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Happy Birthday Old Rough and Ready

On November 24, 1784 (230 years ago today), Zachary Taylor, the 12th President of the United States, was born in Barboursville, Virginia. Taylor is another somewhat obscure president that I like, mainly for two reasons: (1) because he was unpretentious and (2) when he was elected, the Whigs in congress thought that he was a weak leader and they expected him to do as they told him. He surprised them by being his own man. If he hadn't died less than two years into his term, I think he would have actually been a very strong and a very memorable president.

Taylor was born on a plantation in Orange County, Virginia, to a prominent. He was the third of five surviving sons in his family (a sixth died in infancy) and had three younger sisters. His father, Richard Taylor, had served as a lieutenant colonel in the American Revolution. His mother was Sarah Dabney (Strother) Taylor. Taylor was a second cousin of James Madison, the fourth president.

Taylor's family joined the westward migration out of Virginia and settled near modern day Louisville, Kentucky, on the Ohio River. Taylor's father came to own over 10,000 acres of land throughout Kentucky and he held 26 slaves. In June of 1810, Taylor married Margaret Mackall Smith, known as "Peggy". The couple had six children.

Taylor was initially uninterested in politics. He was a successful general in the Mexican War, winning battles at Palo Alto and Monterrey against greater odds. In total he had a 40-year military career in the United States Army, serving in the War of 1812, the Black Hawk War, and the Second Seminole War, before gaining notoriety in Mexico. He wasn't much for fancy military dress and he became known as "Old Rough and Ready." There is a story that when soldiers would arrive looking for General Taylor, they would mistake him for a civilian because he would be out of uniform and wearing an old straw hat. It is said that Taylor would play along with the charade for a time for a laugh.

Taylor ran for president as a Whig in the 1848 presidential election. He defeated Democrat Lewis Cass. At the time he was a planter and slaveholder based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Northerners expected him to be a moderate on the issue of slavery while southerners expected that, as a southerner and a slaveholder, Taylor would be on their side on the issue of expansion of slavery into the territories. He surprised them on that issue. As president, Taylor angered many Southerners by taking a moderate stance on the issue of the expansion of slavery. He urged settlers in New Mexico and California to bypass the territorial stage and draft constitutions for statehood, setting the stage for the Compromise of 1850.

Taylor died July 9, 1850, 16 months after his inauguration. The cause of death is believed to be gastroenteritis. Conspiracy theorists believed that Taylor may have been poisoned and on June 17, 1991 his remains were exhumed and transported to the Office of the Kentucky Chief Medical Examiner for examination. Samples of hair, fingernail, and other tissues were removed, and radiological studies were conducted. The remains were returned to the cemetery and reinterred, with appropriate honors.

Analysis conducted at Oak Ridge National Laboratory revealed no evidence of poisoning, as arsenic levels were too low. The analysis concluded he had contracted "cholera morbus, or acute gastroenteritis". The report added that the cure may have been worse than the disease. His doctors treated him with "ipecac, calomel, opium and quinine (at 40 grains a whack), and bled and blistered him too."

Taylor's daughter Sarah was the first wife of Confederate States President Jefferson Davis. Sarah died at the age of 21 from malaria. Taylor's youngest son Richard was a Confederate general during the civil war.

Happy Birthday Handsome Frank

Franklin Pierce, the 14th President of the United States and the only President from New Hampshire, was born on November 23, 1804 (210 years ago today.) Pierce was a Democrat and a "doughface" (a Northerner with Southern sympathies). Prior to becoming president, Pierce served in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. He also fought in the Mexican-American War and became a brigadier general in the Army. His private law practice in his home state was so successful that he was offered several important positions, which he turned down, because they would have meant a cut in pay.


Pierce was born in Hillsborough, New Hampshire, the son of a former revolutionary war soldier, later a general and governor of the state. He attended Bowdoin College in Maine where he began his lifelong friendship with the writer Nathaniel Hawthorne. He became a lawyer and at age 27 was the youngest member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He later served as a member of the US Senate. In 1834 he married Jane Appleton, who had many opposite character traits to her husband.

Pierce served in the Mexican-American War as a brigadier general in the Army. He was later accused by his political enemies of cowardice during the war, but in his memoirs, Ulysses Grant, who was present, disputed this allegation and said that Pierce was a gallant soldier.

When Pierce returned home from the war, his private law practice was so successful that he was offered several important positions, which he turned down. He was nominated as the party's candidate for president on the 49th ballot at the 1852 Democratic National Convention. He was a compromise candidate after Lewis Cass, James Buchanan, William Marcy and Stephen Douglas couldn't garner enough support to win the nomination. In the presidential election, Pierce and his running mate William R. King defeated the Whig Party ticket of Winfield Scott and William A. Graham by a 50 percent to 44 percent margin in the popular vote and 254 to 42 in the electoral vote.

The Pierces has three sons, all of whom died in infancy. His last born son Benny was killed tragically when the train taking Pierce to his inauguration derailed and eleven year old Benny was decapitated. Jane Pierce saw this as a punishment from God and resented her husband's political ambitions. Jane Pierce was devastated by the incident.

