after America entered the conflict.

Technically, Harding didn't pardon Debs, he commuted his sentence. But the result was the same, in that Debs was now a free man. It was a generous and charitable act on Harding's part, one that many presidents may have lacked the courage to do.
Rutherford Hayes entered the White House on the heels of what was probably the most controversial presidential election victory in US history. Although many in his nation did not see him as the legitimate leader of his nation, this was necessarily not the case internationally. It seems that by 1877, when Rutherford Hayes was inaugurated as President of the United States, the US had acquired sufficient status as a nation so as to be seen as capable of mediating international disputes and the fact that just over a decade had passed since the end of the Civil War did not seem to detract from that status. It was at this point in history that President Hayes was asked to serve as arbitrator in a South American dispute between Argentina and Paraguay, one that followed a conflict known as the Paraguayan War.

The Paraguayan War was also known as the War of the Triple Alliance. It was an military conflict in South America fought from 1864 to 1870 between Paraguay and the Triple Alliance of Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. The war resulted in approximately 400,000 deaths and it devastated the vanquished nation of Paraguay, which suffered losses in population and was forced to cede territory to Argentina and Brazil.

The war began in late 1864 with combat operations between Brazil and Paraguay. In 1865 Argentina and Uruguay entered on the side of Brazil. Paraguay had recurring boundary disputes and tariff issues with Argentina and Brazil for many years. When war ensued, the result was the utter defeat of Paraguay. After the formal defeat of Paraguay, the Paraguayan people continued a drawn-out guerrilla-style resistance that resulted in the destruction of the Paraguayan military and much of the civilian population. The guerrilla war lasted until March OF 1870 when the leader of the resistance was killed. One estimate places total Paraguayan losses through both war and disease at as much as 1.2 million people, or an astounding 90% of its pre-war population.

It took decades for Paraguay to recover from the chaos and demographic imbalance. In Brazil, the war helped bring about the end of slavery, but caused a crippling increase of public debt, which took a serious toll on the country's economic growth. Following Paraguay's defeat in 1870, Argentina sought to enforce one of the clauses of the Triple Alliance Treaty, which permitted it to annex a large portion of the Gran Chaco region of Paraguay. This area was rich in quebracho wood (a product used in the tanning of leather). The Argentine negotiators proposed that Paraguay should be divided in two, with Argentina and Brazil incorporating half into its territory. But the Brazilian government wanted to maintain Paraguay as a buffer with Argentina.


Eventually the post-war border between Paraguay and Argentina was resolved through long negotiations, completed February 3, 1876. The treaty which was concluded granted Argentina roughly a third of the area it had originally desired. But the two nations could not reach consensus on who should get the area between the Río Verde and the main branch of Río Pilcomayo. It was then that they asked President Hayes to arbitrate. To his credit, Hayes adjudicated the dispute in a fair and impartial manner, and without any consideration for how his decision might affect American interests.

In 1878 Hayes heard submissions from representatives of the two nations. In the end he was sympathetic to the Paraguayans and he was aware of how badly the war had ravaged the country and how adversely it had affected its future. He declared that the disputed region should remain part of Paraguay. He saw Paraguat as a nation which was being taken advantage of at a low point in its history, and he was determined not to be a part of this injustice.

The Paraguayans were so grateful to the 19th President that they renamed a city after him (Villa Hayes) and a department (a territorial division within the nation, akin to a state, which they called Presidente Hayes) in his honor.


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