The 1856 Republican Nomination for President

The Republican Party was formed in early 1854. It was organized to oppose the Kansas-Nebraska Act and it first fielded candidates as an organized party in midterm elections during 1854 and 1855. The Republican Party was a patchwork party made up from anti-administration parties who were contesting the election. They were able to win thirteen seats in the House of Representatives for the 34th Congress. The party collaborated with other groups with similar interests and it gradually grew. In the elections of 1855, the Republican Party won three governorships.

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The first Republican National Convention was held in the Musical Fund Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from June 17 to 19, 1856. The convention approved an anti-slavery platform that called for congressional governance in the territories, an end to polygamy in Mormon settlements, and federal funding for a transcontinental railroad.

A number of prominent men emerged as leaders in the party. They included General John C. Frémont, Judge John McLean, William Seward, Salmon Chase, and Charles Sumner. Each of these men were considered by those at the convention to be presidential timber. When the convention convened, Seward, Chase and Sumner all requested that their names be withdrawn from consideration. McLean's name was initially withdrawn by his manager Rufus Spalding, but he rescinded the withdrawal at the strong urging of the Pennsylvania delegation led by Thaddeus Stevens.

A year previously, on June 19, 1855, a small gathering of like-minded individuals had met in Washington, D.C. They passed a resolution that was critical of "all compromises, real or imaginary" arising out of the opening of Kansas Territory and Nebraska Territory to the possible institution of slavery. They called themselves the "Republican Association of Washington, District of Columbia" and they passed a four plank platform. It led with the statement that "There should be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except for the punishment of crime, in any of the Territories of the United States." A number of state organizations soon followed suit, and the Republican Party was created.

On January 17, 1856, representatives of Republican Party organizations in Ohio, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Wisconsin issued a joint call for a convention to be held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on February 22, 1856. This first convention was convened to create a national organization and to call a formal, properly delegated national convention to nominate candidates for President and Vice-President of the United States in the November 1856 election. At the first gathering, these new Republicans elected a governing National Executive Committee and passed various resolutions calling for the repeal of laws permitting slaveholding in free territories. They also called for resistance "by Constitutional means of Slavery in any Territory," defense of anti-slavery supporters in Kansas whose safety was at risk, and a call to "resist and overthrow the present National Administration of Franklin Pierce, as it is identified with the progress of the Slave power to national supremacy."

The 22-member Republican National Committee included one representative from each state attending the Pittsburgh Convention. They met in a plenary session on March 27, 1856, at the Willard Hotel in Washington, DC. They also called for a formal presidential nominating convention. The convention was set to begin in June in Philadelphia. Each state organization was to be allocated six at-large delegates, plus three delegates for each congressional district.

Another party from the North called the American Party nominated former President Millard Fillmore in Philadelphia. This party called for its national convention to be held in New York, New York, just before the Republican National Convention. Party leaders hoped to nominate a joint ticket with the Republicans. The Republica national convention was held on June 12 to 20, 1856 in New York. General John C. Frémont was the favorite to attain the Republican nomination. Many in the American party hoped to nominate Fremont as their candidate, but Fremont supporters were concerned that doing so would injure his chances to actually become the Republican nominee. The delegates voted repeatedly on a nominee for president without a result. Nathaniel P. Banks was nominated for president on the 10th ballot, with the understanding that he would withdraw from the race and endorse John C. Frémont once he had won the Republican nomination. T

The first Republican National Convention was held in the Musical Fund Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on June 17 to 19, 1856. The convention approved an anti-slavery platform that called for congressional sovereignty in the territories, an end to polygamy in Mormon settlements, and federal assistance for a transcontinental railroad. William Seward, Salmon Chase, and Charles Sumner requested that their names be withdrawn from nomination. John McLean's name was initially withdrawn by his manager Rufus Spalding, but the withdrawal was rescinded at the urging of the Pennsylvania delegation led by Thaddeus Stevens. Frémont was nominated for president overwhelmingly on the first ballot, and William L. Dayton was nominated for vice-president over Abraham Lincoln.

None of the three candidates campaigned in person. The Republican Party campaigned on the slogan of "Free speech, free press, free soil, free men, Frémont and victory!" Democrats warned that a Republican victory would bring a civil war. The Republicans also accused the Pierce administration of allowing a fraudulent territorial government to be imposed upon the citizens of the Kansas Territory, leading to the violence that had raged in Bleeding Kansas. They called for the immediate admittance of Kansas as a free state.

The Democrats supported the Kansas-Nebraska Act and also supported the pro-slavery territorial legislature elected in Kansas. They opposed the free-state supporters in Kansas, and called the Topeka Constitution as an illegal document. Democrats also supported a plan to annex Cuba, and they warned that a Republican victory would lead to the secession of numerous southern states.

Millard Fillmore was considered by many voters of having no chance of winning the election on the American ticket. Former Whigs were urged to support Democratic Party candidate James Buchanan. Undaunted, Fillmore insisted that the American Party was the only "national party", accusing the Democrats favorig the South and Republicans of favoring the North and abolition. The American Party created a controversy when it began a rumor that Frémont was in a Roman Catholic. He wasn't, but his mother had been. The Democrats spread the rumor and Republicans were unable to get out the message that the statements were false. They also did not want to alienate the support of German Catholic voters, a significant block of their support. The issue persisted throughout the campaign and likely cost Frémont the support of a number of American Party members.

In the free states, there was a three-way campaign, which Frémont won with 45.2% of the vote to 41.5% for Buchanan and 13.3% for Fillmore. In these states, Frémont received 114 electoral votes to 62 for Buchanan. In the slave states, however, Fremont was shut out. Buchanan won 56.1% of the vote to 43.8% for Fillmore and 0.1% for Frémont. Buchanan won 112 electoral votes, compared to 8 for Fillmore. Nationwide, Buchanan won 174 electoral votes, enough for a majority. Frémont received no votes in ten of the fourteen slave states with a popular vote. He received votes in only four slave states: 306 in Delaware, 285 in Maryland, 283 in Virginia, and 314 in Kentucky.


This would be the final presidential election where the American Party (also called the "Know Nothing Party") ran a national campaign. The party began to splinter. After the Supreme Court's controversial Dred Scott v. Sandford ruling in 1857, most of the anti-slavery members of the party joined the Republicans. The pro-slavery wing of the American Party remained strong on the local and state levels in a few southern states, but by the 1860 election, they were no longer a serious national political movement. Most of their remaining members either joined or supported the Constitutional Union Party in 1860.

Happy Birthday Martin Van Buren

Martin Van Buren was the last person, prior to the late George H. W. Bush, to serve as Vice-President under a two-term President and then win election to the presidency himself. Like the first President Bush, Van Buren was also a one-term president and lost his bid for re-election.

Martin Van Buren was the 8th President of the United States and today is his birthday. Van Buren, also known as "the Little Magician" for his political prowess, was born on December 5, 1782 (237 years ago today) in the village of Kinderhook, New York. His father Abraham Van Buren was a farmer and a tavern keeper who was also the owner of six slaves. Although he would serve as Vice President in the administration of one of the most staunch defenders of the institution of slavery (Andrew Jackson), Little Van would later break with his party on that issue.


They called him "Little Van", most likely because he was one of the shortest Presidents at 5 feet, 6 inches. Van Buren was known as for his impeccable appearance, notwithstanding his humble background. This was something that was used against him by the Whig Party spin doctors in the election of 1840. As a young lawyer he became involved in New York politics rising to a lofty position in his New York political organization from which he dispensed public offices to optimum effect for his party. In 1821 was elected to the United States Senate.

By 1827 he had emerged as the principal northern leader for President Andrew Jackson. Jackson rewarded Van Buren by appointing him Secretary of State, which in those days gave one a leg up in the race to become president. Van Buren emerged as Jackson's most trusted adviser. Jackson described Van Buren as "a true man with no guile."

