Past Pandemics: Woodrow Wilson and the "Spanish Flu"

The Spanish flu was an unusually deadly influenza pandemic that lasted from January of 1918 to December of 1920. It infected 500 million people, roughly about a quarter of the world's population at the time. The death toll from the pandemic was estimated to have been anywhere from 17 to 50 million, and possibly as high as 100 million. In the U.S., about 28% of the population of 105 million became infected, and 500,000 to 675,000 died (in the range of 0.5% of the population). Indigenous tribes had particularly high rates of occurrence. In the "Four Corners" area alone, there were 3,293 registered deaths among Native Americans. Entire Inuit and Alaskan Native village communities died in Alaska. It was one of the deadliest pandemics in human history.

Some historians believe that the epidemic originated in the United States. Historian Alfred W. Crosby has concluded that the flu originated in Kansas, and there are reports of a particularly serious outbreak in Haskell County, Kansas in 1918. But other studies have concluded that the cases from Kansas were milder and had fewer deaths compared to the situation in New York City in the same time period. The consensus however is that the virus likely had a North American origin.

The massive troop movements that took place during World War I both increased transmission of the virus and and augmented its mutation. The war is also suspected to have increased the lethality of the virus. Soldiers' immune systems were likely weakened from malnourishment, as well as the stresses of combat and chemical attacks. Transportation systems at the time made it easier for soldiers, sailors, and civilian travelers to spread the disease. The problem was made worse because of the unwise decision on the part of government to censor news of the pandemic, leaving the population unaware and ill prepared to handle the outbreaks.

In the United States, the disease was first observed in Haskell County, Kansas, in January 1918. Local doctor Loring Miner to warn the US Public Health Service's academic journal. On March 4, 1918, company cook Albert Gitchell, from Haskell County, reported symptoms while at Fort Riley, a US military facility that at the time was training American troops during World War I. Gitchell was the first recorded victim of the flu. Within days, 522 men at the camp had reported sick. By March 11, 1918, reports of the virus came out of Queens, New York.

In August 1918, a more virulent strain appeared simultaneously in Brest, France; in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and in September, an outbreak was reported at the Boston Navy Yard and Camp Devens (later renamed Fort Devens), about 30 miles west of Boston. Other U.S. military sites were soon afflicted, and the virus had spread among troops being transported to Europe. The Allies of World War I came to call it the Spanish flu, because the pandemic received greater press attention after it moved from France to Spain in November 1918. Spain was one of the countries that had not imposed wartime censorship so news of its prevalence there was better known that most other places.

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In April 1919, President Woodrow Wilson traveled to the Paris Peace Conference for negotiations for a treaty ending the war. Soon after arriving, Wilson become ill with a fever and was reported to have violent fits of coughing that left him nearly unable to breathe. Wilson's condition deteriorated so quickly that his personal doctor, Cary T. Grayson, suspected that Wilson had been poisoned. But he soon revised his diagnosis to a case of influenza. Wilson was so ill that the talks were nearly cancelled. Wilson could not even sit up in bed. In a letter to Colonel Edward House, Wilson’s chief of staff, Grayson described that the night Wilson became ill as "one of the worst through which I have ever passed. I was able to control the spasms of coughing but his condition looked very serious.”

Wilson's administration kept Wilson's diagnosis a secret. Grayson told reporters that Wilson had a cold and just needed some rest. He blamed Wilson's illness on the rainy weather in Paris. Wilson’s condition worsened, and he began acting strangely. According to Wilson's biographer Scott Berg, “Generally predictable in his actions, Wilson began blurting unexpected orders. Twice he created a scene over pieces of furniture that had suddenly disappeared,” even though the furniture had not moved. Wilson also claimed that he was surrounded by spies. Needless to say, Wilson's behavior greatly concerned the American delegation.

Colonel Starling of the Secret Service noticed that Wilson “lacked his old quickness of grasp, and tired easily.” Starling reported that Wilson was obsessed with such details as who was using the official automobiles. Journalist Ray Stannard Baker was allowed to see Wilson and later remarked how shocked he was by Wilson’s sunken eyes, his weariness, and his pale and haggard look. The talks went on, with Wilson relying on his aides until his health allowed him to return to face-to-face talks. His poor health was said to have caused him to capitulate on some French demands that he had previously said were non-negotiable.

Rather than report flue symptoms, the prevailing mindset of the time was one of censorship, both about Wilson's illness and about the widespread effects of the flu. They claimed that they were doing this "to maintain morale". Censors minimized early reports of illness and mortality in Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and at home in the United States. Newspapers were free to report the epidemic's effects in neutral Spain, including the grave illness of King Alfonso XIII. The stories created the false impression that the flue was unique to Spain, giving rise to the pandemic's nickname, "Spanish flu".

Most influenza outbreaks disproportionately kill the very young and the very old, with a higher survival rate for those in between, but the Spanish flu pandemic resulted in a higher than expected mortality rate among young adults. As news of the flu seeped out, public dance halls and even churches were closed. The flu reached the White House. Margaret Wilson, the President's eldest daughter, got it. Secret Service members did, too. Even the White House sheep were reported to have the flu.

One of the lessons subsequently learned from this pandemic was that keeping silent and trying to hide the seriousness of the problem was the wrong strategy. It appears that this was a strategy that emanated from the highest levels, including the office of the President.

Past Campaigns: The First Contested Presidential Election

The election of 1796 was the first contested election. Campaigns have changed a lot since then, but some things don't change. Presidents were chosen differently in those days. Under the system at the time, each state had an allotted number of electors based on population. (In slaves states, slaves were counted at 3/5 of a person even though they couldn't vote.) The electors from each state cast votes for two persons. Both votes were for president and there were no such things as running mates. The candidate who received the most votes became president and the runner-up in the presidential race was elected vice-president. (This would present problems in the election of 1800, when Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr received the same number of votes).

By 1796, the government had split into factions or parties, with the Federalists (who believed in a strong central government) being led by Vice-President John Adams, and the Anti-Federalists or Democratic-Republicans led by former Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. Each party instructed their electors cast one vote for the intended presidential candidate and another vote for somebody else from their party, with the idea that their vice-presidential prospect would receive a few votes shy of their presidential candidate.

Unfortunately, these system had problems. All electoral votes were cast on the same day, and communication between states was only as fast as the fastest horse, making it very difficult to coordinate which electors were to vote for a different vice-president.

At the time, George Washington had just completed two full terms in office. He ran unopposed each time. But Washington had decided that two terms would be enough for him and he refused to run for a third. This made the election of 1796 unique because it was the first contested presidential election in the history of the United States.

John Adams had been the Vice-President in Washington's administration since the birth of the nation. The Vice-Presidency was a largely ceremonial position and Adams did not even attend cabinet meetings. His main duty was to preside over the Senate, and he was often mocked by his political opponents because he was seen as being overly formal and pompous. But Adams was respected by many Federalists for being a leading voice during the Revolution and also because of his commitment to federalism. The Federalists hoped that Thomas Pinckney would be selected as Vice-President. Pinckney had been the Governor of Virginia and he had recently negotiated a treaty with Spain and was on a ship heading home while the election was taking place. . Alexander Hamilton, who had served as Washington's Secretary of the Treasury, felt some animosity towards Adams. Hamilton was unable to run for President because he had been born in the West Indies. Hamilton began working covertly to elect Pinckney over Adams. He tried to convince Jefferson electors from South Carolina to cast their second votes for Pinckney. The scheme ultimately failed, but it increased the subsequent tension between Adams and Hamilton.

The Democratic Republicans selected Thomas Jefferson of Virginia and Aaron Burr of New York as their candidates. Republicans campaigned with the intention that Jefferson would become president.

