Road to the Presidency: Gerald Ford

Gerald Ford was born Leslie Lynch King Jr. His mother, Dorothy Ayer Gardner, separated from Ford's father, leslie Lynch King Sr., just sixteen days after Ford's birth, fleeing from an abusive marriage. Dorothy Gardner and King Sr. divorced in December 1913 and Ford's mother gained full custody of her son. On February 1, 1916, Dorothy Gardner married Gerald Rudolff Ford, and they called the child Gerald Rudolff Ford Jr., although the future president was never formally adopted. Ford did not legally change his name until December 3, 1935 and used a more conventional spelling of his middle name. He grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

As a boy, Ford was active in the Boy Scouts of America, and earned that program's highest rank, Eagle Scout. He is the only Eagle Scout to have become President of the United States. He attended Grand Rapids South High School where he was a star athlete and captain of the football team. In 1930, he was selected to the All-City team of the Grand Rapids City League and was sought after by college recruiters.

Ford attended the University of Michigan where he played center and linebacker for the school's football team, the Wolverines. The team that Ford was on had undefeated seasons and national titles in 1932 and 1933, but in his 1934 senior year, the team only won one game. During Ford's senior year, in a game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, the Yellow Jackets refused to play a scheduled game if an African-American player for Michigan named Willis Ward took the field. Despite protests from students, players and alumni, university officials opted to keep Ward out of the game. Ford was a good friend of Ward and they roomed together while on road trips. Ford reportedly threatened to quit the team in response to the university’s decision, but eventually agreed to play against Georgia Tech at Ward's request.

Ford graduated in 1935 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics. He turned down contract offers to play for the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers of the National Football League, and also turned down an offer of a coaching position at Yale. Instead he applied to the Yale law school, although he accepted an assistant coaching job for football and boxing at Yale in September 1935.

Ford spent the summer of 1937 as a student at the University of Michigan Law School and was eventually admitted to Yale Law School in the spring of 1938. He earned his LL.B. degree in 1941, graduating in the top 25 percent of his class. In the summer of 1940 Ford worked in Wendell Willkie's presidential campaign. Ford graduated from law school in 1941, and was admitted to the Michigan bar shortly thereafter.

In May 1941, Ford opened a law practice with a friend, Philip W. Buchen in Grand Rapids. Buchen would later serve as Ford's White House counsel. But when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor took place, Ford enlisted in the Navy. He received a commission as ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve on April 13, 1942 and a week later, on April 20, he reported for active duty to the V-5 instructor school at Annapolis, Maryland. After one month of training, he went to Navy Pre-flight School in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where he was one of 83 instructors. He taught elementary navigation skills, ordnance, gunnery, first aid and military drill. He also coached all nine sports that were offered there. While at the Pre-flight School, he was promoted to Lieutenant Junior Grade on June 2, 1942, and to Lieutenant in March 1943.

In May of 1943 Ford was sent to the new aircraft carrier USS Monterey at Camden, New Jersey. The ship was commissioned on June 17, 1943, and Ford served on board as the assistant navigator until the end of December 1944. While he was on board, the carrier participated in many actions in the Pacific Theater with the Third and Fifth Fleets in late 1943 and 1944. In 1943, the carrier helped secure Makin Island and during the spring of 1944, the Monterey supported landings at Kwajalein and Eniwetok and participated in carrier strikes in the Marianas, Western Carolines, and northern New Guinea, as well as in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. From September to November 1944, aircraft from the Monterey launched strikes against Wake Island, participated in strikes in the Philippines and supported the landings at Leyte and Mindoro.

The Monterey was one of several ships damaged by the typhoon that hit the Third Fleet on December 18 and 19, 1944. The Third Fleet lost three destroyers and over 800 men during the typhoon. The Monterey was damaged by a fire, which was started by several of the ship's aircraft tearing loose from their cables and colliding on the hangar deck. Ford narrowly avoided becoming a casualty himself. As he was going to his battle station on the bridge of the ship in the early morning of December 18, the ship rolled twenty-five degrees, which caused Ford to lose his footing and slide toward the edge of the deck. The two-inch steel ridge around the edge of the carrier saved him from going overboard. After the fire the Monterey was declared unfit for servic. On December 24, 1944, Ford was sent to the Navy Pre-Flight School at Saint Mary's College of California, where he was assigned until the end of the war. He remained in the Navy until on June 28, 1946.

On October 15, 1948, Ford married the former Elizabeth (Betty) Bloomer Warren at Grace Episcopal Church in Grand Rapids. She was a department store fashion consultant, who had been a fashion model and a dancer in the Martha Graham Dance Company. She had previously been married to and divorced from William G. Warren.
At the time of his engagement, Ford was campaigning for what would be his first of thirteen terms as a member of the United States House of Representatives. The wedding was delayed until shortly before the elections because Ford wasn't sure how voters might feel about his marrying a divorced ex-dancer.

After returning to Grand Rapids, Ford became active in local Republican politics. He ran for the party's nomination for the congressional seat held by incumbent Republican Bartel J. Jonkman. He was successful and
was a member of the House of Representatives for 25 years, holding the Grand Rapids congressional district seat from 1949 to 1973. Remarkably, he did not write a single piece of major legislation in his entire career. He was appointed to the House Appropriations Committee two years after being elected, and was a member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. In the early 1950s, Ford was asked, but declined to run for the Senate and for the Michigan governorship.

In November 1963, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Ford to the Warren Commission, a task force set up to investigate the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Ford was assigned to prepare a biography of Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused assassin. Ford later said that the CIA had destroyed or kept from investigators critical secrets connected to the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. According to a 1963 FBI memo released in 2008, Ford secretly provided the FBI with information about two of his fellow commission members, both of whom were not content with the FBI's conclusions about the assassination. The FBI position was that President Kennedy was shot by a single gunman firing from the Texas Book Depository. Another 1963 memo released in 1978 stated that Ford volunteered to advise the FBI regarding the content of the commission's deliberations if his involvement with the bureau was kept confidential, a condition which the bureau approved. Ford was an outspoken proponent of the single-assassin theory.

In 1964, Democratic President Lyndon Johnson led a landslide victory for his party, securing another term as president and taking 36 seats from Republicans in the House of Representatives. Following the election, members of the Republican caucus selected Ford as their new Minority Leader. The Republicans had 140 seats in the House compared with the 295 seats held by the Democrats. The Johnson Administration proposed and passed a series of programs that was called by Johnson the "Great Society." Criticism over the Johnson Administration's handling of the Vietnam War began to grow in 1966, with Ford and Congressional Republicans expressing concern that the United States was not doing what was necessary to win the war. Public sentiment also began to move against Johnson, and the 1966 midterm elections saw the Republicans gain 47 seats. This was not enough to give Republicans a majority in the House, but the victory gave Ford considerably more influence.

Ford's critized the government's handling of the Vietnam War in a speech he gave on the floor of the House, in which he questioned whether the White House had a clear plan to bring the war to a successful conclusion.In response, President Johnson accused Ford of playing "too much football without a helmet". Johnson said "Jerry Ford is so dumb he can't fart and chew gum at the same time."

When Richard Nixon was elected President in 1968, Ford's role shifted to being an advocate for the White House agenda. Congress passed several of Nixon's proposals, including the National Environmental Policy Act and the Tax Reform Act of 1969.

On October 10, 1973, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned and then pleaded no contest to criminal charges of tax evasion and money laundering, part of a negotiated resolution to a scheme in which he accepted $29,500 in bribes while governor of Maryland. "Nixon sought advice from senior Congressional leaders about a replacement and Ford was strongly recommended. Ford was nominated to take Agnew's position on October 12, 1973 the first time the vice-presidential vacancy provision of the 25th Amendment had been implemented. The United States Senate voted 92 to 3 to confirm Ford on November 27. Three Senators, all Democrats, voted against Ford's confirmation: Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, Thomas Eagleton of Missouri and William Hathaway of Maine. On December 6, the House confirmed Ford by a vote of 387 to 35. One hour after the confirmation vote in the House, Ford took the oath of office as Vice President of the United States.

Ford's brief tenure as Vice-President was overshadowed by the continuing revelations about the Watergate scandal. Following Ford's appointment, the Watergate investigation continued and on August 1, 1974, Chief of Staff Alexander Haig contacted Ford and told him that "smoking gun" evidence had been found implicating Nixon as part of a cover-up.

When Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974, Ford assumed the presidency, making him the only person to become President without having been previously voted in as either the president or vice president. Immediately after taking the oath of office in the East Room of the White House, he spoke to the assembled audience in a speech broadcast live to the nation. Ford told his audience: "I am acutely aware that you have not elected me as your president by your ballots, and so I ask you to confirm me as your president with your prayers." He went on to state: "I have not sought this enormous responsibility, but I will not shirk it.." He added: "It is only fitting then that I should pledge to them and to you that I will be the President of all the people."

Ford gave an address in which he told the nation: "My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here, the people rule."

Road to the Presidency: Richard Nixon

Richard Nixon was born in Yorba Linda, California, in a house that his father built. His mother, Hannah Nixon, was a devout Quaker and his father Frank ran a grocery store and gas station. His parents sent him to Fullerton Union High School where he played junior varsity football, and won a number of championships as a debater. He transfer to Whittier High School for his junior year, where he suffered his first electoral defeat, for student body president.


Nixon was offered a tuition grant to attend Harvard University, but his parents needed him to work in their store, so he remained in his hometown and attended Whittier College. At Whittier Nixon played for the basketball team and was a substitute on the football team. At Whittier he once again became a champion debater. In 1933, he became engaged to Ola Florence Welch, daughter of the Whittier police chief, but the young couple broke up in 1935.

After his graduation from Whittier in 1934, Nixon received a full scholarship to attend Duke University School of Law. Nixon was elected president of the Duke Bar Association and graduated third in his class in June 1937. After graduating from Duke, Nixon hoped to join the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but received no response to his letter of application. He returned to California and was admitted to the California state bar in 1937. He began practicing with the law firm Wingert and Bewley in Whittier, specializing in commercial litigation for local petroleum companies and other corporate matters, as well as wills. In 1938, he opened up his own branch of Wingert and Bewley in La Habra, California, and became a full partner in the firm the following year.

In January 1938, Nixon was a cast member in the Whittier Community Players production of The Dark Tower. He played opposite a high school teacher named Thelma "Pat" Ryan. In his memoir Nixon described it as "a case of love at first sight". Pat Ryan turned down Nixon's requests for a date several times before relenting. They dated for two years before she accepted his marriage proposal. They were married at a small ceremony on June 21, 1940 and spent their honeymoon in Mexico. They had two daughters, Tricia (born in 1946) and Julie (born in 1948).