A rift developed in Jackson's Cabinet became serious because of Jackson's differences with Vice President John C. Calhoun over nullification of federal laws and also because of something called "the Pettycoat Affair" in which the wives of Jackson's cabinet became very catty to Peggy Eaton, the wife of Jackson's Secretary of War. When Jackson asked for the resignations of his cabinet, Van Buren and Secretary Eaton resigned and Jackson appointed a new Cabinet. He rewarded Van Buren by appointing him Minister (Ambassador) to Great Britain. Vice President Calhoun, as President of the Senate, cast the deciding vote against the appointment. In response, Jackson dumped Calhoun from the Democratic Party ticket in the next election and replaced him with Van Buren, who was elected Vice President in 1832. Jackson groomed Van Buren to be his successor and Van Buren was elected President in 1836.

When Van Buren took office the country was prosperous, but less than three months later the panic of 1837 struck and that prosperity was gone quickly. Andrew Jackson's financial measures contributed to the crash, but the country blamed Van Buren. Jackson's destruction of the Second Bank of the United States had removed restrictions upon the inflationary practices of some state banks. Wild speculation in lands, based on easy bank credit, had swept the West. To end this speculation, in 1836 Jackson required that land be purchased with gold or silver. As a result hundreds of banks and businesses failed. Thousands lost their lands. For about five years the nation suffered the worst depression thus far in its history.

Van Buren's remedy was to continue Jackson's deflationary policies. It just made things worse. Van Buren opposed the creation of a new Bank of the United States and also opposed placing government funds in state banks. He fought for the establishment of an independent treasury system to handle Government transactions.

As President Van Buren was opposed to the expansion of slavery. He blocked the annexation of Texas because it would add to slave territory, an issue on which he broke with his mentor, Old Hickory. Van Buren was defeated by Whig candidate William Henry Harrison in his 1840 bid for reelection in the "Whiskey and Hard Cider" campaign, which utilized the "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" slogan and song.

Van Buren ran for his party's nomination for President again in the next election (1844), but without Jackson's support there was no chance of his getting the required two-thirds majority vote among the delegates. He ran for President yet again in 1848, this time on the Free Soil Party ticket (an anti-slavery party), but he lost once again.

Van Buren retired to his home in Kinderhook. He was one of five ex-presidents still living when the Civil War broke out, and once the war began, Van Buren made public his support for the Union. He supported Abraham Lincoln's efforts to prevent the southern states from seceding. After being bedridden with a case of pneumonia during the fall of 1861, Martin Van Buren died of bronchial asthma and heart failure at his Lindenwald estate in Kinderhook at 2:00 a.m. on July 24, 1862. He was 79 years old.

The Whig Campaign of 1836

By 1836 Andrew Jackson had served two full terms as President. He considered running for a third term, but opted against breaking the precedent set by George Washington. He had achieved a number of his goals including winning the so-called Bank War (in which he prevented the rechartering of the Bank of the United States). This policy would come back to haunt his successor when the panic of 1837 hit, but that wasn't something on voters minds yet in 1836, when it came time to select a successor for Jackson.

Jackson publicly endorsed a ticket consisting of his Vice President, Martin Van Buren of New York, and Representative Richard M. Johnson of Kentucky, the latter of whom had gained popular favor for his role in the War of 1812. Although the nomination could have been contested, Jackson still maintained strong influence and control over his party, and there were no serious challenges at the Democratic Convention held in Baltimore in May of 1835, when Van Buren was unanimously selected as the Party's candidate on the first ballot.

The selection of his running mate was another matter. Several Southerners were opposed to Richard Johnson's nomination for Vice President because of Johnson's open relationship with his African-American slave. The scandal caused Virginia delegates to supported Senator William Cabell Rives against Johnson. Rives's candidacy failed to obtain sufficient support however and Johnson won the nomination for the second spot on the ticket by the required 2/3 majority, defeating Rives by a vote of 178 to 87.


The Whig Party was a new party that arose largely out of opposition to Jackson. Shortly after Jackson's re-election, South Carolina passed a measure to "nullify" the Tariff of 1832, beginning the Nullification Crisis. Jackson strongly opposed the right of South Carolina to nullify federal law, and even threatened to personally lead an army to bring the petulant state into line. The crisis was resolved after Congress passed the Tariff of 1833, but partisan divisions were created. Many of Jackson's former supporters opposed his threats of force against South Carolina. In South Carolina and other states, those opposed to Jackson began to form small "Whig" parties. The Whig label was used to compare "King Andrew" to King George III, the King of Great Britain at the time of the American Revolution. Jackson decision to remove government deposits from the national bank resulted in further opposition. The move drew opposition from both pro-bank National Republicans and states' rights Southerners like Willie Person Mangum of North Carolina, who accused Jackson of ignoring the Constitution.

In late 1833, Henry Clay began to hold a series of dinners with opposition leaders in order to settle on a candidate to oppose Martin Van Buren, the likely Democratic nominee in the 1836 presidential election. But Jackson's opponents could not agree on a single presidential candidate. They were able at least to coordinate opposition against Jackson in the Senate, taking control of the Senate in December 1833.

National Republicans Henry Clay and Daniel Webster formed the core of the Whig Party leadership. Anti-Masons like William H. Seward of New York and Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania also joined the party. Some prominent Democrats defected to the Whigs, including Mangum, former Attorney General John Berrien, and John Tyler of Virginia.

The Whig Party's first major action was to censure Jackson for the removal of the national bank deposits. During 1834 and 1835, the Whigs successfully incorporated National Republican and Anti-Masonic state-level organizations and established new state party organizations in Southern states like North Carolina and Georgia. John C. Calhoun also temporarily joined the Whig coalition.

Unlike the Democrats, the Whigs did not hold a national convention in 1836. Instead, state legislatures and state conventions nominated separate candidates for president. Southern Nullifiers chose Tennessee Senator Hugh Lawson White as their candidate for the presidency in 1834 soon after his break with Jackson. White was a moderate on the states' rights issue, which made him acceptable in the South, but not in the North. The state legislatures of Alabama and Tennessee each also officially nominated White. The South Carolina state legislature nominated Senator Willie P. Mangum of North Carolina as their presidential candidate. By early 1835, Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster was building support among Northern Whigs. The Pennsylvania legislature nominated popular former general William Henry Harrison, who had led American forces at the Battle of Tippecanoe. The Whigs hoped that Harrison's reputation as a military hero could win voter support. Harrison soon displaced Webster as the preferred candidate of Northern Whigs.

Despite multiple candidates, there was only one Whig ticket in each state. The Whigs ended up with two main tickets: William Henry Harrison for president and Francis Granger for vice-president in the North and the border states, and Hugh Lawson White for president and John Tyler for vice-president in the middle and lower South. In Massachusetts, the ticket was Daniel Webster and Granger. In South Carolina, the ticket was Mangum for president and Tyler for vice-president.

The Whigs knew that no one candidate could win enough electoral votes to top those won by Van Buren. Instead they hoped that their various candidates would win enough states that Van Buren would be denied a majority of electoral college votes. In that case the House of Representatives would have to select a President, just as they did when John Quincy Adams was chosen in 1824 over Jackson, despite Jackson winning a plurality of electoral and popular votes. The Whigs were confident that whoever the House chose for President, that person would be a Whig and not Van Buren.

Voting took place from Thursday, November 3, to Wednesday, December 7, 1836. The Whigs attacked Van Buren on all sides, but Van Buren was known as the Little Magician and his superior organization carried the day, earning him a majority of electoral votes. Van Buren defeated Harrison by a 51-49% vote in the North, and he defeated White by a similar 51-49% margin in the South. He won 170 electoral votes compared to 73 for Harrison, 26 for White, 14 for Webster and 11 for Mangum (whose electoral votes were at the time awarded by the North Carolina legislature, without popular vote). The Whig candidates received 124 electoral votes in total, giving Van Buren a clear majority.

A dispute arose during the counting of the electoral votes concerning the state of Michigan, which had only become a state on January 26, 1837, but which had cast its electoral votes for president before that date. The dispute had no bearing on the final result: either way Van Buren was elected. There was a problem however with the election for Vice-President. Virginia's 23 electors were all pledged to Van Buren and his running mate, Richard Mentor Johnson, but all 23 of them refused to vote for Johnson. This left Johnson one vote short of the 148-vote majority required to elect. Under the Twelfth Amendment, the Senate had to decide between the top two vote-getters, and they picked Johnson over Francis Granger.

