The Unprecedented Presidency: Protectionist Trade Policy

In his Inaugural Address in 2017, President Donald Trump announced his “America First” strategy, which included the goals of reducing the trade deficit and bringing back manufacturing jobs that had been outsourced to other countries such as China and Mexico. President Trump has taken the position that the trade deficit is a drain on American wealth, and that trade deals such as NAFTA and the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) were damaging to the American economy and hurt American workers. He pledged that his policies would benefit American workers first.


By June 2019, Trump had signed consequential revisions to NAFTA which are known as the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement. The TPP was renegotiated and renamed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), following the U.S. withdrawal. It became effective on December 30, 2018 and resulted in 90% of tariffs on goods immediately eliminated by the six of the eleven countries that had already ratified the agreement. Concerns about the American refusal to sign the agreement have been expressed by U.S. Wheat Associates President Vince Peterson, who had stated earlier in December of 2018 that American wheat exporters could face an "imminent collapse" of their 53% market share in Japan, adding that "Our competitors in Australia and Canada will now benefit from those provisions, as US farmers watch helplessly." The National Cattlemen's Beef Association have also complained that exports of beef to Japan, America's largest export market, would be at a serious disadvantage, compared to Australian exporters as their tariffs on exports to Japan would be cut by 27.5% during the first year of CPTPP. The Trump administration has sought a unilateral trade agreement with Japan that would increase American agricultural exports, but in April 2019 Japan rejected greater access to its markets.

In January of 2018, the United States started imposing new trade barriers with China. As of January 7, 2020, the United States had imposed tariffs on 16.8 percent of goods imported into the country, measured as a share of the value of all U.S. imports in 2017. Some of those tariffs apply to imports from nearly all U.S. trading partners, including tariffs on washing machines, solar panels, and steel and aluminum products. A few countries are exempted from certain tariffs, such as Canadian and Mexican imports which were granted exemptions from the tariffs on steel and aluminum products. Other tariffs affected imports from China specifically, covering about half of U.S. imports from China and targeting intermediate goods (items used for the production of other goods and services), capital goods (such as computers and other equipment), and some consumer goods (such as apparel and footwear). In response to the tariffs, U.S. trading partners have retaliated by imposing their own trade barriers. As of January 7, 2020, retaliatory tariffs had been imposed on 9.3 percent of all goods exported by the United States— primarily industrial supplies and materials as well as agricultural products. As of January 7, 2020, tariffs were in-effect for $395 billion of U.S. imports and $143 billion of U.S exports (in retaliation). Almost all of this balance relates to China.

China has devalued its currency (the Yuan) by about 12% from the beginning of 2018 to the end of 2019, making its exports more competitive, in order to offset the impact on its economy from the tariffs. By August 2019, the exchange rate was the lowest in 11 years. The U.S. responded by declaring China a "currency manipulator" on August 5, 2019 although this designation was later rescinded in January 2020 as part of the Phase 1 trade deal. On January 15 of this year, President Trump and China's Vice Premier Liu He signed the US–China Phase One trade deal in Washington DC, called the "Economic and Trade Agreement between the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China", It took effect from February 14, 2020 and focuses on intellectual property rights, technology transfer, food and agricultural products, financial services, exchange rate matters and transparency, and expanding trade. The US–China Phase One agreement does not rely on arbitration through an intergovernmental organization like the World Trade Organization, but rather through a bilateral mechanism.

Recent figures from China showed its 2019 economic growth rate falling as a result of the trade war to a 30-year low. Data from the Commerce Department of the United States showed the US trade deficit falling amid the trade war for the first time in 6 years. On February 17 China granteds tariff exemptions on 696 US goods to support purchases, and on March 5, the United States granted exemptions to tariffs on various types of medical equipment, after calls from American lawmakers and others to remove tariffs on these products in light of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. By June, China had risen to become the United States' top trading partner again, although the pandemic has resulted in both countries not being on track to meet the targets from the trade deal.

Protectionist tariffs are nothing new and from the administration of George Washington, tariffs were used both as a source of revenue, and as a means of protecting American goods from foreign competition. In the 19th century, it was the Whigs (from 1832–1852) and later the Republicans (after 1854) who wanted to protect American industries and by voting for higher tariffs, while Southern Democrats, whose states had very little industry but imported many goods, called for lower tariffs. Which ever party held power voted to raise or lower tariffs, though there were limits to this, given that the Federal Government always needed a certain level of revenues, and this was an era before there was income tax.

The United States public debt was paid off in 1834 and President Andrew Jackson, a strong Southern Democrat, called for reduction of tariff rates roughly in half and eliminating nearly all federal excise taxes in about 1835. His main opponent in Congress, Henry Clay and his Whig Party, wanted a high tariff, arguing that American factories that were playing catch up with their European competitors, would at first be less efficient and needed the advantage of reduced competition to sell their goods in American markets. American factory workers were paid higher wages than their European competitors. These arguments drew support in industrial districts, and Clay's position was adopted in the 1828 and 1832 Tariff Acts. Fierce opposition to high tariffs resulted in the Nullification Crisis, forcing a reduction in tariffs. But when the Whigs won victories in the 1840 and 1842 elections, taking control of Congress, they re-instituted higher tariffs once again, with the debate between free trade or protectionism continuing.

The election of James K. Polk as president shifted the balance to a lower tariff once again, as Polk succeeded in passing the Walker tariff of 1846 by uniting the rural and agricultural factions of the country to support lower tariffs. They sought a level of a "tariff for revenue only" that would pay the cost of government. The Walker Tariff led to increased trade with Britain and others and brought in more revenue to the federal treasury than the higher tariff. The average tariff on the Walker Tariff was about 25%. Protectionists in Pennsylvania and neighboring states were angered, while the South was pleased with the low tariff rates. Some argue that this forestalled the coming Civil War.