In January 1942, the Nixons moved to Washington, D.C., where Nixon took a job at the Office of Price Administration. He was assigned to the tire rationing division, where he did not enjoy his job. Four months later, he applied to join the United States Navy and was accepted in August of 1942. He completed Officers Candidate School and was commissioned as an ensign in October 1942. His first post was as aide to the commander of the Naval Air Station Ottumwa in Iowa. He requested sea duty and was reassigned as the naval passenger control officer for the South Pacific Combat Air Transport Command, supporting the logistics of operations in the South West Pacific theater. He was Officer in Charge of the Combat Air Transport Command at Guadalcanal in the Solomons and later at Green Island (Nissan island) just north of Bougainville. His unit prepared manifests and flight plans for C-47 operations and supervised the loading and unloading of the cargo aircraft. On October 1, 1943, Nixon was promoted to lieutenant. He never saw combat while in the Navy.
When he returned to the US, Nixon was appointed the administrative officer of the Alameda Naval Air Station in California. In January 1945, he was transferred to the Bureau of Aeronautics office in Philadelphia and finally to Baltimore. In October 1945, he was promoted to lieutenant commander. He resigned his commission on New Year's Day 1946.

In 1945, Republican sought out Nixon to run as their candidate in California's 12th congressional district against Democratic Congressman Jerry Voorhis. Nixon and his wife returned to Whittier after he left the Navy, and began a year of intensive campaigning. In the campaign, Nixon suggested that Voorhis's endorsement by a group linked to communists meant that Voorhis could not be trusted. Nixon won the election, receiving 65,586 votes to Voorhis' 49,994.

In Congress, Nixon served on the Education and Labor Committee. He was part of the Herter Committee, which went to Europe to report on the need for U.S. foreign aid. Nixon was the youngest member of the committee, and the only Westerner. He first gained national attention in 1948 when his investigation, as a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), broke the Alger Hiss spy case. Whittaker Chambers had alleged that Hiss, a former State Department official, had been a Soviet spy. Hiss had sued Chambers for defamation and in the suit, Chambers produced documents corroborating his allegations. including microfilm copies that Chambers turned over to House investigators. Hiss was convicted of perjury in 1950 for denying under oath he had passed documents to Chambers. In 1948, Nixon was reelected to Congress.

In 1949, Nixon began to consider running for the United States Senate and he entered the race in November of that year. His opponent was Democratic Representative Helen Gahagan Douglas. In the campaign, Nixon highlighted Douglas's liberal voting record. Nixon won the election by almost twenty percentage points.

In the Senate, Nixon took a prominent position in opposing communism, frequently speaking out against the threat. He maintained friendly relations with fellow anti-communist, controversial Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy, but was careful to keep some distance between himself and McCarthy. Nixon also criticized President Harry S. Truman's handling of the Korean War. He supported statehood for Alaska and Hawaii, voted in favor of civil rights for minorities, and supported federal disaster relief for India and Yugoslavia.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower was nominated for president by the Republicans in 1952. He had no strong preference for a vice presidential candidate, and Republican party officials recommended Nixon. Nixon's youth (he was 39 at the time), his stance against communism, and his political base in California were all seen as positives. On the campaign trail, Eisenhower spoke to his plans for the country, leaving the negative campaigning to his running mate.

In mid-September, the Republican ticket faced a media crisis. It was reported that Nixon had a political fund, maintained by his backers, which reimbursed him for political expenses. Such a fund was not illegal, but it exposed Nixon to allegations of possible conflict of interest. Pressure built on Eisenhower to dump Nixon from the ticket. To counter this, Nixon went on television to deliver an address to the nation on September 23, 1952, known as the Checkers speech. It was heard by about 60 million people, the largest television audience up to that point. Nixon defended himself, stating that the fund was not secret, nor had donors received special favors. He described himself as a man of modest means. He said that his wife had no mink coat. Instead she wore a "respectable Republican cloth coat". Nixon admitted to one gift which he had received, but which he would not give back: "a little cocker spaniel dog ... sent all the way from Texas. And our little girl—Tricia, the 6-year-old—named it Checkers." The speech was a huge success. It prompted a huge public outpouring of support for Nixon and Eisenhower decided to retain him on the ticket.

Eisenhower and Nixon won the election in 1952 and as President, Eisenhower gave Nixon considerable responsibilities during his term as vice president. Nixon attended Cabinet and National Security Council meetings and chaired them when Eisenhower was absent. He was sent on a 1953 tour of the Far East.

Despite intense campaigning by Nixon, who reprised his strong attacks on the Democrats, the Republicans lost control of both houses of Congress in the 1954 elections. On September 24, 1955, President Eisenhower suffered a heart attack; his condition was initially believed to be life-threatening. Eisenhower was unable to perform his duties for six weeks. The 25th Amendment to the United States Constitution had not yet been proposed, and the Vice President had no formal power to act. Nixon acted in Eisenhower's stead during this period, presiding over Cabinet meetings.

Despite his loyalty, in 1955 Eisenhower proposed that Nixon not run for reelection in order to give him administrative experience before a 1960 presidential run and instead become a Cabinet officer in a second Eisenhower administration. Nixon declined the offer. When Eisenhower announced his reelection bid in February 1956, he hedged on the choice of his running mate, stating that it was improper to address that question until he had been renominated. In late April, Eisenhower announced that Nixon would again be his running mate. Eisenhower and Nixon were reelected by a comfortable margin in the November 1956 election.

In the spring of 1957, Nixon undertook another major foreign trip, this time to Africa. On his return, he helped shepherd the Civil Rights Act of 1957 through Congress. The bill was weakened in the Senate, and civil rights leaders were divided over whether Eisenhower should sign it. Nixon advised the President to sign the bill, which he did. Eisenhower suffered a mild stroke in November 1957, and Nixon gave a press conference, assuring the nation that the Cabinet was functioning well during Eisenhower's brief illness.

On April 27, 1958, Richard and Pat Nixon embarked on a goodwill tour of South America. The trip was uneventful until the Nixons reached Lima, Peru, where their motorcade was met with student demonstrations. Nixon tried to get out of his car to speak to the crowd, but was forced back into the car by a volley of thrown objects. At his hotel, Nixon faced another mob, and one demonstrator spat on him. In Caracas, Venezuela, Nixon and his wife were spat on by anti-American demonstrators and their limousine was attacked by an angry crowd. Nixon gained praise for his courage.

In July 1959, President Eisenhower sent Nixon to the Soviet Union for the opening of the American National Exhibition in Moscow. On July 24, while touring the exhibits with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, the two stopped at a model of an American kitchen and engaged in a spirited impromptu exchange about the merits of capitalism versus communism that became known as the "Kitchen Debate".

In 1960, Nixon launched his campaign for President of the United States. He won the nomination easily and chose former Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. as his running mate. His Democratic opponent was John F. Kennedy, and the race was very clos. Nixon campaigned on his experience, while Kennedy called for change and claimed the Eisenhower–Nixon administration had allowed the Soviet Union to overtake the U.S. in ballistic missiles. The candidates participated in four televised presidential debates. In the first of these debates, Nixon appeared pale, with a five o'clock shadow, in contrast to the photogenic Kennedy. Nixon's performance in the debate was perceived to be sub-standard in the visual medium of television, buth many people listening on the radio thought that Nixon had won. Nixon lost the election narrowly, with Kennedy ahead by only 120,000 votes (0.2 percent) in the popular vote.

At the end of his term of office as vice president in January 1961, Nixon and his family returned to California, where he practiced law and wrote a bestselling book, entitled Six Crises, which included coverage of the Hiss case, Eisenhower's heart attack, and the Fund Crisis, (the Checkers speech.)

Local and national Republican leaders encouraged Nixon to challenge incumbent Pat Brown for Governor of California in the 1962 election and Nixon did so. During the campaign, Nixon was accused of using the office as a stepping-stone for another presidential run. He lost to Brown by more than five percentage points, and the defeat was widely believed to be the end of his political career. In an impromptu speech the morning after the election, Nixon blamed the media for loss and he told them "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference".

The Nixon family traveled to Europe in 1963, where Nixon gave press conferences and met with leaders of the countries he visited. He and his family moved to New York City, where Nixon became a senior partner in the law firm Nixon, Mudge, Rose, Guthrie & Alexander. Nixon had promised during his California campaign, that he would not run for president in 1964. In 1964, he supported Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater for the Republican nomination for president. Although he thought Goldwater unlikely to win, Nixon campaigned for him loyally.

After Goldwater's defeat, Nixon worked to rebuild the Republican Party and to to regain seats lost in the Johnson landslide. He received credit for helping the Republicans make major gains in the midterm election in 1966.

At the end of 1967, Nixon decided to run for president a second time. He believed that the Democrats were vulnerable over the issue of the Vietnam War. The withdrawal of President Johnson as a candidate supported this conclusion. Nixon's main opposition was Michigan Governor George Romney. He secured the nomination on the first ballot and selected Maryland Governor Spiro Agnew as his running mate.

Nixon's Democratic opponent in the election was Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who was nominated at a convention marked by violent protests. Humphrey was an unsatisfactory replacement for the candidate most Democrats really wanted, Robert Kennedy, who was assassinated in June of 1968. Nixon portrayed himself as someone possessed of significant foreign policy experience at a time when the nation sorely needed it. He appealed to what he later called the "silent majority" of Americans who disliked the anti-war demonstrators and protesters. He waged a prominent television advertising campaign, and he stressed that the crime rate was too high. Nixon promised "peace with honor" in the Vietnam War but did not release specifics of how he hoped to end the war.

Johnson's negotiators hoped to reach a truce in Vietnam prior to the election. Nixon received information about the talks from Henry Kissinger, then a consultant to U.S. negotiator Averell Harriman, and his campaign was in regular contact with Anna Chennault in Saigon. She advised South Vietnamese president Thieu not to go to Paris to join the talks, suggesting that Nixon would give him a better deal if elected. Debate exists as to whether this was done with Nixon's approval or complicity. Lyndon Johnson was aware of this and was enraged by what he considered an attempt by Nixon to undermine U.S. foreign policy. On October 31, with no agreement, Johnson announced a unilateral halt to the bombing, and that peace negotiations would start in Paris on November 6, the day after Election Day. Johnson telephoned Nixon, who denied any involvement. Johnson felt he could not publicly mention Chennault's involvement, because his knowledge had been obtained by wiretapping.

In a three-way race between Nixon, Humphrey, and independent candidate former Alabama Governor George Wallace, Nixon defeated Humphrey by nearly 500,000 votes (seven-tenths of a percentage point), with 301 electoral votes to 191 for Humphrey and 46 for Wallace. In his victory speech, Nixon pledged that his administration would try to bring the divided nation together. In talking to the press after Humphrey conceded defeat, Nixon said: "I have received a very gracious message from the Vice President, congratulating me for winning the election. I congratulated him for his gallant and courageous fight against great odds. I also told him that I know exactly how he felt. I know how it feels to lose a close one."