While Van Buren won the day, his victory would not be the prize he anticipated. As president, Van Buren was blamed for the depression of 1837 and hostile newspapers dubbed him "Martin Van Ruin". He tried to cure the economic problems by keeping control of federal funds in an independent treasury rather than in state banks, but Congress would not approve of this until 1840. In 1840, Van Buren was voted out of office, losing to Whig candidate William Henry Harrison, the man he had defeated four years earlier.

The 1940 Republican Party Presidential Nomination

By the time the 1940 Presidential election had approached, Franklin Roosevelt had served two full terms in office. Up to that point in time, no president had successfully won a third term. At this point in time the Constitution did not prohibit such a thing, as would later be the case. But most presidents had followed the example set by George Washington and had not sought a third perm, feeling that doing so would be improper and disrespectful to Washington's legacy. The two who had attempted such as thing, Ulysses Grant and Theodore Roosevelt, had not been successful and neither of them had tried to win three times in a row. But 1940 was a different time. Franklin Roosevelt was still revered for leading the nation out of the Great Depression. The world was living in precarious times when it appeared as if another great war was on the horizon. While the nation was divided over the question of whether to get in or get out of the conflict, many looked to Roosevelt's wise leadership and steady hand, and many felt that this was the wrong time for a change of leadership guiding the nation.


As with the nation in general, the Republican Party was deeply divided between the isolationists, who wanted to stay out of the war at all costs, and the interventionists, who felt that the it was morally wrong to let the United Kingdom and her allies bear the burden of preventing Germany from conquering all of Europe.

The three leading candidates for the Republican nomination were all isolationists. They were Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio, Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg of Michigan, and District Attorney Thomas E. Dewey of New York. Taft was the leader of the conservative, isolationist wing of the Republican Part.

Dewey was the District Attorney for Manhattan, who had risen to national fame as the "Gangbuster" prosecutor who had successfully prosecuted numerous organized crime figures, most notably Lucky Luciano. Dewey had won most of the presidential primaries in the spring of 1940. He arrived at the Republican Convention in June with the largest number of delegate votes, although he was still well below the number needed to win.

Vandenberg, the senior Republican in the Senate, was considered a possible compromise candidate if Taft or Dewey faltered. Former President Herbert Hoover was also considered to be a compromise candidate.

Each of these candidates was seen to have a number of weaknesses. Taft's strong isolationism and vocal opposition to any American involvement in the European war led many Republican leaders to believe that he could not win a general election. This became more of a concern after France fell to the Nazis in May of 1940 and Germany threatened Britain. Dewey was only 38 in 1940 and he lacked foreign policy experience. This was more of an impediment to his candidacy as Nazi military aggression became more and more of a frightening challenge. Vandenberg was seen as too boring. His lackadaisical, lethargic campaign never gained any traction and his isolationism also cost him support. Former President Herbert Hoover still bore the stigma of having presided over the stock market crash of 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression. Unless the Republicans came up with a better candidate, they appeared to be facing another slaughter at the polls like they had experienced in 1936.

Wendell Willkie was a Wall Street-based industrialist who had never run for public office. He was from Indiana and was a former Democrat who had supported Roosevelt in the 1932 presidential election. Willkie had first come to public attention as a prominent critic of Roosevelt's attempt to break up electrical power monopolies. Willkie was the CEO of the Commonwealth & Southern Corporation, which provided electrical power to customers in eleven states. In 1933, President Roosevelt created the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), which promised cheap electricity for the impoverished people of the Tennessee River Valley. The TVA competed with Willkie's company and this led Willkie to criticize and oppose the TVA's attempt to compete with private industry. Willkie argued that the government had unfair advantages over private corporations, and should not be competing directly against them.

Willkie differed from the other Republican candidates in two significant respects. Firstly, he supported many of Roosevelt's social welfare programs. Secondly, he was an outspoken advocate for providing aid to the Allies, especially Britain. His support of giving all aid to the British "short of declaring war" won him the support of many Republicans who disagreed with their party's isolationists. Willkie's arguments for providing aid to the Allies convinced these Republicans that he would be an attractive presidential candidate. Many of the leading media barons supported Willkie in their newspapers and magazines.

A May 8 Gallup Poll showed Dewey at 67% support among Republicans, followed by Vandenberg and Taft, with Willkie at only 3%. But the German Army's rapid blitz into France in May 1940 changed American public opinion. Taft continued to preach the need to concentrate on domestic issues and said that Roosevelt should not be allowed to use the war to extend socialism at home. Both Dewey and Vandenberg also continued to oppose any aid to Britain that might lead to war with Germany. But as sympathy for the embattled British grew, this aided Willkie's candidacy. By mid-June, just about a week before the Republican Convention opened, a Gallup poll reported that Willkie had moved into second place with 17%, and that Dewey was slipping.

The 1940 Republican National Convention was held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from June 24 to June 28, 1940. As the delegates were arriving, Gallup reported that Willkie had surged to 29%, Dewey had slipped five more points to 47%, and Taft, Vandenberg and Hoover trailed at 8%, 8%, and 6% respectively. Many "Willkie Clubs" had sprung up across the country and they lobbied delegates to the convention to support their man. At the convention, keynote speaker Harold Stassen, the Governor of Minnesota, announced his support for Willkie. Willkie's outsider status appealed to delegates. Few of the delegations were selected by primaries, and those delegates who were not bound to any candidate had a keen sense of the fast-changing tide of public opinion.

Dewey led on the first ballot, but steadily lost strength thereafter. Both Taft and Willkie gained in strength on each ballot, and by the fourth ballot it appeared that either Willkie or Taft would be the nominee. When the delegations of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New York left Dewey and Vandenberg and switched to Willkie, his nomination was assured, giving him the victory on the sixth ballot.

Willkie's nomination was one of the most dramatic moments in any political convention. Willkie left the decision of who his running mate would be to convention chairman and Massachusetts Congressman Joseph Martin, the House Minority Leader. Martin suggested Senate Minority Leader Charles L. McNary of Oregon, even though McNary had led a "Stop Willkie" campaign late in the balloting. Willkie did not have any hard feelings and picked McNary to be his running mate.

Willkie spoke out against Roosevelt's attempt to break the two-term presidential tradition. He told audiences, "if one man is indispensable, then none of us is free." Willkie also criticized what incompetence and waste in Roosevelt's New Deal welfare programs. He promised that as president he would keep most of Roosevelt's government programs, but would make them more efficient.

One strike against Willkie was his corporate background. Many Americans blamed business leaders for the Great Depression, and Democrats tied Willkie to "big business" in order to cause him to lose support with working-class voters. Willkie fearlessly campaigned in industrial areas where Republicans were still blamed for causing the Great Depression and where Roosevelt was very popular. Willkie often had rotten fruit and vegetables thrown at him and was heckled a lot, but he was never deterred.

Willkie accused Roosevelt of leaving the nation unprepared for war. When the evidence failed to support this charge, Willkie changed tactics and accused Roosevelt of secretly planning to take the nation into World War II. In response, Roosevelt promised that he would "not send American boys into any foreign wars."

Roosevelt's popularity was too much for Willkie to overcome. Roosevelt led in all pre-election opinion polls and on Election Day Roosevelt received 27.3 million votes (54.74%) to Willkie's 22.3 million (44.78%). In the Electoral College, Roosevelt defeated Willkie by a margin of 449 to 82. Willkie ran strong in rural areas in the American Midwest, taking over 57% of the farm vote. Roosevelt carried every American city with a population of more than 400,000 except Cincinnati, Ohio. Of the 106 cities with more than 100,000 population, Roosevelt won 61 percent of the votes cast. In the South as a whole, he won 73 percent of the total vote. In the remainder of the country Willkie had a majority of 53 percent. Despite the security of the victory, after the election FDR would say that Willkie had given him the toughest political fight of his life.

