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Remembering FDR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the morning of April 13, Roosevelt's body was placed in a flag-draped coffin and loaded onto the presidential train. After a White House funeral on April 14, Roosevelt was transported back to Hyde Park by train, guarded by four servicemen from the Army, Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard. According to his wishes, Roosevelt was buried in the Rose Garden of the Springwood estate, the Roosevelt family home in Hyde Park on April 15. Eleanor, who died in November 1962, was buried next to him. He looked much older. He died just over a month into his fourth term as President, and about four months before the end of the second world war.

Presidential Biographies: Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton was elected as President in 1992, defeating George W. Bush, a man who had once enjoyed a 90% approval rating. Clinton meanwhile was being accused of sexual impropriety by several women, but none of that mattered. The economy had suddenly gone south, and Clinton's campaign team spun the slogan "it's the economy stupid," a dig at Bush who was considered to be top-notch when it came to foreign affairs, but not so good at minding the store domestically. Clinton would go on to win re-election in 1996, presiding over a strong economy thanks to the dot-com revolution that followed the widespread use of the internet.

But things would not go well for Clinton. He faced impeachment proceedings because he lied about more sexual impropriety. An indignant Clinton told the nation "I did not have sexual relations with that woman." That woman was Monica Lewinsky. But when she produced a little blue dress with Clinton's DNA found on it, the lie was exposed. Voters knew they couldn't trust the man who had become known as "Slick Willy," but they liked the way the economy was going, and in the end impeachment proceedings ended up in an acquittal, though not without considerable shame and disgrace for the 42nd President. Things got worse for Clinton in retirement when he was tarnished by his acquaintance with Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted pedophile who had hosted Clinton on his plane and likely at his private island. The stench of "Slick Willy" would not only attach to Clinton, but also to his wife Hillary when she ran for President in 2016 and lost an election that most were certain that she would win.

It is difficult to find a good biography of Clinton because those written thus far don't explore his post-presidential life. Perhaps the best in existence is Nigel Hamilton's 2003 book Bill Clinton: An American Journey. David Maraniss wrote First in His Class: A Biography of Bill Clinton, but that was published in 1995, before he had even completed his first term in office, though it is a good reference for Clinton's background.

Hamilton also wrote the 2007 book Bill Clinton: Mastering the Presidency, a book that examines Clinton's two terms in office. Clinton's presidency is also the subject of Joe Klein's 2003 book The Natural: The Misunderstood Presidency of Bill Clinton. Klein is also the author of Primary Colors, a work of fiction by "anonymous" that tells the story of a slick presidential candidate who sounds a lot like Clinton. Other books about Clinton's presidency include the Miller Center's 2016 volume 42: Inside the Presidency of Bill Clinton (Miller Center of Public, edited by Michael Nelson and Barbara Perry; Patrick Maney's 2021 book Bill Clinton: New Gilded Age President; and Clinton advisor Sidney Blumenthal's 2003 book The Clinton Wars. Gil Troy takes a wide-angle lens view of the Clinton presidency in The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, published in 2015. The strange working relationship between President Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich is examined in Stephen Gillon's 2008 book The Pact: Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, and the Rivalry that Defined a Generation.

The University of Kansas Press's Presidential Election series volume Clinton's Elections: 1992, 1996 and the Birth of a New Era of Governance looks at the two presidential contests that Clinton won and analyzes what we've learned from them.

Clinton's impeachment is examined in two books by very capable authors. Peter Baker of the New York Times wrote The Breach: Inside the Impeachment and Trial of William Jefferson Clinton, published in 2000. Ken Gormley's 2011 book The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr also examines the impeachment investigation and proceedings, including a look at independent counsel Ken Starr's role. Even after Clinton avoided conviction at the impeachment proceedings, things were not so rosy for Clinton in office, and this is the subject of Barbara Olson's 2001 book The Final Days: The Last, Desperate Abuses of Power by the Clinton White House.

Clinton himself authored his autobiography, which was published in 2004 and simply called My Life. He later penned a second autobiography called Citizen: My Life After the White House, which hits bookshelves on November 24th of this year. He has authored several other books including Back to Work: Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy (published in 2011); Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World (published in 2007) and two fictional mystery books written with author James Patterson: The President in Missing, published in 2018, and The President's Daughter published in 2021.

Clinton's questionable voracity makes his being a subject of biography very difficult. His accomplishment of surplus budgets and his ability to pass legislation while working with a hostile Congress merit some praise for these accomplishments, but these have been overshadowed by his moral failings. These are often overlooked by voters in the moment, as their first consideration is generally that of self-interest. Over time however, history proves to be a harsh judge, and 100 years from now, one wonders if Clinton will be judged negatively for his lack of impulse control and his viewing the nation's highest office as a vehicle for personal gratification, in much the same way that those who defended slavery on grounds of expedience and personal gain are now seen as poor examples of moral leadership.
George H. W. Bush is remembered as a gentleman. While that may or may not have always been so (or at least his campaign team and some of the ungentlemanly things attributed to it in the 1988 Presidential election), he always presented his message with an air of courtesy. He called for a "kinder, gentler America" and in an informal poll taken among White House staff who had worked for several presidents, Bush was the one they liked the most. He was the last president to serve in combat, and his courage is unquestionable, as he enlisted to fight in the second world war, rejected a safe assignment, and was nearly killed when the plane he was flying was shot down and he was rescued at sea. That courage continued well into his old age, when he celebrated every 5th birthday after his retirement by skydiving, right up to and including his 90th.

He was born into a wealthy Massachusetts family, the son of Senator Prescott Bush. After the war he graduated from Yale, where he was captain of the baseball team and played in two College World Series. In one of them he got to meet an aged Babe Ruth. After college he moved to West Texas, where he established a successful oil company. After an unsuccessful run for the United States Senate in 1964, he was elected to represent Texas's 7th congressional district in 1966. When he lost another bid for election to the Senate, President Richard Nixon appointed Bush as the ambassador to the United Nations in 1971 and as chairman of the Republican National Committee in 1973. President Gerald Ford appointed him as the chief of the Liaison Office to the People's Republic of China in 1974 and as the director of Central Intelligence in 1976.