Remembering Robert Kennedy

It was 55 years ago today, on June 6, 1968 at 1:44 a.m. that Robert F. Kennedy died. He was shot just over 25 hours earlier in a kitchen adjacent to the Embassy Ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel, where he had just delivered his victory speech following his winning the 1968 California Democratic Primary. He was 42 years of age.

RFK Button

Kennedy had served as United States Attorney General from January 1961 until September 3, 1964, first in the cabinet of his brother President John F. Kennedy and then briefly under his nemesis Lyndon Johnson. He resigned to run for election to the United States Senate in New York, winning that election and being sworn in as Senator from New York on January 3, 1965. The approach of the 1968 presidential election saw the incumbent president Lyndon Johnson losing popularity during a period of civil unrest. There were riots in the major cities despite Johnson's attempts to introduce anti-poverty and anti-discrimination legislation, and there was significant opposition to the ongoing Vietnam War. The assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1968 led to further riots in 100 cities.

Kennedy entered the race for the Democratic Party's nomination for president on March 16, 1968, four days after Senator Eugene McCarthy, a candidate opposed to the war in Vietnam, received a large percentage of the vote in the New Hampshire primary against the incumbent President (42% to Johnson's 49%). Two weeks later, a demoralized Johnson announced he was no longer seeking re-election. One month later, Vice President Hubert Humphrey announced he would seek the presidency.

The 1968 California Primary took place on Tuesday, June 4. Four hours after the polls closed in California, Kennedy was declared the winner. At approximately 12:10 a.m. PDT, he addressed his campaign supporters in the Ambassador Hotel's Embassy Room ballroom. The government provided Secret Service protection for incumbent presidents but not for presidential candidates. Kennedy's only security was provided by former FBI agent William Barry and two unofficial bodyguards, former professional athletes Roosevelt Grier and Rafer Johnson. During the campaign, Kennedy had welcomed contact with the public.

Kennedy had planned to walk through the ballroom when he had finished speaking, on his way to another gathering of supporters elsewhere in the hotel.But Campaign aide Fred Dutton decided that Kennedy would forgo the second gathering and instead go through the kitchen and pantry area behind the ballroom to the press area. Kennedy finished speaking and started to exit when William Barry stopped him and said, "No, it's been changed. We're going this way." Barry and Dutton began clearing a way for Kennedy to go left through swinging doors to the kitchen corridor, but Kennedy, hemmed in by the crowd, followed maître d'hôtel Karl Uecker through a back exit.

Uecker led Kennedy through the kitchen area, holding Kennedy's right wrist but frequently releasing it as Kennedy shook hands with those he encountered. Uecker and Kennedy started down a passageway narrowed by an ice machine against the right wall and a steam table to the left. Kennedy turned to his left and shook hands with busboy Juan Romero. Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian with strong anti-Zionist beliefs, stepped down from a low tray-stacker beside the ice machine, rushed past Uecker, and repeatedly fired a .22 caliber Iver-Johnson Cadet revolver.

Kennedy fell to the floor and security man Bill Barry saw Sirhan holding a gun and hit him twice in the face while others, including maîtres d' Uecker and Edward Minasian, writer George Plimpton, Olympic gold medal decathlete Rafer Johnson and professional football player Rosey Grier, forced Sirhan against the steam table and disarmed him as he continued firing his gun in random directions. After a minute, Sirhan wrestled free and grabbed the revolver again, but he had already fired all the bullets. He was once again restrained.


Barry went to Kennedy and laid his jacket under the candidate's head, later recalling: "I knew immediately it was a .22, a small caliber, so I hoped it wouldn't be so bad, but then I saw the hole in the Senator's head, and I knew". Reporters and photographers rushed into the area from both directions, contributing to the confusion and chaos. As Kennedy lay wounded, Juan Romero cradled the senator's head and placed a rosary in his hand. Kennedy asked Romero, "Is everybody safe, OK?" and Romero responded, "Yes, yes, everything is going to be OK". The image was captured by Life photographer Bill Eppridge and Boris Yaro of the Los Angeles Times.

Ethel Kennedy stood outside the crush of people at the scene, but was soon led to her husband and knelt beside him. After several minutes, medical attendants arrived and lifted Kennedy onto a stretcher, prompting him to whisper, "Don't lift me". He lost consciousness shortly thereafter. Kennedy was taken a mile away to Central Receiving Hospital, where he arrived near death. One doctor slapped his face, calling, "Bob, Bob", while another massaged Kennedy's heart. After obtaining a good heartbeat, doctors handed a stethoscope to Ethel Kennedy so she could hear her husband's heart beating. After about 30 minutes, Kennedy was transferred several blocks to the Hospital of the Good Samaritan for surgery. Surgery began at 3:12 a.m. PDT and lasted three hours and 40 minutes.

Ten and a half hours later, at 5:30 p.m. PDT on Wednesday, spokesman Frank Mankiewicz announced that Kennedy's doctors were "concerned over his continuing failure to show improvement". Kennedy had been shot three times. One bullet, fired at a range of about 1 inch, entered behind his right ear, dispersing fragments throughout his brain. Two others entered at the rear of his right armpit; one exited from his chest and the other lodged in the back of his neck.

Despite extensive neurosurgery at the Good Samaritan Hospital to remove the bullet and bone fragments from his brain, Kennedy died at 1:44 a.m. PDT on June 6, nearly 26 hours after the shooting.

Five other people were also wounded: William Weisel of ABC News, Paul Schrade of the United Auto Workers union, Democratic Party activist Elizabeth Evans, Ira Goldstein of the Continental News Service and Kennedy campaign volunteer Irwin Stroll.

Following the California primary, Kennedy was in second place with 393 delegates compared to 561 for Vice-President Hubert Humphrey. Following is a YouTube video of Robert Kennedy's final remarks to the crowd at the Ambassador Hotel on June 5, 1968, followed by news coverage of the assassination:


Road to the Presidency: Lyndon Johnson

Lyndon Baines Johnson was the oldest of five children born to Samuel Ealy Johnson, Jr. and Rebekah Baines. His father was was a Democratic member of the Texas House of Representatives representing the 89th District from 1918 to 1923. Lyndon Johnson graduated from Johnson City High School in 1924, the youngest graduate of the school. In the summer of 1926, Johnson enrolled in Southwest Texas State Teachers' College (now Texas State University). He participated in debate and campus politics and was the editor of the school newspaper called The College Star. From 1928 to 1929, Johnson took a leave from his studies to teach Mexican-American children at the segregated Welhausen School in Cotulla, 90 miles south of San Antonio in La Salle County.

Johnson graduated from college in 1930. He then taught at Pearsall High School in Pearsall, Texas. He then took a position as teacher of public speaking at Sam Houston High School in Houston. After teaching in Houston Johnson began being active in politics. In 1930, he campaigned for Texas State Senator Welly Hopkins in his run for Congress. Hopkins recommended Johnson to Congressman Richard M. Kleberg, who made Johnson his legislative secretary. He befriended aides to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as well as fellow Texans such as Vice President John Nance Garner. Congressman Sam Rayburn became his mentor.

Johnson married Claudia Alta Taylor, known as "Lady Bird", on November 17, 1934. He attended Georgetown University Law Center for several months. In 1935, he was appointed head of the Texas National Youth Administration, a government organization which sought to create education and job opportunities for young people. He resigned two years later to run for Congress.

In 1937, Johnson was victorious in a special election for Texas's 10th congressional district, that included Austin. He served in the House from April 10, 1937, to January 3, 1949. Johnson was known as a tough boss who demanded long workdays and work on weekends from his aides. He supported President Franklin D. Roosevelt as well as Vice President John Nance Garner and Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn. He was appointed to the Naval Affairs Committee and he also worked for rural electrification and other improvements for his district. Johnson steered the projects towards contractors who supported him and who would finance his campaigns.

In 1941, Johnson ran for the U.S. Senate in a special election against the sitting Governor of Texas, W. Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel, but lost. When the United States entered World War II in December 1941, Johnson, who was still in Congress, became a commissioned officer in the Naval Reserve. He asked Undersecretary of the Navy James Forrestal for a combat assignment, but was sent instead to inspect the shipyard facilities in Texas and on the West Coast. In the spring of 1942, President Roosevelt wanted his own reports on what conditions were like in the Southwest Pacific, unfiltered by military intelligence. Roosevelt assigned Johnson to a three-man survey team of the Southwest Pacific.

Johnson reported to General Douglas MacArthur in Australia. Johnson and two Army officers went to the 22nd Bomb Group base, which was assigned the high risk mission of bombing the Japanese airbase at Lae in New Guinea. A colonel took Johnson's allocated seat on one bomber, and it was shot down with no survivors. Johnson was a passenger in a B-26 Marauder. He said that it was also attacked by Japanese fighters but others, including other members of the flight crew, claim it turned back because of generator trouble before reaching the objective and before encountering enemy aircraft and never came under fire. Flight records support this version. MacArthur awarded Johnson the Silver Star, the military's third-highest medal.

Johnson reported to Roosevelt and to Congress that conditions were deplorable. He said that the South West Pacific urgently needed a higher priority and a larger share of war supplies. Warplanes sent there were inferior to Japanese planes, and morale was bad. Johnson prepared a twelve-point program to upgrade the effort in the region. He was appointed chairman of a subcommittee of the Naval Affairs Committee to look at inefficiencies in the conduct of the naval war.

In the 1948 elections, Johnson again ran for the Senate and won in a highly controversial result. He won his party's nomination in a runoff election and won by 87 votes out of 988,295 cast. Ballots in Precinct 13 in Jim Wells County had curiously been cast in alphabetical order, just at the close of polling. Some of the voters insisted that they had not voted that day. The state Democratic convention upheld Johnson. His opponent went to court to challenge the results, but Johnson prevailed. He soundly defeated Republican Jack Porter in the general election in November and went to Washington, where he was given the nickname "Landslide Lyndon".

Once in the Senate, Johnson befriended some of the more experienced senators such as Richard Russell, Democrat from Georgia, the leader of the Conservative coalition and arguably the most powerful man in the Senate. Johnson was appointed to the Senate Armed Services Committee, and later in 1950, he helped create the Preparedness Investigating Subcommittee. Johnson became its chairman and conducted investigations of defense costs and efficiency. He used his political influence in the Senate to receive broadcast licenses from the Federal Communications Commission in his wife's name. After the 1950 general elections, Johnson was chosen as Senate Majority Whip in 1951 under the new Majority Leader, Ernest McFarland of Arizona, and served from 1951 to 1953.

In the 1952 general election Republicans won a majority in both the House and Senate. Among defeated Democrats that year was McFarland, who lost to Barry Goldwater, the man Johnson would defeat in the 1964 Presidential election. In January 1953, Johnson was chosen by his fellow Democrats to be the minority leader. One of his first actions was to eliminate the seniority system in appointment to a committee, while retaining it for chairmanships. In the 1954 election, Johnson was re-elected to the Senate. Since the Democrats won the majority in the Senate, Johnson then became majority leader. Johnson's duties were to schedule legislation. Johnson, Rayburn and President Dwight D. Eisenhower worked well together in passing Eisenhower's domestic and foreign agenda.