The Democratic Party's 1844 Presidential Nomination

In 1844, the Democrats were split
The three candidates for the presidential candidate
Were Martin Van Buren, a former President and an abolitionist,
James Buchanan, a moderate,
Lewis Cass, a general and expansionist,
From Nashville came a dark horse riding up
He was James K. Polk, Napoleon of the Stump


So go the lyrics of the song by the alternative group They Might Be Giants. They're not entirely accurate however. Van Buren would not run as an abolitionist for another four years, and in 1844 he was still hoping to attract the support of his former mentor Andrew Jackson, someone who was definitely not an abolitionist. It also seems wrong to describe a "doughface" like James Buchanan as a moderate, though I suppose that he was for his time, as he sought to hold the divergent interests of northern and southern Democrats together. But as the 1844 Democratic Convention approached, if there had been such a thing as Las Vegas odds in those days, a bet that James K. Polk would emerge as the party's nominee for President would have paid off handsomely.

In 1840, the Jacksonian era came to an end with the defeat of Martin Van Buren in his bid for re-election. Van Buren had been done in by the Panic of 1837, an economic depression that many blamed on Jackson's policy of refusing to recharter the national bank. That and a slick campaign had put General William Henry Harrison in the White House - for just 31 days. When Harrison died on April 4, 1841, his successor John Tyler proceeded to alienate his Whig Party. Tyler had flirted with the idea of running as a Democrat and also as an independent, but neither proved a viable option.

The 1844 Democratic National Convention was a presidential nominating convention was held in Baltimore, Maryland for four days from May 27 to May 30. As the convention approached, Van Buren was considered to be the front runner. That all changed with a plan by President Tyler to annex the independent Republic of Texas. This proved to be a divisive issue, as northerners saw the move as one that would allow for the expansion of slavery into territory south of the line delineated by the Missouri Compromise of 1820. Southern slaveholders liked the move for the same reason. Among those in support of the move were former President Andrew Jackson and his protege, fellow Tennessean James K. Polk.

Martin Van Buren made his opposition to the annexation of Texas known publicly. This cost him support with expansionists and Southerners. Van Buren entered the convention with the backing of a majority of the delegates. Before presidential balloting began, the convention voted to reinstate a rule requiring the presidential nominee to win two-thirds of the vote. This was a blow to the Van Buren forces. On the first ballot for the Presidential nominee, Van Buren won a simple majority of the vote, but fell short of a two-thirds majority. As the balloting continued, Van Buren continually lost support to former Governor Lewis Cass of Michigan, former Vice President Richard Mentor Johnson of Kentucky, and Senator James Buchanan of Pennsylvania.

James K. Polk had attended the convention only hoping to be nominated for vice president. Polk had the strong support of Andrew Jackson and was acceptable to the different factions of the party. He had once been Speaker of the House, and was also a former Governor of his state. But he had lost the last two elections as the Democratic candidate for Governor, and he was not considered to be very electable for anything other than possibly as Vice-President.

At the outset of the convention, the leading contenders had a much better political pedigree than Polk. Van Buren of New York was a former President who had been defeated in the 1840 election. Lewis Cass of Michigan had served as United States Secretary of War under President Andrew Jackson. Richard Johnson had been Van Buren's Vice-President, but was controversial within his party because of his open relationship with a mulatto woman.

Van Buren publicly opposed the immediate annexation of Texas because he believed that it might lead to a sectional crisis over the status of slavery in the West. This position cost Van Buren the support of Southern and expansionist Democrats, but he held to this position because he believed that backing annexation would cost him the support of his fellow New Yorkers and other Northeasterners. He found himself in a difficult position, but he still believed he could win the nomination because he had the support of a majority of the delegates pledged to him on the first ballot. Cass had support from a handful of Southern states, but had far fewer delegates pledged to him than Van Buren.

At the previous convention in 1840, the winning candidate needed only a majority of votes to secure the nomination, but this had been a departure from the traditional practice of requiring a two-thirds vote to win the nomination. Early in the proceedings, Senator Robert J. Walker of Mississippi brought a motion for the reinstatement of the traditional 1832 and 1835 convention rule requiring the nominee to win two-thirds of the votes. In this he had the support of James Buchanan, who imagined that he might emerge as the compromise candidate from a deadlocked convention. Van Buren's supporters split over this issue. One-third of the pro-Van Buren delegates (52 of 154) voted to reinstate the two-thirds rule, along with 90 of 104 anti-Van Buren delegates, and the motion passed by a vote of 148 to 116. The rule would remain in place until the 1936 Democratic National Convention, when it was revoked by supporters of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Van Buren still had hopes of winning the nomination, despite the two-thirds rule. He received 146 votes on the first ballot, a 55% simple majority, but 31 votes short of the now required 177 votes. Support for Van Buren decreased in subsequent ballots from 146 to 99. Van Buren's supporters refused to support numerous other candidates, such as Buchanan, Cass, former Vice-President John C. Calhoun, or Levi Woodbury of New Hampshire. Incumbent President John Tyler, a former Democrat who was elected to the Vice Presidency on the 1840 Whig Party ticket, also hoped to win the support of delegates, but he was unable to find any support.

It became clear that Van Buren could not win the nomination because of his stand on Texas annexation. The Democratic Party was in need of an acceptable nominee committed to immediate annexation, but also capable of unifying the party in the general election.

On the eighth ballot, the historian George Bancroft, a delegate from Massachusetts, proposed former Speaker of the House James K. Polk as a compromise candidate. Polk came to the convention in hopes of becoming the vice presidential nominee. Former President Andrew Jackson, who remained popular in the party, believed Polk was, in the words of They Might Be Giants, "just the man we need to bring about victory". Although he was a slaveholder himself, Polk had never been as vocal about a slavery expansionist position with respect to Texas annexation as John C. Calhoun or other southern extremists. Polk had also carefully avoided being openly critical of Van Buren and so anti-annexationist Van Buren supporters found Polk the least offensive among their choices. Many of them had already agreed to support Polk as their vice-presidential choice to compliment a Van Buren ticket. Southern Democrats had no difficulty in supporting the pro-annexation nationalist Polk.

On the ninth ballot, Van Buren instructed his delegates to support Polk, beginning a stampede that ended with Polk winning the nomination unanimously. Polk became the known as the first "dark horse" presidential nominee, a term that became coined for a surprise winner in a political contest. Van Buren supported his party's decision to unite under a pro-annexation candidate, and worked to win New York state for Polk in the general election that followed.


In the election of 1844, the Whigs tried to cast Polk as an unknown. They campaigned on the slogan "Who is James K. Polk?" But Polk proved to be an effective political operator. He gained the nickname "Young Hickory", a dual reference, one to his mentor Andrew Jackson ("Old Hickory") and one to the term Young America, a reference to an international movements struggling to establish republican forms of government. With Van Buren's help, Polk narrowly won the state of New York, which proved decisive in his election victory over the better-known Whig candidate Henry Clay. Ironically, Polk won the election, while losing his (and Jackson's) home state of Tennessee.

The 1964 Republican Party Presidential Nomination

I'm reading a new book from the University of Kansas Press Presidential Election series about the 1964 election called Two Suns of the Southwest: Lyndon Johnson, Barry Goldwater, and the 1964 Battle between Liberalism and Conservatism by Nancy Beck Young. While the election ended up with LBJ winning by a landslide (there are no spoiler alerts in US history), I had forgotten about what a dogfight the battle for the Republican Party's Presidential nomination was, and how the Conservative and Liberal elements went head to head for control of the party. Many view it as a turning point in history when the Republicans transitioned from the "party of Lincoln" into its current state.

In 1964, the nation was recovering from the tragic assassination of John F. Kennedy in November of 1963. Lyndon Johnson had succeeded Kennedy and was using all of his skills as the former "master of the Senate" to push through Kennedy's civil rights program, much to the consternation of Democrats from the deep south. Meanwhile, Republicans were a party struggling for an identity, following the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower, a man without a deep ideology other than for a strong role in foreign affairs. The party had been scarred by McCarthyism. Richard Nixon's loss in the 1960 Presidential election, and his subsequent loss in the 1962 race for Governor of California left a void in the leadership of the party.

In 1960 the Republican Party had gained nineteen House seats and two seats in the Senate, but the midterm election of 1962 proved disappointing for the party. It only gained three seats in the U.S. House and lost three in the Senate, leaving the Democrats in control of both houses. At the beginning of 1963 opened, several Republicans were seen as potential presidential candidates. One was New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who had just been re-elected in 1962. Rockefeller met with Republicans in the Midwest in the spring of 1963 to gather support for his candidacy. He was encouraged by the response. Former Governor Goodwin Knight of California opened a Rockefeller campaign office in California, but Rockefeller convinced him to close it on March 29.