Bush ran for president in 1980 but was defeated in the Republican presidential primaries by Ronald Reagan. Despite having criticized Reagan during the primaries, calling Reagan's "trickle-down" theory "voodoo economics," Reagan picked Bush as his vice presidential running mate. The two former adversaries became friends and in the 1988 presidential election, Bush defeated Democrat Michael Dukakis. Bush's key campaign strategist Lee Atwater was criticized for using questionable tactics including spreading false rumors about Dukakis and his wife Kitty, but it's likely that Bush would have won in any case.

Foreign policy drove Bush's presidency. It saw the breakup of the Soviet Union and the reunification of Germany. On his watch Panama was invaded and dictator Manuel Noriega was removed and imprisoned for drug trafficking. Bush led a coalition of nations in the Gulf War, ending the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait. He also negotiated and signed the North American Free Trade Agreement, which created a trade bloc consisting of the United States, Canada and Mexico.

But the economy prevented his re-election. Bush was forced to renege on a 1988 campaign promise ("read my lips, no new taxes") by enacting legislation that raised taxes in order to reduce the budget deficit. Bush lost the 1992 presidential election to Democrat Bill Clinton following an economic recession. Many believe that he focused too much attention on the world stage while not minding the store at home.

After leaving office in 1993, Bush was active in humanitarian activities, often working alongside Clinton. With the victory of his son, George W. Bush, in the 2000 presidential election, the two became the second father–son pair to serve as the nation's president. After a long battle with vascular Parkinson's disease, Bush died at his home in Houston on November 30, 2018, at the age of 94.

Bush's personality was such that it was difficult to write a negative biography of him that would be commercially successful. The leading books about him present him in a positive light, and this is consistent with historic assessment of his presidency in which he is considered to be in the above average range. The best biography of Bush is probably Jon Meacham's 2015 book Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush. Other pure biographies include Curt Smith's 2014 book George H. W. Bush: Character at the Core. Shortly after Bush became president in 1989, Fitzhugh Green's book George Bush: An Intimate Portrait came out. But perhaps the most notable biography of the 41st president was written by his son, the 43rd President. The book is called 41: A Portrait of My Father and it was published in 2014.

Bush himself wrote two autobiographical books. The first, published in 1987, is called Looking Forward: An Autobiography,, and a second, published in 2013, is called All The Best, George Bush: My Life in Letters and Other Writings.

The story of Bush's victory in the 1988 election is told in the University of Kansas's Presidential Election Series Volume After Reagan: Bush, Dukakis and the 1988 Election, written by John Pitney Jr. and published in 2019.

There are several books written about the Bush Presidency. John Sununu, former Governor of New Hampshire and Bush's Chief of Staff, wrote The Quiet Man: The Indispensable Presidency of George H. W. Bush, published in 2015. In 2014 the Miller Center of Public Affairs Book published 41: Inside the Presidency of George H. W. Bush, edited by Michael Nelson and Barbara Perry. The University of Kansas Press's American Presidency Series volume about Bush's presidency, The Presidency of George H. W. Bush, was written by John Robert Greene and a revised edition was published in 2015. Bush's key advisor and his first Secretary of State was James Baker, and the two enjoyed a close relationship professionally as well as friends. A book about the two, written by Charles Denyer and published in 2020 is called Texas Titans: George H.W. Bush and James A. Baker, III: A Friendship Forged in Power.

A number of books focus on Bush's presidency on the foreign policy stage. At least two use some variant of the word "transform" in the title: A World Transformed, a 1999 book written by Bush himself, along with his foreign policy advisor Brent Scowcroft, and Transforming Our World: George H. W. Bush and American Foreign Policy, a 2021 book edited by Andrew Natsios and Andy Card (George W. Bush's Chief of Staff.) Jeffrey Engel focuses on Bush's role in bringing about an end to the Cold War in his 2017 book When the World Seemed New: George H. W. Bush and the End of the Cold War. The prolific author and Washington Post reported Bob Woodward wrote The Commanders, a 1991 behind-the-scenes book about Bush and his advisor and their conduct of the 1991 Gulf War.

We are now venturing into territory in which it becomes difficult to assess the presidencies of those recent Presidents who are still with us because of the intense politically polarized climate that exists. Perhaps this is not a new phenomenon, and perhaps things have always been that way, but seem more severe because of the magnification of social media. George H. W. Bush may be the last President to enjoy a large measure of respect and admiration, even among those who didn't vote for him, in part because of his gentlemanly nature, in part because many of the things he did as President turned out well, at least on the world stage, and because with the benefit of hindsight, some of the things that may have seemed wrong at the time, now seem like the right call. In this age when social media promotes the rapid spread of insult and leaves the false impression that one is elevated by putting others down, many of us long for a time, real or imagined, when George H. W. Bush's "kinder, gentler America" existed.

Presidential Biographies: Ronald Reagan

At the start of the latter half of the 20th century, the notion of an actor becoming President seemed implausible, even laughable. That was the case until a leading man turned B-movie star turned television pitchman started to campaign for Barry Goldwater. Once an FDR Democrat, Ronald Reagan claimed that he never left the party, the part had left him. His message resonated with many, and in 1966 the former star of such classics as "Bedtime for Bonzo" ran for Governor of California and was elected, twice!

Born in Illinois where he had once been a lifeguard, Reagan graduated from Eureka College in 1932 and began to work as a sports broadcaster in Iowa. In 1937, he moved to California, where he was "discovered" and became the star of over 50 films. From 1947 to 1952, Reagan served as the president of the Screen Actors Guild. During the 1950s, he worked in television and as a spokesman for General Electric. From 1959 to 1960, he once again served as the Screen Actors Guild's president. In 1964, his "A Time for Choosing" speech made Reagan the leading man in conservative political circles and he was elected governor of California in 1966. As a fiscal conservative governor, he turned the state budget deficit into a surplus, and cracked down on university protests. He ran for the Republican Party's presidential nomination in 1976, challenging incumbent president Gerald Ford in the primaries. In 1980 many thought Reagan was too old at age 69 to become President, but they were wrong. He won the Republican nomination and then a landslide victory over incumbent Democratic president Jimmy Carter.