Johnson had been a 60-cigarette-per-day smoker. He suffered a near-fatal heart attack on July 2, 1955 and was forced to give up smoking.

Johnson's success in the Senate made him a potential Democratic presidential candidate. He was considered a front-runner for the 1960 nomination. He was urged to launch a campaign in early 1959, but Johnson thought it better to wait, thinking that John F. Kennedy would create a division in the ranks which could then be exploited. Johnson's late entry into the campaign in July 1960 allowed the Kennedy campaign to gain an early advantage among Democratic state party officials. Johnson underestimated Kennedy's appeal and ability as a campaigner. After the failure of the "Stop Kennedy" coalition he had formed with Adlai Stevenson, Stuart Symington and Hubert Humphrey, Johnson received 409 votes on the only ballot at the Democratic convention, which nominated John F. Kennedy.

Kennedy did realize he could not be elected without support of Southern Democrats, most of whom had backed Johnson. But labor leaders, who were a key component of Kennedy's support, were unanimous in their opposition to Johnson. After much back and forth with party leaders, Kennedy offered Johnson the vice-presidential nomination at the Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel at 10:15 am on July 14 and Johnson accepted. Robert F. Kennedy had an intense dislike for Johnson because of his attacks on the Kennedy family. Robert Kennedy later maintained his brother offered the position to Johnson merely as a courtesy, expecting him to decline.

At the same time as his he ran for Vice President, Johnson also sought a third term in the U.S. Senate. On November 8, 1960, Lyndon Johnson won election for both the vice presidency of the United States, on the Kennedy-Johnson ticket, and for a third term as Senator. Texas law had been changed at Johnson's request to allow him to run for both offices simultaneously. When he won the vice presidency, he resigned from the Senate, as he was required to do under federal law, on January 3, 1961." Fellow Democrat William A. Blakley was appointed to replace Johnson as Senator, but Blakley lost a special election in May 1961 to Republican John Tower.

After the election, Johnson sought a transfer of the authority of Senate majority leader to the vice presidency, since that office made him president of the Senate, but he faced strong opposition from the Democratic Caucus, including members he had counted as his supporters. Johnson sought to increase his influence within the Executive Branch. He drafted an executive order for Kennedy's signature, granting Johnson "general supervision" over matters of national security and requiring all government agencies to "cooperate fully with the vice president in the carrying out of these assignments." Kennedy did not issue this order and he turned down requests from Johnson to be given an office adjacent to the Oval Office, and to employ a full-time Vice Presidential staff within the White House.

Many members of the Kennedy White House, including Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, were contemptuous of Johnson and ridiculed him. Congressman Tip O'Neill later said that the Kennedy men had a disdain for Johnson that they didn't try to hide. President Kennedy, however, made efforts to keep Johnson onside, telling aides "I can't afford to have my vice president, who knows every reporter in Washington, going around saying we're all screwed up, so we're going to keep him happy." Kennedy appointed him head of the President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunities, through which he worked with African Americans and other minorities. Johnson took on numerous minor diplomatic missions, and he was allowed to observe Cabinet and National Security Council meetings. Kennedy gave Johnson control over all presidential appointments involving Texas. He also appointed Johnson Chairman of the National Aeronautics Space Council. When, in April 1961, the Soviets beat the US with the first manned spaceflight, Kennedy tasked Johnson with evaluating the state of the US space program, and coming up with a project that would allow the US to catch up or beat the Soviets. Johnson responded with a recommendation that the US gain the leadership role by committing the resources to embark on a project to land an American on the Moon in the 1960s.

Johnson was involved in a Senate scandal in August 1963 when Bobby Baker, the Secretary to the Majority Leader of the Senate, and a protégé of Johnson's, came under investigation by the Senate Rules Committee for allegations of bribery and financial malfeasance. One witness alleged that Baker had arranged for the witness to give kickbacks for the Vice President. Baker resigned in October, and the investigation did not expand to Johnson. The negative publicity from the affair fed rumors in Washington circles that Kennedy was planning on dropping Johnson from the Democratic ticket in the upcoming 1964 presidential election. However, when a reporter asked on October 31, 1963, if he intended and expected to have Johnson on the ticket the following year, Kennedy replied, "Yes to both those questions." Kennedy worried that dropping Johnson from the ticket could produce heavy losses in the South in the 1964 election.

On November 22, 1963, John Kennedy was assassinated while riding in an open convertible, passing through Dealey Plaza in Dallas. Johnson was quickly sworn in as President on the Air Force One plane in Dallas just 2 hours and 8 minutes after John F. Kennedy was pronounced dead. He was sworn in by U.S. District Judge Sarah T. Hughes, a family friend. A Bible was not at hand, so Johnson took the oath of office using a Roman Catholic missal from President Kennedy's desk. He was convinced of the need to make an immediate transition of power after the assassination to provide stability for the nation.

In the days following the assassination, Lyndon B. Johnson made an address to Congress saying that "No memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy's memory than the earliest possible passage of the Civil Rights Bill for which he fought so long." On November 29, 1963 just one week after Kennedy's assassination, Johnson issued an executive order to rename NASA's Apollo Launch Operations Center and the NASA/Air Force Cape Canaveral launch facilities as the John F. Kennedy Space Center.

Johnson created a panel headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren, known as the Warren Commission, to investigate Kennedy's assassination. The commission conducted extensive research and hearings and unanimously concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the assassination. Conspiracy theorists remain unsatisfied with the commission's findings. Johnson retained senior Kennedy appointees, including Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, with whom Johnson had a difficult relationship.

Remembering Ronald Reagan

On June 5, 2004 (19 years ago today), Ronald Wilson Reagan, the 40th President of the United States, died at his home in Bel Air, California at the age of 93. He died from pneumonia, which was complicated by the Alzheimer's disease that he had been suffering from. Prior to his presidency, he had served as the 33rd Governor of California from 1967 to 1975, and before that he was a well-known radio, film and television actor.


Reagan was born on February 6, 1911. He was born in Tampico, Illinois, raised in Dixon, Illinois and attended Eureka College, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics and sociology. After graduating, Reagan moved first to Iowa to work as a radio broadcaster and then, in 1937, to Los Angeles where he began a career as an actor, first in films and later in television. Some of his best known films include Knute Rockne, All American (1940), Kings Row (1942), and Bedtime for Bonzo (1951). He served as President of the Screen Actors Guild and later became the spokesman for General Electric. He got his start in politics during the time that he worked for GE. Originally he had been a member of the Democratic Party and was an admirer of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But his positions began shifting to the right in the 1950s, and he became a member of the Republican Party in 1962.

Reagan delivered a very memorable in support of Barry Goldwater's presidential candidacy in 1964, known as "A Time for Choosing" that was admired by and inspired conservative Republicans. He was persuaded to seek the GOP nomination for Governor of California and he was elected to that office two years later. He won re-election in 1970. Reagan sought his party's nomination for President in 1968, but finished third behind Richard Nixon and Nelson Rockefeller. He tried again in 1976, losing to incumbent President Gerald Ford. Persevering, he won both the nomination and the Presidency in 1980, defeating incumbent Jimmy Carter.

As president, Reagan was proactive both politically and where the economy was concerned as well. His supply-side economic policies (called "Reaganomics" by the media) advocated reducing tax rates to spur economic growth, controlling the money supply to reduce inflation, deregulation of the economy, and reducing the size of the federal government. In his first term he survived an assassination attempt on March 30, 1981, only 69 days into his term. He also took a hard line against labor unions, threatening to fire striking air traffic controllers if they didn't return to their jobs. He also announced a "War on Drugs" and ordered an invasion of Grenada.

Ronald Reagan was re-elected in a landslide in 1984, running on a campaign which declared that it was "Morning in America". He won every state except for his opponent's home state of Minnesota and the District of Columbia. His second term was primarily concerned by foreign policy matters, such as the ending of the Cold War, the 1986 bombing of Libya, and the revelation of the Iran–Contra affair. He publicly called the Soviet Union an "evil empire" and supported anti-communist movements worldwide. He moved away from his first term the strategy of détente, and ordered a massive military buildup in an arms race with the USSR. Reagan negotiated with Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, culminating in the INF Treaty which decreased both countries' nuclear arsenals.


Reagan left office in 1989. Five years later, in 1994, the former president disclosed, in a public letter (shown above) that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease earlier that year. He dropped out of the public eye and died ten years later on June 5, 2004 at the age of 93. He remains a conservative icon, and generally ranks highly in public opinion polls of U.S. Presidents. He is credited for generating an ideological renaissance on the American political right and for leading the nation out of one of its worst economic periods, a time when interest rates were extraordinarily high and public morale was extraordinarily low. He is also fondly remembered for his civility and good humor and his infectious optimism.


Road to the Presidency: John F. Kennedy

John Fitzgerald Kennedy wasn't supposed to be the President from the Kennedy Family. That honor was planned for his older brother, Joseph Patrick Kennedy Jr. John Kennedy was the second of nine children born to businessman and later Ambassador Joseph Patrick "Joe" Kennedy, Sr. and his wife Rose Elizabeth Fitzgerald Kennedy. His maternal grandfather was John Francis "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, who had once been the Mayor of Boston. All four of his grandparents were the children of immigrants from Ireland.


JFK lived in Brookline, Massachusetts until 1927 when the Kennedy family moved to the Bronx, in New York City. The Kennedy family spent their summers at their home in Hyannisport, Massachusetts and Christmas and Easter holidays at their winter home in Palm Beach, Florida.

In September 1931, 14 year old John Kennedy was sent to the The Choate School in Wallingford, Connecticut for 9th through 12th grade, the same school that his older brother Joe Jr. had attended. While attending Choate, Kennedy experienced a number of health problems that led to his emergency hospitalization in 1934. In June 1934, he was admitted to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota and diagnosed with colitis. Kennedy graduated from Choate in June of the following year.

In September 1935 at age 18, he made his first trip abroad with his parents and his sister Kathleen to London with the intent of studying under Harold Laski at the London School of Economics, once again as his older brother Joe Jr. had done. Ill-health forced his return to America in October of that year, and he enrolled at Princeton University. He was hospitalized once again and convalesced at the Kennedy winter home in Palm Beach. He spent the spring of 1936 (along with his older brother Joe Jr.) working as a ranch hand at a cattle ranch outside Benson, Arizona.