Rockefeller's popularity declined when he remarried the much younger Margaretta "Happy" Fitler on May 4 after being divorced the previous year. The Republican Citizens Committee, a caucus of moderate Republicans, decided by July 16 not to support Rockefeller. Undaunted, Rockefeller announced his candidacy and prepared for the first primary, held in New Hampshire. He had the support of that state's former Governor Hugh Gregg.

There were at least four other big name candidates, including conservative Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater. Other candidates were United States Ambassador to South Vietnam and 1960 Republican vice-presidential candidate Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., and Governors George Romney of Michigan (father of Mitt Romney) and William Scranton of Pennsylvania. Goldwater headquarters were being informally opened in critical states by mid-1963. He opened an office in Oregon on June 20, and in the summer. By the summer of 1963 he was leading in a number of polls of Republicans.

A conference of western Republicans was held in Eugene, Oregon on October 12, 1963. Both Rockefeller and Goldwater attended. Rockefeller challenged Goldwater to a debate on "how our party can best deal with the vital issues before the American people today." Goldwater refused to debate Rockefeller, stating that believed this would injure party's unity.

Rockefeller began campaigning shortly thereafter. He spent two days in New Hampshire. When New Englander Henry Cabot Lodge declined to enter the New Hampshire primary, things looked good for Rockefeller, because he was concerned that Lodge's entrance would split the liberal Republican vote, resulting in a likely win for Goldwater. On November 7, Rockefeller became the first candidate to officially enter the race.

The assassination of President Kennedy on November 22 resulted in a halt on campaigning. While the campaigns were suspended, former President Dwight Eisenhower called on Lodge to enter the race as a compromise candidate. As the new year began, Goldwater announced his candidacy on January 3, and on the following day, but Lodge was still coy on whether he would run. He publicly renounced the efforts to draft him. Former Vice-President Richard Nixon was still mentioned as a possibility, and so were Governors Scranton and Romney. Harold Stassen entered the race on January 20 but was never much of a factor.

Another interesting candidate was Senator Margaret Chase Smith of Maine, who became the first prominent woman to run for president. But in 1964, the candidacy of a female as president did not attract much support.

In the New Hampshire primary, a poll taken a few weeks before the primary showed that 60% of the Republicans were still undecided. Goldwater spent twenty-one days campaigning continuously in New Hampshire. He campaigned while wearing a cast (he had surgery on his right foot to remove a calcium spur). Lodge was now a candidate and Goldwater believed that moderate Republicans were divided three ways: among Rockefeller, Lodge and Nixon. According to Young, Goldwater was seen as too much of a loose cannon by the cautious New Hampshire Republicans, and in a record turnout they gave Lodge a solid victory with 36% of the vote to 22% for Goldwater, 21% for Rockefeller, and 17% for Nixon.

In the four-week lull after New Hampshire, Goldwater and Rockefeller both worked on trying to win endorsements in various states. Both worked on a Republican volunteer organization in California, where the two were scheduled to appear on the ballot in the primary on June 2. A poll showed Lodge in the lead in the state with 31% to 25% for Goldwater, 21% for Nixon, and just 12% for Rockefeller. Soon thereafter, both Gallup and Harris released polls showing Lodge as the front-runner with Nixon second and Goldwater a poor third. Scranton stated on April 10 that he was not a candidate, thus reducing the field.

Illinois held its primary on April 14. With the state Republican leadership almost solidly behind Goldwater, only Margaret Chase Smith chose to file for the primary against Goldwater. Goldwater defeated Smith 62-25%, Smith's best primary performance. Lodge placed third on write-ins and Nixon fourth. By this point, Goldwater and Rockefeller had gained a number of delegates in non-primary states and the delegate count was Goldwater 159, Rockefeller 90, Lodge 14.

New Jersey voted on April 21. No candidates filed, so all votes were write-ins. Lodge again placed first with 42% to Goldwater 28%, Nixon 22%, and only 8% for all others. Massachusetts and Pennsylvania voted on April 28. No candidate appeared on the ballot in either. On the day before the two primaries, Rockefeller announced that he would call for US air strikes into Laos and Cambodia to help the government of South Vietnam. Lodge won Massachusetts with 77% of the vote to 10% for Goldwater and only 6% for Nixon. Scranton won his home state of Pennsylvania with 52% to Lodge 21%, Nixon 10%, and Goldwater 9%.

Another large chunk of delegates was chosen in the following month when eight states held primaries. Rockefeller attacked Goldwater as irresponsible and extreme, and as someone who would ruin the Republican Party. Rockefeller also claimed that moderate Republicans were dividing their primary votes among Rockefeller, Lodge, and Scranton, thus allowing Goldwater to win many delegates he otherwise would not win. Campaigning in West Virginia, Rockefeller turned his attack on Lodge who he called "a person who isn't there, who says nothing on any issues".

Goldwater spent the early part of the month in the South. He won 75% of the vote in the first Republican presidential primary in Texas. With his gains in a number of southern states, the American Press (AP) estimated that Goldwater had 209 delegates; uncommitted was second with 143 to Scranton 63, Lodge 43, and 55 for others. Rockefeller had not won a single delegate at the time. Four states held mostly uncontested primaries in the following two weeks. Goldwater won Indiana and Nebraska, Rockefeller won West Virginia, and Governor Jim Rhodes won his home state of Ohio.

The Oregon primary was held on May 15. As one of the most important primaries of the year. All candidates spent time trying to win the state. Lodge took the lead in opinion polls, but Rockefeller pressed on, continuing to attack Lodge for not attacking Goldwater. Two days before Oregon voted, a California poll showed Goldwater leading Rockefeller there by 43-27%. The poll was seen as precipitating a critical Rockefeller win in the Oregon primary. Rockefeller placed first with 33%, followed by Lodge with 28%, Goldwater with 18%, and Nixon with 17%.

In the latter half of May, the only contested primary was in Florida, where a slate of uncommitted delegates unexpectedly defeated a Goldwater slate. However, AP estimated on May 24 that Goldwater led with 304 delegates. Scranton was second with 70, followed by Rhodes with 58. Lodge had 44, and Rockefeller had 39. The uncommitted total was 224. T

Goldwater's strategy was to lock up the delegate votes from the South and the West. If he could win California, he would be able to win the presidential nomination on the first ballot. His support in California public opinion polls remained at 43%. Lodge's supporters agreed to join Rockefeller in California in a "stop Goldwater" movement, but the polls showed only a minimal gain for Rockefeller. As the campaign continued, California voters began shifting to Rockefeller, who took the lead in opinion polls in the week before the primary. But Rockefeller's campaign took a hit when on May 30, Margaretta Rockefeller had a baby son. Newspaper coverage included the information that Margaretta had worked on Rockefeller's staff before the two of them divorced their long-time spouses to marry each other. This was not new information, but it was not pub back in the minds of Republican voters.

Just over two million people voted in California's Republican primary.In the end, Goldwater won the California primary by only 3%. But it gained him 86 delegates, just 30 delegates short of a majority. South Dakota chose 14 delegates on the same day as California, but an uncommitted slate defeated a Goldwater slate by a 2:1 margin.

With all primaries held, Senator Goldwater had won 38% of the vote in the primaries. More importantly, his organization's successful work in non-primary states meant that he had 49% of the delegates. Gov. Rockefeller won 22% of the primary vote, 75% of which came from California. Favorite son candidates and unofficial candidates won 40% of the vote, leading the pundits of the day to conclude that Republicans were dissatisfied with their choices.

As the Republican convention approached, Senator Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania started a movement to draft Governor Scranton on June 6. The following day, Scranton stopped to visit former President Eisenhower while on his way to the National Governors Conference in Cleveland and Eisenhower encouraged Scranton to officially enter the race. Scranton did so on June 12. Rockefeller dropped out on June 15 and endorsed Scranton.