Carter had been bested by a number of problems, such as inflation, high interest rates, high unemployment, an energy crisis and a hostage crisis. Reagan wasn't scared of these challenges. As President, the fiscal conservative tried to reignite the economy with "Reaganomics", which involved economic deregulation and cuts in both taxes and government spending. Whether that was what worked to rescue the economy or whether it was just the natural cycle, Reagan got the credit. On the international stage he presented a bold front, escalating the arms race, while pursuing détente with the Soviet Union. He called it "peace through strength." Reagan also ordered the invasion of Grenada in 1983. He gained popularity by surviving an assassination attempt, and by standing up to public-sector labor unions, threatening to fire striking air-traffic controllers. In the 1984 presidential election, he was re-elected in a landslide. In his second term he was implicated in the secret and illegal sale of arms to Iran to fund the Contras, but had success in talks with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that resulted in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

Reagan left the presidency in 1989 with the American economy having seen a significant reduction of inflation, the unemployment rate having fallen, and the United States having entered its longest peacetime expansion. However the national debt had nearly tripled since 1981 as a result of his tax cuts and increased military spending. His policies contributed to the end of the Cold War and the erstwhile end of Soviet communism.

In retirement Reagan disclosed that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and this dreaded condition led to the rapid decline of his physical and mental capacities, ultimately leading to his death in 2004. Historians and scholars have typically ranked him in the upper range of American presidents, and he enjoyed high post-presidential approval ratings.

It was in Reagan's presidency that many began to accuse the news media of having a liberal bias, and may have ultimately led to the birth of conservative media (though Fox News did not begin broadcasting until after Reagan's presidency.) While some bias is acknowledged in independent studies, the extent of it is debated. However polarization has colored assessments of Reagan and his presidency, and finding objective biographies of him can be difficult. For example, Reagan was savaged in the American Presidents' series biography of him written by Jacob Weisberg, who had also written a book critical of George W. Bush. Probably the best biography of Reagan, and the most objective, is H. W. Brands' 2015 biography Reagan: The Life. Richard Reeves' 2005 book President Reagan: The Triumph of Imagination also tries to be evenhanded. As a review in Bookmarks Magazine aptly notes, "Of course, any book about a divisive figure yields its share of reviews based on ideology instead of critical theory. President Reagan is no exception, but where objectivity prevails, reviews [of Reeves' book] are generally positive."

Lou Cannon's 2000 book President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime is the only independent biography of Reagan sold by the Reagan Library. Former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonon wrote a very favorable biography of Reagan called When Character Was King, published in 2001. Other thorough biographies of Reagan include Bob Spitz's 2018 book Reagan: An American Journey; Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan by Edmund Morris (published in 1999) and Reagan: American Icon, Iwan Morgan's 2020 book.

In 2011, the Reagan Library published Ronald Reagan 100 Years to mark the centennial of Reagan's birth.

Reagan wrote his autobiography, which was published in 1990, called An American Life. He was also a regular diarist, and an edited version of his diaries as President were published in 2007 called The Reagan Diaries. The Regan Library sells a two volume unabridged box set of his diaries.

For a more skeptical view of Reagan, author Rick Perlstein has written two large books about Reagan, one about his early career in politics, called The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan (published in 2014) and Reaganland: America's Right Turn 1976-1980, published in 2020, about Reagan's campaign to become president. The story of the 1980 Presidential election is told in the University of Kansas Press's Presidential Election Series volume, published in 2005 and written by Andrew Busch, called Reagan's Victory: The Presidential Election of 1980 and the Rise of the Right.

The story of the attempted assassination of Reagan is told in Del Quentin Wilber's 2011 book Rawhide Down: The Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan. (Rawhide was the nickname given to Reagan by his Secret Service detail.)

William Inboden's 2022 book The Peacemaker: Ronald Reagan, the Cold War and the World on the Brink takes a favorable look at Reagan's foreign policy and his successes on the world stage.

Debate exists over whether or not Reagan has been given insufficient credit by historians for the accomplishments of his administration and whether he ranks as one of the nation's greatest presidents or whether he unfairly took credit for the work of others who succeeded in spite of him. It cannot be denied that when Reagan took office, the nation faced a mountain of problems that included rampant stagflation, high interest rates, and a loss of respect on the world stage. Reagan confronted all of those problems head on and the country was better off in all of those areas by the end of his term. Surely his critics could at least acknowledge this much. Reagan has also gained a new appreciation from those conservatives who relate to Reagan's brand of conservatism, and fail to see any resemblance to what passes for modern day conservatism.

Presidential Biographies: Jimmy Carter

Like John Quincy Adams or Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter is one of those Presidents who wasn't so popular while in office, but one for whom admiration grew in the post-presidency. Known for his humanitarian pursuits, including his work with Habitat for Humanity, Carter is also admired for the fact that, God willing, this October he may become the first centenarian former president. This is far from certain however, as Carter is presently suffering from an undisclosed terminal illness and he has decided to stay at home and receive hospice care instead of additional medical intervention.

Carter was born and raised in Plains, Georgia, the same community in which he is spending his retirement. Up until recently he would regularly attend his local church where he would teach Sunday school Carter graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1946 and joined the U.S. Navy's submarine service, where he worked under famed Admiral Hyman Rickover. His first loyalty was to his family however, and Carter left the Navy to return home afterward and take over his family's peanut farm business.

Despite living in the deep south during the era of heavy Jim Crow times, Carter was vocal in his opposition to racial segregation and he supported the growing civil rights movement. He became politically active within the Democratic Party. and served in the Georgia State Senate from 1963 to 1967. Carter was elected as his state's Governor and served from 1971 to 1975. After the resignation of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford's pardon of Nixon, Carter read the political tea leaves correctly, concluding that voter mistrust of Washington politicians was at an all-time high and that a political outsider had the best chance of becoming President. Even though he was not well known outside of Georgia, Carter ran for and won the Democratic Party's nomination for President. He defeated the incumbent Republican President Gerald Ford in the 1976 presidential election.

But things did not go well for Carter as President, and his posture as an outsider made it difficult for him to work with Congress. Carter began his presidency by pardoning all Vietnam War draft evaders on his second day in office. He created a national energy policy that called for conservation, price control, and gas rationing. He had success on the international stage as he concluded the Camp David Accords, the Panama Canal Treaties, and the second round of Strategic Arms Limitation Talks.

