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Happy Birthday Thomas Jefferson

In the first part of the 18th century, Great Britain and it's colonies operated under what was known as the Julian Calendar, (named for Julius Caesar.) It didn't accurately record the orbit of the earth around the sun and so in 1752, the British Empire switched to the Gregorian Calendar (named for Pope Gregory XIII.) In 1743 when Thomas Jefferson was born, the date of the (Julian) calendar read April 2nd. But after the change to the Gregorian Calendar, Jefferson's birthday fell on April 13 and that's when his birthday is now generally acknowledged and celebrated. Today is his 274th birthday. Jefferson's was the 3rd President of the United States, but he is also remembered as one America's Founding Fathers and as the principal author of the Declaration of Independence.

At the beginning of the American Revolution, Jefferson served in the Continental Congress, representing Virginia. He then served as a wartime Governor of Virginia from 1779 to 1781. After the war ended, Jefferson served as a diplomat in Paris in 1784 initially as a commissioner to help negotiate commercial treaties. In May 1785, he became the United States Minister to France (essentially an Ambassador).

Jefferson was also the first United States Secretary of State from 1790 to 1793 during the very first cabinet in the administration of President George Washington. He resigned the office and with his close friend James Madison he organized the Democratic-Republican Party. He was elected Vice-President in 1796 at a time when the office was the prize for the candidate who finished second in the presidential election. When President John Adams passed the Alien and Sedition Acts as a means of silencing his administration's critics, Jefferson and Madison secretly wrote the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, which formed the basic manifesto for states' rights.

Jefferson was elected President of the United States in the very close election of 1800. As President his administration purchased the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803, and sent the Lewis and Clark Expedition to explore the new west. His second term was more problematic. With Britain at war with Napoleon, he tried using economic warfare against them, but his embargo laws did more damage to American trade and the economy. Jefferson has often been rated in scholarly surveys as one of the greatest presidents, but some historians have criticized him for his failure to oppose slavery.

Jefferson was a very intelligent man, and had a variety of interests. Once, at a dinner of Nobel prize winners, President John F. Kennedy quipped, "I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House - with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone." Jefferson spoke five languages and was keenly interested in science, invention, architecture, religion and philosophy. He designed his own mansion on a 5,000 acre plantation near Charlottesville, Virginia, which he named Monticello. His helped found the University of Virginia in his post-presidency years. He even wrote his own version of the New Testament, known as the Jefferson Bible.

As a tobacco planter, Jefferson owned hundreds of slaves throughout his lifetime. Like many of his contemporaries, he viewed Africans as being racially inferior. Although he was a slave owner, he was a leading American opponent of the international slave trade, and as President he signed the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves on March 2, 1807.

After Martha Jefferson, his wife of eleven years, died in 1782, Thomas remained a widower for the rest of his life. In 1802 allegations surfaced that he was also the father of his house slave Sally Hemings' children. In 1998, DNA tests revealed a match between her last child and the Jefferson male family line. The paternity of these children remains a matter of debate among historians.

Jefferson' health began to deteriorate and by June 1826 he was confined to bed. His death was from a combination of illnesses and conditions including uremia, severe diarrhea, and pneumonia. Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, and a few hours before John Adams. Jefferson wrote his own epitaph, which reads:


Remembering FDR

Seventy-two years ago today, on April 12th. 1945, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died at Warm Springs, Georgia at the age of 63. He looked much older. He died just over a month into his fourth term as President, and about four months before the end of the second world war.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the 32nd President of the United States, and held the office longer than any person before or since. A member of the Democratic Party, he won a record four elections and served from March 1933 to his death in April 1945. He was a central figure in world events during the mid-20th century, leading the United States during a time of worldwide economic depression and a world war on two continents. His program for relief, recovery and reform, known as the New Deal, involved the great expansion of the role of the federal government in the economy. He was a dominant leader of the Democratic Party who built the New Deal Coalition that united labor unions, big city machines, white ethnics, African Americans, and rural white Southerners. The Coalition realigned American politics and defined American liberalism.

Roosevelt was born on January 30, 1882 to an prominent Dutch family from upstate New York. He attended the elite schools of Groton School and Harvard College. In 1905, he married his fifth cousin Eleanor Roosevelt, with whom he had six children. At their wedding, the bride was given away by another cousin, President Theodore Roosevelt. Franklin entered politics in 1910, serving in the New York State Senate, and then as Assistant Secretary of the Navy under President Woodrow Wilson. In 1920, Roosevelt ran for vice president on a Democratic Party ticket with presidential candidate James M. Cox. The pair lost to the Republican ticket of Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge.

Roosevelt was stricken with polio in 1921, which cost him the use of his legs and put his political career on hold for several years. Roosevelt attempted to recover from this illness, and founded a treatment center for polio patients in Warm Springs, Georgia. After returning to political life by placing Alfred E. Smith's name into nomination at the 1924 Democratic National Convention, Roosevelt was asked by Smith to run for Governor of New York in the 1928 election. Roosevelt served as a reform governor from 1929 to 1932, and promoted the enactment of programs to combat the Great Depression that occurred during his governorship.

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Roosevelt defeated incumbent Republican president Herbert Hoover in November 1932, at the depth of the Great Depression. Energized by his personal victory over polio, FDR used his persistent optimism and activism to renew the national spirit. In his first hundred days in office, which began March 4, 1933, Roosevelt spearheaded major legislation and issued a profusion of executive orders that instituted the New Deal—a variety of programs designed to produce relief (government jobs for the unemployed), recovery (economic growth), and reform (through regulation of Wall Street, banks and transportation). He created numerous programs to support the unemployed and farmers, and to encourage labor union growth while more closely regulating business and high finance.

He won reelection by a landslide in 1936. The economy improved rapidly from 1933 to 1937, but then relapsed into a deep recession in 1937–38. The bipartisan Conservative Coalition that formed in Congress in 1937 prevented him from packing the Supreme Court (his plan to increase the number of members of the court so he could add more of his own appointees). They also blocked most of his proposals for major liberal legislation (apart from a minimum wage law), and abolished many of the relief programs when unemployment practically vanished during World War II. Some of his reforms still exist, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and Social Security.

As World War II loomed after 1938, with the Japanese invasion of China and the aggression of Nazi Germany, Roosevelt gave strong diplomatic and financial support to China and to Great Britain, while remaining officially neutral. His goal was to make America the "Arsenal of Democracy", which would supply munitions to the Allies. In March 1941, Roosevelt, with Congressional approval, provided Lend-Lease aid to Britain and China.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, which he called a "date which will live in infamy", he made war on Japan and Germany. Assisted by his top aide Harry Hopkins, and with very strong national support, he worked closely with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in leading the Allies against Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan in World War II. He supervised the mobilization of the U.S. economy to support the war effort, and also ordered the internment of 100,000 Japanese American civilians. As an active military leader, Roosevelt implemented a war strategy on two fronts that ended in the defeat of the Axis Powers and the development of the world's first nuclear bomb (commonly called the atom bomb at the time). His work also influenced the later creation of the United Nations and Bretton Woods. During the war, unemployment dropped to 2%, relief programs largely ended, and the industrial economy grew rapidly to new heights as millions of people moved to wartime factory jobs or entered military service.

Roosevelt had attended the Yalta Conference two months earlier, where he was reported to be in poor health. Lord Moran, Winston Churchill's physician, said of Roosevelt's health: "He is a very sick man. He has all the symptoms of hardening of the arteries of the brain in an advanced stage, so that I give him only a few months to live". Lord Moran was spot on in his prediction.

On March 29, 1945, Roosevelt went to Warm Springs, Georgia, a community famous for its spas. Roosevelt had a home there which was referred to as his "Little White House". He went there to rest before his anticipated appearance at the founding conference of the United Nations. It was rumored that he was considering resigning from the presidency to become the first Secretary General of the United Nations.

On the afternoon of April 12, while sitting for a portrait, Roosevelt said, "I have a terrific pain in the back of my head." He then slumped forward in his chair, unconscious, and was carried into his bedroom. The president's attending cardiologist, Dr. Howard Bruenn, diagnosed a massive cerebral hemorrhage (stroke) and Roosevelt at 3:35 pm that day, Roosevelt died.

