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[Originally Posted on April 25, 2015]

It was in the Sunshine State of Florida that John F. Kennedy's presidency almost ended before it began. It was some good police work and a sharp postal inspector that prevented Richard Paul Pavlick from getting Lee Harvey Oswald's spot in the history books as the assassin of John F. Kennedy. On December 15, 1960 Pavlick was arrested in Palm Beach, Florida, for attempting to blow up and assassinate the then President-Elect of the United States, John F. Kennedy, four days earlier.

Pavlick was a retired postal worker from New Hampshire. He stalked U.S. President-Elect John F. Kennedy, with the intention of assassinating him. On Sunday, December 11, 1960 in Palm Beach, Pavlick intended to carry out the assassination by blowing up Kennedy and himself with dynamite. Despite being a crank, Pavlick wasn't completely without a conscience however. He delayed the attempt because Kennedy was with his wife Jacqueline and their two children at the time that he was able to stalk the President-elect, and he didn't want the future first lady and the Kennedy children to be casualties of his plan. Fortunately Pavlick's plan was discovered and he was arrested before he was able to stage another attempt.

Pavlick was 73 years old at the time of the assassination attempt. He had previously lived in Belmont, New Hampshire where he had earned a reputation as an grumpy old man. At local public meetings he was prone to angry political rants. These included complaints that the American flag was not being displayed appropriately. He was also critical of Catholics and he focused much of his anger on the Kennedy family and their wealth. On one occasion, Pavlick's anger erupted when he met the supervisor of the local water company at his home with a gun. Fortunately, the gun was taken from Pavlick before he had a chance to use it.

The results of the close 1960 election seemed to send Pavlick over the edge. He gave his run-down property to a local youth camp, loaded his meager possessions into his 1950 Buick and left town. No one seemed to know where he went, and it turned out not to be Beverly Hills.

Thomas M. Murphy, the 34-year-old U.S. Postmaster of the town of Belmont, New Hampshire began receiving bizarre postcards from Pavlick that stated the town would hear from him soon "in a big way." Murphy astutely noticed that the postmarked dates coincided with places where John F. Kennedy was visiting. Murphy called the local police, who in turn, contacted the Secret Service. The Secret Service conducted an investigation and learned that Pavlick recently had purchased dynamite.

It was later discovered that Pavlick had visited the Kennedy compound at Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, photographing the Kennedy home while also checking out the compound's security.

Shortly before 10 a.m. on Sunday, December 11, as John F. Kennedy was preparing to leave for Mass at St. Edward Church in Palm Beach, Florida, Pavlick waited in his dynamite-laden car, intending to crash his car into Kennedy's vehicle and cause a fatal explosion. But Pavlick changed his mind after seeing John F. Kennedy with his wife, Jacqueline, and the couple's two small children. While waiting for another opportunity over the next few days, Pavlick visited the church to scope it out for his next attack, but the Secret Service had informed local Palm Beach police to look for Pavlick's car.

On Thursday, December 15, Palm Beach police officer Lester Free spotted Pavlick’s Buick as he entered the city via the Flagler Memorial Bridge into Royal Poinciana Way. Police immediately surrounded the car and arrested Pavlick. Inside the car they found 10 sticks of dynamite.

After his arrest, Pavlick said, "Kennedy money bought the White House and the presidency. I had the crazy idea I wanted to stop Kennedy from being President." On January 27, 1961, Pavlick was committed to the United States Public Health Service mental hospital in Springfield, Missouri. He was indicted for threatening Kennedy's life seven weeks later. Charges against Pavlick were dropped on December 2, 1963, ten days after Kennedy's assassination in Dallas. Judge Emett Clay Choate ruled that Pavlick was unable to distinguish between right and wrong in his actions, but kept him in the mental hospital. The federal government also dropped charges in August 1964, and Pavlick was eventually released from the New Hampshire State Mental Hospital on December 13, 1966. Richard Paul Pavlick died at the age of 88 on November 11, 1975 at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Happy Birthday LBJ

On August 27, 1908 (108 years ago today) Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th President of the United States, was born in Stonewall, Texas in a small farmhouse on the Pedernales River. His parents were Samuel Ealy Johnson, Jr. and Rebekah Baines. His father served five terms in the Texas legislature.

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Johnson is one of only four people to served in all four elected federal offices of the United States: Representative, Senator, Vice President and President (see if you can guess who the other three are, I'll tell you at the end of this.) A Democrat, Johnson served as a United States Representative from Texas, from 1937–1949 and as United States Senator from 1949–1961, including six years as United States Senate Majority Leader, two as Senate Minority Leader and two as Senate Majority Whip.

After campaigning unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for President in 1960, Johnson was asked by John F. Kennedy to be his running mate for the 1960 presidential election. Johnson was elected Vice President and served in the office from January 20, 1961 until he succeeded to the presidency following the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Johnson completed Kennedy's term in office and was elected President in his own right, winning by a large margin in the 1964 Presidential election. Johnson was responsible for designing what he called the "Great Society", a legislative program that included laws that upheld civil rights, public broadcasting, medicare, medicaid, environmental protection, aid to education, Headstart, and his "War on Poverty."

Johnson was famous for his bullying, domineering and coercive personality. When he would attempt to convince a legislator or underling with bullying body language it was called the "Johnson treatment." His pressuring of powerful politicians in order to advance legislation was legendary.