As president, Pierce made many divisive decisions which were widely criticized. His popularity in the Northern states declined sharply after he supported the Kansas–Nebraska Act, which replaced the Missouri Compromise and renewed debate over the expansion of slavery in the American West. This in turn led to a high level of violence in the Kansas territory between the pro and anti-slavery forces. Pierce's credibility was further damaged when several of his diplomats issued the Ostend Manifesto, a proposal that the United States offer to buy Cuba from Spain, and then go to war if the offer was refused.

Despite a reputation as an able politician and a likable man, during Pierce's presidency he failed to moderate the increasingly bitter factions that were driving the nation towards civil war. The Democratic party abandoned him in the 1856 election and Pierce was not renominated to run in the election. After losing the Democratic nomination, Pierce is quoted as saying "after the presidency, what is there to do but drink?" He struggled with alcoholism and his marriage to Jane Pierce was strained. After leaving office, the Pierces spent three years traveling to Europe and to the Bahamas. His reputation was hurt more during the Civil War when he opposed many of the policies of Abraham Lincoln, and when personal correspondence between Pierce and the Confederate President Jefferson Davis was found in a Union army raid on the home of Davis and leaked to the press. Pierce was confronted by an angry mob at his home in Concord following the death of Abraham Lincoln because his house was not decorated in black bunting, as was the custom. He went out to addressed the mob and managed to calm them down by speaking about his service to the nation.

Franklin Pierce died in Concord, New Hampshire, at 4:49 am on October 8, 1869, at 64 years old from cirrhosis of the liver. President Ulysses S. Grant, who later defended Pierce's service in the Mexican War in his memoirs, declared a day of national mourning. He was buried next to his wife and two of his sons, all of whom had predeceased him, in the Old North Cemetery in Concord, New Hampshire.

Remembering JFK

On November 22, 1963 (51 years ago today), John Fitzgerald died in Dallas, Texas, in an assassination by gunshot. Many years later, conspiracy theories abound as to whether or not he was the victim of a lone gunman or whether there were multiple parties involved. Two congressional commissions have come to opposite conclusions on that question. At 43 years of age he was the youngest man ever elected President (but not the youngest to become President, Theodore Roosevelt achieved that milestone upon the death of William McKinley). He was also the first (and so far the only ) Catholic to become President. On November 22, 1963, when he was barely past his first thousand days in office, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was shot as his motorcade drove through Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas. Kennedy was also the youngest President to die in office. Rather than focus on Kennedy's death, as this community has done on previous November 22nds, let's look at his life and presidency.


John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born on May 29th, 1917, in Brookline, Massachusetts, the second eldest child of Joseph P. Kennedy and the former Rose Fitzgerald. He graduated from Harvard in 1940, and joined the Navy during the second world war. In 1943, the PT boat that he was captain of was rammed and sunk by a Japanese destroyer. An injured Kennedy led the survivors through perilous waters to safety. When he returned home from the war, he became a Democratic Congressman from the Boston area, and was elected to the US Senate in 1952. He married Jacqueline Bouvier on September 12, 1953. In 1955, while recuperating from a back operation, he reportedly wrote Profiles in Courage, which won the Pulitzer Prize in history. However his close adviser and speechwriter, Ted Sorensen, stated in Sorensen's 2008 autobiography that Sorenson was a co-author of the book. To date, Kennedy is the only President to have won a Pulitzer Prize.

In 1956 Kennedy almost won the Democratic nomination for Vice President, at a time when this was decided at the convention in a contested battle. Four years later, Kennedy won his party's nomination for President on the first-ballot. In the Presidential election of 1963, millions watched Kennedy's famous television debates with the Republican candidate, Richard M. Nixon. He won the election by a narrow margin in the popular vote, but by a larger one in the electoral college, 303 to 219. His Inaugural Address contained the memorable words: "Ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country."

As President, his economic programs launched the country on its longest sustained expansion since World War II. He formed the Peace Corps, to aid developing nations. He also pursued the race for the conquest of space and boldly predicted that the United States would land a man on the moon by the end of the decade. But it was on the international front that he faced his biggest challenges. Shortly after his inauguration, Kennedy permitted a band of Cuban exiles, already armed and trained, to invade their homeland. The attempt to overthrow the regime of Fidel Castro was a failure. Soon thereafter, the Soviet Union renewed its campaign against West Berlin. Kennedy replied by reinforcing the Berlin garrison and increasing the Nation's military strength, including new efforts in outer space.

The Russians sought to install nuclear missiles in Cuba. When this was discovered by air reconnaissance in October 1962, Kennedy imposed a quarantine on all offensive weapons bound for Cuba. While the world trembled on the brink of nuclear war, the Russians backed down and agreed to take the missiles away. Kennedy argued that both sides had a vital interest in stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and slowing the arms race, and a nuclear test ban treaty was signed in 1963.


Years after Kennedy's death, it was revealed that in September 1947, at age 30, and while in his first term in Congress, he was diagnosed with Addison's disease, a rare endocrine disorder. In 1966, his White House doctor, Janet Travell, revealed that Kennedy also had hypothyroidism. He also suffered from chronic and severe back pain.

Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, at 12:30 pm Central Standard Time on Friday November 22, 1963, while on a political trip to Texas to smooth over some tensiions in the Democratic Party between liberals Ralph Yarborough and conservative John Connally. While his motorcade passed through Dealey Plaza, Kennedy was shot once in the throat, once in the upper back, with the fatal shot hitting him in the head. He was taken to Parkland Hospital for emergency medical treatment, but was pronounced dead at 1:00 pm.

Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for the murder of a local police officer, and was subsequently charged with the assassination of Kennedy. He denied shooting anyone, claiming he was a patsy. Oswald was killed by Jack Ruby on November 24, before he could be tried. President Lyndon Johnson created the Warren Commission to investigate the assassination. That body concluded that Oswald was the lone assassin. The United States House of Representatives Select Committee on Assassinations was established in 1976 to investigate the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. That committee concluded that Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy. The committee was unable to identify the other gunmen or the extent of the conspiracy.


Kennedy is buried in Arlington National Cemetery at a spot overlooking the capitol. His resting place is marked by an "eternal flame."

The Compromise of 1850

The Compromise of 1850 was a package of five bills, passed in Congress in September of 1850, intended to broker a peace in a confrontation between the slave states of the South and the free states of the North concerning the status of territories acquired during the Mexican-American War. The compromise was drafted by Whig Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky. It was negotiated between Clay and Democrat Stephen Douglas, and for a time it prevented secession or civil war and reduced sectional conflict.

Under the compromise, Texas surrendered its claim to New Mexico, as well as its claims north of the Missouri Compromise Line. It transferred its public debt to the federal government, and retained the control over El Paso. California's application for admission as a free state with its current boundaries was approved and a Southern proposal to split California at parallel 35° north to provide a Southern territory was abandoned.

Also under the compromise, the New Mexico Territory and Utah Territory could in decide in the future to become slave states by popular vote, even though Utah and a northern fringe of New Mexico were north of the Missouri Compromise Line where slavery had previously been banned. These lands were generally unsuitable for plantation agriculture and their existing settlers were non-Southerners uninterested in slavery. The unsettled southern parts of New Mexico Territory, where Southern hopes for expansion had been centered, remained a part of New Mexico instead of becoming a separate territory.

The most significant Southern gains were a stronger Fugitive Slave Act, the enforcement of which offended Northern public opinion, and preservation of slavery in Washington, DC, although the slave trade was banned there.

The Compromise became possible after the sudden death of President Zachary Taylor. Although Taylor was a slave owner, he favored excluding slavery from the Southwest. Whig leader Henry Clay designed a compromise, which failed to pass in early 1850, due to the opposition of both pro-slavery southern Democrats, led by John C. Calhoun, and anti-slavery northern Whigs. At Clay's suggestion, Democratic Senator Stephen Douglas divided Clay's bill into several smaller pieces and narrowly won their passage over the opposition of those with stronger views on both sides.

After Taylor died suddenly on July 9, 1850, Vice-President Millard Fillmore became president. Despite being a Northerner from New York, Fillmore had very different views on the slavery issue from Taylor. Before Taylor's death, Fillmore told him that, as President of the Senate, he would give his tie-breaking vote to the Compromise of 1850. When Fillmore took office, the entire cabinet offered their resignations. Fillmore accepted them all and appointed men who supported the compromise, except for Treasury Secretary Thomas Corwin. When the compromise finally came before both Houses of Congress, Fillmore urged Congress to pass the original bill. This provoked an enormous battle in congress that crushed public support.

On August 6, 1850, Fillmore sent a message to Congress recommending that Texas be paid to abandon its claims to part of New Mexico. This, combined with his mobilization of 750 Federal troops to New Mexico, helped shift a critical number of northern Whigs in Congress away from their insistence upon the Wilmot Proviso—the stipulation that all land gained by the Mexican War must be closed to slavery.

Douglas's effective strategy in Congress combined with Fillmore's message to Congress gave momentum to the Compromise movement. Breaking up Clay's single legislative package, Douglas presented five separate bills to the Senate which individually would:

1. Admit California as a free state.
2. Settle the Texas boundary and compensate the state for lost lands.
3. Grant territorial status to New Mexico.
4. Place federal officers at the disposal of slaveholders seeking escapees—the Fugitive Slave Act.
5. Abolish the slave trade, but not slavery, in the District of Columbia.

Each measure obtained a majority, and, by September 20, President Fillmore had signed them into law. Whigs on both sides were upset by the compromise, which led to party division. An Ohio Whig was quoted as saying "God Save us from Whig Vice Presidents."
The Cuban missile crisis, also known as the October Crisis, was a 13-day confrontation that took place between the United States and the Soviet Union in October of 1962. The dispute was over Soviet ballistic missiles which had been set up in Cuba. When the United States became aware of the presence of the missiles, tensions ensued and it was the closest the world came to a full scale nuclear war.