At the time he died, Roosevelt had been sitting for a portrait painted by the artist Elizabeth Shoumatoff. That portrait is now famously known as the "Unfinished Portrait of FDR". In his later years at the White House, Roosevelt was increasingly overworked and his daughter Anna Roosevelt Boettiger had moved into the White House to provide her father support and she had been at Warm Springs with him when he died, Anna had also arranged for her father to meet with his former mistress, Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd. The artist Shoumatoff, who maintained close friendships with both Roosevelt and Mercer, rushed Mercer away to avoid negative publicity and implications of infidelity.

On the morning of April 13, Roosevelt's body was placed in a flag-draped coffin and loaded onto the presidential train. After a White House funeral on April 14, Roosevelt was transported back to Hyde Park by train, guarded by four servicemen from the Army, Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard. According to his wishes, Roosevelt was buried in the Rose Garden of the Springwood estate, the Roosevelt family home in Hyde Park on April 15. Eleanor, who died in November 1962, was buried next to him.

Franklin Pierce and Bleeding Kansas

Franklin Pierce is another President who consistently places near the bottom of rankings of the presidents. He entered the Presidency amid a great deal of public sympathy because of the tragic death of his young son Benny in January of 1853. Benny was the third and final child of the Pierce's to die in infancy, and the gruesome manner of his death in a train derailment, witnessed by his parents mad the public all the more compassionate towards the plight of the grieving parents. But Pierce lost most of his public support because of his mishandling of a number of sensitive issues, not the least of which was whether or not the new state of Kansas would enter the union as a free state or as a slave state.

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It seemed that a majority of Kansans did not wish for slavery of their heritage. But outside interference from adjacent states such as Missouri made this a very contentious issue, with violent consequences. Kansas was blessed with tens of millions of acres of excellent farmland that was attractive to new settlers. This created a path to statehood which create a need for a territorial infrastructure to support that settlement. Railroad interests were especially eager to see Kansas become a vibrant and active region.

In January of 1854, Senator Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, the Democratic party leader in the United States Senate and also the chairman of the Committee on Territories, wanted to push for statehood for Kansas. He was an avid promoter of railroads, and had presidential aspirations. He believed in popular sovereignty: the policy of letting the voting residents of a territory (mostly white males in those days) decide whether or not they would permit slavery to exist. Since early in the 1840s the possibility of a transcontinental railroad had been discussed. The specifics had not been worked out, but there was a consensus that such a railroad should be built by private interests financed by public land grants. In 1845, Douglas, serving in his first term in the United States House of Representatives, had submitted an unsuccessful plan to formally organize the Nebraska Territory as the first step in building a railroad with its eastern terminus in Chicago. Railroad proposals were debated in all subsequent sessions of Congress with cities such as Chicago, St. Louis, Quincy, Memphis and New Orleans competing to be the starting point for the construction.

A number of proposals for a Kansas statehood bill failed in late 1852 and early 1853 because of disputes over whether the railroad would follow a northern or a southern route. In early 1853 the House of Representatives passed a bill by a 107-to-49 vote that organized the Nebraska Territory in land west of Iowa and Missouri. In March the bill moved to the Senate Committee on Territories, which was then headed by Sen. Douglas. Missouri Senator David Atchison announced that he would only support the Nebraska proposal if slaveholders were not banned from the new territory. Unless the bill specified otherwise, slavery would have been prohibited under the terms of the Missouri Compromise. By a vote of 23 to 17, the Senate voted to table the bill, with every senator from the states south of Missouri voting to table it.

When Congress reconvened on December 5, 1853, Atchison had gained support for his position on slaveholding in the new territory. Douglas wanted the House bill passed in order that the railway could be built, but he knew the strength of opposition he faced. When the same legislation that had stalled in the previous session was reintroduced in the new session, it was referred to Douglas's committee on December 14. Douglas, hoping to get the support of the Southerners, announced that he proposed that any decisions on slavery in the new lands were to be made "when admitted as a state or states, the said territory, or any portion of the same, shall be received into the Union, with or without slavery, as their constitution may prescribe at the time of their admission."

Kentucky Whig Senator Archibald Dixon expressed the view that unless the Missouri Compromise was explicitly repealed, slaveholders would be reluctant to move to the new territory until slavery was actually approved by the settlers. Many of those who had settled in the territory came from free states and were unlikely to agree to this. On January 16 Dixon introduced an amendment that would repeal the section of the Missouri Compromise prohibiting slavery above the 36°30' parallel. A similar amendment was offered in the House by Philip Phillips of Alabama. Douglas met with Phillips and other key southern senators and congressmen to keep the momentum for passing the bill alive. The group arranged to meet with President Franklin Pierce to ensure that the issue would had his support.

On Saturday, January 22, 1854, Pierce met with his cabinet to discuss repeal of the compromise of 1850. Only Secretary of War Jefferson Davis and Secretary of Navy James C. Dobbin supported repeal. Instead the president and cabinet submitted to Douglas an alternative plan that would have sought out a judicial ruling on the constitutionality of the Missouri Compromise. Both Pierce and his Attorney General Caleb Cushing believed that the Supreme Court would find it unconstitutional. Douglas was agreeable to the proposal, but the Atchison group was not. Douglas met with President Pierce that Sunday even though Pierce generally refused to conduct any business on a Sunday. Douglas was accompanied at the meeting by Atchison and other southern leaders.

Douglas and Atchison first met alone with Pierce before the whole group convened. Pierce was persuaded to support repeal, and, at Douglas' insistence, Pierce provided a written draft asserting that the Missouri Compromise had been made inoperative by the principles of the Compromise of 1850. Pierce later informed his cabinet and they supported Pierce's change of position.

On January 23 a revised bill was introduced in the Senate that repealed the Missouri Compromise and divided the territory into two territories, Kansas and Nebraska. The division was the result of concerns expressed by settlers already in Nebraska as well as the senators from Iowa who were concerned with the location of the territory's seat of government if such a large territory was created.

In Congress, those who opposed the bill were at a distinct disadvantage. The Democrats held large majorities in each House, and Stephen Douglas led a tightly disciplined party. Two Ohio politicians, Rep. Joshua Giddings and Senator Salmon P. Chase, published a document entitled, "Appeal of the Independent Democrats in Congress to the People of the United States." Their appeal was critical of Douglas and the southernors and urged northern Democrats to vote their conscience rather than support their party.

The bitter debate would continue for four months. Many "Anti-Nebraska" political rallies were held across the north. Douglas remained the main advocate for the bill while Chase, William Seward of New York and Charles Sumner of Massachusetts led the opposition. Sam Houston from Texas was one of the few southern opponents of the Kansas–Nebraska Act. The debate in the Senate concluded on March 4, 1854, when Stephen Douglas made a five-and-a-half-hour speech. The final vote in favor of passage was 37 to 14. Free state senators voted 14 to 12 in favor while slave state senators overwhelmingly supported the bill 23 to 2.

On March 21, 1854, the legislation was referred by a vote of 110 to 95 to the Committee of the Whole, where it was the last item on the legislative calendar. President Pierce made it clear to all Democrats that passage of the bill was essential to the party and would dictate how federal patronage would be handled. Jefferson Davis and Attorney General Caleb Cushing from Massachusetts, along with Douglas, worked to get sufficient votes for passage from their fellow Democrats. By the end of April Douglas believed that there were enough votes to pass the bill.

Thomas Hart Benton was among those speaking forcefully against the measure. On April 25 in a long and passionate House speech, Benton attacked the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. It was not until May 8 that the debate began in the House. The debate was even more intense than in the Senate. While it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that the bill would pass, the opponents strenuously fought its passage. A filibuster led by Lewis D. Campbell, an Ohio free-soiler, provoked the House into violence. Weapons were brandished on the floor of the House. Henry A. Edmundson, a Virginia Democrat, had to be restrained from assaulting Campbell. After the sergeant at arms arrested him, debate was cut off, and the House adjourned.