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But for all of the socially positive legislation that Johnson is remembered for, he also greatly escalated American involvement in the Vietnam War. As the war dragged on, Johnson's popularity as President steadily declined as an on-the-spot news media brought reports of young American soldiers killed in the conflict into the living rooms of Americans at home. After the 1966 mid-term Congressional elections, Johnson abandoned his re-election bid for the 1968 United States presidential election as a result of turmoil within the Democratic Party related to opposition to the Vietnam War. He withdrew from the race amid growing opposition to his policy on the Vietnam War and a worse-than-expected showing in the New Hampshire primary.

After leaving the presidency in January 1969, Johnson retired to his ranch in Stonewall, Texas. In 1971, he published his memoirs, The Vantage Point. That year, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum opened near the campus of The University of Texas at Austin. During the 1972 presidential election, Johnson supported Democratic presidential nominee George S. McGovern, a Senator from South Dakota, although McGovern had long opposed Johnson's foreign and defense policies.

Johnson died at his ranch at 3:39 p.m CST on January 22, 1973 at age 64 after suffering a massive heart attack. His health had been affected by years of heavy smoking, poor diet, and extreme stress; the former president had advanced coronary artery disease. He had his first, nearly fatal, heart attack in July 1955 and suffered a second one in April 1972, but had been unable to quit smoking after he left the Oval Office in 1969. He was found dead by Secret Service agents, in his bed, with a telephone in his hand.

Johnson's legacy remains mixed. He is remembered fondly for the advances in civil rights legislation that happened on his watch, but criticized for his escalation of the conflict of the Vietnam War.

Oh and as for the trivia question in the first paragraph, the other three were John Tyler, Andrew Johnson and Richard Nixon.
[Originally Posted June 7, 2015]

When scholars assess the Presidency of Lyndon Johnson, it is the Vietnam War which tarnishes Johnson's presidential image. He called it "that bitch of a war" and took up most of his attention at a time when Johnson would have much rather been fighting a different war, one one poverty as part of his "great society."

Johnson, like Eisenhower and Kennedy before him, subscribed to what was known as the Domino Theory in Vietnam (i.e. that if one nation would fall to communism, many others would also fall, like dominoes). He said, "If we allow Vietnam to fall, tomorrow we'll be fighting in Hawaii, and next week in San Francisco."He ascribed to a containment policy and saw his nation as being the world's policeman, one which had to stop Communist expansion. When John F. Kennedy died, there were 16,000 American military personnel in Vietnam. Although they were military personnel, the were referred to as "advisors". Kennedy had ordered the withdrawal of 1,000 military personnel by the end of 1963, but Johnson rescinded this order and expanded the numbers and roles of the American military. This was precipitated by something known as the Gulf of Tonkin Incident which occurred soon after the Republican Convention of 1964 at a time when his Republican opponent, Barry Goldwater, was promising to be tough on communists.

In August 1964, it was alleged that two US destroyers were attacked by some North Vietnamese torpedo boats in international waters 40 miles from the coast of Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin. This occurred during the 1964 Presidential campaign. Johnson was forced to respond to this alleged aggression by the Vietnamese, for fear that his opponents would paint him as weak and soft on Communism. On August 7, 1964 he sought and obtained from the Congress the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. This resolution gave congressional approval for use of military force in Vietnam. During the campaign, Johnson expressed assurance that the primary US goal was preserving South Vietnamese independence through material and advice, but that sending troops over was not being contemplated. Johnson questioned the value of staying in Vietnam but, after meeting with Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Maxwell D. Taylor, he was convinced of the need to take whatever action was necessary to prevent the spread of Communism into the south. In the 1964 presidential campaign, he professed his determination to give measured support for Vietnam without it becoming another Korea. His heart was on his Great Society agenda and did not want to divert attention and resources away from his War on Poverty.

Johnson was re-elected and by the end of 1964, there were approximately 23,000 military personnel in South Vietnam. U.S. casualties for the year totaled 1,278, but the war was not yet a part of the nightly news routine. In the winter of 1964-65 Johnson was convinced by the military to begin a bombing campaign to forcefully resist a communist takeover in South Vietnam. At the end of January there was another change of government in Saigon and Johnson felt it was more important to prop up the South Vietnamese. He said "General Nguyen Khanh (head of the new government) is our boy".

Johnson approved a systematic bombing campaign in February after his adviser McGeorge Bundy recommended immediate US action to avoid the defeat of the South Vietnamese.A group known as the Vietcong (a communist guerrilla movement inside South Vietnam) had just killed eight US advisers and wounded dozens of others in an attack at Pleiku Air Base. The bombing campaign lasted for eight weeks and was known as Operation Rolling Thunder. Johnson gave instructions that there was to be no comment that the war effort had been expanded. Johnson hoped that the bombing campaign would improve morale and stability for the South Vietnamese government. By March, Bundy advised that the US increase the use of ground forces. He said that air operations alone would not stop Hanoi's aggression against the South. Johnson approved an increase in the number of troops by 18,000 to 20,000, the deployment of two additional Marine battalions and a Marine air squadron. He planned for the deployment of two more divisions.

By the middle of June the total US ground forces in Vietnam increased to 82,000. On May 2, 1965 Johnson told congressional leaders that he wanted an additional $700 million for Vietnam. He said "each member of Congress who supports this request is voting to continue our effort to try to hold communist aggression". The request was approved by the House 408 to 7 and by the Senate 88 to 3. In June Maxwell Taylor, now Ambassador to South Vietnam, reported that the bombing offensive against North Vietnam had been ineffective, and that the South Vietnamese army was in danger of collapse. General William Westmoreland, who was in charge of U.S. military operations in Vietnam, recommended a further increase in the number of ground troops from 82,000 to 175,000. Johnson announced an increase to 125,000 troops, with additional forces to be sent later upon request. Johnson later said that he felt boxed in by two difficult choices: sending Americans to die in Vietnam and giving in to the communists. By October 1965 there were over 200,000 troops deployed in Vietnam.