In the week between June 7 and June 13, 13 states chose 225 delegates. Many uncommitted delegates began to slowly announce their intentions and on June 9, 16 from Florida announced that they were for Goldwater. Scranton made a swing throughout the nation to speak with as many delegates as possible. He won endorsements in Ohio and Maryland. Michigan's Governor George Romney announced that the state's delegation would meet separately with Goldwater and Scranton before deciding how to vote.

On June 18, Goldwater gave a speech in the senate in which he stated that he would vote against the Civil Rights bill. Senator Kenneth Keating of New York called Goldwater's position was a repudiation of Abraham Lincoln and founding principles of the Republican Party. Governor Scranton criticized Goldwater's position on civil rights and challenged Goldwater to a debate. Goldwater did not take the bait. Scranton purchased a 30-minute time segment on NBC that aired on July 7 in which Scranton spent most of the time discussing attacks from the Goldwater forces.

The 28th Republican National Convention was held in the Cow Palace, San Mateo California, from July 13 to July 16. The 1956 Republican National Convention had been held there. AP polled all delegates and found that Goldwater had a comfortable majority of them, even though a Gallup poll showed Scranton leading Goldwater among nationwide Republicans by a 60-34% margin. Oregon Governor Mark Hatfield then delivered the keynote address. He set out the party's case for defeating President Johnson.

The second day was consumed with speeches and the platform vote. Senator Hugh Scott offered the first amendment at 10:00 p.m., condemning the Ku Klux Klan, the Communist Party, and the John Birch Society. Governor Rockefeller sought to address the convention on this amendment, and Goldwater delegates booed him loudly to drown him out. The convention took a standing vote to defeat the measure. Scott then offered a stronger civil rights plank, which was defeated 897-409. Goldwater supporters voted down several other minor amendments, and at 12:36 a.m., the proposed platform was approved.

On the third day of the convention, the presidential nominations and balloting took place. The roll call followed. Goldwater took the lead with Alabama and never lost it. At the end, Goldwater had 883 votes to just 214 for Scranton, 114 for Rockefeller, and 97 for all others. Most delegates switched their votes to Goldwater. Then Governor Scranton took the stage. He called for the nomination to be made unanimous, calling on his supporters "not to desert our party but to strengthen it."

In his acceptance speech, Goldwater famously said:

"The task of preserving and enlarging freedom at home and of safeguarding it from the forces of tyranny abroad is great enough to challenge all our resources and to re-fire all our strength. Anyone who wants to join us in all sincerity, we welcome. Those who do not care for our cause, we don't expect to enter our ranks in any case. And let our Republicanism, so focused and so dedicated, not be made fuzzy and futile by un-thinking and stupid labels. I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."

Many GOP moderates took offence to Goldwater's speech and many of them would defect to the Democrats in the fall election.
Homer Xmas

Christmas Shopping for Potus Geeks

It's December 1st. You've probably starting to think about what to get for the potus_geeks on your Christmas list. Or maybe you're just looking for a nice way to treat yourself and spend some of that Christmas cash from gifts you take back or gift cards you receive. Here are few ideas (recycled from a post in this community last December) suggesting five gifts for you to put under the tree for someone special this Christmas.

1. Presidents Pez Dispensers: Available from the Pez Company at this link, Pez makes its traditional dispensers with a series of the Presidents. A number of sets have been sold out, (here is a search page for the Presidents sets showing what is still available.) This is a great gift for the geek with a sense of humor, though I must warn you, it takes great restraint not to take them out of the package and start playing with them!


2. Presidents Dollar Coin Proofs from the US Mint: Every year I ask Santa to send me a set of the annual US Presidents Dollar proofs from the US mint. Every three months, a new Presidential Dollar is released, with the most recent one being Ronald Reagan. (Here is an earlier post in this community about the program) and here is the link to purchase the mint's current selection of Presidential Medals.

3. Presidents Life-Size Cutouts: Thanks to Twitter friend Matt Barry for this idea. A website called sells lifesize cardboard cutouts of Presidents. How would you like a six foot Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama or Richard Nixon in your living room or potus_geeks library? There are many different options and every past president is available!


4. Zazzle: Go to and put "US Presidents" into the search engine, and you'll come up with a variety of Presidents on coffee mugs, t-shirts, campaign buttons, postcards, fridge magnets, posters, clocks, throw pillow, key chains, beer steins, mouse pads and other novelty items. Looking for something for that William Henry Harrison fan on your list? How about this great shirt?


5. Presidential DVDs: For the videophile on your list, may I suggest that you go to the April 2013 archives of this community, when our theme was Presidents in Movies, for a list of wonderful movies based on the lives of Presidents. If your gift recipient prefers something in the documentary fare, this link lists some of the great PBS documentaries about presidents.

6. The Official White House Christmas Ornament: Every year the White House Historical Society releases the Official White House Christmas Ornament. This link will not only take you to this year's ornament (shown below), but some from past years as well. (This year's ornament is based on Dwight Eisenhower's presidential helicopter). Bring a little of the White House into your house this Christmas.

7. Presidential Library Gift Shop Items: You don't have to visit a Presidential Library to shop there. Thanks to the magic of online shopping, you can browse and order gifts from the historic sites of all your favorite Presidents or those of the people on your shopping list. They're easy to find thanks to your favorite search engine. Put "(President's name) Gift Shop" into the Google or the Bing and you should find a link. But let me help. Here are the links for the gift shops for George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and John F. Kennedy.

Those are just a few ideas. I hope they help, and I hope you can get your personal Santa to read this post in time for Christmas.

Please comment with any suggested additions for this list!

Remembering George H. W. Bush

One year ago today, on November 30, 2018 we learned of the passing of George H. W. Bush, who passed away at the age of 94. George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st President of the United States, was born June 12, 1924. In his 94 years, 5 months and 18 days, he has lived a full and amazing life. Besides being the leader of his nation, he was a war hero, captained a baseball team in a world series, served as a congressman, an ambassador, Director of the CIA, Vice-President, and was a father, grandfather and a great-grandfather. He had been the oldest living former President and Vice President until his death, and was also the last living former President who is a veteran of World War II. And if that isn't enough to admire and respect him for, four years ago he celebrated his 90th birthday with a "Crazy Socks Party" at his Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas and also by jumping out of an airplane. This past year he was predeceased by the love of his life, former first lady Barbara Bush, who died on April 17th of this year.

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The first President Bush was born in Milton, Massachusetts. His parents were Senator Prescott Bush and Dorothy Walker Bush. he was raised in Connecticut, the state his father represented in the senate. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, George H. Bush postponed college and enlisted in the U.S. Navy on his 18th birthday. He became the youngest aviator in the U.S. Navy at the time and served until the end of the war. In the war he piloted a Grumman TBM Avenger and on September 2, 1944, his aircraft was hit by flak and his engine caught on fire. Despite his plane being on fire, Bush completed his mission, then flew several miles before he and one other crew member bailed out of the aircraft. Bush waited for four hours in an inflated raft, until he was rescued by the lifeguard submarine USS Finback.


When he returned home from the war he attended Yale University. He was Captain of the Yale baseball team that played in two college world series. Graduating in 1948, he moved his family to West Texas and entered the oil business, becoming a millionaire by the age of 40. He became involved in politics soon after founding his own oil company. He served as a member of the House of Representatives from 1967 to 1971 and as Ambassador to the UN from 1971 to 1973 and Director of the CIA from 1976 to 77. In 1974 as Chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC) he was the one who asked Richard Nixon to resign as President.


Bush ran for the Republican nomination for President in 1980, finishing second to Ronald Reagan. But he was chosen by Reagan to be his running mate, and the ticket was elected twice. In 1988, Bush ran a successful campaign to succeed Reagan as President, defeating Democratic opponent Michael Dukakis. Foreign policy was the main focus of his presidency. Military operations were conducted in Panama and in the Persian Gulf where he led a coalition during the First Gulf War. The Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and the Soviet Union dissolved two years later.

Domestically, Bush suffered a major setback when he had to go back on a 1988 campaign promise (in which he famously said "read my lips, no new taxes!") and after a struggle with Congress, he signed a tax increase that Congress passed. In spite of record high approval ratings after the First Iraq War, he was hurt by a weak recovery from an economic recession, along with continuing budget deficits, and he lost the 1992 presidential election to Democrat Bill Clinton.