The final vote in favor of the bill was 113 to 100. Northern Democrats split in favor of the bill by a narrow 44 to 42 vote, while all 45 northern Whigs opposed it. In the South, Democrats voted in favor by 57 to 2 and Whigs by a closer 12 to 7. President Pierce signed the bill into law on May 30.

Douglas believed that the bill would address the issue of slavery by leaving decisions about it directly in the hands of the people. But many northerners were mobilized into calls for public action against the south.

Pro-slavery settlers came into Kansas mainly from neighboring Missouri, many of whom came solely for the purpose of voting in support of pro-slavery constitutions. They were called "border ruffians", a term coined by newspaper editor Horace Greeley. Abolitionist settlers, known as "Jayhawkers", moved from the East with express purpose of making Kansas a free state. Territorial governors attempted to maintain the peace. The territorial capital of Lecompton soon became overrun with the pro-slavery faction and became such a hostile environment for Free-Staters that they set up their own unofficial legislature at Topeka.

Hostilities between the factions soon turned bloody. John Brown and his sons gained notoriety in the fight against slavery by murdering five pro-slavery farmers in the Pottawatomie massacre. Brown also helped defend a few dozen Free-State supporters from several hundred angry pro-slavery supporters at the town of Osawatomie. The newly-formed Republican Party sought to capitalize on the issue, which they called "Bleeding Kansas". Ballot-rigging and intimidation was practiced by both pro- and anti-slavery settlers, but it failed to deter the immigration of anti-slavery settlers, who were greater in number.

Free-Staters set up a shadow government, and drafted the Topeka Constitution, Pierce called their work an act of rebellion. The president continued to recognize the pro-slavery legislature, which was dominated by Democrats. When a Congressional investigative committee found that the election of the Lecompton governmentr was illegitimate, Pierce ignored the findings and supported the pro-slavery faction. He sent federal troops to break up a meeting of the Topeka government.

The midterm congressional elections of 1854 and 1855 were devastating to the Democrats (as well as to the Whig Party, which was on its deathbed). Democrats lost almost every state outside the South. In Pierce's New Hampshire, voters turned their backs on the Democratic Party and elected a candidate from the Know-Nothing Party as governor, as well as all three representatives. Anti-immigrant fervor brought the Know-Nothing Party their highest numbers to that point, and some northerners were elected under the banner of the new Republican Party.

The Kansas–Nebraska Act divided the nation and increased the tensions that would soon lead to civil war. It would not be until many years later,

A new anti-slavery state constitution, known as the Wyandotte Constitution, was eventually drawn up and passed in October of 1859. On January 29, 1861, five weeks before Abraham Lincoln's inauguration, Kansas was admitted to the Union as a free state. On March 1, 1867, Nebraska was admitted to the Union.
President Andrew Johnson's time in Washington in the mid-1860s could not have been filled will happy memories. First he had to face the danger of being a Unionist in a Confederate state during the civil war, something that created both intense personal unpopularity and physical danger to him and his family. Then in 1864, when he was elected as Vice-President on a ticket with Abraham Lincoln, there was the little matter of his turning up drunk for his inauguration and giving an embarrassing, rambling speech in which he forgot the names of some of Lincoln's cabinet members. Lincoln assured his supporters, "Andy aint no drunkard". Johnson's one stroke of luck took place on the night of Lincoln's assassination, when the man tasked with killing Johnson chickened out and left Johnson alone. It was under the circumstances of Lincoln's assassination that Andrew Johnson became president, this time taking the oath of office in a sober condition.

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As President, the most pressing issue on Johnson's desk was reconstruction. Johnson had to lead on the issue of how the confederate states would be brought back into the union. He had said that he intended to follow the policies of his predecessor, Abraham Lincoln, who had promised to "bind up the nation's wounds" in a benevolent manner. The Republican-controlled Congress had other ideas. It began enacting legislation to guarantee the rights of former slaves. Johnson's focus was on pardoning former Confederate officials. He was less concerned about giving any rights to freed slaves in the southern states. Johnson's policies angered the Radical Republicans in Congress and gradually alienated the moderates. By 1866, Congress had gathered enough unified support against Johnson to enact the first override of a Presidential veto in over twenty years. They passed a bill that continued the Freedmen's Bureau. Johnson also managed to alienate his own cabinet, three members of which resigned in 1866.

The mid-term elections were approaching and many saw them as a referendum on the Johnson presidency. Johnson had a reputation as a very good stump speaker, and he developed a strategy to put that talent to use to that end he decided that he would make a political speaking tour, something that was highly unprecedented for a sitting President at the time. He brought an entourage with him that included his two supporters in the cabinet, Secretary of State William Seward and Navy Secretary Gideon Welles. In order to attract bigger crowds, he commanded some of the more prominent Civil War military heroes to accompany him on the tour. These included David Farragut, George Custer, and Ulysses S. Grant. Grant was, at that time, the most admired man in the country. He would have these heroes stand next to him while he spoke, giving the impression to the audience that he had their support. As good military men, they knew how to follow orders and would not contradict their commander-in-chief.

The tour lasted for 18 days. Johnson and his group made stops in Baltimore, Maryland; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; New York City, West Point, Albany, Auburn, Niagara Falls, and Buffalo, New York; Cleveland and Toledo, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; Chicago, Springfield, and Alton, Illinois; St. Louis, Missouri; Indianapolis, Indiana; Louisville, Kentucky; Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio; and Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, as well as short stops in smaller towns between.

Johnson's critics looked upon his tour as something beneath the dignity of the office Johnson held, because Presidents had traditionally not undertaken political campaigning in the past. Johnson's advisors recommended that he give only carefully prepared speeches, but Johnson thought he knew better. As he had often done on the campaign trail, he would prepare a rough outline of speaking notes and speak spontaneously around the outline. This turned out not to be a wise strategy. Johnson's fiery oratory offended a larger segment of his audience than it pleased with its plea for generosity to the defeated Confederates.

At first Johnson was enthusiastically received, particularly in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York. On these stops he delivered a speech that thanked his audience for its welcome, paid tribute to the army and navy, and declared that he still favored the preservation of the Union of the states. He would begin with the same line usually, "Fellow citizens, it is not for the purpose of making speeches that I now appear before you", a line that would generally garner a laugh. He would then give a brief biography of himself, recounting his rise from being a humble tailor to the presidency. He would compare himself to Jesus Christ and explained that like the Savior, he, too, liked to pardon repentant sinners. He would blame Congress, and especially Thaddeus Stevens and the radicals, whom he said still wanted to break up the Union, something he was trying to prevent.

The press nonetheless gave him positive coverage throughout the first leg of the tour. But as Johnson entered the Radical Republican strongholds of the Midwest, he began facing much more hostile crowds, many of which were organized by Republican leaders in those towns. It was Johnson's stop in Cleveland on September 3 that was especially memorable on the tour. There the crowd included mobs of hecklers, many of them plants by the Radical Republicans, who goaded Johnson into engaging them. When one of them yelled "Hang Jeff Davis!" in Cleveland, Johnson angrily replied, "Why don't you hang Thad Stevens and Wendell Phillips?" When he left the balcony from which he had spoken, reporters overheard an advisor telling Johnson to maintain his dignity. Johnson angrily replied "I don't care about my dignity". The remark was printed in newspapers across the nation, abruptly ending the tour's favorable press.

At later appearances in southern Michigan did not go well. On September 7, Johnson spoke in Chicago, but Illinois governor Richard J. Oglesby refused to attend the speech. The Chicago city council also boycotted the event. In Chicago Johnson changed his strategy and delivered only a short pre-written speech. Two days layer, in St. Louis on September 9, Johnson got into another argument with a heckler, after Johnson accused Radical Republicans of deliberately inciting the deadly New Orleans Riot that summer. Once again Johnson compared himself to Jesus, and called the Republicans in Congress his betrayers. The next day in Indianapolis, the crowd was so hostile and loud that Johnson was unable to speak at all. After he left, violence and gunfire broke out in the streets between Johnson supporters and opponents, resulting in the death of one man. At other points in Kentucky, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, spectators drowned out Johnson with calls for Grant, who refused to speak, and for "Three cheers for Congress!"