In September 1936, Kennedy enrolled at Harvard College. He tried out for the football, golf, and swimming teams and earned a spot on the varsity swimming team. In July 1937, Kennedy sailed to France and spent ten weeks driving through Europe with his good friend LeMoyne Billings. In June 1938, Kennedy sailed overseas with his father and brother Joe Jr. to work with his father, who was then U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James's at the American embassy in London. In 1939, Kennedy toured Europe, the Soviet Union, the Balkans, and the Middle East in preparation for his Harvard senior honors thesis. He then went to Czechoslovakia and Germany before returning to London on September 1, 1939. coincidentally the day Germany invaded Poland. Two days later, Kennedy and his father sat in the visitor's gallery at the House of Commons and listened to speeches supporting Great Britain's declaration of war on Germany. Ambassador Kennedy sent his son John as his father's representative to help with arrangements for American survivors of the SS Athenia before flying back to the U.S.

At Harvard, Kennedy became a more serious student. In 1940, Kennedy completed his thesis, entitled "Appeasement in Munich", about British participation in the Munich Agreement. The thesis was published as a book called "Why England Slept" and it became a bestseller. Kennedy graduated from Harvard College with a Bachelor of Science cum laude in international affairs in April of 1940. He enrolled in and audited classes at the Stanford Graduate School of Business that fall and in early 1941, he helped his father write a memoir of his father's three years as an American ambassador. He also traveled throughout South America.

In September 1941, Kennedy tried to join the US Army, but was disqualified for medical reasons due to his chronic lower back problems. Instead he joined the U.S. Navy, with influence from the former naval attaché to his father. Kennedy was serving as an ensign in the office of the Secretary of the Navy when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor occurred. He attended the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program and then entered the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Training Center. He was given his first command, of a boat known as PT-101, which he briefly commanded from December 7, 1942 until February 23, 1943. During the transit of his ship from Rhode Island t Florida, he was briefly hospitalized after diving in the cold water to unfoul a propeller. He was then was assigned duty in Panama and later in the Pacific theater, where Kennedy earned the rank of lieutenant.

On August 2, 1943, Kennedy's boat, the PT-109, was performing nighttime patrols with two other boars near New Georgia in the Solomon Islands. PT-109 was rammed by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri and split in two. Kennedy gathered his surviving crew members together in the water, and a consensus was reached that they would swim towards a small island. Kennedy hurt his back in the collision, but he was able to tow a badly burned crewman through the water with a life jacket strap clenched in his teeth. He towed the wounded man to the island, and later to a second island, from where his crew was subsequently rescued. Kennedy later received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his bravery.

In October 1943, Kennedy took command of a PT boat converted into a gunboat, PT-59, which took part in a Marine rescue on Choiseul Island that November. He returned to the United States in early January 1944. His brother Joe was killed in August of 1944 when an explosive prematurely detonated in a plane he was in.

After receiving treatment for his back injury, John Kennedy was released from active duty in late 1944. In January 1945, his back problems became worse and he spent three more months recovering from his back injury at Castle Hot Springs, a resort in Arizona. Kennedy was honorably discharged just prior to Japan's surrender in 1945.

In April 1945, publisher William Randolph Hearst, a friend of Joe Kennedy Sr., hired JFK as a special correspondent for Hearst Newspapers. In that role he covered the Potsdam Conference and other events. The next year, in 1946, U.S. Representative James Michael Curley vacated his seat in the strongly Democratic 11th Congressional district in Massachusetts to become mayor of Boston. John Kennedy ran for the seat and defeated his Republican opponent by a large margin in November 1946.

In the 1952 US Senate election, Kennedy defeated incumbent Republican Henry Cabot Lodge II for the U.S. Senate seat. The following year, on September 12, 1953, Kennedy married the former Jacqueline Bouvier at St. Mary's Church in Newport, Rhode Island. His back problems persisted and Kennedy underwent several spinal operations over the next two years. He was often absent from the Senate, and at one point he was so ill that he was given the Catholic sacrament of the last rites. During his recovery in 1956, he published another book entitled Profiles in Courage. It was a book about U.S. Senators who risked their careers for their personal beliefs. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 1957 for the book. It was later discovered that the book was co-written by his close adviser and speechwriter, Ted Sorensen.

At the 1956 Democratic National Convention, Presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson let the convention select the Vice Presential nominee. Kennedy finished second in the balloting for the number two spot on the ticket, losing to Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee. The experience elevated Kennedy's profile.

As a senator, Kennedy was called upon to vote on President Dwight Eisenhower's bill for the Civil Rights Act of 1957. Kennedy cast a procedural vote which was seen by some as an appeasement of Southern Democratic opponents of the bill. He supported the final compromise bill, which passed in September 1957. In 1958, Kennedy was re-elected to a second term in the Senate, defeating his Republican opponent, Boston lawyer Vincent J. Celeste, by a wide margin.

Senator Joe McCarthy was a friend of the Kennedy family and JFK's brother Robert Kennedy worked for McCarthy's subcommittee. McCarthy also dated JFK's sister Pat. In 1954, when the Senate voted to censure McCarthy, Kennedy prepared a speech in support of the censure, but the speech was not delivered, because he was in the hospital. Kennedy's affiliation with McCarthy caused him a loss of support among members of the liberal community, including Eleanor Roosevelt.

Kennedy declared himself as a candidate for President in 1960. He ran as a candidate in a number of Democratic primaries. His opponents included former Minneapolis Mayor, Senator Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota and Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon. Kennedy defeated Humphrey in Wisconsin and West Virginia. He also defeated Morse in Maryland and Oregon, and won primaries in New Hampshire, Indiana, and Nebraska.
Kennedy won a surprise victory in West Virginia. a predominantly conservative and Protestant state where Kennedy's Roman Catholicism became an issue.

At the Democratic Convention, Kennedy made his "New Frontier" speech, saying in which he famously said: "We stand today on the edge of a New Frontier. But the New Frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises—it is a set of challenges. It sums up not what I intend to offer the American people, but what I intend to ask of them." Kennedy's main opponent at the 1960 Democratic Convention in Los Angeles was Senator Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas. On July 13 the convention nominated Kennedy as its candidate. Kennedy asked Johnson to be his vice presidential candidate, despite opposition from many liberal delegates and from Kennedy's own campaign team, including his brother Robert.

The 1960 US Presidential election's major issues included how to get the economy moving again, Kennedy's Roman Catholicism, Cuba, and whether the Soviet space and missile programs had surpassed those of the U.S. To address fears that his Catholicism would make him beholden to the Pope in Rome, he told the Greater Houston Ministerial Association on September 12, 1960, "I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party candidate for president who also happens to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my Church on public matters – and the Church does not speak for me." He said that it was unfair for 25% of Americans to be relegated to second-class citizenship just because they were Catholic. He added "No one asked me my religion in the South Pacific", referring to his service in the second world war.

In September and October, Kennedy appeared with the Republican candidate, Vice-President Richard M. Nixon, in the first televised U.S. presidential debates in U.S. history. During these programs, Kennedy adapted more easily to the new technology of television, while Nixon, appeared with a "five o'clock shadow", perspiring and looking uncomfortable. Kennedy chose to avail himself of makeup services, and wore a dark suit, more flattering on black and white tv. Opinion polls taken of radio listeners either found that Nixon had won or that the debates were a draw. But television audiences polled saw Kennedy as the winner. The Kennedy-Nixon debates are considered a milestone in American political history.

Kennedy's campaign gained momentum after the first debate, but the polls still predicted a very close election. On November 8, Kennedy defeated Nixon in one of the closest presidential elections of the 20th century. In the national popular vote Kennedy led Nixon by the slim margin of 49.7% to 49.5%, while in the Electoral College he won 303 votes to Nixon's 219 (with 269 needed to win). Kennedy became the youngest man elected president. He the first person born in the 20th century to serve as president and the only Roman Catholic to serve as president.


Kennedy's three years in office were very eventful. Notable events included the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Space Race (including the promise to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade), the building of the Berlin Wall, the African-American Civil Rights Movement, and increased US involvement in the Vietnam War. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963. Controversy persists to this day as to whether his death was caused by a lone gunman or as the result of a conspiracy.

Road to the Presidency: Dwight Eisenhower

Dwight Eisenhower was born on in Denison, Texas, but his family moved to Abilene, Kansas, when Dwight was an infant. As a child, he was involved in an accident that cost his younger brother an eye, which became an important life lesson for him. Dwight developed a love of the outdoors. He loved hunting and fishing and was a good athlete. His mother was a fervent pacifist who owned a collection of history books. These sparked a lasting interest in military history.


Eisenhower's parents set aside time for daily family Bible reading. His mother joined the International Bible Students Association, later known as Jehovah's Witnesses and the Eisenhower became the local meeting hall from 1896 to 1915.

Eisenhower graduated from in 1909. As a freshman, he injured his knee and developed a leg infection which his doctor diagnosed as life-threatening. The doctor wanted to amputate the leg, but Dwight refused to allow it. He recovered without any permanent injury. He and brother Edgar both wanted to attend college. Since money was tight, they agreed to take alternate years at college while the other worked, in order to earn the tuition. Dwight worked as a night supervisor at a creamery. At Edgar's request he worked for a second year. Dwight's friend "Swede" Hazlet was applying to the Naval Academy and urged Dwight to apply too. Eisenhower applied for both Annapolis and West Point. He applied through his U.S. Senator, Joseph L. Bristow. Eisenhower was one of the top finishers in the entrance-exam competition, but he was past the age limit for admission into Annapolis, so he accepted an appointment to West Point in 1911.

At West Point, Eisenhower finished school with a spotty discipline rating. His best subject was English and he enjoyed on science and mathematics. He was active in sports, and was later said that "not making the baseball team at West Point was one of the greatest disappointments of my life, maybe my greatest." He made the football team, and was a varsity starter as running back and linebacker in 1912. He once tackled the legendary Jim Thorpe. Eisenhower suffered a torn knee in that game, which was his last. He re-injured his knee twice, once riding a horse and once in the boxing ring. He graduated in the middle of his class of 1915, which became known as "the class the stars fell on", because 59 members of the class eventually achieved the rank of general.

Eisenhower met Mamie Geneva Doud while he was stationed in Texas. He proposed to her on Valentine's Day in 1916. A November wedding date in Denver was moved up to July 1 due to the pending U.S. entry into World War I. The couple had two sons. Their older son, Doud Dwight "Icky" Eisenhower was born September 24, 1917, and died of scarlet fever on January 2, 1921, at the age of three. Their second son, John Sheldon Doud Eisenhower, was born on August 3, 1922, while they were in Panama.

After graduation in 1915, Lieutenant Eisenhower served with the infantry at various camps in Texas and Georgia. In 1916, while at Fort Sam Houston, Eisenhower was the football coach for St. Louis College, now St. Mary's University. When the U.S. entered World War I he immediately requested an overseas assignment but was denied and assigned to Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas instead. In February 1918 he was transferred to Camp Meade in Maryland. His unit was later ordered to France with the new tank corps, but he never saw combat. The armistice was signed just a week before his scheduled departure. Despite this, he received the Distinguished Service Medal for his work at home.