When John F. Kennedy became President in 1961, he inherited a CIA plan, developed during the Eisenhower administration for the invasion of Cuba. When the plan failed, known as the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961, this, along with the presence of US Jupiter ballistic missiles in Italy and Turkey aimed at the USSR, escalated tensions between the two nations. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev acceded to Cuba's request to place nuclear missiles in Cuba to deter future harassment of Cuba. An agreement was reached during a meeting between Khrushchev and Cuban leader Fidel Castro in July of 1962 and construction on a number of missiles sites started later that summer.

These missile preparations were confirmed when an Air Force U-2 spy plane produced clear photographic evidence of medium-range and intermediate-range ballistic missile facilities. The United States established a military blockade to prevent further missiles from entering Cuba. It announced that they would not permit offensive weapons to be delivered to Cuba and demanded that the weapons already in Cuba be dismantled and returned to the USSR. After a period of tense negotiations an agreement was reached between Kennedy and Khrushchev. Publicly, the Soviets agreed to dismantle their offensive weapons in Cuba and return them to the Soviet Union, subject to United Nations verification, in exchange for a US public declaration and agreement never to invade Cuba without direct provocation. Secretly, the US also agreed that it would dismantle all US-built Jupiter MRBMs, which were deployed in Turkey and Italy against the Soviet Union but were not known to the public. When all missiles and Ilyushin Il-28 light bombers had been withdrawn from Cuba, the blockade was formally ended on November 20, 1962 (52 years ago today).

At the time, one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was Air Force General Curtis LeMay. As chief of staff, LeMay often clashed with Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army General Maxwell Taylor. Because the coming of the nuclear age had lessened the significance of ground war and increased the importance of air power, LeMay enjoyed considerable influence.


During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, LeMay strongly disagreed with President Kennedy and Secretary McNamara about how the nation should respond to the crisis. He argued that he should be allowed to bomb nuclear missile sites in Cuba. He opposed the naval blockade. When the crisis had ended, LeMay argued that Cuba be invaded anyway, even after the Russians agreed to withdraw. LeMay described the peaceful resolution of the crisis as "the greatest defeat in our history".

It was subsequently learned that the Soviet field commanders in Cuba had been given authority to launch their nuclear missiles in the event of an attack from the United States. They had twenty nuclear warheads capable of reaching US cities. If the US had responded militarily, as LeMay had wanted, many millions of Americans would have been killed. The ensuing SAC retaliatory thermonuclear strike would have killed roughly one hundred million Soviet citizens. Fortunately Kennedy refused LeMay's demands, and the naval blockade was successful.

His hostility to Secretary McNamara resulted in LeMay being forced into retirement in February of 1965. He moved to California and was approached by conservatives Republicans to challenge moderate Republican Thomas Kuchel for his seat in the United States Senate in 1968, but he declined. LeMay originally supported Richard Nixon in the presidential election that year and he turned down two requests by George Wallace to join his American Independent Party. But LeMay became convinced that Nixon planned to pursue a conciliatory policy with the Soviets and accept nuclear parity rather than retain America's first-strike supremacy. LeMay decided to throw his support to Wallace and eventually became Wallace's running mate. The Wallace-LeMay ticket received 13.5 percent of the popular vote, higher than most third-party candidacies in the US, and carried five states for a total of 46 electoral votes.


His association with Wallace hurt LeMay's public reputation. LeMay was commonly assumed to share Wallace's widely unpopular racist views. In fact LeMay had enthusiastically supported racial integration in the US military publicly and privately. He fought segregation in the Air Force before Executive Order 9981 systemically banned the practice.

LeMay died of a heart attack on October 1, 1990, at March Air Force Base in Riverside County, California.

Happy Birthday James Garfield

On November 19, 1831 (183 years ago today) James Abram Garfield, the 20th President of the United States, was born in Moreland Hills, Ohio. He was the youngest of five children born to Abram and Eliza Garfield. His father, who was known locally as a wrestler, died when Garfield was 18 months old. The future president was raised by his mother, who said of her youngest child, "He was the largest babe I had and looked like a red Irishman."

Raised in poverty, Garfield worked at many jobs to finance his higher education at Williams College, Massachusetts, where he graduated from in 1856. He was a preacher at Franklin Circle Christian Church in 1857 and 1858, making him the only President to have served as a clergyman. He married Lucretia Rudolph in 1858 and, in 1860, was admitted to practice law in 1861, while serving as an Ohio State Senator from 1859 to 1861.

Garfield was opposed to Confederate secession, and served as a Major General in the Union Army during the Civil War. He fought in the battles of Middle Creek, Shiloh and Chickamauga. He was first elected to Congress in 1862 as Representative of the 19th District of Ohio. Garfield gained a reputation as a skilled orator in congress. He was Chairman of the Military Affairs Committee and the Appropriations Committee and a member of the Ways and Means Committee. Garfield initially agreed with Radical Republican views regarding Reconstruction, but later favored a moderate approach for civil rights enforcement for Freedmen. Garfield served nine consecutive terms in congress.