The campaign was an acrimonious one. Federalists tried to paint their opponents with the violence that was taking place in the French Revolution and said that election Jefferson would bring with it the same kind of violence to the United States. Jefferson and the Republicans accusing the Federalists of favoring a monarchy system and a more aristocratic society. They tried to portray Adams as being too much in favor of Great Britain and a too much in favor of a centralized national government. Adams had the added burden of having Hamilton working to undermine his election.

Jefferson supporters also attacked the Federalists over the Jay Treaty. They sought to tap into anger in the nation among those who believed that the nation did not get enough in its treaty with the British.

While some may believe that attack ads against a candidate personally are a recent phenomenon, they were in fact very present in the election of 1796. Federalists attacked Jefferson, alleging that he was of low moral character, that he was an atheist, and that he was a coward during the War of Independence. Adams supporters also accused Jefferson of being too pro-France. This accusation gained momentum when the French ambassador embarrassed the Republicans by publicly backing Jefferson and attacking the Federalists right before the election.

Jefferson supporters also launched personal attacks on Adams, both for his girth and his pomposity. Benjamin Franklin Bache (the grandson on Benjamin Franklin and the publisher of the pro-Republican newspaper the Aurora) referred to Adams as having "sesquipediality of belly" (an 18 inch long stomach) and for being the "champion of kings, ranks and titles."

Sixteen states chose electors in 1796. In ten states the electors were chosen by the state legislature, while in the other six they were selected by popular vote. Voting took place between Friday November 4 to Wednesday, December 7. Hamilton's efforts to entice southern voters to vote for Pinckney over Adams came to naught. All eight electors in Pinckney's home state of South Carolina, as well as at least one elector in Pennsylvania, cast ballots for both Jefferson and Pinckney. But despite this, at least 20 Adams electors failed to cast their other vote for Pinckney. Adams ended up with more votes than Pinckney, and more votes than Jefferson. If there was any sort of late or October surprise in the election of 1796, it was that Alexander Hamilton's efforts to undermine the election of John Adams and have Charles Pinckney elected instead, were unsuccessful.

The final results gave Adams 71 electoral votes. Jefferson finished second with 68. Pinckney finished third with 59, and Burr was fourth with 30. Nine other candidates received some electoral votes. This meant that Adams was elected President and Jefferson was elected Vice-President. The next four years would be the only time that the president and vice-president were from different parties. Jefferson would use his position as vice-president to attack his president's policies, and this would help him reach the White House in the following election.

On January 6, 1797, Representative William L. Smith of South Carolina presented a resolution on the floor of the House of Representatives for an amendment to the Constitution by which the presidential electors would designate which candidate would be president and which would be vice-president. No action was taken on his proposal and in 1800 this prove to be problematic.

Past Campaigns: How Abraham Lincoln Became President

I would venture a guess that most historians do not think that Abraham Lincoln and Donald Trump have much in common. But probably one thing they do have in common is that both were vastly underestimated by their political opponents. Before being elected President, Lincoln had been a one term Congressman whose claim to fame was calling out President James K. Polk for going to war with Mexico on what Lincoln believed to be false grounds (grounds that were literally about ground, specifically whether the American soldiers fired on by Mexican troops were in fact on American soil at the time of the attack.) Lincoln did not run for re-election and instead returned to practicing law and advocating for a cause near and dear to his heart, the issue of slavery.

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When Franklin Pierce became President in 1852, slavery was legal in the southern United States, but had been generally outlawed in the northern states, including Illinois. That state's Constitution, passed in 1818, made slavery illegal. Lincoln was opposed to the spread of slavery to new U.S. territories in the west. When the pro-slavery Kansas–Nebraska Act was passed in 1854, it repealed the slavery-restricting Missouri Compromise that Congress had passed in 1820. Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas had made popular sovereignty a part of the Act. This provision, which Lincoln opposed, provided that settlers had the right to determine by popular vote whether to allow slavery in new U.S. territory, rather than have the decision made by Congress.

On October 16, 1854, speaking in Peoria, Illinois, Lincoln publicly declared his opposition to slavery. He said the Kansas-Nebraska Act had a "covert real zeal for the spread of slavery. I cannot but hate it. I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world." That year he ran as a Whig for the U.S. Senate seat from Illinois. At that time, senators were elected by the state legislature. He failed to garner enough support and asked his supporters in the legislature to vote for Lyman Trumbull, who ultimately won the seat. The Whigs were split by the Kansas–Nebraska Act.

The death of the Whig party led to the birth of the Republican Party. The new party was a coalition of former Whigs, Free Soil, Liberty, and Democratic Party members who opposed slavery. At the 1856 Republican National Convention, where the party nominated its first candidate for President (John C. Fremont), Lincoln placed second in the contest to become the party's candidate for vice president.

James Buchanan was elected President in the 1856 presidential election. In March 1857, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford in which Chief Justice Roger B. Taney concluded that African-Americans were not citizens, and obtained no rights from the Constitution. Lincoln, a leading lawyer in Illinois, was very critical of the decision. He called it the product of a conspiracy of Democrats to support the Slave Power. He said that "the authors of the Declaration of Independence never intended 'to say all were equal in color, size, intellect, moral developments, or social capacity', but they 'did consider all men created equal—equal in certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness'."

In 1858, the Illinois Republican party convention nominated Lincoln as its candidate for the U.S. Senate. On June 16, 1858, at what was then the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Lincoln gave his acceptance speech, an address that would famously become known as his "House Divided Speech." The title of the speech comes from a passage in the New Testament, Mark 3:25, which reads "and if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand." Lincoln adopted this theme. He said:

"A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved. I do not expect the house to fall, but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States, old as well as new, North as well as South."

The speech rallied Republicans across the North. It set the stage for the campaign for the statewide election of the Illinois legislature, which would, in turn, select Lincoln or Douglas as its U.S. senator.

The Senate campaign featured seven Lincoln–Douglas debates, perhaps the most famous political debates in American history. In the debates, Lincoln warned that "the Slave Power" was threatening the values of republicanism. He accused Douglas of distorting the values of the Founding Fathers that all men are created equal. In response, Douglas argued that local settlers were free to choose whether to allow slavery or not, and accused Lincoln of having joined the abolitionists. The debates drew large crowds in the thousands. Lincoln stated Douglas' popular sovereignty theory was a threat to the nation's morality. He accused Douglas of being part of a conspiracy to extend slavery to free states. Douglas said that Lincoln was defying the authority of the U.S. Supreme Court and the Dred Scott decision.

Republican legislative candidates won more popular votes, but the Democrats won more seats, and the legislature re-elected Douglas to the Senate. Despite this, the debates gave Lincoln a national political reputation, and made him a leading candidate for the Republican Party's presidential nomination in 1860. His viability as a national candidate increased when, on February 27, 1860, New York party leaders invited Lincoln to give a speech at Cooper Union to a group of powerful Republicans. In the speech, Lincoln argued that the Founding Fathers had little use for popular sovereignty and had repeatedly sought to restrict slavery. Lincoln insisted the moral core beliefs of the Republican Party required its opposition to slavery. He rejected what he called "groping for some middle ground between the right and the wrong". His powerful advocacy brought him into contention for the Republican presidential nomination. Journalist Noah Brooks wrote: "No man ever before made such an impression on his first appeal to a New York audience." When another journalist asked Lincoln if he had presidential aspirations, he said "The taste is in my mouth a little."

The Cooperstown speech, and the fact that the Republican Party convention was being held in Lincoln's home state, put him in a strong position at the convention. Much of the organization for Lincoln's run for the Presidency took place at the Illinois Republican State Convention, which was held in Decatur, commencing on May 9, 1860. The principal organizers behind Lincoln's campaign were Judge David Davis, Norman Judd, Leonard Swett, and Jesse DuBois. The convention endorsed Lincoln as their candidate and even in 1860, there were spin doctors who began to package their candidate. They played up the legend of his frontier days with his father, in which they spoke of their candidate clearing and and splitting fence rails with an ax, which led to Lincoln being called "The Rail Candidate".