But he had trouble on two fronts: the economy and with rising gas prices as the result of policies of the OPEC nations. On the economic front he faced "stagflation," the combined one-two punch of inflation with a sluggish economy. He established the U.S. Department of Energy and the Department of Education, and was seen as creating a government that was too intrusive. Then, at the end of his presidency, the 1979–1981 Iran hostage crisis hit, along with the 1979 energy crisis, the Three Mile Island accident, the Nicaraguan Revolution, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. To address the latter problem, Carter imposed a grain embargo against the Soviets that seemed to hurt American farmers as much as the Soviets. He boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. Efforts to rescue the hostages failed, making Carter look weak and ineffective. In the 1980 Presidential election Carter barely fended off a challenge for his party's nomination from Senator Ted Kennedy, but hHe lost the 1980 presidential election in a landslide to Ronald Reagan.

After leaving the presidency, Carter established the Carter Center to promote and expand human rights and in 2002 he received a Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the Center, He traveled extensively to conduct peace negotiations, monitor elections, and help in the fight against infectious diseases. He became a key figure in the nonprofit housing organization Habitat for Humanity and wrote numerous books on subjects ranging from political memoirs to faith to poetry. He wrote two books on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, in which he criticizes Israel's treatment of Palestinians, calling it "apartheid." Carter's post-presidency is the longest in U.S. history.

My choice for best biography of Carter is probably Jonathan Alter's 2021 book His Very Best: Jimmy Carter - A Life. Up until recently, Carter has been a difficult President to biograph because he has been so active in his retirement, notwithstanding his age. In fact many of the Carter biographies refer to his life as an "unfinished presidency," and that phrase is used in the titles of two recent books: Douglas Brinkley's 1998 book The Unfinished Presidency: Jimmy Carter's Journey Beyond the White House, and Kai Bird's more recent 2021 book The Outlier: The Unfinished Presidency of Jimmy Carter.

The University of Kansas Press's American Presidency series volume about Carter's Presidency was written by Burton Kaufman and Scott Kaufman, and published in 2006, called The Presidency of James Earl Carter Jr. Stuart Eisenstadt has also written a book about Carter's time as President called President Carter: The White House Years, published in 2018. Carter himself wrote a memoir of his time as President called White House Diary, published in 2010.

The University of Kansas Press's Presidential Election Series tells the story of Carter's victory over Gerald Ford in 1976 in its volume written by Daniel K. Williams and published in 2020 called The Election of the Evangelical: Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, and the Presidential Contest of 1976. There are two good books that tell the story of Ted Kennedy's attempt to unseat Carter as the Democratic Party's presidential nominee in 1980. One is Timothy Stanley's 2010 book Kennedy vs. Carter: The 1980 Battle for the Democratic Party's Soul. The other is the more recent 2019 book by Jon Ward called Camelot's End: Kennedy vs. Carter and the Fight That Broke the Democratic Party.

Carter has been a prolific writer, and besides his White House diary, he has also authored over 30 other books. Some of these include: Keeping Faith: Memoirs of a President (1982); Living Faith (1996); The Virtues of Aging (1998); Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis (2005); Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid (2006); A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power (2014); and A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety (2015).

Jimmy Carter is probably the most beloved of the living former presidents, and even in this time of intense polarization in politics, he engenders respect even from many Republicans. His record as president is another story, and he scores low marks in rankings of presidents, though he does get points for doing more for middle east peace than probably any other president. Were the challenges he faced (high energy prices, inflation, a sluggish economy, a hostage crisis) too much for Carter, or were they too much for any president in the post-Watergate era when the power of the Presidency was significantly weakened? Partisans will have differing opinions, but this is a subject that even the most objective historians can find reason to disagree.

Presidential Biographies: Gerald Ford

Gerald Ford is the only person ever to hold the offices of US Vice-President and President without being elected to either. He had been serving as the leader of the Republican Party in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1965 to 1973, a party then in the minority, when a twist of fate made him the 40th vice president under President Richard Nixon from 1973 to 1974. And then that Watergate business happened, and once again Ford got another promotion.

Ford was born in Omaha, Nebraska, but is associated with Michigan, where he was raised and played football at the University of Michigan. He was offered a tryout with the Green Bay Packers, but instead his life path took him to Yale for Law School. He served in the U.S. Naval Reserve from 1942 to 1946 and entered the political arena in 1949 as the U.S. representative from Michigan's 5th congressional district. Popular in his district, he kept getting re-elected for almost a quarter century, with the final nine of them as the House minority leader.

In September of 1973, Vice-President Spiro Agnew resigned from that job amid corruption charges, and two months later Ford became the first person appointed to the vice presidency under the terms of the 25th Amendment. When Nixon resigned in August of 1974 in order to avoid pending impeachment proceedings, Ford was in the big chair.

Ford didn't inherit a very good situation. Inflation was rising rapidly and the country was in a recession. To make matters worse for Ford, he decided to granted Nixon a presidential pardon. Many people smelled a rat, or more specifically a corrupt deal, and any honeymoon period that Ford was enjoying quickly came to an end. Congress began to curb the powers of the president, and any hope Ford had of being elected President in 1976 seemed gone. With the collapse of South Vietnam nine months into his presidency, U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War essentially ended, but it was reminder that his once mighty nation was at a low point.

But Ford didn't give up, he still had the old college try in him. He tried to shine on the World Stage by signing the Helsinki Accords, which marked a move toward détente in the Cold War. He used the nation's bicentennial to try to raise national spirits. It didn't help however when, in the 1976 Republican presidential primary, Ford was challenged by Ronald Reagan for the Republican nomination. He won that fight, and did much better in the presidential election of 1976 than many people expected, but still lost to Democratic challenger, Jimmy Carter.

In retirement Ford remained active in the Republican Party, but his moderate views on various social issues put him at odds with conservative members of his party. He went on to have a long life, living to the age of 93 before he passed away in Rancho Mirage, California in 2006.

Despite the recency of his administration, not much has been written about Ford. The best biography of him is probably a recent one, Richard Norton Smith's 2023 book An Ordinary Man: The Surprising Life and Historic Presidency of Gerald Ford. James Cannon, who worked for Ford, wrote another good, but less objective, biography of Ford, called Gerald R. Ford: Am Honorable Life, published in 2013. Cannon wrote an earlier book about Ford, published in 1994, called Time and Chance: Gerald Ford's Appointment With History.