On September 14 in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, a temporary platform built beside the railroad tracks for the president's appearance gave way, sending hundreds of people standing on the platform into a drained canal 20 feet below. Johnson attempted to halt the train and use it for triage for the injured, but he was advised by engineers that the train could not wait due to conflicting train traffic. Some of the presidential party left the train to assist the victims, while Johnson and the rest of the party continued onto Harrisburg. Johnson's opponents spun the appearances to look as if Johnson had callously abandoned the scene. This was not accurate and in fact Johnson later donated $500 ($8,318 in 2016 dollars) to assist the victims.

The press was generally very critical of Johnson for his appearances and speeches. The New York Herald had once been the most supportive newspaper for Johnson, but it was also critical of the president. In an editorial, the newspaper wrote: "It is mortifying to see a man occupying the lofty position of President of the United States descend from that position and join issue with those who are dragging their garments in the muddy gutters of political vituperation." Cartoonist Thomas Nast created three large illustrations lampooning Johnson.

Johnson's Republican opponents criticized Johnson for the failure of his tour. Thaddeus Stevens gave a speech about the tour, calling it "the remarkable circus that traveled through the country that cut outside the circle and entered into street brawls with common blackguards." Radical Republicans also began spreading rumors that Johnson had been drunk at several appearances, like he had been at his inauguration as vice president the year before. Though untrue, reporters and political opponents continued to spread the rumors. Although he never publicly criticized Johnson, General Ulysses Grant said, in a letter to his wife Julia, that he found the experience embarrassing, both for Johnson and for Grant himself for having to be next to the president on much of the tour.

Some of Johnson's supporters were also critical of the tour. Former Georgia Governor Herschel V. Johnson wrote that the President had sacrificed "the moral power of his position, and done great damage to the cause of Constitutional Reorganization." Senator James Doolittle of Wisconsin saidd that the tour had "cost Johnson one million northern voters."

By the time he returned to Washington from the speaking tour, Johnson had even less support in the North than he had started with. His only remaining allies in Congress were southern Democrats. These were mostly former rebels. The Republican party won a landslide victory in the congressional elections, and the new Congress took control of Reconstruction from the White House with the Reconstruction Acts of 1867. Johnson fought bitterly with the new Congress for the control of the nation's domestic policy. But the Republicans' vastly increased congressional voting bloc gave them sufficient votes to attempt impeachment of Johnson, first unsuccessfully in 1867 and again successfully in 1868. The tenth of 11 articles charging that the President "did make and declare, with a loud voice certain intemperate, inflammatory, and scandalous harangues, and therein utter loud threats and bitter menaces, as well against Congress as the laws of the United States duly enacted thereby, amid the cries, jeers and laughter of the multitudes then assembled in hearing." The impeachment managers chose not to bring this article to a vote in the Senate, but it was clearly drafted as a reference to the Swing Around the Circle Tour.

The Republicans captured the White House in 1868 and maintained control of it until 1885. The Swing Around the Circle began a long series of political defeats that crippled Johnson, the Democratic Party and the presidency for years to come.

Zachary Taylor and the Sectional Crisis

In 1848, Americans turned to a war hero when they chose their next president. Zachary Taylor earned fame and national respect for being the victorious general in a number of battles in the Mexican-American War. Both parties courted Taylor to be their candidate. Taylor had never been politically active, and no one knew whether he was a Whig or a Democrat. According to some sources, he had never even voted before. As a good soldier, Taylor had been content to serve whatever government was in power. But as the election approached, Taylor decided that he was a Whig and he was selected as their candidate for President, much to the consternation of Henry Clay, who had his own eyes on that prize. Taylor won the Whig Party nomination and the Presidency. His prize was a problem that threatened to split the nation in two.


When Taylor took office, the burning question facing Congress was what would happen to all of the land that had been acquired by the United States as a result of the Mexican War, and specifically whether, and in what party of the newly acquired land, slavery would be allowed. The land had been divided into military districts, but it was unclear which districts would apply to become states and which would become federal territories. The question of their slave status threatened to bitterly divide Congress. Some had assumed that because Taylor was both a southerner and a slave-owner, he would be sympathetic to the southern perspective, but this turned out not to be the case. Taylor saw his main goals to be maintaining sectional peace, and preserving the Union through some sort of legislative compromise. As the threat of Southern secession grew, Taylor took his counsel from many antislavery northerners, including Senator William H. Seward of New York.

Taylor became convinced that the best option was to admit California as a state rather than a federal territory. This would then leave the slavery question out of Congress's hands. The timing for statehood was right because the California Gold Rush was well underway at the time of his inauguration, and California's population was exploding. Taylor sent Thomas Butler King to California, to investigate the matter and to advocate for California statehood, especially after learning that Californians were almost certain to adopt an anti-slavery constitution. When King arrived, he discovered that a constitutional convention was already underway, and by October 1849, the convention unanimously agreed to join the Union—and to ban slavery within their borders.

The next area of concern was the area west of Texas, where present day New Mexico is. This area was largeley unsettled at the time of Taylor's inauguration. This territory was under federal jurisdiction, but the Texans claimed a swath of land north of Santa Fe and were determined to include it within their borders, despite having no real presence there. But the local New Mexicans wanted the land to remain as a federal territory. Taylor supported statehood for this area so as to further reduce the slavery debate in Congress.

The area where modern day Utah lies had been settled by members of the Church of Latter Day Saints. They had established a provisional "State of Deseret". Taylor considered combining the California and Utah territories, but instead he decided to organize the Utah Territory. To alleviate the Mormon population's concerns over religious freedom, Taylor promised they would have relative independence from Congress despite being a federal territory.

In his only State of the Union report to Congress in December 1849, Taylor reported on California's and New Mexico's applications for statehood, and recommended that Congress approve them as written and "should abstain from the introduction of those exciting topics of a sectional character". But Southern legislators saw the admission of two free states as a threat to the balance of power, and Congress remained stalled on the issue.

On January 21, 1850, President Taylor sent a message to Congress urging the admission of California immediately and New Mexico later, and that the Supreme Court settle the boundary dispute whereby the state of Texas claimed much of what is now the state of New Mexico. Henry Clay, with assistance from Daniel Webster, developed a proposal that became known as the Compromise of 1850. The proposal allowed statehood for California, giving it independence on the slavery question, while the other territories would remain under federal jurisdiction. Slavery would remain in the District of Columbia, but the slave trade would be banned. A strict Fugitive Slave Law would be enacted, that would be paramount over northern legislation which had restricted Southerners from retrieving runaway slaves. Taylor was unenthusiastic about the bill, but in May of 1850, his Vice-President, Millard Fillmore, after hearing weeks of debate, told Taylor that if senators divided equally on the bill, he would cast his tie-breaking vote in favor.

Tensions continued to build in Congress as negotiations continued and talk of secession reared its ugly head. Emulating something that Andrew Jackson had done during the nullification crisis, Taylor threatened to send troops into New Mexico to protect its border from Texas, with himself leading the army. He said that anyone "taken in rebellion against the Union, he would hang" with less reluctance than Taylor had hanged deserters and spies in Mexico. This compromise failed to pass due to the factions being too far apart.

Clay's efforts to bring about a compromise had taken a toll on his health. He urged Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois to take the proposals contained in Clay's bill and to divide them into several smaller bills, and pass each separately. By this time, Clay was suffering from tuberculosis and left Congress to try to recuperate in Newport, Rhode Island. Clay was unable to guide the congressional debate any further. Clay's omnibus bill was defeated in Congress on July 31, 1850.

But earlier that month, Zachary Taylor had died. On July 4, 1850, Taylor had attended a fund-raising event at the Washington Monument, which was then under construction. Over the course of the next several days, he became severely ill with an unknown digestive ailment. His doctor diagnosed the illness as cholera morbus. Fever ensued and on July 9, 1850, Taylor died at 10:35 p.m. He was 65 years old. After his death, Vice President Millard Fillmore assumed the presidency and completed Taylor's term.