The Republican National Convention was held in Chicago from May 16 to 18, 1860. At the time, the Democrats were in disarray and the Republicans were hoping for a sweep of the Northern states. William H. Seward of New York was considered the front runner, and other leading contenders included Salmon P. Chase of Ohio, and Missouri's Edward Bates. All three of these men would later become members of Lincoln's cabinet. Seward, Chase, and Bates had each alienated factions of the party. Seward was seen as being too closely identified with the radical wing of the party. When he tried to move toward the center, this alienated the radicals. Chase, a former Democrat, had alienated many of the former Whigs by his joining the Democrats in the late 1840s. He even had opposition from his own delegation from Ohio. Bates' positions on the extension of slavery into the territories and equal constitutional rights for all citizens alienated his supporters in the border states and Southern conservatives.

Lincoln had earned a national reputation from his debates and speeches, and he was considered to be the most articulate moderate. Thanks in part to the convention floor strategy of Davis and his team, Lincoln, who had finished second behind Seward on the first two ballots, won the party's nomination for president on the third ballot on May 18, 1860. Senator Hannibal Hamlin of Maine was nominated for vice-president.

The party platform promised not to interfere with slavery in the states, but it opposed slavery in the territories. It failed to mention the Fugitive Slave law or the Dred Scott decision. The Seward forces were disappointed at the nomination of Lincoln, but pledged to support him. Abolitionists were angry at the selection of a moderate. Lincoln doubted that the sectional dispute over slavery would lead to civil war, and his supporters were convinced to reject the notion that his election would incite secession.

In what amounted to a rematch, Stephen Douglas was selected as the candidate of the Northern Democrats. Delegates from 11 slave states walked out of the Democratic convention, disagreeing with Douglas's position on popular sovereignty. They later selected John C. Breckinridge as their candidate.

Ironically, though he was famous for his oratory, Lincoln was the only presidential candidate who gave no speeches during the campaign. He relied on the party to do the leg work required to win the election, and they came through for him. A large number of Republican surrogate speakers focused first on the party platform, and second on Lincoln's life story. They presented the message that a common farm boy could work his way to the top by his own efforts. A Chicago Tribune writer produced a pamphlet that detailed Lincoln's life, which sold over 100,000 copies.

The election was held on Tuesday, November 6, 1860. Voter turnout was 81.2%, the highest in American history at that point, and the second-highest overall. Lincoln won the Electoral College with less than 40 per cent of the popular vote nationwide. He won all of the states above the Mason–Dixon line and north of the Ohio River, plus the far west California and Oregon. He lost all of the slave-holding states. The split in the Democratic party was not as big a factor as one might imagine because Lincoln still would have won in the Electoral College, 169 to 134, even if all anti-Lincoln voters had united behind a single candidate.

As Lincoln's election became obvious, secessionists made clear their intent to leave the Union before he took office the following March. On December 20, 1860, South Carolina became the first state to pass an ordinance of secession. By February 1, 1861, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas followed.Six of these states then adopted a constitution and declared themselves to be a sovereign nation, the Confederate States of America. Both President James Buchanan and President-elect Lincoln refused to recognize the Confederacy. Each considered secession to be illegal, though Buchanan took no action to stop it.

There were attempts to settle the dispute by a compromise. The Crittenden Compromise, proposed by former Kentucky Senator John J. Crittendon, proposed extending the Missouri Compromise line of 1820, dividing the territories into slave and free. Lincoln rejected this proposal. He said "I will suffer death before I consent to any concession or compromise which looks like buying the privilege to take possession of this government to which we have a constitutional right."

Lincoln privately expressed support for a proposal known as the Corwin Amendment to the Constitution, which passed Congress before Lincoln came into office and was then awaiting ratification by the states. That proposed amendment would have protected slavery in states where it already existed. This proposal was not acceptable to southern states.

On the way to his inauguration by train, Lincoln addressed crowds and legislatures across the North. There were rumors of assassination attempts on his life along the way. In Baltimore, one such attempt was uncovered by Lincoln's head of security, Allan Pinkerton. On February 23, 1861, Lincoln arrived in disguise in Washington, D.C., which was placed under military guard.

On March 4, 1861, Lincoln was inaugurated as President. In his inaugural address, he said that he had no intention, or inclination, to abolish slavery in the Southern states. Lincoln said:

"Apprehension seems to exist among the people of the Southern States that by the accession of a Republican Administration their property and their peace and personal security are to be endangered. There has never been any reasonable cause for such apprehension. Indeed, the most ample evidence to the contrary has all the while existed and been open to their inspection. It is found in nearly all the published speeches of him who now addresses you. I do but quote from one of those speeches when I declare that "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so...

"We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."

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It soon became apparent that legislative compromise was impossible. By March 1861, no leaders of the insurrection had proposed rejoining the Union on any terms. Lincoln and the Republican leadership agreed that the dismantling of the Union could not be tolerated.

Past Campaigns: John Tyler's Hope for Re-election

An upcoming biography of John Tyler is entitled President Without a Party: The Life of John Tyler and the title pretty much says it all. Tyler had once been a Democratic-Republican (a Jeffersonian in other words) from 1811 to 1828. He became a Jacksonian Democrat in 1828, but broke with Jackson and joined the Whigs in 1834. At the Whig Presidential Nominating Convention of 1841 he was a surprise choice as William Henry Harrison's running mate, and he became president, following Harrison's death. Harrison, who had defeated President Martin Van Buren in the 1840 general election, had died just 31 days into his presidency. Tyler became president.


As the first Vice-President to ascend to the presidency, no one was certain whether Tyler was acting president, a placeholder, or the President. Henry Clay believed that Tyler was just a figurehead and that he was the real de facto President. Tyler strongly disagreed. Tyler and Clay butted heads over the issue and Tyler was soon expelled from the Whig party later in 1841 for repeatedly vetoing his party's domestic finance legislation, and generally because he had clashed with leading Whigs such as Clay over his right to assume the presidency and for his unwillingness to follow their dictates. Tyler found himself isolated and outside the two-party mainstream. The Whigs didn't want him, and the Democrats were still resentful towards him for abandoning them seven years earlier.

Tyler hoped that foreign affairs would salvage his presidency. In his first address to Congress in special session on June 1, 1841, Tyler announced his intention to pursue an expansionist agenda. He believed that annexing Texas would win him a second term in the White House, and this became his personal obsession, calling the acquisition of Texas as the "primary objective of his administration".

Following the resignation of his anti-annexation Secretary of State Daniel Webster in June of 1843, Tyler appointed Abel P. Upshur, a Virginia states' rights champion and ardent proponent of Texas annexation. In late September 1843, Upshur sent communications to Great Britain, intended to raise concerns about British designs to acquire Texas. He leaked the communique to the press to inflame popular Anglophobic sentiments. He also leaked information about American abolitionists who had been meeting with Lord Aberdeen, British Foreign Secretary, to provide funds to the Texas in exchange for the emancipation of its slaves. American Minister (Ambassador) Edward Everett concluded that British interest in the abolitionists plan was weak, but Tyler downplayed this conclusion.

John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, a pro-slavery advocate, claimed that British designs on Texas were real and required immediate action to prevent a takeover of Texas by Great Britain. On September 18, 1843, Tyler ordered secret talks opened with Texas Minister to the United States Isaac Van Zandt to negotiate the annexation of Texas. Face-to-face negotiations commenced on October 16, 1843.

Meanwhile, Texas President Sam Houston was negotiating with the Mexican government to consider a treaty that would permit Texas self-governance, possibly as a state of Mexico, with Great Britain acting as mediator. Houston believed that Tyler lacked political support for Texas annexation. The 1844 general election in the United States was approaching and the leadership in both the Democratic and Whig parties remained unwilling to support Texas annexation and Houston thought that brokering a deal with Mexico, with British support, was his best option.