Ford's sudden ascendency to the Presidency as the result of Nixon's resignation, and his controversial pardon of Nixon, are discussed in two books of note. Barry Werth wrote 31 Days: Gerald Ford, the Nixon Pardon and a Government in Crisis, published in 2006. A second book on the subject was written by a familiar name, Donald Rumsfeld, who also worked for Ford, and who later gained notoriety as George W. Bush's controversial Defense Secretary. He wrote When the Center Held: Gerald Ford and the Rescue of the American Presidency, published in 2018.

Ford himself wrote his memoirs, entitled A Time to Heal and it was published in 1979. But Ford was more unguarded in Thomas DeFrank's remarkable 2007 book Write It When I'm Gone: Remarkable Off-the-Record Conversations With Gerald R. Ford. Ford made the author promise that the book would not be published until after Ford's death, and DeFrank kept his promise. In the book Ford talks about his relationships with Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton; his experiences on the Warren Commission; and his opinions on the George W. Bush administration.

The University of Kansas Press's American Presidency Series volume of Ford's Presidency called The Presidency of Gerald R. Ford was written by John Robert Greene and published in 1994.

Ford was considered to be likeable and decent and its likely for that reason that there aren't any books attacking him or presenting heavy criticism for his pardon of Nixon. Although voters punished him for that decision at the polls in 1976, they did so gently, and in the time that has passed, there has been a grudging respect shown to Ford by historians and others, and while many disagree with Ford's actions, they at least seem to be willing to listen to his justification for it, respect him for not being the kind of person to kick someone when he is down, and admire him for taking ownership of it.

Presidential Biographies: Richard Nixon

Richard Nixon's presidency was a remarkable time of transition, especially when it came to Presidential oversight. It was the age of network news, when the major television networks brought reports into the living rooms of the nation about what their government and their president was doing. Public trust in both of those had taken a hit. Many people disbelieved what the Warren Commission had told them, and many more were shocked and appalled by what they were seeing going on in Vietnam, as well as in urban areas in their country. This increased oversight would prove to be Richard Nixon's undoing, that and the practice began by Lyndon Johnson of recording White House conversations.

Richard Milhous Nixon was born into a working class family in California. His father ran a grocery story and his parents were devout Quakers. His family lacked the means to afford to send Nixon to a prestigious law school, but he did have the smarts to obtain a law degree and become a lawyer. He served in the Navy in the second world war and won a seat in Congress. Later when a seat became vacant in the US Senate, Nixon won that race using attack ads against his opponent, implying that she was too cozy with communists. When popular candidate Dwight Eisenhower needed a running mate, Nixon was chosen because of his anti-communist credentials. That was important because outgoing President Harry Truman was also being accused of being soft on communism and letting his State Department fill up with them.

Eisenhower gave Nixon a lot of tough assignments as Vice-President, including a trip to South America in which the car carrying Nixon was attacked by protesters. But Ike didn't appear to have much love for Nixon and at one point even suggested that his running mate might be better off in a cabinet position than as second-in-command. When Nixon ran for President in 1960, a gaffe by Eisenhower hurt Nixon's campaign. Ike was asked what important matters Nixon had helped him wish and Ike said that he might be able to come up with an answer if he had a week to think about it.

Nixon lost a close election to John F. Kennedy in 1960 in which he was certain that there had been voter fraud in Illinois and Texas, two key states. But rather than cry "stolen election," Nixon conceded, though he was still bitter. Two years later in 1962, when he lost a race for Governor of California, a petulant Nixon told the media that they wouldn't "have Dick Nixon to kick around any more." It looked as if his political career was in its grave.

But instead Nixon spent the next six years quietly gathering support for another run for President. He won his party's nomination in 1968 and won the election, promising that he would be a law and order president and claiming he had a plan for success in Vietnam, but was not more specific. He won a close election over Hubert Humphrey, though the war went on. Whereas once, as Vice-President, Nixon seemed to have a reasonable side to him, as President it was a different story. He compiled a "hit list" of his enemies and planned to use the machinery of government to get even with them. He authorized illegal incursions into neighboring Cambodia and Laos to aid the fight in Vietnam. And then came Watergate.

Nixon was going to win the 1972 election, but nevertheless he gave subordinates a long rope and when they broke into Democratic Party headquarters, he tried to cover things up. Nixon believed that the recordings of his conversations about the break-in were private, but he was wrong. He was also wrong about his contention that "when the President does it, it's not illegal." Faced with nationally televised hearings about the break-in and its connection to his office, and pending articles of impeachment, when Nixon was advised that his conviction in impeachment hearings appeared to be a slam dunk, Nixon became the first President to resign the office. Retiring in disgrace, he attempted to adopt the stance of an elder statesman until his death in 1994.

Nixon wrote his memoirs, The Memoirs of Richard Nixon and they were published in 1978. He wrote several other books as well including his 1990 book In the Arena: A Memoir of Victory, Defeat and Renewal, 1999: Victory Without War, published in 1988, and The Real War, published in 1980.

My favorite Nixon biography is John Farrell's 2018 book Richard Nixon: The Life, though there is not shortage of other thorough biographies about Nixon. The difficulty is in finding one that isn't overly critical or one that is written by Nixon admirers who are too forgiving. I also liked the similarly titled Nixon: A Life, published in 1994 and written by former British Defense Minister Jonathan Aitken.

Despite having to resign is disgrace, Nixon retained and continues to retain support and adulation among a number of his biographers. Among the books that sing Nixon's praises in spite of his shortcomings are Conrad Black's 2007 biography Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full; Roger Stone's 2014 book Nixon's Secrets: The Rise, Fall, and Untold Truth about the President, Watergate, and the Pardon (which promises the reader "untold secrets"); Pat Buchanan's 2017 book Nixon's White House Wars: The Battles That Made and Broke a President and Divided America Forever; and the comedic actor and former Nixon speechwriter Ben Stein's recent 2023 book The Peacemaker: Nixon-The Man, President, and My Friend.

The title of Anthony Summers' 2000 book The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon lets readers know what he really thinks of Richard Nixon. Similarly, in Rick Perlstein's 2009 book Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America, the author presents an image of Nixon as a divider and as someone who irreparably harmed the nation. But almost certainly the worst trashing of Nixon can be found in Don Fulsom's 2012 book Nixon's Darkest Secrets: The Inside Story of America's Most Troubled President, in which the author accuses Nixon of having ties to the mob and even of having a homosexual relationship with his good friend Bebe Reboso. Nixon's supporters were understandably irate about this book.