Bush left office in 1993, but remained active in a number of humanitarian pursuits. His presidential library was dedicated in 1997. I visited there in 2012 and highly recommend it to anyone who visits the Houston area. Bush's eldest son, George Walker Bush, later served as the 46th Governor of Texas from 1995 to 2000 and as the 43rd President of the United States from 2001 to 2009. George H. Bush and John Adams are the only two presidents to have a child who later became president. His second son, Jeb Bush, served as the 43rd Governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007.

In early 2017, Bush experienced some health issues. He sent a letter to president-elect Donald Trump in January 2017, to inform him of his own poor health, that he would not be able to attend Trump's inauguration on January 20, and give his best wishes. On January 18, he was admitted to the intensive care unit at Houston Methodist Hospital, where he was sedated for a procedure to treat an acute respiratory problem stemming from pneumonia. He was later discharged on January 30th, after surgery successfully removed a blockage from his lungs. On April 14, 2017, Bush was admitted to the hospital in Houston with a recurrence of pneumonia and was released from hospital two weeks later. He has since attended a number of public events in Maine.

On November 25, 2017, Bush became the longest-lived U.S. president when he surpassed the 93 years and 165 days lifespan of Gerald Ford. (This record has since been surpassed by Jimmy Carter). On April 22, 2018, the day after his wife's funeral, Bush was hospitalized with a blood infection, which led to sepsis. One month later, he was briefly hospitalized again, after experiencing fatigue and low blood pressure.

George H. W. Bush's death was announced by his son, George W. Bush, who released a statement, on behalf of himself and his siblings, saying:

"Jeb, Neil, Marvin, Doro, and I are saddened to announce that after 94 remarkable years, our dear Dad has died. George H.W. Bush was a man of the highest character and the best dad a son or daughter could ask for. The entire Bush family is deeply grateful for 41's life and love, for the compassion of those who have cared and prayed for Dad, and for the condolences of our friends and fellow citizens."

Presidents and Impeachment: What Have We Learned?

As has been seen from this series, impeachment of a President is as much a political process as it is a legal or constitutional one, perhaps more so. When the founders met at the Constitutional Conference in 1787, they appreciated that there was a need to be able to remove a president, in between elections, in clear cases where the President was treasonous or subject to bribery, and that there may be other reasons to thwart the will of the electorate. But they struggled to define precisely what the parameters for impeachment were.

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James Madison did not want a President to be impeached merely for being unpopular. Madison argued that this power was necessary where a nation was led by a single executive. Madison reasoned that while a legislature's collective nature provided security, in the case of a President, "loss of capacity or corruption was more within the compass of probable events, and either of them might be fatal to the Republic."

It was George Mason of Virginia who suggested that in addition to treason or bribery as grounds for removing a president from office, the provision should add "and other high crimes and misdemeanors." The result was the current language in the article as it exists today. After the wording was agreed upon, Edmund Randolph of Virginia explained: "No man ever thought of impeaching a man for an opinion or even for making a mistake, so long as the error came while in honest search of an ideal course." James Irredell of North Carolina agreed, stating that impeachment required "wicked motive."

Thus far in history, two Presidents have been impeached (Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton), and both were acquitted at trial, though in Johnson's case it was by the slimmest of margins. That might not have been the result if Richard Nixon's case if he had not resigned before impeachment had occurred, as it was almost certain to. In the case of the current inquiry concerning Donald Trump, an early reading of the tea leaves suggests that the result in the cases of Johnson and Clinton will once more be repeated.

The most prominent category for impeachment is for "high crimes and misdemeanors," a term for which there is no precise (or even imprecise) statutory definition. It is a term of art and therefore the term allows for the removal of an official from office for entirely subjective reasons. In one sense this is a good thing, because it is impossible to create an exhaustive list of what constitutes the term. On the other hand it has the potential for abuse because of its subjective nature. It can be whatever Congress says it is, not necessarily a good thing if Congress is overrun by vindictive or populist officials. Once again we come back to the conclusion that impeachment is first and foremost a political process, rather than a legal one.

In the case of Andrew Johnson, it was almost certainly that. Johnson was unpopular. He was despised by the Radical Republicans and by all those who believed he was undoing much of what had been won by the Union in the bloody war that the nation had just experienced. Still, it is difficult to justify Johnson's removal from office on the stated grounds: his desire to replace a member of his cabinet. While Johnson technically had "broke the law", namely the Tenure of Office Act, it was clearly an unconstitutional law, one created for reasons of pure political spite. Johnson's impeachment was not about law-breaking, it was about politics. Still, it was tempting for the Senate to compromise its principles in order to be rid of this dangerous accidental president, and it nearly did so. Johnson escaped impeachment by just one vote.

John F. Kennedy would later call the act of Democratic Kansas Senator Edmund Ross a "profile in courage" for his vote against Johnson's impeachment. Some historians have claimed that Ross voted against conviction due to concerns about his colleague Samuel C. Pomeroy receiving patronage from the prospective new President, Benjamin Wade, and as a means to receive patronage favors from Johnson. Others claim Ross cast his vote because he genuinely believed that Johnson had the right to replace Edwin M. Stanton as Secretary of War in Johnson's cabinet, since Stanton had been appointed during the Lincoln Administration and not by Johnson. Whichever version is correct, it doesn't change the fact that Johnson's impeachment was really about politics.

The impeachment of Bill Clinton also turned out to be largely about politics, although there was strong evidence that Clinton had lied under oath when he had denied having sexual relations with intern Monica Lewinsky in a deposition in the Paula Jones case. Clinton claimed to have a technical defense based on a convoluted agreed-upon definition of "sexual relations". Like Johnson, many were disgusted by Clinton personally. His sanctimonious public denial in the media of hanky-panky with Lewinsky would be proven false when it was discovered that a stain on a little blue dress proved him wrong. It wasn't a lie under oath, but it was a lie to face of the American people. The politics of the matter further muddied the waters when it came to light that many of Clinton's accusers had strayed from their own marriage vows, and many also questioned whether Clinton's marital infidelity ought to have been the subject of an inquiry by a special prosecutor looking into an alleged crooked real estate deal in the first place.

Richard Nixon's case is perhaps the clearest of all when it comes to determining whether or not the President had committed an actual crime. Tape recordings showed Nixon's complicity in the plan to cover up criminal acts and to obstruct justice. The fact that Nixon required a pardon after the fact is further evidence of his criminal conduct, even though he never admitted as much.

In all four cases, including that of Donald Trump, matters have been complicated by the fact that the President in question had significant moral failings and were not decent human beings. Johnson was a racist and a white supremacist who saw persons of different color as inferior. Nixon was a foul-mouthed bigoted who had an inflated sense of entitlement that convinced him that as president, his illegal acts were excused, much like the divine right of kings. Clinton used his power imbalance to further his quest for sexual gratification. His past was filled with enough of the smoke of accusations of sexual assault to cause many to believe that there must also be fire.

In the case of Donald Trump, his practice of insulting and demeaning "tweets", his blatantly false denials of what often appear to be obvious facts, his past disrespect for war heroes like John McCain, his mocking of a disabled journalist and his misogynistic locker room talk about women makes him an easy target for those want to muddy the Constitutional waters of the process. If history has taught us one thing, it is that impeachments are never run on the motto of "principles before personalities."

The impeachment process is further complicated by the fact that every even-numbered year is an election year, either a midterm (in the case of Nixon in 1974 and Clinton in 1998) or a Presidential election (in the case of Johnson in 1868 or Trump in 2020). For the party out of power, impeachments offer a lot of free advertising, all of it negative. This often offers strong motivation for foregoing a thoughtful consideration of whether or not a matter warrants impeachment on a proper constitutional grounds.

From the lessons of history, it is likely that Donald Trump will be impeached in the House of Representatives. This requires only a vote by a simple majority. Whether or not one believes that a case has been made supporting an allegation of "high crimes and misdemeanors" against him doesn't seem to matter. Today's polarized political climate likely means that virtually all Democrats will fall in line and vote for impeachment. It is similarly a virtual certainty that almost all Republicans will vote against conviction at trial, putting party loyalty ahead of impartiality. The process of impeachment isn't about its intended constitutional purpose, as much as it about setting the table for the 2020 election.