Remarkably, though Taylor was a southerner born in Virginia with a home in Kentucky, and Fillmore was a northerner from New York, it was the latter who was more open to some of the concessions in the compromise designed to appease southerners. Stephen Douglas broke up the Omnibus bill into individual bills that could be passed piecemeal. Fillmore endorsed this strategy, and he sent a special message to Congress on August 6, 1850, urging Congress to defuse sectional tensions by passing the Compromise. Each bill passed in the Senate. The battle then moved to the House, which had a Northern majority because of population. Most contentious was the Fugitive Slave Bill. Fillmore pressured Northern Whigs to abstain rather than oppose. Various changes were made, including the setting of a boundary between New Mexico Territory and Texas. California was admitted as a free state, the District slave trade was ended, and the final status of slavery in New Mexico and Utah would be settled later. Fillmore signed the bills as they reached his desk, holding the Fugitive Slave Bill for two days until he received a favorable opinion as to its constitutionality from the new Attorney General, John J. Crittenden.

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It is unclear whether or not things would have ended differently had Taylor lived out his term and specifically whether or not he would have exercised his veto or approved the compromise. Some conspiracy theorists, including former University of Florida professor Clara Rising, have suggested that Taylor may have been poisoned with arsenic because southerners feared that he would tip the balance of power on the slavery question in favor of the north. An autopsy of Taylor's exhumed body conducted in June of 1991 failed to support that theory.
The most controversial presidential election in US history was not Bush vs. Gore. Over a century before that, in 1876, Rutherford Hayes was declared the winner of the 1876 election over Democrat Samuel Tilden in an election decided by a bipartisan commission. This was the result despite that fact that Tilden had received a larger share of the popular vote, and despite the fact that in order for Hayes to win, he had to be awarded every single one of the 20 disputed electoral votes. But that was just what happened, as the commission which was divided by partisan interests (with a slight Republican balance) ruled that Hayes was the winner of all of the disputed votes. With that, Hayes ended up with 185 electoral votes, while Tilden had won 184. Many believe that as part of the bargain in which Hayes was declared the winner, Hayes agreed to back off from the reconstruction policies of his predecessor Ulysses Grant.

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In entering the presidency under controversial circumstances, Hayes looked for another issue on which to distinguish himself and his presidency. That issue turned out to be civil service reform. In the course of fighting that battle that Hayes would come into conflict with another Republican who would sit in the oval office less than five years later.

Hayes took office determined to end the practice of making civil service appointments based on the "spoils system", something that had been done since the time when Andrew Jackson was president. Instead of giving federal jobs to political supporters, Hayes wanted to award them by merit according to an examination that all applicants would take. This idea immediately met with resistance from the Stalwart wing of the Republican Party, a group that proudly supported the spoils system. The Stalwarts used the spoils system not only as a means of rewarding their friends, but also to require those they had put in government offices to finance the party by giving back some of their salary as part of what were known as "assessments". Senators from both parties were accustomed to being consulted about political appointments. They immediately turned against Hayes on the issue. Foremost among this group was New York Senator Roscoe Conkling, the leader of the New York Stalwarts, and a mentor to future President Chester Alan Arthur.

Hayes appointed one of the best-known advocates of civil service reform to his cabinet. Former Missouri Senator Carl Schurz was appointed to be Secretary of the Interior in Hayes' cabinet. Hayes asked Schurz and William M. Evarts, his Secretary of State, to lead a special cabinet committee charged with drawing up new rules for federal appointments. As part of the proposed reform, John Sherman, the Treasury Secretary, ordered an investigation of the New York Custom House, led by John Jay. The Custom House was full of political hacks appointed by Conkling. Jay's report concluded that the New York Custom House was overstaffed with political appointees and that at least 20% of the employees were expendable.

Hayes knew that he could not convince Congress to outlaw the spoils system, so he used the limited authority that was available to him to do what he could. He issued an executive order that forbade federal office holders from being required to make campaign contributions or otherwise taking part in party politics. At the time Chester A. Arthur was the Collector of the Port of New York, and was also a leading member of the Stalwarts. Arthur and his subordinates Alonzo B. Cornell and George H. Sharpe, all Conkling supporters, refused to obey the president's executive order. Met with their defiance of his authority, in September 1877, Hayes demanded that all three men tender their resignations. They refused to do so. Hayes submitted the names of Theodore Roosevelt, Sr., L. Bradford Prince, and Edwin Merritt, all members of the Stalwarts' rival faction, to the Senate for confirmation to fill the positions held by Arthur, Cornell and Sharpe. The Senate's Commerce Committee, which was chaired by Conkling, voted unanimously to reject the nominees. The full Senate rejected Roosevelt and Prince by a vote of 31–25, and confirmed Merritt only because Sharpe's term had expired.

In July of 1878, when Congress was in recess, Hayes fired Arthur and Cornell. He made recess appointments to replace them, appointing Edward Merritt and Silas W. Burt for the vacant positions. Conkling opposed the appointees' confirmation when the Senate reconvened in February 1879, but despite his opposition, Merritt was approved by a vote of 31–25, and Burt by a vote of 31–19, in the Senate. Hayes had won a most significant civil service reform victory.

For the remainder of his term, Hayes pressed Congress to enact permanent reform legislation and fund the United States Civil Service Commission, but he lacked sufficient support to achieve this goal. He used his last annual message to Congress in 1880 to appeal for reform. While reform legislation did not pass during Hayes's presidency, he brought awareness to an important issue that soon gained favor in the court of public opinion. It soon became apparent from the results of mid-term elections that the public had an appetite for civil service reform and that those wanting the retention of the spoils system were on the wrong side of history.

In the election of 1880, Republicans kept the White House as James Garfield was elected President. Chester Alan Arthur was chosen as Garfield's running mate in an effort to keep the support of the Stalwarts. Arthur accepted the offer to be Garfield's running mate even though Conkling was opposed to the idea and in spite of the fact that he had never held any elected office before. The Vice-Presidency was viewed as an insignificant and ceremonial office and Garfield was in good health, so no one expected Arthur to emerge from the obscurity of the office. Garfield took up the mantle of civil service reform. But in July of 1881 Garfield was shot by disgruntled office seeker Charles Guiteau. He died from his wounds on September 19, 1881 and Arthur, the former Stalwart and spoilsman, was now President.

Many expected that Arthur's succession as President would return Senator Conkling to a position of influence and that it would also mean the death of any meaningful civil service reform. Arthur surprised everyone however, first by not putting Conkling in his cabinet, by not giving him any position of influence for that matter. When it became clear from the results of the mid-term elections of 1882 that the public wanted civil service reform, a bipartisan effort began in favor of reform.

In 1880, Democratic Senator George H. Pendleton of Ohio had introduced legislation that required selection of civil servants based on merit as determined by an examination. In his first annual presidential address to Congress in 1881, Arthur requested civil service reform legislation and Pendleton again introduced his bill, but Congress did not pass it. Republicans lost seats in the 1882 congressional elections, in which Democrats campaigned on the reform issue. As a result, the lame-duck session of Congress was more amenable to civil service reform. The Senate approved Pendleton's bill 38–5 and the House soon concurred by a vote of 155–47. President Chester Alan Arthur signed the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act into law on January 16, 1883. This former key member of the Stalwart faction had now become the president who ushered in long-awaited civil service reform.

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Even after he signed the act into law, many doubted Arthur's commitment to reform. He surprised them by soon appointing the members of the Civil Service Commission that the law created. He named three reform-minded commissioners and also named Silas W. Burt, a long-time reformer who had been Arthur's opponent when the two men worked at the New York Customs House, as the Commission's Chief Examiner. The commission issued its first rules in May 1883 and by 1884, half of all postal officials and three-quarters of the Customs Service jobs were to be awarded by merit. Arthur publicly praised the effectiveness of the new system, stating: "in securing competent and faithful public servants and in protecting the appointing officers of the Government from the pressure of personal importunity and from the labor of examining the claims and pretensions of rival candidates for public employment."