In 1965, opinion polls showed that the public supported the war effort by margins of 40 to 50% for and 10 to 25% against. Johnson closely followed opinion polls. But support began to erode. On April 2, 1965, Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson spoke at Temple University in Philadelphia and called for a pause in the American bombing of North Vietnam, so that a diplomatic solution could be pursued. Johnson was furious about this criticism of American foreign policy on American soil. He summoned Pearson to Camp David, Maryland for a meeting. Johnson reportedly grabbed Pearson by the lapels and shouted, "Don't you come into my living room and piss on my rug."


At the end of 1965 with the recommendation of the joint Chiefs and other advisers Johnson decided to increase troops at the rate of 15,000 per month throughout 1966. Just before the new year, Johnson agreed to a pause in bombing. In January, Johnson convened a second Honolulu conference that he attended for three days along with General Westmoreland, the South Vietnamese Chief of State Nguyen Van Thieu and Prime Minister Nguyen Cao Ky. In April 1966 Johnson was encouraged by statistics that the Vietcong had suffered greater numbers of casualties than the South Vietnamese.

But public impatience with the war began to grown in the spring of 1966. Johnson's approval ratings were reaching new lows of 41% and Senator Richard Russell, Chairman of the Armed Services Committee declared that it was time to "get it over or get out". Johnson's primary war policy opponent in Congress was Senator James William Fulbright, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. Johnson approved a more focused bombing campaign against petroleum, oil and lubrication facilities in North Vietnam, which began at the end of June. In July polling results indicated that Americans favored the bombing campaign by a 5 to 1 margin, but in August a Defense Department study indicated that the bombing campaign had little impact on North Vietnam.

In the fall of 1966, Johnson was urged from every corner to begin peace discussions. In August, Johnson appointed Averell Harriman as a special envoy to pursue peace negotiations. In October 1966, to reassure and promote his war effort, Johnson initiated a meeting in Manila with the South Vietnamese, and representatives from Thailand, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand. At the conference Johnson agreed not to withdraw from his intention to continue the fight against communist aggression. But at home, mounting war casualties made the war more unpopular. On October 3, 1966, Johnson had a meeting about the war with former President Dwight Eisenhower on October 3, 1966, Johnson said he was "trying to win it just as fast as I can in every way that I know how".

By year's end it was clear that the air campaign wasn't working. Johnson agreed to the military's recommendation to add 70,000 troops in 1967 to the 400,000 previously committed and to increase the level of bombing. North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh was not open to peace talks and declared that the only solution was a unilateral withdrawal by the U.S. In February of 1967 Johnson agreed to attacks on infiltration routes in Laos and fifty-four new bombing targets in the North, as well as the mining of inland waterways to complement bombing.

In March Robert Kennedy began a more public opposition to the war in a Senate speech. Johnson's anger and frustration grew over the lack of a solution to Vietnam and its effect on him politically. He told Kennedy, "I'll destroy you and every one of your dove friends in six months. You'll be dead politically in six months". The polls said otherwise. In June, 66% of the country said they had lost confidence in the President's leadership. By the middle of 1967 nearly 70,000 Americans had been killed or wounded in the war. The war was being commonly by the press as a "stalemate". General Westmoreland disagreed, saying "we are winning slowly but steadily and the pace can excel if we reinforce our successes". Johnson agreed to an increase of 55,000 troops bringing the total to 525,000. By the fall of 1967 support for the war was dropping and the anti-war was getting stronger.

In August Johnson agreed to expand the air campaign and exempted only Hanoi, Haiphong and a buffer zone with China from the target list. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara told a Senate subcommittee that an expanded air campaign would not bring Hanoi to the peace table. McNamara was summoned to the White House for a three-hour dressing down, even though McNamara's assessment was correct. Adding to the problem was the fact that the newly elected South Vietnamese government was incompetent and riddled with corruption.

In September Ho Chi Minh and North Vietnamese premier Pham Van Dong appeared to be open to mediation by French diplomats, so Johnson ceased bombing in a 10-mile zone around Hanoi. Johnson said he would halt all bombing if Ho Chi Minh would participate in productive and meaningful discussions. There was no response from the North Vietnamese.

By this time other Democrats joined the ranks of those opposed to the war in late 1967, included Tip O'Neill. With increasing public protests against the war, in October Johnson engaged the FBI and the CIA to investigate, monitor and undermine antiwar activists. In mid-October there was a demonstration of 100,000 at the Pentagon. Johnson believed that foreign communist sources were behind the demonstration.

The war continued in a stalemate and without public support. Johnson convened a group that he called the "Wise Men" and asked for their assessment of the war. The group included Dean Acheson, Gen. Omar Bradley, George Ball, MacGeorge Bundy, Arthur Dean, Douglas Dillon, Abe Fortas, Averell Harriman, Henry Cabot Lodge, Robert Murphy and Maxwell Taylor. Most of this group urged Johnson to press on with the war, with a notable excepting being George Ball. Defense Secretary McNamara was reversing his position on the war. He recommended that troop levels be capped at 525,000 and that the bombing be halted, since it wasn't achieving anything. This upset Johnson and McNamara soon resigned.

As casualties mounted and success seemed further away than ever, Johnson's popularity plummeted. College students and others protested, burned draft cards, and chanted "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?" outside of the White House. Johnson was not allowed by the Secret Service to attend the 1968 Democratic National Convention. On January 30 the Vietcong and North Vietnamese launched an attack known as the Tet offensive against South Vietnam's five largest cities, including Saigon. They attacked the US embassy and other government installations. It was a psychological victory, and increased American public opinion against the war. In February of 1968, Walter Cronkite of CBS news, who was voted the nation's "most trusted person" expressed his view on the air that the conflict was deadlocked and that additional fighting would change nothing. Johnson said "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle America".