In 1880, the Ohio legislature elected him to the U.S. Senate. In that same year, the Republican National Convention ran into a deadlock as the three leading Republican presidential contenders – Ulysses S. Grant, James G. Blaine and John Sherman – failed to garner the requisite support at their convention. Garfield became the party's compromise nominee for the 1880 Presidential Election and successfully campaigned to defeat Democrat Winfield Hancock in the election. He is thus far the only sitting member of the House of Representatives to have been elected to the presidency.

Garfield's accomplishments as President included a controversial resurgence of Presidential authority, as opposed to the system of Senatorial courtesy when it came to making executive appointments. He sought to purge corruption in the Post Office Department and he appointed several African-Americans to prominent federal positions. As President, Garfield advocated a bi-metal monetary system, agricultural technology, an educated electorate, and civil rights for African-Americans. He proposed substantial civil service reform, eventually passed by Congress in 1883 and signed into law by his successor, Chester A. Arthur, as the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act.

Garfield's presidency lasted just 200 days, from March 4, 1881, until his death on September 19, 1881, as a result of being shot by assassin Charles J. Guiteau on July 2, 1881. Only William Henry Harrison's presidency, of 31 days, was shorter. Garfield was the second of four United States Presidents who were assassinated.

Remembering Chester Alan Arthur

On November 18, 1886 (128 years ago today) Chester Alan Arthur, the 21st President of the United States, died at his home in New York City at the age of 57. Arthur succeeded James Garfield as President on September 19, 1881, following Garfield's death. Garfield had been shot on July 2, 1881 by assassin Charles Guiteau, and failed to recover from his wounds. Initially perceived as a crony and a political hack, Arthur surprised many by bringing about civil service reform, to the consternation of his former political bosses.


Arthur was born in Fairfield, Vermont, though he would later be accused by "birther" Arthur Hinman of being born in Canada. He was most likely born in 1829, eve though his tombstone says that he was born in 1830. Arthur grew up in upstate New York and practiced law in New York City. He served as quartermaster general in the Union Army during the American Civil War. Following the Civil War, he became active in Republican politics and quickly rose in the political machine run by New York Senator Roscoe Conkling. He was appointed by President Ulysses S. Grant to the lucrative and politically powerful post of Collector of the Port of New York in 1871, but in 1878 the new president, Rutherford B. Hayes, fired Arthur as part of a plan to reform the federal patronage system in New York. When James Garfield won the Republican nomination for president in 1880, Arthur was nominated for vice president to balance the ticket, even though he had never been elected to any political office. Despite being told by Conkling not to take the job, Arthur accepted and in the election of 1880, the team of Garfield and Arthur was victorious.

After just half a year as vice president, Arthur found himself, unexpectedly, in the executive mansion. Many believed that Arthur would be in the pocket of Senator Conkling and would dole out all of the government jobs as Conkling directed, but to the surprise of reformers, Arthur took up the cause of civil service reform. He signed the Pendleton Act into law and strongly enforced its provisions. He gained praise for his veto of a Rivers and Harbors Act that would have appropriated federal funds in a manner he thought excessive. He also rebuilt the United States Navy which had fallen into disrepair. But Arthur was criticized for failing to alleviate the federal budget surplus that had been accumulating since the end of the Civil War. (Can you imagine such a problem existing today: no government debt and too much money in the surplus?)


Arthur suffered from poor health toward the end of his term. His condition was known as Bright's disease, a kidney disorder which is today called nephritis. He tried to keep his condition private, but by 1883 rumors of his illness began to circulate as the normally robust Arthur had become thinner and older looking. To try to improve his health, Arthur and some political friends traveled to Florida in April 1883. The vacation had the opposite effect, and Arthur suffered from intense pain. Later that year, he visited Yellowstone National Park. The Yellowstone trip was more beneficial to Arthur's health and he returned to Washington refreshed after two months of travel.

Arthur made a half-hearted effort to secure renomination in 1884, but lacked sufficient support. When he retired at the close of his term. Journalist Alexander McClure later wrote, "No man ever entered the Presidency so profoundly and widely distrusted as Chester Alan Arthur, and no one ever retired more generally respected, alike by political friend and foe." Mark Twain wrote "it would be hard indeed to better President Arthur's administration."

Arthur left office in 1885 and returned to his New York City home. He was approached to run for United States Senate, but he declined, preferring to return to his old law practice. His health limited his activity with the firm, and Arthur took on few assignments with the firm.

After summering in New London, Connecticut, in 1886, he returned quite ill. On November 16, to the dismay of subsequent historians, Arthur ordered nearly all of his papers, both personal and official, burned. The next morning, Arthur suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and never regained consciousness. He died the following day at the age of 57. On November 22, a private funeral was held at the Church of the Heavenly Rest in New York City, attended by President Grover Cleveland and ex-President Rutherford Hayes. Arthur was buried in the Albany Rural Cemetery in Menands, New York. In 1889, a monument was placed on Arthur's burial plot by sculptor Ephraim Keyser of New York, consisting of a giant bronze female angel figure placing a bronze palm leaf on a granite sarcophagus.