Author Evan Thomas takes a more objective look in his 2015 book Being Nixon: A Man Divided, which as its title suggests, opines that Nixon had good qualities and some bad ones. Raymond Price, a former Nixon speechwriter, wrote With Nixon, published in 1977, a book which expresses some admiration of Nixon, but also acknowledges that when Watergate occurred, it was time for Nixon to resign. In his 2015 book One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon, Tim Weiner looks at how unfortunate it was that someone with so much potential to be a great president had such a tragic fall from grace.

Roger Morris's 1991 book Richard Milhous Nixon: The Rise of an American Politician, is a book about the early part of Nixon's life. The story of the Nixon's years in Congress is the subject of Irwin Gellman's book The Contender: Richard Nixon, The Congress Years 1946-1952.

The 1968 Presidential election was a close contest, occurring at a time of social turbulence in America. Three books that discuss it include the one I consider the best, American Maelstrom: The 1960 Election and the Politics of Division by Michael A. Cohen (the Boston Globe columnist, not to be confused with Donald Trump's former lawyer). Two others that are also very good are the 1969 book by Lewis Chester, Godfrey Hodgson and Bruce Page called An American Melodrama: The Presidential Campaign of 1968 and of course the University of Kansas Press's Presidential Election series volume about this election, Resilient America: Electing Nixon in 1968, Channeling Dissent, and Dividing Government written by Michael Nelson and published in 2014.

The only book I've found written about the 1972 election is Theodore White's The Making of the President 1972, published in 1973 before Watergate came to light.

The ever productive Robert Dallek also wrote about the close relationship between Nixon and his Secretary of State and modern day Metternich, Henry Kissinger in his 2007 book Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power.

There have been a number of books written about the Watergate scandal, with the most recent and probably the most thorough being Garrett Graff's 2022 book Watergate: A New History. Equally voluminous is Lamar Waldron's 2012 book Watergate: The Hidden History: Nixon, The Mafia, and The CIA. Former White House Counsel John Dean, a man with an intimate knowledge of Watergate, is the author of the 2014 book The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It, though it's never a good thing when your lawyer writes a tell-all book about what you thought was privileged. The story of Watergate was first told in Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's iconic 1974 expose All the President's Men, made famous in a movie of the same name. Woodward and Bernstein relied on a confidential government informant who they referred to as "Deep Throat." It was only years later, in 2005 when Woodward revealed Deep Throat's true identity as that of the FBI's Deputy Director Mark Felt in the book The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate's Deep Throat. A fictionalized version of the Watergate scandal is told in Thomas Mallon's 2013 novel Watergate.

As for what became of Nixon after Watergate, two books tell that story, one sympathetic and the other written by an adversary. Theodore White, a strong supporter of the Kennedy family, wrote Breach of Faith: The Fall of Richard Nixon published in 1975; while more recently Kasey Pipes looks at Nixon's post-Watergate life, and his re-emergence as an elder statesman in his 2019 book After the Fall: The Remarkable Comeback of Richard Nixon.

Richard Nixon is one of history's truly interesting characters; a man with incredible talent, rising to the top from humble beginnings, only to be brought down by human character flaws. His story is Shakespearean in nature, rife for analysis by biographers and consumption by readers. It is yet another of history's examples of how truth is stranger than fiction.

Presidential Biographies: Lyndon Johnson

Lyndon Johnson once said of his Presidency, "That bitch of a war killed the lady I really loved, the Great Society.” That single sentence sums up Johnson's legacy pretty well. The son of a Texas legislator, Johnson was a graduate of a Texas teacher's college who once taught school to impoverished Mexican-American children. He worked as a congressional aide to Richard Kleberg, before winning election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1937. In 1948, amid controversy, he was declared winner of the Democratic Party's primary for the 1948 Senate election in Texas and won the general election. Knowing his way around Congress, he became Senate majority whip in 1951, Senate Democratic leader in 1953 and majority leader in 1954. He was so skilled at knowing how to get what he wanted in Congress that he was dubbed "Master of the Senate."

In 1960, Johnson ran for the Democratic presidential nomination, but in the new age of television, it was John F. Kennedy's race to win. Kennedy surprised many (including his own brother) by picking Johnson as his vice presidential running mate. The Kennedy–Johnson ticket won the general election, but Johnson wasn't one of Kennedy's favorite advisors, and there were even rumors that Johnson would be dumped from the ticket in 1964. Then things changed on November 22, 1963. Johnson assumed the presidency after Kennedy was assassinated.

The following year, Johnson was elected to the presidency in a landslide, winning the largest share of the popular vote for the Democratic Party in history. He was off to the races with his "Great Society," a national makeover that was aimed at expanding civil rights, public broadcasting, access to health care, aid to education and the arts, and urban and rural development. He launched what he called "the war on poverty" in which he signed the Social Security Amendments of 1965, which resulted in the creation of Medicare and Medicaid. He established federally insured student loans; and signed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which laid the groundwork for U.S. immigration policy today.

Johnson's policies on civil rights cost him the support of white Southern Democrats. They didn't like his civil rights bills such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Civil Rights Act of 1968. What sunk his chances for re-election was his foreign policy. His goal of containment of communism led to increased US involvement in the ongoing Vietnam War. He launched a full-scale military intervention in Southeast Asia, dramatically increasing the number of American military personnel in the conflict, changing the role of American soldiers from advisors to combatants. Casualties soared among U.S. soldiers as well as among Vietnamese civilians. For the first time, Americans could witness this in their homes via the new age of television. In 1968, the communist Tet Offensive inflamed the anti-war movement and public opinion turned against America's involvement in the war. Johnson knew he could not win re-election and in March of 1968 he announced that he would not seek another term in office.

Johnson's presidency marked the peak of modern American liberalism in the 20th century. Race riots in major cities and increasing crime caused his political opponents to call for "law and order" policies. Johnson returned to his Texas ranch, where he died in 1973.