At this point only 26% approved of Johnson's handling of Vietnam. Johnson agreed to increase the troop level by 22,000. Clark Clifford, the new Defense Secretary, described the war as "a loser" and advised Johnson to "cut losses and get out". On March 31 Johnson spoke to the nation of "Steps to Limit the War in Vietnam". He then announced an immediate unilateral halt to the bombing of North Vietnam and announced his intention to seek out peace talks. At the close of his speech he also announced, "I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President".

In March Johnson decided to restrict future bombing. In April he succeeded in opening discussions of peace talks and after extensive negotiations over the site, Paris was agreed. Talks began in May. Despite recommendations from Harriman, Vance, Clifford and Bundy to halt bombing as an incentive for Hanoi to pursue substantive peace talks, Johnson refused. In October the parties came close to an agreement on a bombing halt. But Republican presidential nominee Richard Nixon intervened with the South Vietnamese, and made promises of better terms. This delayed any chance settlement until after the election. After the election, Johnson's primary focus on Vietnam was to get Saigon to join the Paris peace talks.

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Johnson later summed up his perspective of the Vietnam War as follows:

"I knew from the start that I was bound to be crucified either way I moved. If I left the woman I really loved, the Great Society, in order to get involved in that bitch of a war on the other side of the world, then I would lose everything at home. All my programs. But if I left that war and let the Communists take over South Vietnam, then I would be seen as a coward and my nation would be seen as an appeaser and we would both find it impossible to accomplish anything for anybody anywhere on the entire globe."
[Originally posted November 12, 2011]

On Thursday November 10, 2011, the National Archives and its Nixon Presidential Library released a transcript of testimony given by then ex-President Richard M Nixon to a grand jury, 10 months after he resigned under threat of impeachment. Nixon testified before the grand jury on June 23 and 24 of 1975. This was the first time a former president testified before a grand jury.

In his testimony, Nixon describes the burglary by political operatives at Democratic headquarters in the Watergate building, referring to it as "this silly, incredible Watergate break-in". He told the grand jury, "I practically blew my stack", when he learned that 18 1/2 minutes of a post-Watergate White House meeting were erased from a tape.

Nixon was questioned for 11 hours at a court house near his California home in June 1975. As one commentator noted, Nixon's biggest risk was being caught in a lie. Unless he committed perjury during his testimony, he could testify with impunity because a pardon by his successor, Gerald Ford, protected him from prosecution for any past Watergate crimes.

There is one confrontational moment during questioning when Nixon bristled when pressed for details of a conversation that he said he could not remember. "I don't recall that those specific names were in the discussion," he snapped. "I mean, if you want me to lie about it, I will be glad to." He added: "Better strike that last."

When he mentioned the burglars tied to his re-election committee, known as the "plumbers", and the other heavy-handed tactical operations used to get dirt on political foes and claw for campaign advantage, he stated "I want the jury and the special prosecutors to kick the hell out of us for wiretapping and for the plumbers and the rest," he said, "because obviously you may have concluded it is wrong."

It was a group of historians who successfully sued for access to the records. They expected few revelations but were determined to bring to light all facets of that extraordinary episode of presidential disgrace. They certainly did not expect the transcript to solve the mystery of the 18 1/2 minute gap. Investigators suspected the portion of the June 20, 1972, subpoenaed tape was erased to hide incriminating talk between Nixon and his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, three days after the break-in at the Watergate complex. But Nixon stuck to secretary Rose Mary Woods' story that she erased it by mistake, and professed anger when learning how much was missing. Although he said he could not remember what was said during the gap, he had a clear recollection of his aide Alexander Haig telling him that much more was erased than originally thought. Nixon testified "Rose had thought it was four minutes, or something like that. Now the counsel have found that it is 18 1/2 minutes, and I practically blew my stack."

He added: "If you are interested in my view as to what happened, it is very simple. It is that it was an accident."

During the testimony, spread over June 23 and 24, 1975, Nixon slipped in little digs at the prosecutors. He simultaneously applauded them for their hard work and criticized them as being part of an effort to take him down. He accused them of having a double standard with their treatment of him versus his adversaries. "If I could give one last bit of advice," he tells the prosecutors at one point, "taking the double standard is going to make you much more popular with the Washington press corps, with the Georgetown social set, if you ever go to Georgetown, with the power elite in this country. But on the other hand, think of your children — they are going to judge you in the pages of history." He goes on to say, "I mean, I am not unaware of the fact that the great majority of the people working in the Special Prosecutor's Office did not support me for president."

The grand jury seemed to be very interested in Nixon's appointments of five non-career ambassadors who had been donors to his campaign. The ex-president defended his choices while denying that he had promised diplomatic posts to major campaign contributors. "Some of the very best ambassadors we have have been non-career ambassadors who have made substantial contributions," he testified. Of career foreign-service officers who become ambassadors, he said "most of them are a bunch of eunuchs, and I don't mean that in a physical sense, but I meant it in an emotional sense, in a mental sense. They aren't for the American free enterprise system." He referred to Perle Mesta, an appointee of President Harry Truman, as an example, saying "Perle Mesta wasn't sent to Luxembourg because she had big bosoms. Perle Mesta went to Luxembourg because she made a good contribution."