After the war, Eisenhower was promoted to major, a rank he held for 16 years. In 1919 he was assigned to a transcontinental Army convoy to test vehicles and study the need for improved roads in the nation. He assumed duties at Camp Meade, Maryland, commanding a battalion of tanks. From 1920, Eisenhower served under a succession of renowned generals including Fox Conner, John J. Pershing, Douglas MacArthur and George Marshall. He became executive officer to General Conner in the Panama Canal Zone, where he served until 1924. Eisenhower later called Connor "the ablest man I ever knew." On Conner's recommendation, Eisenhower attended the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas in 1925 where he graduated first in a class of 245 officers. He then served as a battalion commander at Fort Benning, Georgia, until 1927.

During the late 1920s and early 1930s, Eisenhower's career in the army stalled in the depression and peacetime economies. He was assigned to the American Battle Monuments Commission directed by General Pershing, and produced a guide to American battlefields in Europe. He then was assigned to the Army War College and graduated in 1928. After a one-year assignment in France, Eisenhower served as executive officer to General George V. Mosely, Assistant Secretary of War, from 1929 to February 1933.He then was posted as chief military aide to General MacArthur, Army Chief of Staff. In 1932, he participated in the clearing of the Bonus March encampment in Washington, D.C. Eisenhower disagreed with the actions taken against the veterans by MacArthur, though publicly he supported his superior officer.

In 1935, Eisenhower accompanied MacArthur to the Philippines, where he served as assistant military adviser to the Philippine government in developing their army. Eisenhower had strong disagreements with MacArthur which resulted in antipathy between the two men for the rest of their lives.

While in Manila, Mamie suffered a life-threatening stomach ailment but recovered fully. Eisenhower was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1936. He also learned to fly, making a solo flight over the Philippines in 1937 and he obtained his private pilot's license in 1939 at Fort Lewis. Eisenhower returned to the U.S. in 1939 and held a series of staff positions in Washington, D.C., California and Texas. In June 1941, he was appointed Chief of Staff to General Walter Krueger, Commander of the 3rd Army, at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. He was promoted to brigadier general on October 3, 1941.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Eisenhower was assigned to the General Staff in Washington, where he served until June 1942. He was responsible for creating the war plans against Japan and Germany. He was appointed Deputy Chief in charge of Pacific Defenses under the Chief of War Plans Division (WPD), and later succeeded General Leonard Gerow as Chief of the War Plans Division. He was appointed Assistant Chief of Staff in charge of the new Operations Division (which replaced WPD) under Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall.

At the end of May 1942, Eisenhower accompanied Lt. Gen. Henry H. Arnold, commanding general of the Army Air Forces, to London. He returned to Washington on June 3 with a pessimistic assessment. On June 23, 1942, he returned to London as Commanding General, European Theater of Operations based in London. In November 1942, he was also appointed Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force of the North African Theater of Operations. In that capacity he planned the campaign in North Africa, called Operation Torch.

In February 1943, Eisenhower's authority was expanded as commander of AFHQ across the Mediterranean basin to include the British Eighth Army, commanded by General Bernard Law Montgomery. Eisenhower was given his fourth star. He oversaw the successful invasion of Sicily. Once Mussolini had fallen in Italy, the Allies switched their attention to the mainland. Eisenhower argued with Roosevelt and Churchill, who both insisted on unconditional terms of surrender from the Italians, as the Germans increased their forces in the country.Despite the Germans outnumbering the Allied forces 2 to 1, the invasion of Italy was successful.

In December 1943, President Franklin Roosevelt decided that Eisenhower would be Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. He was charged with planning and carrying out the Allied assault on the coast of Normandy in June 1944 under the code name Operation Overlord. He argued with Roosevelt over an agreement made with General Charles de Gaulle to use French resistance forces in sabotage operations against the Germans in advance of Overlord. He also argued with Admiral Ernest J. King over King's refusal to provide additional landing craft from the Pacific. He also insisted that the British give him exclusive command over all strategic air forces to facilitate Overlord, and threatened to resign unless Churchill agreed, which he did. Eisenhower designed a bombing plan in France in advance of Overlord.

The D-Day Normandy landings on June 6, 1944, were successful. A month later the invasion of Southern France took place, and many prematurely predicted that victory in Europe would come by summer's end. But German capitulation would not come for almost a year. From then until the end of the war in Europe on May 8, 1945, Eisenhower had command of all Allied forces. Mindful of the inevitable loss of life and suffering that would be experienced by the troops under his command, he made a point of personally visiting every division involved in the invasion.

Once the coastal assault had succeeded, Eisenhower maintained personal control over the land battle strategy. Allied victory in Europe was delayed due to turf wars between American General Omar Bradley and British Field Marshall Montgomery. In recognition of his position in the Allied command, on December 20, 1944, he was promoted to General of the Army. Although he had never seen action himself, he interacted tactfully with larger-than-life figures such as Winston Churchill, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery and General Charles de Gaulle. He also dealt with Soviet Marshal Zhukov, his Russian counterpart, and they became friends.

The Germans launched a surprise counter offensive in the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944 which was turned back in early 1945 by the Allies. German defenses continued to deteriorate on both the eastern front with the Soviets and the western front with the Allies. The British wanted Berlin but Eisenhower decided it would be a military mistake to do so. The division of Germany followed the agreement reached between Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin. The Soviet Red Army captured Berlin and the Germans finally surrendered on May 7, 1945.

Following the German surrender, Eisenhower was appointed Military Governor of the U.S. Occupation Zone, based Frankfurt. He had no responsibility for the other three zones, controlled by Britain, France and the Soviet Union, except for the city of Berlin, which was managed by all four powers. Upon discovery of the Nazi concentration camps, he ordered camera crews to document evidence of the atrocities in them for use in the Nuremberg Trials. Eisenhower altered the orders given by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to permit the bringing in of 400,000 tons of food for civilians. He arranged distribution of American food and medical equipment. His attitude towards the German people was that they were as much victims of the war as the nations invaded by the Nazis.

In November 1945, Eisenhower returned to Washington to replace George Marshall as Chief of Staff of the Army. His main role was rapid demobilization of millions of soldiers. Eisenhower believed that the Soviet Union did not want war and that friendly relations could be maintained. He strongly supported the new United Nations and favored its involvement in the control of atomic bombs. Eisenhower had opposed the use of the atomic bomb against the Japanese. He later wrote: "First, the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing. Second, I hated to see our country be the first to use such a weapon."

By mid-1947, as East–West tensions over economic recovery in Germany and the Greek Civil War escalated, Eisenhower gave up his hopes for cooperation with the Soviets and agreed with a containment policy to stop Soviet expansion.

In 1945 President Harry Truman told Eisenhower during the Potsdam Conference that if desired, the president would help the general win the 1948 election, and in 1947 he offered to run as Eisenhower's running mate on the Democratic ticket if MacArthur won the Republican nomination. As the election approached, politicians from both parties urged Eisenhower to run for president. In January 1948, after learning of plans in New Hampshire to elect delegates supporting him for the forthcoming Republican National Convention, Eisenhower stated publicly that he was "not available for and could not accept nomination to high political office".

In 1948, Eisenhower became President of Columbia University in New York. During that year Eisenhower's memoir, Crusade in Europe, was published and was critically acclaimed as one of the finest U.S. military memoirs. It was also a major financial success as well. His time as the president of Columbia University occurred at the same time as his activity within the Council on Foreign Relations, a study group he led as president concerning the political and military implications of the Marshall Plan. Eight months after his appointment, he became ill, and he spent over a month in recovery at the Augusta National Golf Club. He returned to his post in New York in mid-May, 1949. Many academics at Columbia resented Eisenhower for being an absentee president who was using the university for his own interests. Columbia's liberal faculty members became critical of their president's ties to oilmen and businessmen.

The trustees of Columbia University refused to accept Eisenhower's resignation in December 1950, when he took an extended leave from the university to become the Supreme Commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Eisenhower retired from active service as an Army general on May 31, 1952, and he resumed his presidency of Columbia. He held this position until January 20, 1953, when he became President of the United States.

In 1950 President Truman once again pressed Eisenhower to run for President as a Democrat. But Eisenhower declared himself to be Republicans and a "Draft Eisenhower" movement began in the Republican Party. He declared his candidacy, and expressed his opposition to the non-interventionist position taken by Senator Robert A. Taft. Henry Cabot Lodge served as his campaign manager. In June 1952 he resigned his command at NATO to campaign full-time. Eisenhower defeated Taft for the nomination. His campaign was noted for the simple but effective slogan, "I Like Ike".

Eisenhower expressed his opposition to Roosevelt's policy at Yalta and and against Truman's policies in Korea and China. He selected Richard M. Nixon as the Vice-President on the ticket in order to provide a strong anti-communist presence as well as some youth to counter Eisenhower's advanced age.

In the general election, Eisenhower insisted on campaigning in the South, refusing to surrender the region to the Democratic Party. The campaign strategy attached the previous Democratic administrations on three issues: Korea, Communism and corruption. Two controversies arose during the campaign. One involved a report that Nixon had improperly received funds from a secret trust. Nixon spoke out publicly in his famous Checkers speech to control potential damage to the campaign, but the matter adversely affected the relationship between the two running mates. The second issue centered around Eisenhower's refusal to confront the controversial Senator Joseph McCarthy on his home turf in a Wisconsin appearance. Just two weeks prior to the election, Eisenhower promised to go to Korea and end the war there. He promised to maintain a strong commitment against Communism.

On Election Day, Eisenhower defeated Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson in a landslide, with an electoral margin of 442 to 89, marking the first Republican return to the White House in 20 years. In the election Republicans won an 8-seat majority in the House and equaled the number of seats in the Senate held by their opponents, with Vice-President Nixon providing the majority vote.


Eisenhower was the last president born in the 19th century, and at age 62, was the oldest man to be elected President since James Buchanan in 1856. He was the only general to serve as President in the 20th century, and the most recent President to have never held elected office prior to the Presidency. Eisenhower's two terms were peaceful ones and saw considerable economic prosperity for the most part. Dwight Eisenhower has consistently been ranked by scholars as one of the greatest U.S. Presidents.

Road to the Presidency: Harry Truman

Harry S. Truman ("S" doesn't stand for anything, a common practice at the time, it was the first initial of both of his grandfathers) was born in Lamar, Missouri, the son of John Truman, a farmer and livestock dealer and Martha Ellen Young. The family moved three times in the next six years, settling in Independence. As a boy, Truman's interests were music, reading, and history. He was very close to his mother and as president, he solicited political and personal advice from her. He practice playing the piano daily from ages five to fifteen. At age 16 Truman was a page at the 1900 Democratic National Convention at Convention Hall in Kansas City. His father was active in the Democratic Party and Truman carried on the family political tradition.