It's problematic that in recent times elections have been less and less about issues and more about sound-bytes and social media trends. They are about creating the narrative, rather than being a genuine solution-oriented exercise. This has become more so as media networks display messages that identify more closely with one ideology or the other. In the coming election debate, how much will be said about debt and deficit spending, about the effects of climate change, about income disparity, or about what rational gun laws or fair taxation looks like?

The tea leaves say that little will be said about issues in the 2020 campaign, and that it will be about personalities above principles. We shall see if they are correct.

Presidents and Impeachment: The Public Hearings in the Trump Impeachment Inquiry

On November 6, 2019, Adam Schiff, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, announced that the first public hearings of the impeachment inquiry concerning President Donald Trump would be held on November 13. The first witnesses scheduled would be Ambassador Bill Taylor and George Kent, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs. Marie Yovanovitch, former United States Ambassador to Ukraine, was scheduled to testify in the second public hearing on November 15. The White House appointed Pam Bondi and Tony Sayegh, to work on communications during the inquiry, while House Republicans assigned Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio to the House Intelligence Committee to participate in the hearings. Jordan replaced Representative Rick Crawford of Arkansas, who stepped down so Jordan could take his place.

Under the House resolution adopted in October 2019, House Republicans were permitted subpoena witnesses only with the concurrence of the Democratic committee chairman or with approval of a majority of the committee members. The House Intelligence Committee's ranking member, Representative Devin Nunes, a Republican from California, sent a letter on November 9 letter, listing eight witnesses from whom the minority party wished to hear. These included Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice-President Joe Biden. Schiff declined the request to hear from Biden, stating that he would not allow Republicans to use the hearings to conduct "sham investigations". Schiff also rejected Nunes's request to question the anonymous whistleblower, citing the individual's safety. He added that subsequent evidence "not only confirms but far exceeds" the whistleblower's complaint and deemed the whistleblower's testimony to be "redundant and unnecessary".

The Republican members of the three relevant committees announced their intention to pursue several themes in President Trump's defense. These includes focusing on the July 25 call summary which they say "shows no conditionality or evidence of pressure". They added that both Presidents Trump and Zelensky have said there was no pressure. They add that President Trump met with President Zelensky and U.S. security assistance flowed to Ukraine in September 2019, without Ukraine investigating the Bidens.

The hearings began With live television coverage at 10 am EST on November 13, 2019. Kent and Taylor testified before the House Intelligence Committee, following opening statements from Chairman Schiff and Representative Nunes. Taylor and Kent both read opening statements. This was followed by questions from the Chairman and the majority counsel, Daniel S. Goldman, and then by the Ranking Member and the minority counsel, Steve Castor. The first day of hearings had an estimated 13,098,000 viewers tuning in on various television channels. This number does not include views from PBS, C-SPAN, or streaming sites such as YouTube.

Taylor testified that the day after the Trump–Zelensky phone call, one of his aides, David Holmes, overheard Ambassador Gordon Sondland speaking to President Trump via cellphone in a Kiev restaurant, discussing "the investigations". Another diplomat, Suriya Jayanti, also overheard the call. Holmes testified behind closed doors on November 15 that he heard Trump ask, "so, he's gonna do the investigation?" to which Sondland replied, "he's gonna do it". He allegedly also heard Sondland add, Zelensky would do "anything you ask him to". Holmes also testified that Sondland later told him that Trump "did not give a shit about Ukraine" and "only cared about the big stuff, the big stuff that benefits the president like the Biden investigation that Mr. Giuliani was pushing."

Marie Yovanovitch's testimony began at 9 am EST on November 15 and lasted six hours. She said she had three contacts with Rudy Giuliani, and said his allegations against her were false. She added that she was "shocked and devastated" when President Trump disparaged her and said she was "going to go through some things" during his telephone call with Zelensky. During her testimony, President Trump berated her on Twitter. He questioned her competence, saying that the Ukrainian president had spoken unfavourably about her. When Chairman Schiff informed Yovanovitch of the tweet during the hearing, she said it was "very intimidating". The President's tweet was characterized as witness intimidation by the Democrats, with Representative Eric Swalwell going so far as to suggest that this could be laid out as a separate article of impeachment, specifically obstruction.

On November 19 Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman and Security Adviser Jennifer Williams testified from 9:19 am to 1:40 pm EST. Later that day, Kurt Volker and Tim Morrison testified from 3:37 pm to 8:11 pm EST. In his testimony, Vindman said he had made a report to an intelligence official about what he heard during Trump's call with the Ukrainian President. He testified that he felt that what the President said during the phone conversation was "improper".

Vice President Mike Pence's chief European security adviser Jennifer Williams testified that when Zelensky was elected, Pence initially agreed to attend the inauguration if his schedule permitted, but that plan was cancelled when on May 13, Williams was informed that President Trump had decided that Pence would not represent the U.S. at the inauguration in Ukraine. Williams testified that she listened to Trump's phone conversation with Zelensky and described it as "unusual." Both Vindman and Williams acknowledged that the Trump administration was interested in obtaining knowledge of the Bidens' controversy. In questioning Vindman, Nunes repeatedly demanded that he name all individuals to whom he had spoken. Vindman refused, and Chairman Schiff rebuked Nunes for trying to violate Federally protected anonymity.

At the request of Republicans, former U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker and former National Security presidential adviser on Europe and Russia Tim Morrison also testified before the House Intelligence Committee on November 19. In his testimony, Volker recanted what he had said in his deposition, in which he denied seeing any indication that Trump had conditioned a White House meeting and military assistance for Ukraine on a promise from the country's president to investigate the Bidens. He was asked why he recanted and replied, "I have learned many things" since the previous closed-door hearing on October 3, 2019.

During his testimony, Morrison stated that Sondland confirmed to him that there was indeed a quid pro quo for US aid to Ukraine and that Sondland told him this following the September 1 telephone conversation with Yermak.

On November 20, Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland testified that he conducted his work with Rudy Giuliani at the "express direction of the president. He said that he understood a potential White House invitation for President Zelensky to be contingent on Ukraine announcing investigations into the 2016 elections and Burisma (Hunter Biden's company). Sondland said that he believed that Giuliani was leading a quid pro quo scheme to pressure Ukraine on the President's behalf. He said that he personally informed Zelensky, before the July 25 phone call, that Zelensky would need to assure Trump that he planned a thorough investigation. He additionally stated that everyone in the administration "was in the loop" about this, including John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, Ulrich Brechbuhl and Mike Pence. Sondland also testified that President Trump had never directly told him that the aid package to Ukraine was related to the announcement of investigations.

Hours after Sondland's testimony, Pence's Chief of Staff Marc Short issued a statement denying Sondland's claim that Pence and Sondland discussed the alleged quid pro quo. The denial stated the vice president "never had a conversation with Gordon Sondland about investigating the Bidens, Burisma, or the conditional release of financial aid to Ukraine based upon potential investigations."

Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, testified on November 20 that Ukrainian officials knew about the hold on military aid by July 25, the day of the Trump–Zelensky call. David Hale, who serves as the United States Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, testified that he found out from an OMB official that aid to Ukraine was being withheld at the direction of President Trump.

Late in the day on November 20, President Trump praised the performance of Republicans during the hearings, declaring, "not only did we win today, it's over."

On November 21, Fiona Hill, who had been the top Russia expert on the National Security Council, criticized Republicans for promulgating the "fictional narrative" that Ukraine rather than Russia interfered in the 2016 election. She asserted that the theory was planted by Russia and that the Republicans had "played into its hands".

The current head of political affairs in the US Embassy in Ukraine, David Holmes, testified on November 21 that he was concerned about Giuliani's role in a campaign which involved attacking the ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, as well as a push for Ukraine to investigate interference in the 2016 presidential election and the Bidens. He referred to Sondland, Volker and U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry as "The Three Amigos" who ran the Ukraine campaign with President Trump and Giuliani.

On November 25, 2019, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff published a letter stating that next steps towards impeachment will be taken when a committee report regarding the impeachment inquiry is sent to the House Judiciary Committee after Congress returns from its Thanksgiving recess. A new set of impeachment hearings will begin on December 4, with President Trump being invited to attend to testify if he chooses.