Nixon described a White House system in which political fundraisers might discuss ambassadorships with major donors, but said if they made promises of appointment to a diplomatic post, it would have been against his wishes. "I have no recollection of ever authorizing the selling of ambassadorships, the making of an absolute commitment for ambassadorships," he said.

One recording shows a distinctly different side to Nixon. It concerns an odd episode from 1970, when he paid a late-night visit to the Lincoln Memorial to meet anti-war protesters. He told the young people they were hungering for the same things he searched for 40 years earlier. Ending the Vietnam War and stopping pollution won't end "the spiritual hunger which all of us have," he dictated. That, he said, is the "great mystery of life from the beginning of time."

The grand jury materials were put online along with thousands of other Watergate-era documents and some sound recordings. For those wanting to delve into the Grand jury materials in more detail, they can be found here.
[Originally Posted November 15, 2010]

As the only "bachelor president", many historians have speculated about the 15th president's sexual orientation. This speculation doesn't just stem from the fact that James Buchanan never married, but rather from his very close friendship with Alabama Senator (and later Vice-President) Rufus King and the openly affectionate correspondence that the two men carried on. One might easily dismiss this to the flowery literary style of of 19th century letter-writing, but Buchanan was also openly teased both in and out of earshot about his relationship with King, by some of the leading members of Congress, who suggested that King and Buchanan were a couple. Buchanan himself made some very curious statements about that relationship. Coincidentally, King was the only bachelor Vice-President, and even more coincidentally, both men instructed their families to burn the correspondence that passed between the two of them after their passing.


In 1819, Buchanan was engaged to Anne Coleman, the daughter of a Philadelphia millionaire. She broke off the engagement after an "outburst of hysterics" according to historian John Seigenthaler. There was some speculation that Buchanan was only marrying her for her money, and the bride-to-be's awareness of this may have been what caused her to call off the nuptials. Coleman died shortly thereafter, quite possibly a suicide according to Philip Klein, one of Buchanan's biographers. Her attending physician said that this was the first instance he had heard of where "hysteria produced death." The physician's records list her cause of death as an overdose of laudanum, an opiate. Seigenthaler writes: "her parents would not allow Buchanan to attend the funeral and his letter of sympathy was returned unopened by her father. Buchanan swore never to marry in honor of her memory."

While in Washington, Buchanan's "room-mate" was Senator Rufus King. The two men were virtually inseparable and were rumored to be lovers.They shared a house and a bedroom (this apparently was not uncommon for the time.) Many openly wrote about this and spoke this accusation. For example, Tennessee Governor Aaron Brown was sent to Washington as an advance man for President-Elect James K. Polk, and wrote to Polk describing King as Buchanan's "better half" and as "Aunt Nancy" (a 19th century derogatory term for homosexuals). Although Buchanan was unmarried, Brown writes to Polk: "General Saunders, in the presence of Mr. Buchanan and his wife and some others, advanced the opinion that neither Mr. Calhoun nor Mr. Van Buren had any chance to be elected...and being asked by someone, who then can be, he forgot himself and said that Colonel Polk could run better than any man in the nation. This of course was highly indecorous toward Mrs. B." Former President Andrew Jackson would also refer to Rufus King as "Miss Nancy" and "Aunt Fancy", both being derogatory terms for gay men in the 19th century.

Historian Robert Remini, a biographer of Henry Clay, writes that Clay "rarely missed an opportunity to mock Senator Buchanan" when the two were in the senate. He writes of an occasion when Clay said to Buchanan, "in a soft feminine voice": "I wish I had a more lady-like manner of expressing myself". Historian James Loewen supports the theory that Buchanan and King were lovers, noting that the two were referred to around Washington as "Siamese twins" which was another contemporary slang for gay couples. Professor Loewen goes so far as to speculate that Buchanan's affection for the southerner King may have been what influenced the Pennsylvanian to have such strong pro-slavery views.

In 1844, President Polk appointed King as Ambassador to France. King wrote Buchanan telling him "I hope you will find no one to replace me in affection." Buchanan later wrote to a female friend, a Mrs. Roosevelt, that "I am now solitary and alone having no companion in the house with me. I have gone wooing to several gentlemen but have not succeeded with any of them. I feel that it is not good for man to be alone, and I should not be astonished to find myself married to some old maid who can nurse me when I am sick, provide good dinners for me when I am well, and not expect from me any very ardent or romantic affection."

King also wrote with sadness of his separation from Buchanan. In a letter to Buchanan in 1844, King wrote "I am selfish enough to hope you will not be able to procure an associate who will cause you to feel no regret at our separation. For myself, I shall always feel lonely in the midst of Paris, for here I shall have no Friend with whom I can commune as with my own thoughts."


Buchanan and King's nieces destroyed their uncles' correspondence, leaving many to questions what type of relationship the two men had. In the final analysis though, it's all speculation. I was told by a member of this community that the staff at the Wheatland (the museum that was once Buchanan's home) get angry and bristle at the suggestion when asked if Buchanan was gay. One historian notes that "there have always been gay men and women throughout history, in all walks of life, so why not in Buchanan's time?" But perhaps the most accurate observation on the subject comes from Buchanan biographer Michael J. Birkner, who writes, "what we know would not give even the most adventurous psycho-biographer much to go on."
[Originally Posted May 7, 2011]

Jimmy Carter has the distinction of being the only President to have reported seeing an unidentified flying object. One evening in 1969 (two years before he became Governor of Georgia) Carter was preparing to give a speech at a Lions Club meeting. At about 7:15 p.m EST, one of the guests called his attention to a strange object that was visible about 30 degrees above the horizon to the west of where he was standing. Carter described the object as being bright white and as being about as bright as the moon. He said that the object appeared to move closer to where Carter was, but to have stopped beyond a stand of pine trees some distance from him. The object is then said to have changed color, first to blue, then to red, then back to white, before appearing to recede into the distance.This event was witnessed by about ten or twelve other people, and was in view for ten to twelve minutes before it passed out of sight.