Secretary of State Upshur pursued Texas diplomats to begin annexation talks. He wrote President Sam Houston in January 1844 claiming that a two-thirds majority in Senate could be obtained to ratify a Texas treaty. Texans were reluctant to pursue a US-Texas treaty without a written commitment of military defense from America. Because only Congress could declare war, the Tyler administration lacked the constitutional authority to commit the US to support of Texas. Upshur provided a verbal assurance of military defense for Texas, and President Houston authorized the reopening of annexation negotiations.

Mexican diplomats soon learned that US-Texas talks were taking place. Mexican minister to the U.S. Juan Almonte warned Upshur that if Congress sanctioned a treaty of annexation, Mexico would break diplomatic ties and declare war. Upshur pressed forward with the negotiations, while lobbying US Senators to support annexation. By early 1844, Upshur told Texas officials that 40 of the 52 members of the Senate were pledged to ratify the Tyler-Texas treaty. Tyler, in his annual address to Congress in December 1843, did not mention the secret negotiations.

The Tyler-Texas treaty was in its final stages when Upshur and Secretary of the Navy Thomas W. Gilmer, died in an accident aboard USS Princeton on February 28, 1844, just a day after completing a preliminary treaty draft agreement with the Texas Republic. The Princeton disaster was a major setback for Texas annexation. Tyler relied on Secretary Upshur to obtain critical support from Whig and Democratic Senators during the upcoming treaty ratification process. To make matters worse, Tyler selected John C. Calhoun to replace Upshur as Secretary of State and to finalize the treaty with Texas. The choice of Calhoun was problematic, because it made it appear that the focus of the negotiations was all about the expansion of slavery, but Tyler believed Calhoun to be a strong advocate of annexation.

Senator Robert J. Walker of Mississippi, a key Tyler ally, issued a widely distributed letter, reproduced as a pamphlet, which made the case for immediate annexation of Texas. Walker argued that Texas referenced the Monroe Doctrine and claimed that annexation was necessary to prevent European involvement in North American affairs. He also appealed to racial prejudice and said that when slavery ultimately ended, freed slaves would have a corridor to South America to resettle, rather than remaining in the United States. Walker also warned that if annexation failed, imperialist Great Britain would manipulate the Republic of Texas into emancipating its slaves, forecasting a dangerous destabilizing influence on southwestern slaveholding states. Walker's pamphlet increased support for Texas annexation from pro-slavery expansionists in the South

The Tyler-Texas treaty was signed on April 12, 1844. It called for Texas to join the Union as a territory, following constitutional protocols. Texas would cede all its public lands to the United States, and the federal government would assume all its bonded debt, up to $10 million. Four new states could ultimately be carved from the former republic. Any reference to slavery was omitted from the document so as not to antagonize anti-slavery sentiments during Senate debates, although it provided for the "preservation of all [Texas] property". When the treaty was signed, Tyler complied with the Texans' demand for military and naval protection, sending troops to Fort Jesup in Louisiana and a fleet of warships to the Gulf of Mexico. Secretary of the Treasury John C. Spencer protested the constitutional implications of Tyler's application of military force without congressional approval. He refused to transfer contingency funds for the naval mobilization, and tendered his resignation.

Tyler submitted his treaty for annexation to the Senate on April 22, 1844. A two-thirds majority was required for ratification. Tyler had wanted the treaty to be debated secretly in Senate executive session, but news of Calhoun's warning to Great Britain leaked to the public. Critics of the treaty argued that the sole objective of Texas annexation was the preservation of slavery. Anti-annexation support in the North grew among both major parties. The leading presidential hopefuls of both parties, Democrat Martin Van Buren and Whig Henry Clay, each publicly denounced the treaty. Texas annexation became a key issue in the 1844 general election.

Tyler wanted to remain President. He began to organize a third party in hopes of inducing the Democrats to embrace a pro-expansionist platform. He called it the New Democratic-Republican Party. Tyler knew that he had little chance of winning the election, and that the only way to salvage his presidential legacy was to ride public opinion on the Texas issue. He formed his third party using the officeholders and political networks that he had built over his time as president. A number of supportive newspapers across the country issued editorials promoting his candidacy throughout the early months of 1844. Reports of meetings held throughout the country suggested that Tyler's support was not just limited to officeholders.

At the same day as the Democratic Convention was being held in Baltimore in May of 1844, thousands of Tyler supporters marched to the city and held their own convention. They clung to the belief that believing that the Democrats would be deadlocked between Martin Van Buren and Lewis Cass, and that neither man would be able to receive the necessary two-thirds of delegate support required to win the party's presidential nomination. Tyler supporters held signs reading "Tyler and Texas!" The plan was then to convince delegates to choose Tyler as a compromise candidate to unite the party. But the Democrats had other ideas. With the support of a large number of Andrew Jackson's supporters, the Democrats instead chose James K. Polk, the former Speaker of the House, as their candidate. The Tyler supporters were understandably disappointed. They gave their party's nomination on May 27, 1844, not surprisingly, to Tyler and Tyler announced his candidacy for the presidency after receiving the nomination. However Tyler also stated in his acceptance letter that annexation of Texas was his real goal rather than winning the election.

Over the summer, negotiations took place between Tyler and leading Democrats, led by Andrew Jackson. By late July and early August both Tyler and the Democrats were of one mind that neither wanted Tyler to spoiling the election and giving the presidency to Henry Clay. Tyler was willing to go along with this as long as Polk was willing to commit to the annexation of Texas. Andrew Jackson sent word to Tyler saying that if the President withdrew from the race, that he would have the pleasure of taking Clay down with him, and that he and Polk were on the same page. Jackson also promised that Tyler's followers would be welcomed into the Democratic party, especially when it came to doling out patronage. In addition, Jackson ordered Democratic editors to stop their attacks on Tyler. That was enough for Tyler to announce the end of his candidacy on August 20th. He threw his support behind Polk.

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Polk won a narrow victory over Clay in the November election. Tyler saw this a mandate for completing the annexation of Texas not by treaty, but by a resolution in both houses. Tyler announced in his annual message to Congress that "a controlling majority of the people and a large majority of the states have declared in favor of immediate annexation". In late February 1845, days before Polk's inauguration, the House approved a joint resolution offering annexation to Texas by a substantial margin—the Senate approved by a bare 27–25 majority, and three days before the end of his term, Tyler signed the bill into law.

After some debate, Texas accepted the terms and entered the union on December 29, 1845, as the 28th state. Tyler's official White House portrait features him sitting with a large map of Texas on the table in front of him.

Happy Birthday John Tyler

On March 29, 1790 (230 years ago today) John Tyler, the 10th President of the United States, was born in Charles City County, Virginia. (By coincidence, it was the same place where his running mate and the man he succeeded as President - William Henry Harrison - was born.) Though often overlooked, Tyler has much to distinguish himself. He was the first Vice-President to become President upon the death of a sitting president. He is the president who fathered the most children (15) and he is the only former president who joined the Confederacy during the Civil War.

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John Tyler's father was a Judge, and his future president son became a lawyer and was admitted to the Virginia state bar at age 19. His father served as Governor of Virginia, and John Tyler had a prolific career as an elected official, serving as as a state legislator, Governor of Virginia, U.S. representative, and U.S. senator. In 1840 he was elected as Vice President on a ticket with William Henry Harrison, the former general who was known as the hero of the battle of Tippecanoe. The pair ran on the slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too!" Tyler had been a Democrat, but he ran on the Whig ticket, because Tyler did not support incumbent President Martin Van Buren and the Whigs thought that having him on the ticket would take votes from the Democratic Party.