Naturally, such a polarized record (success in social policy, but failure as a wartime President) has spawned a myriad of books about Johnson, his life and his presidency. The most comprehensive biographies of Johnson have been written by Robert Caro, who has chronicled Johnson's live in four lengthy books, all with the title "The Years of Lyndon Johnson. Volume 1, published in 1982 is called Path to Power; volume 2, published in 1990, is called Means of Ascent; volume 3, published in 2002, is called Master of the Senate, and volume 4, published in 2012, is called The Passage of Power. A planned fifth volume is in the works, and in January 2018, Caro indicated he did not know when the book would be finished, stating that it could take anywhere from two to ten years. Caro is now 88 years old.

Another author has divided Johnson's life into several books. Historian Robert Dallek's first book Lone Star Rising: Lyndon Johnson and His Times 1908-1960 was published in 1991. His second Johnson book Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and His Times 1961-1973, was published in 1998. Another, Lyndon B. Johnson: Portrait of a President was published in 2004. For those looking for a single volume Johnson biography, Doris Kearns Goodwin (who, along with her husband, worked for Johnson) wrote Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream, published in 1976. My favorite Johnson biography is Randall Woods' 2006 book LBJ: Architect of American Ambition. Another single volume about Johnson's life is Ronnie Dugger's 1982 book The Politician: The Life and Times of Lyndon Johnson. A book recognizing the contradictions in Johnson as President was written by a member of his cabinet Joseph Califano Jr., and is called The Triumph and Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson: White House Years, published in 1991.

Michael Beschloss reviewed Lyndon Johnson's White House audiotapes and turned that experience into two books in which he edits and comments on them. The first, is called Taking Charge: The Johnson White House Tapes 1963-64 and the second is called Reaching for Glory: Lyndon Johnson's Secret White House Tapes.

Johnson ran for election as President in his own right in 1964 and handily defeated his opponent the staunch conservative Barry Goldwater. The University of Kansas Press in its Presidential Election series has a volume about this election, written by Nancy Beck Young and published in 2022 called Two Suns of the Southwest: Lyndon Johnson, Barry Goldwater, and the 1964 Battle between Liberalism and Conservatism.

Mark Updegrove's 2014 book Indominatable Will: LBJ in the Presidency reviews Johnson's time as President overall. But in terms of the most positive aspect of Johnson's Presidency, his Great Society, that is the subject of Joshua Zeitz's 2018 book Building the Great Society: Inside Lyndon Johnson's White House. Johnson's fight to pass monumental civil rights legislation is the subject of Todd Purdum's 2014 book An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Two Presidents, Two Parties, and the Battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

But despite all the political capitol that Johnson may have gained from his Great Society success, his undoing was the Vietnam War. As the news media brought the war into the living rooms of the nation, anti-war protests grew, along with the chants of "hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?" Herbert Shandler wrote about this in his 1977 book Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam: The Unmaking of a President. The leading book about how the war went wrong, though not specifically about Johnson, in probably David Halberstam's iconic 1972 book The Best and the Brightest. The wonderful historian H. W. Brands looks at Vietnam in the context of all of Johnson's foreign policy, in his 1995 book The Wages of Globalism: Lyndon Johnson and the Limits of American Power.

Johnson always had a resentment against the Kennedys, especially against Robert Kennedy. The feeling was mutual, hence the title of Jeff Shesol's 1997 book Mutual Contempt: Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy, and the Feud That Defined a Decade.

An interesting take on Johnson's presidency as the high-water mark of American liberalism and the birth of American conservatism can be found in Jonathan Darman's 2014 book Landslide: LBJ and Ronald Reagan at the Dawn of a New America, as the author takes notice of how the sunset of Johnson's political career coincided with the beginning of Ronald Reagan's.

Johnson did not run for re-election, as his approval ratings sunk to new lows in his last year in office. Kyle Longley writes about this in his 2018 book LBJ's 1968: Power, Politics, and the Presidency in America's Year of Upheaval. After he left office, Johnson wrote his autobiography, focusing on his years as President. It is called The Vantage Point: Perspectives on the Presidency 1963-1969 and was written with the assistance of a young Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Public opinion and academic assessments of Johnson's legacy have fluctuated greatly ever since he left office. n the one hand, some historians and scholars rank Johnson in the upper tier of Presidents for his accomplishments regarding domestic policy. It as on his watch that many major laws were passed that made substantial changes in civil rights, health care, elder care, welfare, and education. But Johnson will forever be strongly criticized for his foreign policy, primarily for American involvement in the Vietnam War, watching the casualties mount, and seeing much of the nation's youth return home in body bags from a land most Americans never cared about.
On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was killed in Dallas, Texas, when he was shot in the head, while riding in the back seat of an open-topped convertible limousine. Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested and charged with Kennedy's murder, but he never went to trial for the crime. Oswald himself was shot and killed two days later in the parking garage of the Dallas Police Department by Jack Ruby. President Lyndon Johnson convened a special commission, led by United States Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, and that commission concluded that Oswald acted alone in Kennedy's murder.

It is this event that many believe marked a turning point in terms of public mistrust of what their government was telling them. The Warren Commission's findings seemed to be contradicted by some key pieces of evidence that was made available to the public. Many believed that the commission fudged the evidence, especially in regard to what was called "the magic bullet," a projectile that seemingly changed directions and passed through Kennedy and Texas Governor John Connolly before coming to rest in pristine condition. There were also the reports of those present who claimed that shots were fired from a grassy knoll located in a different direction than where Oswald was said to have fired from, suggesting the presence of multiple possible shooters. This conclusion was bolstered when a film taken by a bystander named Abraham Zapruder seemed to corroborate that at least one of the shots that killed Kennedy came from the direction that his vehicle was travelling in and not behind it.

These, and multiple other contradictions in the Warren Commission's conclusions have fueled what is probably the most popular conspiracy theory in history. It has also spawned a virtual cottage industry of books postulating who actually killed Kennedy and who may have been a part of the conspiracy to plan and carry out his assassination. There appears to be too much to ignore and conclude that Oswald acted alone, despite the fact that many are adamant that this was the case. Those who believe that there was a conspiracy to kill Kennedy implicate a number of parties, including the CIA, the Mafia, Cuban leader Fidel Castro, and even Vice-President Lyndon Johnson.

The Warren Commission Report, released in 1964, left many skeptical about its conclusions, especially when it came to the "magic bullet," a theory proposed by then lawyer (and later Senator) Arlen Spector. Author Jim Bishop was one of the first to write about the day Kennedy was killed in his 1963 book The Day Kennedy Was Shot. Bishop does not delve into any conspiracy theories and assumes Oswald to be the killer.