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In an interview about the incident that he gave in 1973, Carter said:

"There were about twenty of us standing outside of a little restaurant, I believe, a high school lunch room, and a kind of green light appeared in the western sky. This was right after sundown. It got brighter and brighter. And then it eventually disappeared. It didn't have any solid substance to it, it was just a very peculiar-looking light. None of us could understand what it was."

In another interview given in 2005, Carter said:

"All of a sudden, one of the men looked up and said, 'Look, over in the west!' And there was a bright light in the sky. We all saw it. And then the light, it got closer and closer to us. And then it stopped, I don’t know how far away, but it stopped beyond the pine trees. And all of a sudden it changed color to blue, and then it changed to red, then back to white. And we were trying to figure out what in the world it could be, and then it receded into the distance."

There is some controversy about the date of the sighting. According to the report that Carter filed with the International UFO Bureau four years after the incident, this took place in October 1969. However investigators say that according to Lions Club records, this occurred nine months earlier. According to a meeting report that he filed with the Lions Club, Carter gave his Leary speech on January 6, 1969, not in October. Other evidence suggests that the January 1969 date is more plausible. Carter visited the Leary Lions Club in his capacity as district governor of the Lions Club and his term ended in June 1969. The Leary Lions Club disbanded several months before October 1969.

According to an investigation carried out in 1976, (an election year in which Carter was elected President), most of those present at the meeting either did not recall the event. According to Fred Hart, the only guest contacted who remembered seeing the object: "It seems like there was a little—like a blue light or something or other in the sky that night—like some kind of weather balloon they send out or something ... it had been pretty far back in my mind."

Some have hypothesized that the object that Carter witnessed really the planet Venus, but Carter does not believe the object was Venus, explaining that he was an amateur astronomer and knew what Venus looked like. Carter also said that he did not believe that any extraterrestrials have visited Earth. He also stated he knows of no government cover-up of extraterrestrial visits and that the rumors that the CIA refused to give him information about UFOs are not true.

During his 1976 election campaign, he is said to have told reporters that, as a result of it, he would institute a policy of openness about UFO information if he were elected to office. He said:

"One thing's for sure, I'll never make fun of people who say they've seen unidentified objects in the sky. If I become President, I'll make every piece of information this country has about UFO sightings available to the public and the scientists."

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Despite this pledge, once elected, Carter distanced himself from disclosure, citing "defense implications" as being behind his decision."

The Burning of the White House

Today (August 24th) is the 202nd anniversary of the Battle of Washington, a battle that took place on August 24, 1814 during the War of 1812. The British Army occupied Washington and set fire to number of public buildings, including the White House and U.S. Capitol.

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On that day an advance guard of British troops marched to Capitol Hill. General Robert Ross sent a party under a flag of truce to agree to terms, but they were attacked by partisans from a house at the corner of Maryland Avenue, Constitution Avenue, and Second Street NE. This was to be the only resistance the soldiers met. They set fire to this house and the Union Jack raised over Washington. The buildings housing the Senate and House of Representatives were set ablaze not long after. The interiors of both buildings, including the Library of Congress, were destroyed, although the thick walls and a heavy rainfall preserved their exteriors. Thomas Jefferson later sold his library to the government to restock the Library of Congress.

The troops then turned northwest up Pennsylvania Avenue toward the White House. After the government officials fled, Dolley Madison remained behind with White House slaves to save valuables from the British. John Susé (a Frenchman, then door-keeper) and the President's gardener, a man named Magraw, took down a large portrait of George Washington and sent it off on a wagon, with some large silver urns and such other valuables as could be quickly got hold of. One of Dolly Madison's slaves, Paul Jennings, wrote "When the British did arrive, they ate up the very dinner, and drank the wines that I had prepared for the President's party." The soldiers then burnt the house, and fuel was added to the fires that night to ensure they would continue burning into the next day. The smoke was reportedly visible as far away as Baltimore.

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In 2009 a White House ceremony was held to honor the efforts of Paul Jennings in rescuing the painting of George Washington. A dozen descendants of Jennings came to Washington, to visit the White House and they were able to look at the painting their relative helped save. Of those invited, one of them gave an interview to NPR, stating "We were able to take a family portrait in front of the painting, which was for me one of the high points."
[Originally Posted June 9, 2012]

On July 26, 1861, General George McClellan was selected by President Abraham Lincoln to be the commander of the Military Division of the Potomac, the main Union force responsible for the defense of Washington. On August 20, several military units in Virginia were consolidated into his department and he immediately formed the Army of the Potomac, with himself as its first commander. McClellan brought a high degree of organization to his new army, and greatly improved its morale. But a lack of trust soon developed between McClellan and his President. McClellan refused to divulge any details about his strategic planning, or even mundane details such as troop strengths and dispositions. He claimed not to trust anyone in the administration to keep his plans secret from the press, and thus the enemy.

On November 1, 1861, Winfield Scott retired and McClellan became general-in-chief of all the Union armies. Lincoln wondered it the dual role of army commander and general-in-chief was too much for one man, but McClellan responded, "I can do it all."