Tyler was not consulted on Harrison's transition into the presidency, and he was quite surprised when he learned that he had became president just 31 days into his term as Vice-President, following the death of President Harrison in April of 1841. Tyler became the first Vice President to succeed to the office of President on the death of the incumbent. Up to that time no one was sure whether the Vice-President became acting president or the full meal deal when the president died. Tyler asserted his right to the full authority of the Presidency, despite the protests of leading Whig politicians like Henry Clay. It is said that when Whigs would send correspondence addressed to "Acting President Tyler" he would return it unopened.

Tyler was a strong supporter of states' rights, which endeared him to his fellow Virginians but alienated him from many in the Whig Party as well as some Democrats in Washington. Opposition from both the Democratic and the Whig parties hindered his presidency. Eventually, the Whigs expelled him from their party. An attempt to impeach him was unsuccessful. While he was obstructed on domestic policy, he was still able to achieve several foreign-policy accomplishments, including the Webster–Ashburton Treaty with Britain and the Treaty of Wanghia with Qing China.

John Tyler sought to strengthen and preserve the Union through territorial expansion. In the final days of his administration, as a "lame duck" president, he was still able to orchestrate the annexation of the independent Republic of Texas. Tyler sought election to a full term in 1844, but he had alienated both Whigs and Democrats and his efforts to form a new party came to nothing.


Tyler retired from electoral politics and returned to his Virginia estate, known as "Sherwood Forest". When southern states began to secede in 1860, Tyler tried unsuccessfully to broker a peace conference. When the Civil War began in 1861, he sided with the Confederate government, and won election to the Confederate House of Representatives. But he did not live long enough to arrive for the first sitting of the house. Just after midnight, on the morning of January 18, 1862, Tyler, who had been ill for the past few weeks, took a last sip of brandy, and told his doctor, "I am going. Perhaps it is best." He then passed away. It is believed that he had suffered a stroke.

John Tyler is buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia.

Past Campaigns: Robert Taft's 1952 Campaign for President

Robert Taft might have been President of the United States, just as his father had been, were it not for the fact that his political star ascended to its highest point at the same time as an even brighter star named Dwight Eisenhower. A Senator from Ohio, the younger Taft was a nemesis for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal programs and a leading conservative Republican of his day. Absent Eisenhower's candidacy, he would likely have been his party's nominee for President and possibly the nation's 34th President.

Robert Alphonso Taft was born on September 8, 1889. He was the oldest child of William Howard Taft and his wife Helen Louise "Nellie" Herron and the grandson of Attorney General and Secretary of War Alphonso Taft. As a child he spent four years in the Philippines, where his father was governor. As an adolescent he was a brilliant academic. He finished first in his class at the Taft School in Cincinnati (run by his uncle), at Yale College and at Harvard Law School, graduating in 1913. He edited the Harvard Law Review. Following his graduation, Taft scored the highest mark in the state on the Ohio bar exam in 1913. He practiced law for four years with the firm of Maxwell and Ramsey (now Graydon Head & Ritchey LLP) in Cincinnati. He then worked in Washington for the Food and Drug Administration, before returning to Cincinnati to start his own law office. In 1924, he and his brother Charles helped form the law partnership Taft, Stettinius, and Hollister, with whom he continued to be associated until his death. The firm continues to carry his name today.

On October 17, 1914, he married Martha Wheaton Bowers, a gregarious woman who contrasted her taciturn and intellectual husband. In 1949 Martha suffered a severe stroke which left her an invalid. Following her stroke Taft assisted his wife and helped to feed her and look after her at public functions. The couple had four sons, some of whom carried on the family business as politicians.

When the United States entered World War I in April 1917, Taft attempted to join the U.S. Army, but he was rejected due to his poor eyesight. He joined the legal staff of the Food and Drug Administration where he met Herbert Hoover, a man he came to admire. In 1918–1919 he went to Paris as legal adviser for the American Relief Administration, Hoover's agency which distributed food to war-torn Europe. He strongly supported membership in the League of Nations, as well as the idea of a world court that would enforce international law

Taft returned to Cincinnati in late 1919 and opened a law firm with his brother Charles Taft. In 1920 he was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives, where he served as speaker of the house in 1926. In 1930 he was elected to the state senate, but was defeated for reelection in 1932, his only defeat in a general election. He was an outspoken opponent of the Ku Klux Klan, and he did not support prohibition. In 1925 he voted against a bill to outlaw dancing on Sundays, and he led the fight against a bill sponsored by members of the Klan requiring all Ohio public school teachers to read at least ten verses of the Bible each day in class. In his speech opposing the bill, he strongly advocated the separation of church and state. The bill passed the legislature but was later vetoed by Ohio's governor.

Taft was a powerful figure in Republican politics. He was not an eloquent speaker, but earned a reputation as a tireless worker. His conservative leanings brought him into conflict with his younger brother Charles, a local politician in Cincinnati who had a reputation as a liberal. Despite this, Charles supported all three of his brother's presidential bids.

Taft was elected to the first of his three terms as U.S. Senator in 1938. He soon established himself as a leader of the Conservative Coalition that opposed the New Deal. He was also an isolationist and an outspoken opponent of US involvement in the Second World War. Taft believed that America should avoid any involvement in European or Asian wars and concentrate instead on solving its domestic problems. He believed that a strong U.S. military, along with the natural geographic protection of the broad Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, would be adequate to protect America even if the Nazis conquered all of Europe. Between the outbreak of war in September 1939 and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 Taft opposed nearly all attempts to aid Allied forces fighting the Nazis in Europe. His opposition to aiding the Allied forces earned him strong criticism from many liberal Republicans, such as Wendell Willkie and Thomas E. Dewey. But when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Taft fully supported the American war effort, though he opposed American involvement in postwar military alliances with other nations, including NATO. Taft's was one of the few voices during the Second World War to oppose the internment of Japanese Americans.

In 1945, after narrowly winning a second term in the Senate, Taft condemned the postwar Nuremberg Trials, calling it "victor's justice" and vengeance against the defeated. He said:

"I question whether the hanging of those, who, however despicable, were the leaders of the German people, will ever discourage the making of aggressive war, for no one makes aggressive war unless he expects to win. About this whole judgment there is the spirit of vengeance, and vengeance is seldom justice. The hanging of the eleven men convicted will be a blot on the American record, which we shall long regret."

He was strongly criticized both by Republicans and Democrats for this. But Senator John F. Kennedy in his bestselling book Profiles in Courage, applauded Taft's principled stand even in the face of great bipartisan criticism.

When the Republicans took control of Congress in 1947, Taft became Chair of the Senate Labor Committee. He wrote the 1947 Taft–Hartley Act, which remains the basic labor law today. It banned "unfair" union practices, outlaws closed shops, and authorized the President to seek federal court injunctions to impose an eighty-day cooling-off period if a strike threatened the national interest. When President Harry Truman vetoed it, Taft convinced both houses of Congress to override the veto.

Taft spoke out against what he saw as the dangers as big government and runaway spending. He opposed NATO and he took the lead among Republicans in condemning President Harry Truman's handling of the Korean War. Taft questioned the constitutionality of the war itself. He said:

"In the case of Korea, where a war was already under way, we had no right to send troops to a nation, with whom we had no treaty, to defend it against attack by another nation, no matter how unprincipled that aggression might be, unless the whole matter was submitted to Congress and a declaration of war or some other direct authority obtained."

Taft was a supporter of the new independent State of Israel and called for the shipment of military aid for the new country.

In 1950, Taft won a third term in the senate by 431,184 votes. Even many union members reportedly voted for him. By the start of his third term in the Senate, Taft had been given the nickname "Mr. Republican". He was acknowledged by most to he the most prominent politician in his party and a leading candidate for his party's presidential nomination in 1952.