In 1898, the Arthur memorial statue, a fifteen-foot bronze figure of Arthur standing on a Barre granite pedestal, was created by sculptor George Edwin Bissell and installed at Madison Square, in New York City. The statue was dedicated in 1899 and unveiled by Arthur's sister, Mary Arthur McElroy. At the dedication, Secretary of War Elihu Root described Arthur as "wise in statesmanship and firm and effective in administration."

Three Ex-Presidents Travel to Egypt

Anwar Sadat was the President of Egypt from October 15, 1970, until his death on October 6, 1981, when he was assassinated. Sadat had angered many in the Arab world when on November 19, 1977, he became the first Arab leader to officially visit Israel. He met with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and spoke before the Knesset in Jerusalem about his views on how to achieve a comprehensive peace to the Arab–Israeli conflict. In 1978, he and Begin would meet with President Jimmy Carter at Camp David, Maryland, to conclude a series of agreements known as the Camp David Accords. Both Sadat and Begin were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for bringing about the treaty.


On October 6, 1981, a victory parade was held in Cairo to commemorate the eighth anniversary of Egypt's crossing of the Suez Canal. As Egyptian Air Force Mirage jets flew overhead, distracting the crowd, Egyptian Army soldiers and troop trucks towing artillery paraded by. One truck contained the assassination squad, led by Lieutenant Khalid Islambouli. As it passed the tribune, Islambouli forced the driver at gunpoint to stop. From there, the assassins dismounted and Islambouli approached Sadat with three hand grenades concealed under his helmet. Sadat stood to receive his salute, thinking that his assassins were part of the ceremony. Instead, these men approached the stands and Islambouli threw all his grenades at Sadat. Only one of which exploded but fell short of the intended target, Additional assassins rose from the truck, firing AK-47 assault rifles into the stands until they ran out of ammunition and then attempted to flee. Sadat was hit by one of these bullets and fell to the ground. Sadat and eleven other people were killed, including the Cuban ambassador to Egypt, an Omani general, and a Coptic Orthodox bishop. Twenty-eight others were wounded, including Vice President (and future Egyptian President) Hosni Mubarak, Irish Defence Minister James Tully, and four US military liaison officers. Sadat was airlifted to a military hospital, where eleven doctors operated on him. He died nearly two hours after he was taken to the hospital.

President Ronald Reagan did not attend Sadat's funeral. His spokesman, White House Communications Director David Gergen, said that it was with "great regret" that Reagan decided to remain in the United States on the advice of US security advisers. (Reagan had been been shot by attempted assassin John W. Hinckley earlier in the year on March 30th). Instead, he sent a delegation composed of three former US Presidents: Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. Also included in the US delegation were Secretary of State Alexander Haig, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, former first lady Rosalynn Carter, Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, US Army Chief of Staff General Edward C. Meyer, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former special envoy Sol Linowitz, Senators Strom Thurmond, Charles Percy, Claiborne Pell, Representatives Jim Wright, Clem Zablocki, and William Broomfield, Sam Brown (a 14-year-old boy who once visited Egypt as Mr. Sadat's guest) singer Stevie Wonder and former CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite.


The three former presidents traveled together to attend the funeral, which was held on October 10. A Time magazine article described the presidents as traveling in the "relatively cramped tail section" of the plane, Special Air Mission or "SAM 26000". Carter later wrote that the three felt "somewhat ill at ease," as they flew to the funeral. Just five years earlier Carter had delivered a stinging election defeat to the GOP's Ford. Tension also ran high among staffers aboard the flight. They endured long waits to use the lavatories and got upset about who received bigger cuts of steak at dinner, according to author Ronald Kessler. According to Carter, it was Nixon who eased the tension with "courtesy, eloquence and charm."


Following the funeral, a dinner was held that evening for all members of the American delegation and the American Embassy. All three former presidents spoke at the dinner. Nixon spoke first as the senior ex-president. Nixon had traveled to Egypt as President in 1974, just a few weeks prior to his resignation. Nixon spoke in praise of Sadat, but in his remarks he paid a tribute to the embassy personnel and the men and women of the Foreign Service, and was the only former president to do so. Gerald Ford recalled his association with Sadat and his part in the peace process. Carter's remarks were the most personal, as he recalled his special relationship with Sadat, and about the relationship between the Carter and the Sadat families. After the dinner all of the presidents agreed to have their pictures taken various members of the staff.

Seward's Folly

Today isn't any special anniversary in the state of Alaska (Alaska Day is celebrated on October 18th), but I think it's the onset of colder weather that had me thinking about the purchase of Alaska by the United States in 1867. The nip in the air as I took my dog Abby out early this morning told me that this might be a good topic for a post in this non-themed month.


In the middle of the 19th century, US expansionism was on everyone's minds. Thoughts of expansionism looked not only west and south, but north as well. A number of Presidents including Madison, Polk, Pierce and others, had believed that someday the huge land mass known as British North America (or Canada) would someday be part of the United States. The Civil War and some of the norther raids into Canada led to the formation of the Dominion of Canada in 1867 because the British thought this would be the preferable option to sending an army to defend the territory. But the initial Canadian Confederation only included what are today known as the Maritime Provinces (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island) and parts of modern day Ontario and Quebec.