Lincoln, as well as many other northern political leaders, became increasingly impatient with McClellan's slowness to attack the Confederate forces gathered near Washington. McClellan displayed an attitude of insubordination to his commander-in-chief. He privately referred to Lincoln, whom he had known before the war as a lawyer for the Illinois Central, as "nothing more than a well-meaning baboon", a "gorilla", and "ever unworthy of ... his high position." On November 13, he snubbed the president, visiting at McClellan's house, by making him wait for 30 minutes, only to be told that the general had gone to bed and could not see him. McClellan biographer Stephen W. Sears, in his book George B. McClellan: The Young Napoleon describes the incident as follows (at pages 132-3):

His famous snub of the President was a direct consequence of this attitude. On November 13, Lincoln, Seward and John Hay, paid an evening call on the general-in-chief and were told that he was attending an officer's wedding. They had been waiting in his parlor for an hour when McClellan returned, passed by the parlor door and went upstairs, ignoring his orderly's announcement that the President and Secretary of State were waiting to see him. After half an hour the orderly was sent upstairs to remind the general of his visitors; he returned to say that McClellan had gone to bed. Hay termed it "unparalleled insolence" and "a portent of evil to come." (It was not an isolated instance. A month or so earlier, William Howard Russell of the Times of London noted in his diary a scene at headquarters when the President was sent away by the announcement that General McClellan had gone to bed and would see no one.) Lincoln took no apparent offense, and indeed he returned the next evening for a discussion of future operations, but the contempt inherent in the snub could hardly have escaped him. This arrogance, rarely displayed so publicly, marked the most unpleasant side of George McClellan's character.

In his 1886 autobiography, entitled "McClellan's Own Story", the General fails to mention the incident. In Chapter IX, entitled "Conspiracy of the Politicians", McClellan writes at page 160:

My relations with Mr. Lincoln were generally very pleasant, and I seldom had trouble with him when we could meet face to face. The difficulty always arose behind my back. I believe that he liked me personally, and certainly he was always much influenced by me when we were together.

On March 11, 1862, Lincoln removed McClellan as general-in-chief, leaving him in command of only the Army of the Potomac, so that McClellan would be free to devote all his attention to the move on Richmond. Lincoln later named Major General Henry W. Halleck to the post of General-in-Chief without consulting, or even informing, McClellan. Lincoln offered command of the Army of the Potomac to Major General Ambrose Burnside, who refused the appointment. McClellan failed to move his army to support Major General John Pope, and Pope was beaten decisively at Second Bull Run in August. After this defeat, Lincoln reluctantly Lincoln named McClellan to command "the fortifications of Washington, and all the troops for the defense of the capital." Later, When McClellan failed to pursue Lee aggressively after the Battle of Antietam, Lincoln ordered that he be removed from command on November 5, 1862 Major General Ambrose Burnside assumed command of the Army of the Potomac on November 7.

McClellan would later run against Lincoln in the election of 1864 as the candidate for the Democratic Party. Lincoln won the election handily, with 212 Electoral College votes to 21 and won the popular vote by 403,000 votes, or 55%. For all his popularity with the troops, McClellan failed to secure their support and the military vote went to Lincoln nearly 3-1. Lincoln's share of the vote in the Army of the Potomac was 70%
[Originally Posted August 29, 2013]

Zachary Taylor was the 12th President of the United States, following a distinguished career as a soldier in the US Army. He was also the father-in-law of Jefferson Davis, the only President of the Confederate States of America. The two men met when Davis was a young second lieutenant, fresh from West Point, reporting for duty at Fort Crawford, while Taylor was a Colonel. Davis was twenty years of age when he graduated from West Point in July, 1828.


In the autumn of 1828 Davis was assigned to duty at Fort Crawford at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, which shared with Fort Snelling the task of guarding the frontier of the Upper Mississippi. In the summer of 1829 Lieutenant Colonel Zachary Taylor was transferred from Fort Snelling to the command of Fort Crawford. Taylor brought his family with him — his wife, his son and three daughters. Soon after their arrival, however, Davis was ordered to Fort Winnebago, another important post on the northwestern border. It commanded the portage between the Fox and Wisconsin rivers on the waterway from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River, and was the strategic center of operations in case of attack by one of the Indian tribes living in northern Wisconsin.

In 1831 Davis returned to Fort Crawford and was ordered up Yellow River in Wisconsin to superintend the building of a sawmill. After his return from the Yellow River assignment, Jefferson Davis was sent by Taylor, his commanding officer, to effect the removal of the miners who were unlawfully working the lead mines in the vicinity of Dubuque. Local Indians opposed trespassing on their land, while the miners felt that the government was restricting their right to exploit the rich veins of lead. A previous attempt to dislodge the miners from the Iowa side had failed. Davis succeeded in persuading the miners to leave the Iowa land and to recross the Mississippi after assuring the miners that their claims to the lead-mine region would be recognized after a treaty had been made with the Indians.

The Black Hawk War in 1832 caused alarm throughout northwestern Illinois and southwestern Wisconsin. The insurrection was put down and Davis was ordered to transport Black Hawk to Jefferson Barracks. The prisoners were well treated by Davis and Black Hawk appreciated the kindly attitude of Davis toward him. With Black Hawk in confinement at Jefferson Barracks, Lieutenant Davis again returned to Fort Crawford.


Davis began courting Sarah Knox Taylor, the charming daughter of "Old Rough and Ready". It is said that Taylor always considered his own presence necessary to the proper entertainment of his daughters' callers. He insisted on being present on the occasion of their visits, and would decide when his daughters' gentlemen callers had to leave. Taylor's presence did not seem to deter Davis, and it was not long before their engagement was announced. When the news was told to Taylor, he remarked that while he had the kindliest feeling for his daughter's choice, he had hoped that none of his daughters would ever marry into the army.