This was not his first bid for the presidency. Taft had first sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1940, but lost to Wendell Willkie. His outspoken support of non-interventionist foreign policies, and his opposition to the New Deal in domestic policy led many liberal Republicans to see him as unelectable. It was in 1940 that Taft first clashed with Thomas E. Dewey, then a New York District Attorney who had become nationally famous for successfully prosecuting several prominent organized-crime figures, especially New York mob boss "Lucky" Luciano. Taft felt that Dewey was not conservative enough. In the 1944 presidential campaign Taft was not a candidate. He supported Governor John W. Bricker of Ohio, a fellow conservative. Bricker was defeated by Dewey, who had become the Governor of New York in 1943. Dewey named Bricker as his running mate; the Dewey-Bricker ticket would go on to lose to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the general election.

In 1948 Taft made a second try for the GOP nomination, but was defeated by Dewey, who led the party's moderate/liberal wing. In the 1948 presidential election, Dewey was defeated by the Democratic presidential candidate, President Harry S. Truman.

In 1952, Taft made his third and final try for the GOP nomination. Taft had the solid backing of the party's conservative wing. Former U.S. Representative Howard Buffett of Nebraska (father of billionaire Warren Buffett) served as one of his campaign managers. Many political pundits regarded Taft as the front-runner. But the race changed when Dewey and other GOP moderates were able to convince Dwight D. Eisenhower, the most popular general of World War II, to run for the nomination. Eisenhower said that one of the factors in his decision to run was his fear of Taft's non-interventionist views in foreign policy and his opposition to NATO.

In the 13 primaries which led up to the convention, Taft and Eisenhower each won 5. Taft was victorious in Wisconsin, Illinois, West Virginia, South Dakota and his home state of Ohio, while Eisenhower won in New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Oregon and in Massachusetts.

When the Republican Convention opened in Chicago in July 1952, Taft and Eisenhower were neck-and-neck in delegate votes. Eisenhower was able to win a number of floor votes regarding the eligibility of certain delegates, and as a result, Eisenhower was able to win the nomination. After the convention Taft issued a brief statement conveying his congratulations and support to Eisenhower, but thereafter he did nothing to aid Eisenhower's campaign. A coldness between the two persisted until September 1952, when Taft finally agreed to meet with Eisenhower. In order to gain Taft's support, Eisenhower promised he would take no reprisals against Taft partisans and would cut federal spending.

Following Eisenhower's election and the GOP takeover of Congress, Taft served as Senate Majority Leader in 1953. He strongly supported Eisenhower's domestic proposals. He tried, without success, to curb the excessive red-baiting U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy. Soon Eisenhower and Taft were friends and golfing companions. Taft's defeat seemed to make him less abrasive and more conciliatory.

On May 26, 1953, Taft delivered his final speech, in which he warned of the dangers of U.S. military involvement in Southeast Asia. He said:

"I have never felt that we should send American soldiers to the Continent of Asia, which, of course, included China proper and Indo-China, simply because we are so outnumbered in fighting a land war on the Continent of Asia that it would bring about complete exhaustion even if we were able to win."

In early 1953 Taft began to feel pain in his hips, and after a painful golf outing with President Eisenhower in April 1953 he went to Walter Reed Hospital for initial tests. The test results led doctors to suspect a tumor or arthritis. Taft underwent further tests at a hospital in Cincinnati. He was diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer. On June 10, 1953, Taft transferred his duties as Senate Majority Leader to Senator William Knowland of California, but he did not resign his Senate seat. He told reporters that he expected to recover and return to work. But his condition rapidly worsened, and Taft returned to New York Hospital for surgery on July 4. He died on July 31, suffering a final brain hemorrhage just hours after his wife Martha's final visit.

In 1957, a committee led by Senator John F. Kennedy selected Taft as one of five of the greatest Senators, whose portraits would adorn the President's Room off the Senate floor. Taft continues to be regarded by historians as one of the most powerful U.S. Senators of the twentieth century.

Remembering Dwight Eisenhower

On March 28, 1969 (51 years ago today) Dwight David Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States, died at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington D.C. from congestive heart failure. He was 78 years of age.

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Eisenhower was born on October 14, 1890, in Denison, Texas, the third of seven boys. His mother originally named him David Dwight but reversed the two names after his birth to avoid the confusion of having two Davids in the family. In 1892, the family moved to Abilene, Kansas, which Eisenhower considered as his home town. He attended West Point Military Academy and graduated in the middle of the Class of 1915. While at West Point he excelled as an athlete, playing running back and linebacker on the varsity football team.

Although he never personally saw combat, Eisenhower rose through the ranks of the army, slowly at first, but later becoming a five-star general in the United States Army during World War II. He served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe. He had responsibility for planning and supervising the invasion of North Africa in Operation Torch in 1942–43 and the successful invasion of France and Germany in 1944–45 from the Western Front. In 1951, he became the first supreme commander of NATO. He was the last U.S. President to have been born in the 19th century.

In 1952 he won the presidential election by a landslide, defeating Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson for the first of two consecutive times. In the first year of his presidency, Eisenhower deposed the leader of Iran in the 1953 Iranian coup d'état and used nuclear threats to conclude the Korean War with China. His policy of nuclear deterrence gave priority to inexpensive nuclear weapons while reducing the funding for conventional military forces. His goal was to keep pressure on the Soviet Union and reduce federal deficits.

In 1954, Eisenhower first articulated the domino theory in his description of the threat presented to United States' global economic and military hegemony by the spread of communism and anti-colonial movements in the wake of Communist victory in the First Indochina War. The Congress agreed to his request in 1955 for the Formosa Resolution, which obliged the U.S. to militarily support the pro-Western Republic of China in Taiwan and take a hostile position against the People's Republic of China on the Chinese mainland.

After the Soviet Union launched the world's first artificial satellite in 1957, Eisenhower authorized the establishment of NASA which led to a "space race". Eisenhower forced Israel, the UK, and France to end their invasion of Egypt during the Suez Crisis of 1956, while simultaneously condemning the Soviet invasion of Hungary during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. In 1958, he sent 15,000 U.S. troops to Lebanon to prevent the pro-Western government from falling to a Nasser-inspired revolution. Near the end of his term, his efforts to set up a summit meeting with the Soviets collapsed because of the U-2 incident.

Eisenhower was the first outgoing President to come under the protection of the Former Presidents Act which entitled him to receive a lifetime pension, state-provided staff and a Secret Service detail. In the 1960 election to choose his successor, Eisenhower endorsed his Vice-President, Republican Richard Nixon against Democrat John F. Kennedy. He told friends, "I will do almost anything to avoid turning my chair and country over to Kennedy." He actively campaigned for Nixon, but in the final days leading up to the election he probably did Nixon more harm than good. He was asked by a reporter at the end of a televised press conference to list one of Nixon's policy ideas he had adopted. Eisenhower replied "If you give me a week, I might think of one. I don't remember." Kennedy's campaign used the quote in one of its campaign commercials. Nixon narrowly lost to Kennedy. Eisenhower, who was the oldest president in history at that time (then 70), was succeeded by the 43 year old Kennedy, the youngest president ever elected.

On January 17, 1961, Eisenhower gave his final televised Address to the Nation from the Oval Office. In his farewell speech, Eisenhower warned the country to be on guard for an over-zealous military. He said: "We face a hostile ideology global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose and insidious in method..." and warned about what he saw as unjustified government spending proposals and continued with a warning that "we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military–industrial complex." He continued, "we recognize the imperative need for this development ... the potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist ... Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together."

Eisenhower had resigned his permanent commission as General of the Army before becoming President of the United States. Upon completion of his Presidential term, his commission was reactivated and Eisenhower again was commissioned a five-star general in the United States Army.

After leaving office, Eisenhower retired to his farm adjacent to the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. In 1967, two years before Ike's death, the Eisenhowers donated the farm to the National Park Service. Never the most political of Presidents, in retirement he reluctantly performed some political duties. He spoke at the 1964 Republican National Convention and appeared with Barry Goldwater in a Republican campaign commercial from Gettysburg. However, his endorsement was given begrudgingly because Goldwater had once called Eisenhower "a dime-store New Dealer".