After graduating from Independence High School in 1901, Truman worked as a timekeeper on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway. He worked at a series of clerical jobs, including a brief stint in the mailroom of the Kansas City Star. He returned to his grandparents' farm in Grandview in 1906, where he lived until joining the army in 1917. During this time, he met and courted Bess Wallace and proposed to her in 1911. She turned him down. Truman decided that before he proposed again, he wanted to be earning more money than a farmer did.

Truman did not earn a college degree. After he finished high school, Truman enrolled in Spalding's Commercial College, a Kansas City business school, but stayed for only one semester. In 1923–25 he took night courses towards a law degree at the Kansas City Law School (now the University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law), but dropped out after losing his government job.

Truman applied for appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, but was turned down because of poor eyesight. He enlisted in the Missouri Army National Guard in 1905, serving until 1911 in a Kansas City-based artillery battery. His eyesight was very poor, 20/50 in the right eye and 20/400 (past the standard for legal blindness) in the left eye. The second time he took the test, he passed by secretly memorizing the eye chart.

When it looked as if the USA might enter World War I, Truman rejoined the Guard, even though as the sole male in the family he was exempt from conscription. His men elected Truman as an officer, making him first lieutenant of a battery. Truman was sent to Camp Doniphan, Fort Sill, near Lawton, Oklahoma, for training. He ran the camp canteen with Edward Jacobson, a clothing store clerk he knew from Kansas City. At Fort Sill, Truman met Lieutenant James M. Pendergast, nephew of Thomas Joseph (Tom) Pendergast, a Kansas City political boss.

Truman was promoted to captain in July 1918 and became battery commander of an artillery regiment in France. His new unit, Battery D, 129th Field Artillery, 60th Brigade, 35th Infantry Division, had a reputation for discipline problems. When the battery came under sudden attack by the Germans in the Vosges Mountains, soldiers began to retreat. Using uncharacteristic profanity, Truman commandeded his men to stay and fight and he was able to obtain their compliance.

On September 26, 1918, Truman's unit was part of a pre-arranged assault barrage at Meuse-Argonne. On September 27, Truman was able to detect an enemy artillery battery setting up across a river in a position allowing them to fire upon the neighboring 28th Division. Truman ignored orders and waited until the Germans walked their horses well away from their guns before he opened fire. Truman was reprimanded for disobeying orders. During the Meuse-Argonne fighting, Truman provided support for George S. Patton's tank brigade. On November 11, 1918, his artillery unit fired some of the last shots of World War I towards German positions in Hermeville before the armistice took effect at 11 am. Under Truman's command, the battery did not lose a single man.

Truman's war record raised his stature in the community when he returned home. At the end of the war he was mustered out as a captain. He returned to Independence, where he married Bess Wallace on June 28, 1919. They had one child, their daughter Mary Margaret Truman.

Shortly before his wedding, Truman and Edwin Jacobson opened a haberdashery at 104 West 12th Street in downtown Kansas City. The store went bankrupt during the recession of 1921 and it took Truman until 1934 to pay off the debts of the store. With the help of the Kansas City Democratic machine led by Tom Pendergast, Truman was elected in 1922 as a County Court judge of Jackson County's eastern district. It was an administrative position akin to that of county commissioner. Truman lost his bid for re-election in 1924, and he spent the next two years selling automobile club memberships.

In 1926, Truman was elected as the presiding judge for the county court with the support of the Pendergast machine, and re-elected in 1930. In 1933, Truman was named as Missouri's director for the Federal Re-Employment program (part of the Civil Works Administration) at the request of Postmaster General James Farley. The appointment due to Boss Pendergast's control over federal patronage jobs in Missouri.

Truman approached Pendergast about possibly running for Governor or Congress, but Pendergast rejected these ideas. Pendergast reluctantly backed Truman as a Democratic candidate for the 1934 U.S. Senate election for Missouri, after his first four choices declined to run. In the Democratic primary, Truman defeated two congressmen, John J. Cochran and Jacob L. Milligan, and he defeated the incumbent Republican Roscoe C. Patterson by nearly 20 percentage points.

When he entered the senate, Truman was pejoratively known as "the senator from Pendergast." He turned patronage decisions over to Pendergast. In his first term as a Senator, Truman was critical of corporate greed and the dangers of Wall Street speculators and other moneyed special interests attaining too much of the influence in national affairs. He was largely ignored by President Roosevelt and was not considered to be a major player in the senate.

During the US Senate election in 1940, United States Attorney Maurice Milligan and former governor Lloyd Stark both challenged Truman in the Democratic primary. Truman was politically wounded because of Boss Pendergast's imprisonment for income tax evasion the previous year. He still remained loyal to Pendergast, claiming that Republican judges were responsible for the boss's conviction. Truman was able to obtain support from St. Louis party leader Robert E. Hannegan's and he won his party's nomination by 8,000 votes. In the November election, Truman defeated Republican Manvel H. Davis by 51-49%.

In late-1940, Truman traveled to various military bases to investigate waste and profiteering. He became a subcommittee chairman in the Committee on Military Affairs and commenced formal investigations into abuses in the military as the nation prepared for war. The Roosevelt administration supported this plan and Truman became the Chairman of what came to be known as the Truman Committee. The committee led to savings of up to $15 billion in military spending and its activities put Truman on the cover of Time magazine.

In 1944, with the nation at war, Vice President Henry Wallace was considered to be too far to the left and too friendly to labor for some of Roosevelt's advisers. Knowing that Roosevelt might not live out a fourth term, both the President and several of his confidantes wanted to replace Wallace. Democratic National Committee leaders wanted to keep Wallace off the ticket. Roosevelt told party leaders he would accept either Truman or Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas as his choice for Vice-President going into the 1944 election and most party leaders preferred Truman. Truman's nomination was called the "Second Missouri Compromise" in the press and it was well received by the party. The Roosevelt–Truman ticket went on to a 432–99 electoral-vote victory in the election, defeating the Republican ticket of Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York and running mate Governor John Bricker of Ohio. Truman was sworn in as vice president on January 20, 1945.

Truman's brief vice-presidency was relatively uneventful. Roosevelt rarely contacted him, even to inform him of major decisions. The two men met alone together only twice during their time in office. In one of his first acts as vice president, Truman created some controversy when he attended the disgraced Tom Pendergast's funeral. He ignored the criticism, saying "He was always my friend and I have always been his." Truman rarely discussed world affairs or domestic politics with Roosevelt. He was uninformed about major initiatives relating to the war and the top-secret Manhattan Project, which was about to test the world's first atomic bomb.

Truman had been vice president for 82 days when President Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945. That afternoon, Truman had been presiding over the Senate and had just adjourned the session for the day. He was preparing to have a drink in House Speaker Sam Rayburn's office when he received an urgent message to go immediately to the White House. Truman assumed that President Roosevelt wanted to meet with him, but Eleanor Roosevelt informed him that her husband had died after suffering a massive cerebral hemorrhage. Truman's first concern was for Mrs. Roosevelt. He asked if there was anything he could do for her, to which she replied, "Is there anything we can do for you? You are the one in trouble now!"

Remembering James Buchanan

James Buchanan shuffled off this mortal coil on June 1, 1868 (155 years ago on this day.) Buchanan regularly ranks among the worst of the Presidents ratings done by historians and scholars, usually finishing in last place. He is criticized for his weak and ineffective response to the coming of the secessionist crisis, his obsequiousness to the southern slave-holding political powers, his ethical impropriety in seeking to influence the outcome of the Supreme Court decision of Dred Scott v. Sanford, his backing of the pro-slavery constitution in Kansas when a majority of Kansans opposed slavery in their territory, his inaction as southern cabinet members raided federal resources for their own cause on the eve of the civil war, his refusal to axe corrupt cabinet members, and the fact that he is the only president to leave office with fewer states than when he entered it. It's quite a shopping list of failings for which many argue that Buchanan deserves the title of "worst president ever."

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It's surprising that his presidency turned out so badly, given that probably no one was ever elected to the office with so much experience and preparation. On the day of his inauguration, Buchanan imagined himself about to embark on a Presidency as great as that of George Washington. He certainly had a wealth of experience that amply qualified him for the office.

On April 23, 1791, James Buchanan was born in Pennsylvania, a state he represented in the United States House of Representatives and later the Senate. Buchanan graduated from Dickinson College with honors on September 19, 1809, after having previously been expelled from the college for bad behavior. Upon graduation, he moved to Lancaster, where he studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1812. When war broke out, Buchanan believed it was an unnecessary conflict, but when the British invaded Maryland, he joined a volunteer light dragoon unit as a private and served in the defense of Baltimore. Buchanan is the only president with military experience who was never an officer.

Buchanan began his political career towards the end of the war of 1812. He was elected to serve in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1814 to 1816 as a member of the Federalist Party. He was later elected to five terms in the US House of Representative from March 4, 1821 to March 4, 1831, and served as chairman of the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary. In 1830, he conducted impeachment proceedings against James H. Peck, judge of the United States District Court for the District of Missouri. Peck was charged with abuse of the contempt power, but was ultimately acquitted. Buchanan did not seek reelection and from 1832 to 1833 he was appointed to the post of Minister (Ambassador) to Russia by Andrew Jackson.

In 1834 Buchanan was elected as a Democrat to fill a United States Senate vacancy. He was reelected in 1837 and 1843. While in the senate he served as chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations from 1836 to 1841. Buchanan resigned in 1845 to serve as Secretary of State by President James K. Polk.

During his years in Washington, there were whispers that he and Alabama Senator William Rufus King were gay lovers. Some politician in his own party called King "Mrs. B" and the two were called "Aunt Nancy and Miss Fancy". Their correspondence which remains is especially affectionate, even considering the times they lived in, and their nieces destroyed most of their correspondence after each man's death.

Buchanan lost his bid for the Democratic Party's nomination for President in 1844, but his consolation prize was to be appointed to the position of Secretary of State in the administration of President James K. Polk. He turned down an offer for an appointment to the United States Supreme Court. President Franklin Pierce appointed him minister to the Court of St. James's, and being out of the country for three turbulent years helped him win his party's nomination for President in 1856.

Buchanan was elected President in a three-man race with John C. Frémont and Millard Fillmore. As President, he was often referred to as a "doughface", a Northerner with Southern sympathies. As President, he battled with Stephen A. Douglas for the control of the Democratic Party. Buchanan tried to maintain peace between the North and the South mainly by catering to southern interests, but in the end he alienated both sides, and the Southern states declared their secession in the lead up to the Civil War. Buchanan expressed the view that secession was illegal, but going to war to stop it was also illegal.

When Buchanan left office, the country was in trouble. Popular opinion was against him, and the Democratic Party was divided between northern and southern interests. Buchanan had entered the Presidency aspiring to an administration that would rank in history with that of George Washington. Instead he is ranked by many historians as one of the worst presidents in history. His failure to deal with secession is considered to be among the worst presidential mistake ever made.