It was not long, however, until the "kindliest feeling" Taylor had for Davis changed and a bitter quarrel arose between the two men. A court martial had been ordered at the garrison. Taylor acted as president, while Davis, Major Tom Smith, and a young officer who had just reported for duty constituted the rest of the court. When they assembled, the young officer appeared in civilian clothes, offering the excuse that his uniform had been delayed at St. Louis. Taylor refused to consider any cases until the officer could take his seat in full uniform. An angry discussion over the question ensued, a vote was called for and, much to Taylor's surprise, Davis voted with Smith to go on with the trial. Taylor reportedly became enraged and told Davis that any man who would vote with his nemesis Smith on a question like that could never marry his daughter. He forbade Davis from ever entering his home again.

Shortly after this, Davis was promoted from a second lieutenant in the infantry to the position of first lieutenant and adjutant of the First Dragoons in 1834. This promotion took him away from Fort Crawford to Fort Gibson, Arkansas. But distance did not affect the romance between Davis and Sarah in the least. On June 30, 1835, Davis severed all connections with the United States army. He returned to old Fort Crawford to settle the dispute with Taylor. Sarah told her father that she intended to marry Davis but Taylor flatly refused his consent to their marriage. Shortly after the departure of Davis from the fort, Miss Taylor decided to go to live with her aunt in Kentucky. Taylor never saw Sarah afterward, and the estrangement between him and Davis never healed during her life. Sarah remained with her aunt until Davis came for her and the two were married on June 17, 1835. Two of Taylor's sisters, his oldest brother, and other members of the Taylor family were present at the marriage. The young couple then left for the Davis plantation, "Brierfield", on the Mississippi River, thirty miles south of Vicksburg. Their marriage, however, was short lived. In the autumn of that year the young bride caught malaria, which was prevalent in the lower Mississippi region, and died on September 15, 1835.


Davis was devastated by the death of his young wife, as were her parents. Her death caused years of ill will between Davis and Zachary Taylor; he and his wife felt that Davis should have known better than to go to St. Francisville in the fever season. According to author Hudson Strode in his biography of Davis, the two men met by chance in 1845 on a Mississippi steamboat and achieved some reconciliation.
[Originally Posted on February 11,2011]

On February 11, 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower refused to grant clemency to Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. The Rosenbergs were a couple who were arrested and tried for spying on behalf the Soviet Union.

In January of 1950, the FBI agents discovered that Klaus Fuchs, a German refugee theoretical physicist working for the British mission in the Manhattan Project, had given key documents to the Soviets throughout the war. Fuchs identified his courier as Harry Gold, who was arrested on May 23, 1950. Gold identified Sergeant David Greenglass, a former machinist at Los Alamos, as an additional source. In turn, Greenglass confessed to having passed secret information on to the USSR through Gold.

Greenglass was the brother of Ethel Rosenberg. He implicated his brother-in-law Julius Rosenberg as the source of his information. At first he denied that she was involved his his illegal activities, he later claimed that she knew of her husband's dealings and that she had typed some documents for Greenglass. He claimed that Julius had convinced his wife Ruth Greenglass to recruit David while on a visit to him in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1944. He said Julius had passed secrets and thus linked him and Ethel to the Soviet contact agent Anatoli Yakovlev.

The trial of the Rosenbergs began on March 6, 1951. The judge was Irving Kaufman and the attorney for the Rosenbergs was Emanuel Hirsch Bloch.The prosecution's primary witness, David Greenglass, testified that his sister typed notes containing U.S. nuclear secrets in the Rosenberg apartment in September 1945. He also testified that he turned over to Julius Rosenberg a sketch of the cross-section of an implosion-type atom bomb (the "Fat Man" bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, as opposed to a bomb with the "gun method" triggering device as used in the "Little Boy" bomb dropped on Hiroshima). The notes allegedly typed by Ethel apparently contained little that was relevant to the Soviet atomic bomb project and some suggest Ethel was indicted along with Julius so that the prosecution could use her to pressure Julius into giving up the names of others who were involved. However, neither Julius nor Ethel Rosenberg named anyone else and during testimony each asserted their right under the U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment to not incriminate themselves whenever asked about involvement in the Communist Party or with its members.

The Rosenbergs were convicted of spying on March 29, 1951, and on April 5 they were sentenced to death by Judge Irving Kaufman. The conviction helped to fuel Senator Joseph McCarthy's investigations into anti-American activities by U.S. citizens. While their devotion to the Communist cause was well-documented, the Rosenbergs denied the espionage charges even as they faced the electric chair.

After the publication of an investigative series in The National Guardian and the formation of the National Committee to Secure Justice in the Rosenberg Case, some Americans came to believe both Rosenbergs were innocent or received too harsh a punishment, and a grassroots campaign was started to try to stop the couple's execution. Between the trial and the executions there were widespread protests and claims of anti-semitism. The charges of anti-semitism were widely believed abroad, but not among the vast majority in the United States, where the Rosenbergs did not receive any support from mainstream Jewish organizations nor from the American Civil Liberties Union as the case did not raise any civil liberties issues at all.

Many famous people of the time, including Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Einstein Nobel-Prize-winning physical chemist Harold Urey, Jean Cocteau, Dashiell Hammett, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, protested the position of the American government. In May 1951, Pablo Picasso wrote for the communist French newspaper L’Humanité, "The hours count. The minutes count. Do not let this crime against humanity take place." The union International Longshoremen’s Association Local 968, a union containing only African-American members, stopped working for a day in protest. Pope Pius XII appealed to President Eisenhower to spare the couple, but Eisenhower refused on February 11, 1953, and all other appeals were also unsuccessful.

The Rosenbergs were executed at Sing-Sing Prison on June 19, 1953.


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