Perhaps the most prominent doubter of the Warren Commission's finding was New Orleans District Attorney (and later Judge) Jim Garrison, who unsuccessfully attempted to prosecute New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw as a party to the crime. Garrison wrote On the Trail of the Assassins, published in 1988, in which he set out the process behind his conclusion that the CIA authorized Kennedy's murder. A New Orleans jury was not convinced.

Texas journalist Jim Marrs, in his 1989 book Crossfire: The Plot that Killed Kennedy is a thorough examination of a number of conspiracy possibilities, with detail on every aspect of the shooting, the investigations, and casting suspicion on the Mafia, the FBI, the CIA, and anti-Castro Cubans. Another leading skeptic is Dallas criminal lawyer Mark Lane, who wrote a 1966 booc called Rush to Judgement in which he picks apart many of the findings of the Warren Commission. Another leading conspiracy theorist is L. Fletcher Prouty, who served as Chief of Special Operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Kennedy, and who believed that elements of the U.S. military and intelligence communities had conspired to assassinate the president. He expounded on these beliefs in his 1992 book JFK: The Cia, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy. David Lifton's 1988 book Best Evidence: Disguise and Deception in the Assassination of John F, Kennedy also takes issues with many of the conclusions of the Warren Commission, and is especially critical of the autopsy of Kennedy.

Philip Shenon, in his 2013 book A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination claims to have discovered information that was withheld from the Warren Commission by the CIA, FBI and others. He too is critical of the commission, and claims that it withheld evidence that disproved the lone gunman theory. In Mortal Error: The Shot that Killed JFK, a 2013 book, journalist Bonar Menninger reviews the studies, findings and interviews he conducted with a man named Howard Donahue, a firearms/ballistic expert/gun engineer, one out of eleven rifle shooters that CBS hired to test and fire the the same model of rifle that Lee Harvey Oswald is said to have used. Donahue concluded that although Oswald did shoot at Kennedy, two of the shots hit, and one missed. He asserts that the third shot was the fatal shot, and it came from an accidental shooting from a secret service agent who was riding in the follow up car to the President's.

In JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters, published in 2010, author James Douglas theorizes that Kennedy was moving from "cold warrior" to a rapprochement with Khrushchev and the Soviet Union, while the military and intelligence community had other ideas. He argues that the members of the Joint Chiefs, and the entire upper echelon of the CIA, various military intelligence organizations, and hundreds of anti-communist individuals in all walks of government all came together in 1963 to formulate an assassination plan that would remove Kennedy as head of the government.

David Scheim, in his 1992 book Contract on America: The Mafia Murder of President John F. Kennedy, is convinced that the Mafia was behind Kennedy's murder, likely with the approval or at least the acquiescence of those in high government positions, and that they also orchestrated Oswald's killing as well.

Long after the Warren Commission, a congressional committee led by Idaho Senator Frank Church took a more honest look at the Kennedy assassination as well as some of the off-the-books activities of the CIA. It was called the House Select Committee on Assassinations, better known as the Church Committee, and its findings feed much of the conclusions reached by author Gaeton Fonzi in his 2013 book The Last Investigation: What Insiders Know About the Assassination of JFK.

One of the most famous conspiracy theorists is a former Governor (as well as a former professional wrestler), Jesse Ventura, and in his 2013 book They Killed Our President: 63 Reasons to Believe There Was a Conspiracy to Assassinate JFK, he challenges readers to contradict the many reasons (63 in all) that support his theory that Kennedy was killed as the result of a government conspiracy at the highest levels.

A couple of authors have gone so far as to make the case that Kennedy's successor, Lyndon Johnson, was part of the conspiracy to kill Kennedy. One of these authors, Philip Nelson, has gone so far as to call Johnson the "mastermind" of the assassination. He says so in the title of his 2011 book LBJ: The Mastermind of the JFK Assassination. This is also the conclusion reached by Roger Stone, notorious as a supporter of Richard Nixon (he has a large tattoo of Nixon's face on his back) and Donald Trump. He sets out his case for this argument in his 2011 book The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ.

Finally, I'll mention one interesting take from a conspiracy theorist, that of the late comedian and actor Richard Belzer, who in his 2016 book Hit List: An In-Depth Investigation Into the Mysterious Deaths of Witnesses to the JFK Assassination, ponders why so many of the witnesses to the Kennedy assassination died suddenly, some from natural causes, others more mysteriously, and examines the near impossible odds of this occurring.

For the reader who refuses to entertain any suggestion of a conspiracy or of multiple shooters, there are authors who support this conclusion, though much fewer than those who have written of a conspiracy. The most popular is probably famed trial lawyer Gerald Posner, in his 2003 book Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK. He is adamant that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone and that there was no second gunman on the grassy knoll.

In the 60 years that have passed since the tragedy of Kennedy's assassination, it has become more difficult to solve this mystery. Witnesses die and memories fade, and the fact is that we will almost certainly never know whether Kennedy was killed at the result of a conspiracy or because of one deluded gunman. It is another example of the adage that truth (even when it is unknown) is stranger than fiction and that's why it has produced so much product that continues to take up a large amount of real estate on our bookshelves.

Remembering William Henry Harrison

On April 4, 1841 (183 years ago today) William Henry Harrison became the first president to die in office. His death came only a month after his inauguration, raising a number of questions about succession upon the death of a president, and leading to the setting of precedent thereafter.


Harrison, the ninth President of the United States, had been a military officer, territorial and governor before being elected as the Whig Party's first successful presidential candidate in the election of 1840. He was also the grandfather of Benjamin Harrison, who became the 23rd President of the United States. He was 68 years, 23 days old when inaugurated, the oldest president to take office up to that time, a record that would last until the inauguration of Ronald Reagan in 1981, and later be surpassed by the 45th and 46th Presidents. Harrison died on his 32nd day in office of complications from pneumonia. His tenure is the shortest in United States presidential history. His death sparked a brief constitutional crisis, but its resolution settled many questions about presidential succession left unanswered by the Constitution until the passage of the 25th Amendment.

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

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

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

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


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

Harrison is remembered most as president for holding the office for the briefest of times. It has spawned t-shirts and coffee mugs (like the one I have below).



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