A portion of the north west part of the continent was Russian territory, based on Russian expeditions in the 18th century. In 1741, Vitus Bering (for whom the Bering Strait is named) led an expedition for the Russian Navy. The first permanent Russian settlement was founded in 1784. But by the middle of the 19th century, Russia was in a difficult financial position and feared losing Russian America without compensation, especially to the British, whom they had fought the Crimean War (1853–1856).

When James K. Polk reached agreement with the British over the Oregon territory, the portion retained by Great Britain, north of the 49th parallel of longitude was called British Columbia. The population of nearby British Columbia started to increase rapidly because of a large gold rush there. The Russians decided that in any future war with Britain, their colony might become a prime target, and would be hard to defend. Therefore the Russian Emperor Alexander II decided to sell the territory. He hoped to start a bidding war between the British and the Americans, but the British expressed little interest in buying Alaska. In 1859 the Russians offered to sell the territory to the United States. But no deal was reached because the US government had its hands full dealing with secession and the Civil War.

Grand Duke Konstantin, a younger brother of the Tsar, believed that it was the United States that would inevitably control the territory and press for the sale of Russian America to the U. S.Russian minister to the United States, Eduard de Stoeckl held meetings with American officials in 1859-60. President James Buchanan and Senator William Gwin of California discussed a hypothetical offer of five million dollars for the Russian colony, but the Russians saw the offer as being too low. Buchanan's increasingly unpopular presidency forced the matter to be shelved until a new presidential election.

Russia continued to believe that it would weaken British power by causing British Columbia, including the Royal Navy base at Esquimalt, to be surrounded by American territory. Following the Union victory in the Civil War, the Tsar instructed the Russian minister to the United States, who was still Eduard de Stoeckl, to re-enter into negotiations with US Secretary of State William Seward in March of 1867, during the administration of President Andrew Johnson. The negotiations concluded after an all-night session with the signing of the treaty at 4 a.m. on March 30, 1867. The purchase price agreed on at $7.2 million, or about 2 cents per acre.


American public opinion was not initially positive. Critics called it Seward's Folly. But many newspaper editors believed that the U.S. would obtain great economic benefits from the purchase, and that it would lead to the acquisition of British Columbia. Opponents argued that the US was already burdened with too much territory with no population to fill. They said that the cost of administration, civil and military, would be large and ongoing. The territory was an inconvenient distance. They also complained that the treaty was "a dark deed done in the night", that the territory contained nothing of value but furbearing animals, and these had been hunted until they were nearly extinct.

Opinions changed with the great Klondike gold strike in 1896. When that happened, Alaska came to be seen generally as a valuable addition to American territory.

The name, "Alaska", an Aleut name, was chosen by the Americans. The seal fishery was one of the chief considerations that induced the United States to purchase Alaska. It provided considerable revenue to the United States in an amount in excess of the price paid for Alaska. The company which administered the fisheries paid an annual rental of $50,000 per year as well as $2.62 per skin for the total number taken. The skins were transported to London to be dressed and prepared for world markets.

The transfer ceremony took place in Sitka on October 18, 1867. Russian and American soldiers paraded in front of the governor's house. The Russian flag was lowered and the American flag raised and artillery guns were fired. After the transfer, a number of Russian citizens remained in Sitka, but very soon nearly all of them decided to return to Russia. Many of the Russians found themselves jobless, surrounded by rowdy troops and gun-toting civilians.

Alaska Day celebrates the formal transfer of Alaska from Russia to the United States, which took place on October 18, 1867.

The Cabinet of Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce is generally ranked among the worst US presidents, among other things, for the Kansas-Nebraska Act which led to violence and bloodshed in a state that became known as "Bleeding Kansas." The one thing Pierce apparently knew how to do right however was to pick a cabinet. Thus far, Pierce has the distinction of being the only President to serve a full term who began and ended his administration with the same cabinet members. While his Vice-President, Rufus King, died in office just over a month into his term (and was never replaced), the cabinet Pierce selected was confirmed unanimously and immediately by the senate, and none of the members resigned or were replaced. Many of them were very competent and capable administrators.


Pierce's cabinet was composed of William L. Marcy of New York (Secretary of State), James Guthrie of Kentucky (Secretary of the Treasury), future Confederate States of America President Jefferson Davis of Mississippi (Secretary of War), Caleb Cushing of Massachusetts (Attorney General), James Campbell of Pennsylvania (Postmaster General), James Dobbin of North Carolina (Secretary of the Navy) and Robert McClelland of Michigan (Secretary of the Interior).

In selecting his cabinet, Pierce wanted to unite a Democratic party that was divided by regional and personal interests. Most of the party had not originally supported him for the nomination, and some had allied with the Free Soil party to gain victory in local elections. Pierce decided to allow each of the party's factions some appointments, even those that had opposed the Compromise of 1850.