On March 28, 1969, Eisenhower died of congestive heart failure at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C.. The following day his body was moved to the Washington National Cathedral's Bethlehem Chapel. On March 30, his body was taken to the United States Capitol, where he lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda. On March 31, Eisenhower's body was returned to the National Cathedral, where he was given an Episcopal Church funeral service. That evening, Eisenhower's body was placed onto a train en route to Abilene, Kansas. His body arrived on April 2, and was interred later that day in a small chapel on the grounds of the Eisenhower Presidential Library. Eisenhower is buried alongside his son Doud, who died at age 3 in 1921. His wife Mamie was buried next to him after her death in 1979.


At Eisenhower's funeral, President Richard Nixon said of his former boss:

"Some men are considered great because they lead great armies or they lead powerful nations. For eight years now, Dwight Eisenhower has neither commanded an army nor led a nation; and yet he remained through his final days the world's most admired and respected man, truly the first citizen of the world."


A wonderful tribute to Eisenhower's presidency is contained in the 2012 biography written by Jean Edward Smith entitled Eisenhower in War and Peace in the preface at pages xiv-xv:

Eisenhower had a textbook view of presidential power. As more than one scholar has observed, he may have been the last President to actually believe in the Constitution. For Ike, Congress made policy and the President carried it out. He took his constitutional responsibility to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed" at face value. In 1957, when a United States District Court in Little Rock, Arkansas, ordered the desegregation of Central High, Eisenhower dispatched the 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell, Kentucky to enforce the court's order. If he had not acted, and if he had not used overwhelming force to ensure compliance with the district court's order, desegregation in the South would have been set back at least a generation. "Sending in the troops was the hardest decision I had had to make since D-Day," Eisenhower said afterward. "But Goddamn it, it was the only thing I could do."

Eisenhower was a progressive conservative. He believed traditional American values encompassed change and progress. He looked to the future, not the past, and his presidency provided a buffered transition from FDR's New Deal or the Fair Deal of Harry Truman into the modern era. "Should any political party attempt to abolish social security and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would never hear of that party again," Ike wrote his brother Edgar. "There is a tiny splinter group that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt and a few other Texas millionaires. But their number is negligible and they are stupid."

When the economy turned down after the Korean War, Eisenhower initiated the interstate highway program and constructed the St. Lawrence Seaway, not only revolutionizing the American transportation system, but opening the Great Lakes to ocean traffic. Neither program affected the federal budget. The interstate system - the cost of which eventually exceeded the total expenditures of the New Deal from 1933 to 1941 - was funded entirely by increased gasoline taxes, and the seaway through the sale of interest-bearing bonds issued by the U.S.-Canadian Seaway Development Corporation. The National Defense Education Act, which Eisenhower signed into law in 1958, broke the long-standing taboo against direct federal aid to education and has done more to change the face of American universities than any measure since the enactment of the GI Bill during World War II.

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As president, Eisenhower restored stability to the nation. His levelheaded leadership ensured that the United States would move forward in measured steps under the rule of law at home and collective security abroad. His sensible admonition upon leaving office to be wary of the military-industrial complex was the heartfelt sentiment of a president who recognized the perils of world leadership. Eisenhower gave the country eight years of peace and prosperity. No other president in the twentieth century can make that claim.

Past Campaigns: The 1856 Democratic Party Nomination

By this point in the 2020 presidential campaign, we're almost certain who the candidates will be for each of the major parties.Barring some sort of phenomenal occurrence, it is expected that Donald Trump will retain the Republican Party's nomination for President and, to a lesser degree of certainty, but almost certainly, Joe Biden will probably be the Democratic Party's candidate for President.

There was a time when the fight for a party's nomination wasn't decided until at the convention, sometime taking days to decide. The 1924 Democratic Convention took 105 ballots to nominate a candidate. In 1856 the Democrats took a lot less time, comparatively, with 17 ballots needed to select their candidate over two days of voting. It was an interesting time for the nation politically. The Democrats were the dominant party at the time, as the Whig Party had disintegrated over the issue of slavery. The Democrats were facing a similar split.

This was the first election in which the Republican Party had any real sort of presence in an election. On June 19, 1855, a small gathering of individuals who were opposed to slavery met in Washington, D.C. The group formed an organization that called themselves the "Republican Association of Washington, District of Columbia". They passed a simple four plank platform. One of the planks provided that "there should be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except for the punishment of crime, in any of the Territories of the United States." This led to the formation of a number of state organizations with similar goals, and the Republican Party soon came into being. On January 17, 1856 representatives of Republican Party organizations in Ohio, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Wisconsin — all Northern states in which slavery was prohibited agreed to hold a convention in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on February 22, 1856 in order to form a national organization and to call a formal, properly delegated national convention to nominate candidates for President and Vice-President for the upcoming November 1856 election. They elected a governing National Executive Committee and passed various resolutions calling for the repeal of laws enabling slaveholding in free territories and for the protection of anti-slavery supporters in Kansas.

The 22-member Republican National Committee met again on March 27, 1856 at Willard's Hotel in Washington, DC and issued a call for a formal presidential nominating convention. This was held beginning on June 17, 1856 in Philadelphia. At the convention, former general and California Senator John C. Fremont was nominated as the party's first presidential candidate.

Meanwhile, the Democrats were still the governing party and Franklin Pierce was the incumbent President. But Pierce's renomination faced some considerable obstacles. The Democratic Party had suffered devastating losses in the 1854–1855 midterm elections. The party was divided along sectional lines over the issue of slavery in new territories and whether or not those territories would be admitted to the union as free states or as slave states. The Kansas–Nebraska Act, passed in 1854, had led to violence in those territories between pro and anti slavery groups, and Kansas came to be known as "Bleeding Kansas" because of the violence that occurred there during its campaign for statehood. Two notable Democratic politicians, President Pierce and Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois, were seen as being at the center of the controversies.

Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, who had sponsored the Kansas-Nebraska Act, entered the race, seeking to run in opposition to President Pierce. Both men had lost support among northerners, and the party looked for a candidate who could meet two criteria: (1) someone who was not associated with the Kansas Nebraska Act and the violence within that territory, and (2) someone who could appeal to both northern and southern voters. The Pennsylvania delegation proposed that its favorite son, former Secretary of State James Buchanan, met both of those requirements. He was well-regarded as a statesman both among many northern Democrats, as well as those in the south. For the past three years, from August 23, 1853 to March 15, 1856, he had been out of the country, serving as Minister (Ambassador) to the United Kingdom, and therefore he was removed from the Kansas-Nebraska controversy.

In those days candidates did not campaign openly, and their work to solicit votes was done behind the scenes by surrogates. President Pierce still hoped to win his party's nomination, but in reality, he had slim hope of doing so. His popularity had suffered because of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and at that time, the Democrats required the successful candidate to win at least 2/3 of the ballots to win the nomination. Pierce certainly did not have that level of support.

The Democratic Convention of 1856 began at noon on Monday, June 2, by the National Committee chair Robert McLane. The first day of the convention was spent on routine business such as the appointment of committees on credentials, organization, and resolutions (the committee that would write the party's platform, something that was a big deal in those days). On the second day John Elliot Ward of Georgia was made the convention's president and the credentials committee settled disputes over delegates. The next day the party adopted the platform. It wasn't until the fourth day, June 5, when nominations for President began. Four men were nominated, all of whom would serve as the Democratic party's candidate at one time or another: James Buchanan of Pennsylvania (nominated in 1856), President Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire (1852), Senator Stephen A. Douglas, of Illinois (1860), and Senator Lewis Cass of Michigan (1848).