James Monroe's Goodwill Tours

James Monroe served as Secretary of State during the administration of President James Madison for both of Madison's terms. When Madison led the nation into the ill-fated War of 1812, the war went very badly for the Americans at first. When the British burned the U.S. Capitol and the White House on August 24, 1814, Madison removed John Armstrong as Secretary of War. Armstrong had advised against protecting the capitol, and generally he was ineffective in his cabinet position. After firing Armstrong, Madison turned to James Monroe for help. He appointed Monroe Secretary of War on September 27. Monroe resigned as Secretary of State on October 1, 1814, but no successor was ever appointed and thus from October 1, 1814 to February 28, 1815, Monroe effectively held both Cabinet posts. The Treaty of Ghent was ratified in February 1815, and Monroe resigned as Secretary of War on March 15, 1815. Having served in two key cabinet posts, Monroe established himself as Madison's most likely successor.

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One of the results of the War of 1812 was that it ended the political clout of the Federalist Party. Their opposition to the War of 1812 and their talk of secession in some of the New England states during the war, hurt the Federalists chances in the 1816 election, especially after some late victories in the war, like the American victory at the Battle of New Orleans. Monroe won the election easily. The Federalists did not even name a candidate, although though Rufus King of New York ran in as a Federalist. King won only three states: Connecticut, Delaware, and Massachusetts. The final Electoral College vote was 183 for Monroe and 34 for King.

Monroe realized that he was assuming the presidency of a nation recovering from a war that had left the country with deep divisions. There had been a cost not only to the treasury, but also to national esteem and morale. Monroe sought to harmonize the country in a common national vision that was not bound by partisan interests. To do this, he was advised to include a Federalist in his cabinet, but he chose not to do so. He believed that the Federalist Party was opposed to a republican form of government, and he felt that appointing a member of such a party to a top executive position would be feeding this ideology by validating it. Monroe said that his administration would never support any form of Federalist ideology. He was also reluctant to create divisions within his own party by appearing to accommodate Federalists at the expense of his fellow Republicans. Instead he favored the elimination of party associations altogether from national politics. He said that political parties, by their very nature, were incompatible with free government. He wanted a government led by disinterested statesmen who acted exclusively in the national interest and not on behalf of sectional or regional interests or personal ambition. It was a similar message to that espoused by President George Washington in his farewell address in 1796.

Monroe did not give the Federalist Party any political patronage, administrative appointments or federal support of any kind.
In his public statements, Monroe was careful to avoid any comments that could be interpreted as politically partisan. He never directly attacked the Federalist party. In fact, he made no direct reference to them in his speeches whatsoever. In his private encounters with Federalists, he was respectful and polite, but made no promises or commitments to them.

To rebuild national unity, Monroe left the capitol and embarked on two country-wide good-will tours in 1817 and 1819. He went directly to the heart of what had been enemy territory for Republicans, to New England and to the Federalist stronghold of Boston, Massachusetts. It was during his visit to Boston that the phrase "Era of Good Feelings" was first used by a local Federalist journal.

Monroe thought out his strategy very carefully. To ingratiate himself with the population, he appealed to their patriotism and their sentiment for the Revolutionary War. As a young man Monroe had served under George Washington where he had been part of the forces that crossed the Delaware River. He was wounded at the Battle of Trenton. On his tour, Monroe wore a Revolutionary War officer's uniform and tied his long powdered hair in a queue according to the old-fashioned style of the 18th century. He had a very personable manner and made a good impression on his audiences. Historian George Dangerfield wrote of Monroe, "In spite of his formality, he had the unusual ability to put men at their ease by his courtesy, lack of condescension, his frankness, and what his contemporaries looked upon as the essential goodness and kindness of heart which he always radiated."

Monroe was well-received on his 1817 visit to Boston. He generated a huge outpouring of nationalist pride. New England Federalists were especially eager to demonstrate their loyalty. Many Federalists were ashamed and embarrassed over their involvement in the Hartford Convention, an assembly at which New England's secession had been discussed during the war. Monroe was greeted with banquets, parades and receptions. Monroe later wrote that it appeared to him that New Englanders were wanting "to get back into the great family of the union."

In addition to Boston, the president visited Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York. He visited key locations that were significant either to the War of Independence or the War of 1812. He honored veterans of those wars at his visits. Monroe visited important Revolutionary War locales, including Bunker Hill. He met with leading political adversaries such as the Federalists John Adams and Timothy Pickering.

It was a brilliant strategy, both politically, and for fostering national unity. In the heart of Federalist territory, Monroe achieved his primary goal, which he described as allowing "the Federalists by solemn public demonstrations to reaffirm their loyalty to the government and their acceptance of Republican control." Monroe was gracious and careful in avoiding any remarks or expressions that might embarrass or humiliate his hosts. He was also careful to present himself strictly as the head of state, and not as the leader of a victorious political party. He was there not as a representative of the Republican party, but as chief executive of the nation.


The tour had political benefits for Monroe and for his party. In the next few years, all of the New England states, with the exception of Massachusetts, were in Republican Party hands. In 1820 Monroe ran for re-election. The collapse of the Federalists left Monroe with no organized opposition. He ran for reelection unopposed, the only president other than Washington to do so. A single elector from New Hampshire, William Plumer, cast a vote for John Quincy Adams, preventing a unanimous vote in the Electoral College.
Warren Harding is quoted as having said to editor William Allen White, "I have no trouble with my enemies. I can take care of my enemies in a fight. But my damn friends, they're the ones who keep me walking the floor nights." Even if that's not an accurate quote, it's probably an accurate sentiment. Harding usually ranks among the lowest tier of presidents when they are ranked by scholars and historians. This is because a number of scandals occurred during Harding's presidency, and while he was never directly implicated personally in any graft or corruption, Harding is criticized for appointing a number of very dishonest and corrupt men to important positions in his administration.


Harding was not shy when it came to appointing a number of his friends and acquaintances to federal positions. Some of his cabinet selections were excellent appointments, including his choice of Charles Evans Hughes as Secretary of State, Andrew Mellon as Treasury Secretary and Herbert Hoover as Secretary of Commerce. Even some of Harding's friends served competently in their appointed positions, but others were either incompetent or corrupt. For example Daniel R. Crissinger was a Marion, Ohio lawyer who was appointed as Comptroller of the Currency and later a governor of the Federal Reserve Board by Harding. Crissinger was in over his head in both jobs. Similarly, Harding's old friend, Frank Scobey, was appointed by Harding as the Director of the Mint, and while he was not corrupt, he was also not very effective. Harding appointed his brother-in-law Heber H. Votaw, to be superintendent of federal prisons. Votaw was assigned the task of fighting the drug trade from within the facilities, but if anything, the problem got worse during his time in this position.

When Harding died, the public had no idea of the extent of the corruption that was occuring. Most of the scandals that have come to tarnish the reputation of Harding's administration did not emerge until after his death. The three main scandals were Teapot Dome, the Justice Department and The Veterans' Bureau. Harding knew about the problems in the Veteran's Bureau in January of 1923. He was also likely aware that Jess Smith, a high ranking official in the Justice Department was involved in corruption. Harding had ordered his Attorney-General Harry Daugherty to fire Smith, but Smith committed suicide on May 30, 1923. Harding did not condone any of the corruption that he was aware of. According to Herbert Hoover, Harding asked Hoover for advice on what to do if he knew of some great scandal. Hoover advised Harding that it was better to expose the scandal and get credit for integrity.

Teapot Dome

The most notorious scandal was Teapot Dome, the details of which came to light after Harding's death. Teapot Dome was a natural formation that was the site of an oil reserve in Wyoming. It was one of three set aside for the use of the Navy in a national emergency. There had been debate over whether or not these reserves should be developed. When Harding became President, his Interior Secretary Albert Fall convinced Harding to sign an executive order in May 1921 transferring the reserves from the Navy Department to the Department of the Interior. This was done with the consent of Navy Secretary Edwin C. Denby. Then two months later, in July of 1921, the Interior Department announced in that wealthy oilman Edward Doheny had been awarded a lease to drill along the edges of naval reserve at Elk Hills in California. The announcement attracted little notice. Wyoming Senator John Kendrick learned that Teapot Dome had also been leased, but no announcement had been made about this. The Interior Department refused to provide documentation, so Kendrick got a Senate resolution passed which compelled disclosure of the details of the deal.