The first shots of the Civil War were fired less than two months after Buchanan's retirement. He agreed that the attack on Fort Sumter left the government no alternative but to go to war. He also wrote a letter to his fellow Pennsylvania Democrats, urging them to volunteer and to support those who were already serving.

Buchanan spent his remaining years defending himself from public blame for the Civil War. His critics called it "Buchanan's War" and he received angry and threatening letters. Stores displayed Buchanan's likeness with the eyes inked red, a noose drawn around his neck and the word "TRAITOR" written across his forehead. Newspapers accused him of colluding with the Confederacy.

Buchanan defended himself in print in an exchange of letters between himself and Winfield Scott that was published in the National Intelligencer newspaper. He published his memoir entitled Mr. Buchanan's Administration on the Eve of Rebellion, in 1866.

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Buchanan caught a cold in May 1868, which quickly worsened due to his advanced age. He died on June 1, 1868, from respiratory failure at the age of 77 at his home at Wheatland in Lancaster.

Perhaps the best defense of this much maligned President came from Buchanan himself, or at least the character of James Buchanan in the wonderful 2019 indie film Raising Buchanan. (If you haven't seen this film yet, you should treat yourself and watch it. The performances by the two leads, Amanda Melby and the late Rene Auberjonois as Buchanan are amazing.) In the film, Buchanan's apparition points out that he had served his nation very ably as a diplomat, as a senator and as Secretary of State. He notes the unfairness of how people are often remembered for our worst moments in life, rather than our best.


Road to the Presidency: Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born in the Hudson Valley town of Hyde Park. His parents were sixth cousins and both were from wealthy old New York families. Roosevelt grew up in an atmosphere of wealth and privilege. His mother Sara was very doting, while his father James, was rather distant. Sara was the dominant influence in Franklin's early years. As a child he made frequent trips to Europe and become conversant in German and French. He learned to ride, shoot, row, and play polo, golf and lawn tennis. He also learned to sail, and his father gave him a sailboat at the age of 16.

Roosevelt attended Groton School, an Episcopal boarding school in Massachusetts for children from wealthy families. He attended Harvard College, where he was an average student academically. Roosevelt later said of his Harvard education, "I took economics courses in college for four years, and everything I was taught was wrong." He became editor-in-chief of The Harvard Crimson daily newspaper. While he was at Harvard, his fifth cousin Theodore Roosevelt, became President of the United States. Franklin Roosevelt remained a Democrat, and even campaigned for William Jennings Bryan. In mid-1902, Franklin was formally introduced to his future wife Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, who was Theodore's niece. Eleanor and Franklin were fifth cousins, once removed.At the time of their engagement, Franklin was twenty-two and Eleanor was nineteen. Franklin graduated from Harvard in 1903 with a degree in history.

Roosevelt entered Columbia Law School in 1904. He dropped out in 1907 after passing the New York State Bar exam. In 1908, he took a job with the prestigious Wall Street firm of Carter Ledyard & Milburn, practicing mainly with corporate law.

On March 17, 1905, Roosevelt married Eleanor despite the his mother's disapproval. Sara Roosevelt believed her son was too young and she attempted to break the engagement. Eleanor had lost both parents by age ten, and Theodore Roosevelt gave the bride away at the wedding. The newlyweds moved into Springwood, his family's estate, where Roosevelt's mother made herself a frequent house guest. Franklin Roosevelt and his mother Sara did the planning and furnishing of a town house she had built for the young couple in New York City. She had a twin house built alongside, with connections on every floor, something Eleanor disliked. The couple had six children, the first four born in the first five years of their marriage. Their third child, named for Franklin, died of heart disease in infancy in 1909.

Roosevelt had affairs outside his marriage, including one with Eleanor's social secretary Lucy Mercer. That affair began soon after she was hired in early 1914. In September 1918, Eleanor found letters revealing the affair in Roosevelt's luggage. Franklin had considered divorcing Eleanor, but Lucy would not agree to marry a divorced man with five children. Franklin and Eleanor remained married, and FDR promised never to see Lucy again. From that point on was more of a political partnership. His mother Sara told Franklin that if he divorced his wife, it would bring scandal upon the family, and she "would not give him another dollar." Despite his promise, Franklin and Lucy maintained a formal correspondence, and began seeing each other again as president. (The Secret Service gave Lucy the code name "Mrs. Johnson." Lucy was with FDR on the day he died.)

Roosevelt's son Elliott said that his father also had a 20-year affair with his private secretary Marguerite "Missy" LeHand. His son James also stated that "there is a real possibility that a romantic relationship existed" between his father and Princess Märtha of Sweden, who resided in the White House during part of World War II.

FDR first sought political office in 1910 when he ran for the New York State Senate for the district around Hyde Park. The area was strongly Republican, having elected one Democrat since 1856. He wasn't expected to win the seat, but he surprised almost everyone and won the election. In the state senate Roosevelt became the leader of a group that opposed the Tammany Hall machine dominating the state Democratic Party. Roosevelt became a popular figure among New York Democrats. He was re-elected for a second term in the state election of 1912, and served as chairman of the Agriculture Committee. His was successful in bringing about the passage of a number of farm and labor bills. Like his famous cousin, he earned a reputation as a progressive, and supported of labor and social welfare programs for women and children.
Roosevelt as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, 1913.

Roosevelt's support of Woodrow Wilson led to his appointment as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1913. He worked under Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels. Roosevelt had read extensively on naval matters. he pressed for a large and efficient navy. As assistant secretary, Roosevelt worked to expand the Navy and founded the United States Navy Reserve. Against the opposition of older naval officers, Roosevelt personally ordered the preservation of the navy's Aviation Division. He negotiated with Congressional leaders to get budgets for his departments approved.

In 1914, Roosevelt ran for the U.S. Senate seat for New York. He was soundly defeated in the Democratic primary election for the United States Senate by Tammany Hall-backed James W. Gerard, by a margin of 3-to-1.

In March 1917, after Germany initiated its submarine warfare campaign, Roosevelt asked Wilson for permission to ready the naval fleet for war. He advocated for more submarines to combat the German submarine menace to Allied shipping and he proposed building a mine barrier across the North Sea from Norway to Scotland. In 1918, he visited Scotland, England, Wales, and France to inspect American naval facilities. Roosevelt wanted to arm the merchant marine. He asked Wilson for approval to lease the arms to the mariners and Wilson ultimately approved this by request.

During the war years, Roosevelt worked to make peace with Tammany Hall and in 1918 Tammany supported an unsuccessful attempt to persuade FDR to run for governor of New York. When World War I ended in November 1918, Roosevelt was put in charge of demobilization, even though he opposed plans to completely dismantle the Navy.

In 1919, newspapers in Newport, Rhode Island criticized Roosevelt over his handling of what came to be known as the Newport sex scandal in which undercover agents were used to solicit sex acts from sailors in a form of entrapment. It was also at this time, when Roosevelt and his wife were living in Washington, D.C. across the street from Attorney General Alexander Mitchell Palmer, that an anarchist's bomb that exploded at Palmer's house, which Franklin and Eleanor had walked past just minutes before. Their own residence was close enough that part of the bomber's body landed on their doorstep.

At the 1920 Democratic National Convention Roosevelt was chosen by acclamation as the vice-presidential candidate on a ticket with presidential candidate Governor James M. Cox of Ohio. Roosevelt had just turned 38. The Cox-Roosevelt ticket was defeated by Republicans Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge in the presidential election by a wide margin. Roosevelt returned to New York to practice law.

In August 1921, while the Roosevelts were vacationing at Campobello Island, New Brunswick in Canada, Roosevelt contracted polio. It left him with permanent paralysis from the waist down. For the rest of his life, Roosevelt refused to accept the nature of his disability. He tried a variety of therapies, including hydrotherapy. In 1926, he purchased a resort at Warm Springs, Georgia, where he founded a hydrotherapy center for the treatment of polio patients. This facility is still in operation as the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation.

Roosevelt was able to convince people that his condition was improving, and that his political career was not at an end. He was fitted for iron braces for his hips and legs and he taught himself to walk short distances by swiveling his torso while supporting himself with a cane. In private, he used a wheelchair, but he was careful never to be seen in it in public. He usually appeared in public standing upright, supported on one side by an aide or one of his sons. He used a car with specially designed hand controls.

Roosevelt helped Alfred E. Smith win the election for governor of New York in 1922, and in 1924 supported Smith in a campaign against his cousin, Republican Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. Roosevelt gave nominating speeches for Smith at the 1924 and 1928 Democratic conventions. When Smith was selected as the Democratic Party presidential nominee in the 1928 election, he asked Roosevelt to run for governor of New York to fill the vacancy left by him. Roosevelt was nominated by the Democrats by acclamation. Smith lost his election for the Presidency in a landslide, and was defeated in his home state. But Roosevelt was narrowly elected governor, by a one-percent margin. As governor, FDR established a number of new social programs. His advisors included Frances Perkins (who would later become the first female cabinet secretary) and Harry Hopkins.

In April 1929 a bomb was sent to Roosevelt in a package at the Albany, New York post office. A porter kicked the package, causing the fuse to sputter. The device was dropped in a pail of water where it failed to ignite.

In May 1930, Roosevelt ran for a second term as Governor. His Republican opponent was burdened with the public's criticism of the Republican Party for the Great Depression, and Roosevelt was elected to a second term by a margin of fourteen percent.

Roosevelt's popularity as a progressive governor and his strong organization earned him his party's nomination as the Democratic Party's candidate for President in 1932. Breaking with tradition of the time, Roosevelt traveled to Chicago to accept the nomination in person. In his acceptance speech, Roosevelt described his challenge as "a call to arms." The election campaign was conducted amid the Great Depression. Roosevelt and the Democratic Party attracted support from the poor as well as from organized labor, ethnic minorities, city dwellers, and Southern whites, creating what would be known as the New Deal coalition.

Roosevelt denounced President Herbert Hoover's failures to restore prosperity and he criticized Hoover for amassing huge government deficits. Roosevelt campaigned on a platform of reduced government spending and trimming of waste in government. Roosevelt's message appealed to Americans struggling for a way out of the economic hopelessness they found themselves in. The election created a new majority coalition for the Democrats, made up of organized labor, northern African-Americans, and ethnic groups.

After the election, Roosevelt refused Hoover's requests for a meeting to develop a joint program to stop the downward spiral and calm investors. The economy continued its downward spiral downward until the banking system began a complete nationwide shutdown as Hoover's term ended. In February 1933, Roosevelt escaped an assassination attempt. Giuseppe Zangara attempted to shoot Roosevelt, but instead, he shot and killed Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak who was sitting alongside Roosevelt.


Roosevelt would end up as the president with the longest time in office, serving until his death on April 12, 1945. He would not only confront the depression, but also the second world war. Although he is vilified by many conservatives for his creation of numerous social welfare programs, Roosevelt is consistently rated by scholars as one of the top three U.S. Presidents, along with Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.