On the first ballot, Buchanan led with 135½ votes. Pierce had 122½, Douglas 33, and Cass 5. Fourteen ballots were held in total that day, with the order always the same, though Pierce's totals fell, while Senator Douglas gained some votes.

The next day, on June 6, Pierce's name was withdrawn, and two more ballots were taken without achieving the two-thirds majority required for a nomination. Before the seventeenth ballot, William A. Richardson, who had nominated Douglas, withdrew the Senator's candidacy and Buchanan won the nomination unanimously on the seventeenth ballot.

When it came time to choose a vice presidential candidate, eleven names were placed in nomination. The convention chose former Representative John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky on the second ballot, even though he had withdrawn his name when nominated.

Buchanan went on to win the presidency, in part because former President Millard Fillmore ran as a candidate for the American Party (often referred to as the "Know Nothing Party"). In the election campaign the Democratic platform supported the Kansas-Nebraska Act and popular sovereignty (the right of a state to decide by popular vote whether it would be admitted as a slave state or a free state). The party supported the pro-slavery territorial legislature elected in Kansas and opposed the free-state elements within Kansas. The Democrats also supported the plan to annex Cuba. The Democratic campaign warned voters that a Republican victory would lead to the secession of numerous southern states.


The campaign had different results in the free states and the slave states. In the free states, Frémont won with 45.2% of the vote to 41.5% for Buchanan and 13.3% for Fillmore. Frémont received 114 electoral votes to 62 for Buchanan. In the slave states, however, the contest was really no contest. Buchanan won 56.1% of the vote to 43.8% for Fillmore and 0.1% for Frémont, receiving 112 electoral votes to 8 for Fillmore. Nationwide, Buchanan won 174 electoral votes, a majority, and was elected President. He would be remembered as one of the worst presidents in history, perhaps the worst, because of his inaction when a number of southern states sought to secede from the Union. For someone considered to have a vast amount of experience in government that qualified him to be president moreso than almost any other president, Buchanan turned out to be a huge disappointment.

Past Campaigns: James Cox's 1920 Campaign for President

James Middleton Cox was the 46th and 48th Governor of Ohio. He had once been a U.S. Representative from Ohio, and in 1920 he became the Democratic nominee for President. His running mate would become more memorable than Cox. He was none other than future president Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Cox was born on a farm in Butler County, Ohio near the village of Jacksonburg on March 31, 1870. He was the youngest son and hadsix siblings. Cox was educated in a one-room school until the age sixteen. His parents divorced in 1886 and he moved with his mother in Middletown, Ohio, in 1886. There he apprenticed at the Middletown Weekly Signal as a journalist. In 1892 he received a job at the Cincinnati Enquirer as a copy reader on the telegraph desk, and later he became a news reporter. In 1894, Cox became an assistant to Middletown businessman Paul J. Sorg who was elected to U.S. Congress. Sorg helped Cox to acquire the Dayton Evening News, and Cox, after renaming it into the Dayton Daily News, Cox converted it from an unprofitable venture to a successful afternoon newspaper.

Cox began a crusade against Dayton's Republican boss, Joseph E. Lowes and John H. Patterson, president of Dayton's National Cash Register Co., disclosing antitrust violations and bribery on their part. In 1905, Cox acquired the Springfield Press-Republic, a newspaper published in Springfield, Ohio. He renamed it, the Springfield Daily News.

In 1908, Cox ran for Congress as a Democrat and won his election. He represented Ohio in the United States House of Representatives from 1909 to 1913, and resigned after winning election as Governor of Ohio in 1912. He won that election in a three-way race, with 41.5% of the vote. Cox lost his bid for reelection in 1914, but won the 1916 and 1918 elections. He was a progressive governor who created a no fault workers' compensation system and restricted child labor. He also introduced direct primaries, started education and prison reforms programs, and streamlined the budget and tax systems. During World War I, Cox worked to foster voluntary cooperation between business, labor, and government and in 1918, he welcomed constitutional amendments for Prohibition and woman suffrage. Cox supported the internationalist policies of Woodrow Wilson and reluctantly supported US entry into the League of Nations.

In 1919, Governor Cox backed a law which banned the German language from being taught until the eighth grade, even in private schools. He referred to teaching German as "a distinct menace to Americanism, and part of a plot formed by the German government to make the school children loyal to it." The legislation was later declared unconstitutional.

As the 1920 election approached, Woodrow Wilson still harbored plans of running for a third term for president, despite the fact that he was in very poor health and had suffered a severe stroke. Wilson still hoped of resurrecting his ill-fated plans to have the United States join the league of nations. Many of Wilson's advisers tried to convince him that his health was too poor for another campaign, but Wilson ignored this advice and asked Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby to nominate him for president at the 1920 Democratic National Convention.

With Wilson's health precluding a serious candidacy for a third term. By the time the convention came around, there were three leading candidates for the nomination were Attorney-General Mitchell Palmer, Treasury Secretary William Gibbs McAdoo, and Governor Cox. In the primaries that year, no candidate had won more than two primaries, but Palmer had won the most delegates. Palmer had considerable support among some in the party establishment, but had no track record when it came to winning elections. He won the Michigan and Georgia primaries. But he faced strong opposition from labor because of his use of an injunction against striking coal miners in the fall of 1919.

When the convention began, McAdoo was the strongest candidate. He led the voting for the first eleven ballots, but he could not gain momentum. Despite being McAdoo's father-in-law, Wilson blocked McAdoo's nomination, holding out hope that a deadlocked convention would demand that he run for a third term, even though Wilson was physically disabled and in seclusion at the time. In total fourteen names were placed in nomination. Cox moved into first place on the twelfth ballot, but no candidate could gain the necessary two-thirds majority required to win the nomination.

The lead shifted back to McAdoo on the thirtieth ballot, but Cox returned to first place on the thirty-ninth ballot after Palmer dropped out of the race. Finally on the 44th ballot, Cox captured the nomination. Cox's running mate was future president, then-Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt. Cox conducted a very active campaign. He personally visited 36 states and delivering 394 speeches. His speeches focused on domestic issues. This cost him support from supporters of Woodrow Wilson, who had wanted the election to be a referendum on the League of Nations. Instead Cox proposed lower income and business taxes and promised to introduce national collective bargaining legislation.


Ohio, then as now, was an important swing state. Largely in recognition of this, the Republicans nominated fellow Ohioan and newspaperman Senator Warren G. Harding as their candidate for President. His running mate was Massachusetts Governor Calvin Coolidge, another future President. The public wanted what Harding called a "return to normalcy." Harding won overwhelmingly, receiving 60.32% of the popular vote (to 34.15% for Cox) and winning the electoral vote by a margin of 404 to 127.

A Decade of Potus Geeks

On March 26, 2010, ten years ago today, potus_geeks was created when the first entry in this community was posted, informing those on Livejournal about the creation of this community, welcoming their participation. The first entries in the community are very primitive and elementary, but since then over 4500 journal entries have covered a variety of topics, marking the birthdays and anniversaries of the passing of all of the chief executives, summaries of presidential elections, book reviews on many presidential biographies and historical works, visits to presidential libraries and museums, and much more.

The potus_geeks library has grown to nearly 1000 volumes. We've followed two presidential elections, and will mark a third this year, all the while avoiding taking sides, focusing on history and not politics, so that this can be a welcoming community regardless of your politics. This is a haven for the open minded and inquisitive, and not an echo chamber.

Here's a recap of some of the things potus_geeks has done this past decade:

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Keep reading because there is more to come as we enter another election cycle and embark on "The Making of the President: 2020."

It is the goal of this community to make it a welcoming place for geeks of all political stripes, with a solid foundation of civility and respect. The next year will also provide more interesting new Presidential biographies to review and another monumental election, the first with two septuagenarian candidates for the major parties.


Thank you for reading the dorky offerings of this magnificent obsession. Here's to another happy year of Potus Geekery!