When the Interior Department made its disclosure, it came to light that it had entered into a lease granting drilling rights to Harry Sinclair's Mammoth Oil Company. There had been no competitive bidding process involved. The Interior Department said that this was because military preparedness was involved. Under the deal Mammoth was to build oil tanks for the Navy. Some were satisfied by this explanation, but conservationists, such as Gifford Pinchot and others called for a full investigation into Albert Fall and his activities. Democratic Montana Senator Thomas J. Walsh led the investigation. Walsh located a letter from Harding stating that the transfer and leases had been with done his knowledge and approval.

Hearings into Teapot Dome began in October 1923, after Harding's death. Fall had left office earlier that year. Fall denied receiving any money from Sinclair or Doheny; Sinclair agreed. The following month, Walsh learned that Fall had spent lavishly on expanding and improving his New Mexico ranch. Fall reappeared and stated that the money had come as a loan from Harding's friend and The Washington Post publisher Edward B. McLean, but McLean denied it when he testified. Doheny told the committee that he had given Fall the money in cash as a personal loan out of regard for their past association, but Fall invoked the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when he was compelled to appear again, rather than answer questions.

Investigators found that Fall and a relative had received a total of about $400,000 from Ed Doheny or Harry Sinclair. But this was untrue. Years later, in 1929, Fall was convicted of accepting bribes and, in 1931 he became the first U.S. cabinet member to be imprisoned for crimes committed while in office. Sinclair was convicted of contempt of court for jury tampering. Doheny was tried before a jury in April 1930 for giving the bribe Fall had been convicted of accepting, but he was acquitted.

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Harry Daugherty and the Justice Department

Harding had appointed Harry M. Daugherty as Attorney General. Daugherty was a notorious backroom politician. Irregularities came to light during the Teapot Dome investigation and in February 1924, the Senate voted to investigate the Justice Department, where Daugherty was still Attorney General in the Coolidge administration. Democratic Montana Senator Burton K. Wheeler was on the investigating committee and assumed the role of prosecutor. Hearings began on March 12, 1924. Daugherty's assistant Jess Smith had engaged in influence peddling prior to his suicide. It was discovered that Smith along with two other Ohioans, Howard Mannington and Fred A. Caskey, had conspired to accept payoffs from alcohol bootleggers either to secure immunity from prosecution or the release of liquor from government warehouses. Mannington and Caskey's residence was known as the Little Green House on K Street. Some witnesses accused Daugherty of being personally involved with this corruption and President Coolidge called for Daugherty's resignation when the Attorney General indicated that he would not allow Wheeler's committee access to Justice Department records.

It came to light that Smith had made a deal with Colonel Thomas W. Miller, a former Delaware congressman, whom Harding had appointed to the position of Alien Property Custodian. Smith and Miller received a payoff of almost half a million dollars for getting a German-owned firm, the American Metal Company, released to new U.S. owners. Smith deposited $50,000 in a joint account with Daugherty, used for political purposes. Records relating to that account were destroyed by Daugherty, but Miller and Daugherty were indicted for defrauding the government. The first trial, in September 1926, resulted in a hung jury; at the second, in 1927, Miller was convicted and served prison time, but a hung jury was the result for Daugherty. The government did not proceed with a third trial, against Daugherty and he was never convicted of any offense. Daugherty's reputation was ruined in the process, but he maintained that, in his words, he had "done nothing that prevents my looking the whole world in the face".

Veterans' Bureau

Harding had appointed a man named Charles R. Forbes as director of the Veterans' Bureau. Forbes came up with a scheme to take control of all veterans' hospitals and their construction as part of his bureau. Previously, this power was under the control of the Treasury Department, but Forbes had the support of the politically-powerful American Legion. Politics trumped wisdom despite opposition to the plan by Treasury Secretary Mellon, and in April 1922, Harding agreed to transfer control of the hospitals to the Veterans' Bureau. Forbes was tasked with responsibility for ensuring that that new hospitals were built around the country to help the 300,000 wounded World War I veterans.

Forbes had met Elias Mortimer, agent for the Thompson-Black Construction Company of St. Louis, a company that wanted to construct the hospitals. The two men developed a friendship and Mortimer paid for Forbes' travels through the West, looking at potential hospital sites for the wounded World War I veterans. Forbes also befriended Charles F. Hurley, owner of the Hurley-Mason Construction Company of Washington state. Harding had ordered that all contracts be pursuant to public notice, but Forbes ignored this and worked out a deal with the two contractors that gave the two companies all the contracts for construction of the new hospitals, with the profits divided three ways. Some of the money went to the bureau's chief counsel, Charles F. Cramer. Forbes defrauded the government in this hospital construction, increasing construction costs from $3,000 to $4,000 per bed. The scheme then spread to land acquisition, with Forbes authorizing the purchase of a San Francisco tract of land, valued at less than $20,000, for the sum of $105,000. At least $25,000 of the profit was divided between Forbes and Cramer.

In November of 1922 Forbes began selling valuable hospital supplies under his control in large warehouses at the Perryville Depot in Maryland. The government had stockpiled huge quantities of hospital supplies during the first World War, and Forbes sold these for a fraction of their cost to the Boston firm of Thompson and Kelly at a time when the Veterans' Bureau was buying supplies for the hospitals at a much higher price. He received a kickback when these items were resold.

Harding's physician, Dr. Charles Sawyer, was also chairman of the Federal Hospitalization Board. Sawyer told Harding that Forbes was selling valuable hospital supplies to an insider contractor. At first Harding did not believe it, but hen Sawyer provided proof of his allegation in January 1923, Harding summoned Forbes to the White House and demanded his resignation. Harding decided that he not want a public scandal, so he allowed Forbes to flee to Europe. Forbes tendered his resignation from Europe on February 15, 1923. News of Forbes' activities resulted in the Senate ordering an investigation two weeks later. In mid-March of 1923, Charles Cramer committed suicide.

Elias Mortimer became a witness against Forbes, perhaps motivated by the fact that Forbes had had an affair with Mortimer's wife. This also broke up the Forbes marriage. Mortimwer was the star witness at the hearings in late 1923, after Harding's death. Forbes returned from Europe to testify, but his denial of wrongdoing was disbelieved. In 1924, he and John W. Thompson, of Thompson–Black, were tried in Chicago for conspiracy to defraud the government. Both were convicted and sentenced to two years in prison. Forbes began to serve his sentence in 1926. Thompson, who had a bad heart, died that year before commencing his sentence.


Debate continues as to whether Harding's reputation as one of the worst presidents is deserved. Harding had many positive accomplishments in his presidency and had the courage to speak out against racial discrimination in the heart of the deep south. But as his biographer Robert Murray notes:

"In the American system, there is no such thing as an innocent bystander in the White House. If Harding can rightly claim the achievements of a Hughes in State or a Hoover in Commerce, he must also shoulder responsibility for a Daugherty in Justice and a Fall in Interior. Especially must he bear the onus of his lack of punitive action against such men as Forbes and Smith. By his inaction, he forfeited whatever chance he had to maintain the integrity of his position and salvage a favorable image for himself and his administration. As it was, the subsequent popular and scholarly negative verdict was inevitable, if not wholly deserved."

The Accidental President

William Henry Harrison was the first president to die during the course of his presidency. He passed away on April 4, 1841, on the 32nd day of his term. Since this was a first, no one knew what should happen when it came to the matter of who would fill the vacancy. Was the Vice-President merely a placeholder until the next election, was he acting president, did he have all the powers of the president but not the title, or was he in fact the president? It was new territory and there was no consensus as to what should happen and no precedent to follow.

Up to that point John Tyler, Harrison's Vice-President, had been a non-entity in the new administration, and this only emboldened leaders in Congress to adopt an interpretation of the Constitution that inflated their powers and denigrated the authority of the Vice-President. John Tyler was sworn in as Vice-President on March 4, 1841, in the Senate chamber. He delivered a three-minute speech about states' rights, and then he began performing his first official duty of that office: before swearing in the new senators and attending President Harrison's inauguration. Following Harrison's two-hour speech on that cold March 4th, Tyler returned to the Senate to receive the President's Cabinet nominations. He hadn't offered his opinions to Harrison about who should be in the cabinet, and Harrison never solicited Tyler's advice on the matter. Tyler presided over the confirmations the following day on March 5th. That took him a total of two hours as President of the Senate. Expecting few responsibilities, he then left Washington, quietly returning to his home in Williamsburg, Virginia. In the words of historian Robert Seager, in his Tyler biography And Tyler Too: A Biography of John and Julia Gardiner Tyler, "Had William Henry Harrison lived, John Tyler would undoubtedly have been as obscure as any vice-president in American history." In those days the Vice-President didn't even attend cabinet meetings and John Tyler was no exception to that practice.