Pierce, like all presidents of that era, spent the first months of his term sorting through hundreds of lower-level federal positions to be filled. Northern newspapers accused Pierce of filling his government with pro-slavery secessionists, while southern newspapers accused him of giving too many jobs to abolitionists. Factionalism was especially prevalent within the New York Democratic Party. The more conservative Hardshell Democrats or "Hards" of New York were deeply skeptical of the Pierce administration. One of their members was former governor and senator William Marcy, who became Secretary of State. The more moderate New York faction was known as the Softshell Democrats or "Softs".

Former Secretary of State James Buchanan had urged Pierce to consult Buchanan's good friend and roommate Vice President-elect Rufus King in selecting the Cabinet, but Pierce did not do so. In fact Pierce and King never communicated once they had been selected as running mates in June 1852. By the start of 1853, King was severely ill with tuberculosis, and went to Cuba to recuperate. His condition deteriorated, and Congress passed a special law, allowing him to be sworn in before the American consul in Havana on March 24. Wanting to die at home, he returned to his plantation in Alabama on April 17 and died the next day. The office of vice president remained vacant for the remainder of Pierce's term, as the Constitution had no provision for filling the vacancy.

Pierce had hoped to run a more efficient and accountable government than his predecessors. His Cabinet members agreed on an early system of civil service examinations which was a forerunner to the Pendleton Act passed three decades later. The Interior Department was reformed by Secretary Robert McClelland, who systematized its operations, expanded the use of paper records, and pursued fraud. Pierce expanded the role of the Attorney General in appointing federal judges and attorneys, an important step in the eventual development of the Justice Department.

Treasury Secretary James Guthrie implemented reforms to the Treasury Department, which was inefficiently managed, with many unsettled accounts. Guthrie increased oversight of Treasury employees and tariff collectors, many of whom were withholding money from the government. Despite laws requiring funds to be held in the Treasury, large deposits remained in private banks under the previous Whig administration. Guthrie reclaimed these funds, and prosecuted corrupt officials. These prosecutions met with mixed success.

Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, at Pierce's request, led surveys with the Corps of Topographical Engineers of possible transcontinental railroad routes throughout the country. The Democratic Party had been opposed to internal improvements, but Davis felt that a transcontinental railroad could be justified as a Constitutional national security objective. Davis convinced Pierce to send James Gadsden to Mexico to buy land for a potential railroad. Gadsden was also charged with re-negotiating the provisions of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which required the U.S. to prevent Native American raids into Mexico from New Mexico Territory. Gadsden negotiated a treaty with Mexican President Antonio López de Santa Anna in December 1853, purchasing a large swath of land to America's southwest. Congress reduced the Gadsden Purchase to the region now comprising southern Arizona and part of southern New Mexico. Pierce did not endorse the final version of the treaty, but it was ratified nonetheless.

William L. Marcy as Secretary of State sought to present to the world a distinctively republican image. He directed that U.S. diplomats wear "the simple dress of an American citizen" instead of the elaborate diplomatic uniforms worn in the courts of Europe. Relations with Great Britain were tense, because of the British navy's increasing enforcement of sovereignty in Canadian waters. Marcy completed a trade reciprocity agreement with British minister to Washington, John Crampton. A favorable treaty was ratified in August 1854. In Pierce's mind, this was the first step towards the American annexation of Canada.

While the administration negotiated with Britain over the Canadian border, U.S. interests were also threatened in Central America, where the Clayton–Bulwer Treaty of 1850 had failed to keep Great Britain from expanding its influence. Gaining the advantage over Britain in the region was a key part of Pierce's expansionist goals.

British consuls in the United States tried to enlist Americans to fight in the Crimean War in 1854, in violation of neutrality laws. Pierce expelled minister Crampton and three consuls as a result. To Pierce's surprise, the British did not expel the American Minister (Ambassador) to Britain, James Buchanan, in retaliation. The British, according to Buchanan, were impressed by Pierce's action.

Pierce's administration put forward a proposal to the president to purchase Cuba from Spain for $120 million, known as the Ostend Manifesto. It had been drawn up at the insistence of Secretary of State Marcy. This provoked the scorn of northerners who viewed it as an attempt to annex a slave-holding possession to bolster Southern interests.

Under the Pierce administration, Commodore Matthew C. Perry visited Japan (a trip originally planned by President Millard Fillmore) in an effort to expand trade to the East. Perry wanted to approach Asia by force, but Pierce and Navy Secretary Dobbin directed him to remain diplomatic.


Pierce expected to be renominated by the Democrats in 1856. But despite some domestic and diplomatic success, his administration was widely disliked in the North for its position on the Kansas–Nebraska Act. At the Democratic convention in Cincinnati, in June of 1856, Pierce finished second on the first ballot to James Buchanan. He received only 122 votes, many of them from the South, to Buchanan's 135, with Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas and Lewis Cass of Michigan receiving the rest. By the following morning fourteen ballots had been completed, but none of the three main candidates were able to get two-thirds of the vote. Pierce directed his supporters to vote for Douglas, but Douglas believed that he would be nominated in 1860, and withdrew his name, leaving Buchanan as the winner.


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