In late March after Harrison came down with pneumonia and became quite ill, Secretary of State Daniel Webster sent word to Tyler of Harrison's illness on April 1. Two days later, Richmond attorney James Lyons wrote with the news that the president had taken a turn for the worse. In his letter, Lyons wrote: "I shall not be surprised to hear by tomorrow's mail that Gen'l Harrison is no more." Tyler decided not to travel to Washington. He thought it might appear unseemly if he did, as if he was anticipating the president's death. At dawn on April 5, 1841 (176 years ago today) Daniel Webster's son Fletcher, who was the Chief Clerk of the State Department, arrived at Tyler's plantation with a letter from Webster, informing Tyler that Harrison had died the previous morning.

Harrison's unprecedented death caused considerable confusion as to who would perform the President's duties. At the time the Constitution read as follows:

In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the same shall devolve on the Vice President.

A debate immediately ensued as to whether the actual office of President "devolved" upon Vice President Tyler, or only its powers and duties. But in John Tyler's opinion, there was nothing to debate about the matter. Tyler arrived in Washington at 4:00 a.m. on April 6, 1841, and he had made up his own mind that he was now the President of the United States. He took the oath of office in his hotel room. The oath was administered by Judge William Cranch, Chief Judge of the United States Circuit Court of the District of Columbia, a judge who hailed from Massachusetts. However in Tyler's opinion, the oath was redundant to the oath he had already taken as Vice President. Out of an abundance of caution, he took the oath anyway.

Immediately after his inauguration, Tyler called Harrison's cabinet into a meeting. At that meeting, Secretary of State Daniel Webster informed Tyler of Harrison's practice of making decisions by a majority vote of cabinet. The cabinet expected Tyler to continue this practice, but Tyler is quoted as having told them:

I beg your pardon, gentlemen. I am very glad to have in my Cabinet such able statesmen as you have proved yourselves to be. And I shall be pleased to avail myself of your counsel and advice. But I can never consent to being dictated to as to what I shall or shall not do. I, as President, shall be responsible for my administration. I hope to have your hearty co-operation in carrying out its measures. So long as you see fit to do this, I shall be glad to have you with me. When you think otherwise, your resignations will be accepted.

Tyler delivered an inaugural address on April 9, 1841, but his assertion that he was President was not immediately accepted by opposition members in Congress. Congressman (and former President) John Quincy Adams, took the position that Tyler was merely a caretaker and should either be called "Acting President", or remain Vice President. Another who questioned Tyler's authority was Whig leader Henry Clay. Clay wanted to be the real power behind the presidency. He too saw Tyler as the "Vice-President" and considered his presidency as a mere "regency".

But Tyler managed to convince a majority of legislators of his position and on June 1, 1841, both houses of Congress passed resolutions declaring Tyler the 10th President of the United States. In both houses of Congress, unsuccessful amendments were offered to strike the word "president" in favor of language suggesting a lesser rank such as "vice president" of "acting president", but these failed to pass.

John Tyler became the first U.S. Vice President to assume the office of President upon the death of the incumbent, establishing a precedent that would be followed seven times later. In 1967 Tyler's action of assuming both the full powers and the title of the presidency was legally codified in the Twenty-fifth Amendment.

Despite the Senate and House resolutions of support, Tyler's detractors like Clay and Adams, refused to accept him as President. He was referred to by many nicknames by his detractors, including "His Accidency". However, Tyler never wavered from his conviction that he was the rightful President. When his political opponents sent correspondence to the White House addressed to him as "Vice President" or "Acting President," Tyler had it returned unopened.

In an assessment of the significance of Tyler's insistence on assuming the full mantle of the presidency, the Miller Center, an affiliate of the University of Virginia that specializes on presidential scholarship, public policy and political history, concludes as follows:

"[T]he very stubbornness that undermined Tyler's work as President led to his greatest contribution to the office. By claiming the right to a fully functioning and empowered presidency instead of relinquishing the office or accepting limits on his powers, Tyler set a hugely important precedent. And while it is doubtless that the presidency's first veto override—on his last day in office—brought little joy to the troubled President, it was instrumental in establishing the critical system of inter-branch checks and balances. The orderly transfer of power at the beginning of Tyler's term and the veto override that ended it both demonstrated that the system worked."

Remembering William Henry Harrison

On April 4, 1841 (176 years ago today) William Henry Harrison became the first president to die in office. His death came only a month after his inauguration, raising a number of questions about succession upon the death of a president, and leading to the setting of precedent thereafter.

Harrison, the ninth President of the United States, had been a military officer, territorial and governor before being elected as the Whig Party's first successful presidential candidate in the election of 1840. He was also the grandfather of Benjamin Harrison, who became the 23rd President of the United States. He was 68 years, 23 days old when inaugurated, the oldest president to take office up to that time, a record that would last until the inauguration of Ronald Reagan in 1981. Harrison died on his 32nd day in office of complications from pneumonia. His tenure is the shortest in United States presidential history. His death sparked a brief constitutional crisis, but its resolution settled many questions about presidential succession left unanswered by the Constitution until the passage of the 25th Amendment.

William Henry Harrison was born on February 9, 1773. He was the youngest of seven children born to Benjamin Harrison V and the former Elizabeth Bassett. Harrison was born on his family's Berkeley Plantation in Charles City County, Virginia, coincidentally the same county where his future running mate John Tyler was born. Harrison was the last president born as a British subject before American Independence. His father was a delegate to the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1777 and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, as well as governor of Virginia from 1781 to 1784, during and after the American Revolutionary War. William's older brother, Carter Bassett Harrison, was elected to the United States House of Representatives from Virginia.

Before election as president, Harrison had served as the first territorial congressional delegate from the Northwest Territory, governor of the Indiana Territory and later as a U.S. representative and senator from Ohio. He gained national fame for leading U.S. forces against Native Americans led by Tecumseh at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, from which he acquired the nickname "Old Tippecanoe". He served as a general in the War of 1812, and commanded US forces in the Battle of the Thames in 1813, which brought an end to hostilities in his region.

After the war, Harrison moved to Ohio, where he was elected to the United States House of Representatives. In 1824 the state legislature elected him to the US Senate. He served as Minister Plenipotentiary (ambassador) to Colombia in May 1828, a job for which he was hired by John Quincy Adams and fired by Andrew Jackson. After that he returned to his farm in Ohio, and remained politically inactive until 1833 when he was nominated for the presidency as one of three Whig candidates running against Marin Van Buren. Harrison finished second in the election and retired again to his farm, only to be selected at the Whig candidate in 1840. This time he was elected president, an office he held for a month.

On March 26, Harrison became ill with a cold. There is a popular misconception that his illness came about because at his inauguration he gave a long inaugural address in cold weather, without an overcoat. But Harrison's illness did not arise until more than three weeks later. His cold turned into to pneumonia and pleurisy and he had difficulty in getting any rest in the White House, because of the steady crowd of office seekers. Harrison's doctors tried applying so-called "cures" such as opium, castor oil, leeches, and Virginia snakeweed. The treatments only made Harrison worse, and he became delirious. He died nine days after becoming ill, at 12:30 a.m. on April 4, 1841, of pneumonia, jaundice, and septicemia. Many believe that his last words, which were spoken to his doctor, were really meant for his successor John Tyler. Harrison is reported to have said: "Sir, I wish you to understand the true principles of the government. I wish them carried out. I ask nothing more." He then checked out.


Harrison is buried in West Bend, Ohio, about 30 miles west of Cincinnati. I visited Harrison's Tomb when I was in the area in August of 2013. His resting place overlooks a scenic part of the Ohio River, and there is a museum style display in the park adjacent to the monument housing the tomb. It is a nice remembrance of the man in a blissful setting.


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