Tariffs were lowered yet again with the Tariff of 1857, setting an average rate of 18%. This was in response to the British repeal of their protectionist "Corn Laws". Democrats in Congress, dominated by Southern Democrats, kept reducing rates, and the 1857 rates boosted trade so overwhelmingly that revenues actually increased. The South had almost no complaints but the low rates angered many Northern industrialists and factory workers, especially in Pennsylvania, who were angered because low tariff rates created cheaper iron to complete with their growing iron industry.

The Republican Party replaced the Whigs in 1854 and also favored high tariffs to stimulate industrial growth; it was part of the 1860 Republican platform. The Morrill Tariff significantly raising tariff rates became possible only after the Southern Senators walked out of Congress when their states left the Union, leaving a Republican majority. This tarifff was signed by Democratic President James Buchanan in early March 1861 shortly before President Abraham Lincoln took office. Pennsylvania iron mills and New England woolen mills lobbied Congres for high tariffs. Increases were finally enacted in February 1861 after Southerners resigned their seats in Congress on the eve of the Civil War.

Many historians take the position that the tariff issue was not a cause of the war, noting that the tariff did not come up as an issue in compromise discussions to prevent secession. Secessionist documents do not cite the tariff issue as being significant. During the war far more revenue was needed, so the tariff raised again and again, though most of the wartime government revenue came from bonds and loans, not tariffs. The Morrill Tariff took effect a few weeks before the war began on April 12, 1861, while the Confederate States of America (CSA) passed its own tariff of about 15% on most items.

High tariffs were kept after the war for the benefit of Northern industrialists, and as a means of keeping low-tariff Southerners out of power. The iron and steel industry, and the wool industry, were the well-organized interests groups that lobbied most successfully for high tariffs through support of the Republican Party. Industrial workers had much higher wages than their European counterparts, and it was in their interest to support the tariff and vote Republican.

Democrats were divided on the tariff issue. President Grover Cleveland made low tariffs the centerpiece of Democratic Party policies in the late 1880s. He argued that high tariffs raised prices for consumers. William McKinley was a prominent supporter for high tariffs, claiming that they brought prosperity for all groups. The Republican high tariff supporters sought the support of farmers by claiming that high-wage factory workers would pay premium prices for home grown foods. This won over most farmers in the Northeast, but not so for southern and western farmers who exported most of their cotton, tobacco and wheat. Wool manufacturers wanted high tariffs because wool producers in Britain and Australia marketed a higher quality fleece than the Americans, and British manufacturers had lower costs than American mills. The result was a wool tariff that helped the farmers by a high rate on imported wool.

By the 1880s American industry and agriculture had become the most efficient in the world by the 1880s and took the lead in the worldwide Industrial Revolution. They had the industrial capacity, large market, high efficiency, low costs, and the distribution system needed to compete in the vast American market. The British watched cheaper American products invade their markets.

But American manufacturers and union workers demanded the high tariff be maintained. This was at a time when railroads needed vast quantities of steel. Tariffs raised steel prices, making possible the U.S steel industry's massive investment to expand capacity. In 1881, British steel rails sold for $31 a ton, and if Americans imported them they paid a $28/ton tariff, giving $59/ton for an imported ton of rails. American mills could charge $61 a ton and make a huge profit, to be reinvested into increased capacity, higher quality steels and more efficient production. By 1897 the American steel rail price had dropped to $19.60 per ton compared to the British price at $21.00. The U.S. steel industry became an exporter of steel rail to England selling below the British price. From 1915 through 1918, the largest American steel company, U.S. Steel, alone delivered more steel each year than Germany and Austria-Hungary combined.

William McKinley campaigned heavily in 1896 on the high tariff as a positive solution to depression of 1893. The Republicans passed the Dingley Tariff in 1897, boosting rates back to the 50 percent level. Economic recovery followed and McKinley won reelection by an even bigger landslide and started talking about a post-tariff era of reciprocal trade agreements. But Republicans split bitterly on the Payne–Aldrich Tariff of 1909. Republican President Theodore Roosevelt saw the tariff issue was ripping his party apart, so he postponed any consideration of it. William Howard Taft. He campaigned for president in 1908 for tariff "reform", which everyone assumed meant lower rates. The House lowered rates with the Payne Bill, but the Senate lowered the protection on Midwestern farm products, while raising rates favorable to his Northeast.

By 1913 with the new income tax generating revenue, the Democrats in Congress were able to reduce rates with the Underwood Tariff. When the Republicans returned to power in 1921 they returned the rates to a high level in the Fordney–McCumber Tariff of 1922. The next raise came with the Smoot–Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 at the start of the Great Depression. Canada, Britain, Germany, France and other industrial countries retaliated with their own tariffs and special, bilateral trade deals. This caused American imports and exports to go into a tailspin. Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Dealers responded by lowering tariffs on a reciprocal country-by-country basis hoping this would expand foreign trade.

In 1934, the U.S. Congress, in a rare delegation of authority, passed the Reciprocal Tariff Act of 1934, which authorized the executive branch to negotiate bilateral tariff reduction agreements with other countries. Seven tariff reduction rounds that occurred between 1948 and 1994. After the war the U.S. promoted the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) established in 1947, to minimize tariffs and other restrictions, and to liberalize trade among all capitalist countries. In 1995 GATT became the World Trade Organization (WTO).

American industry and labor prospered after World War II, but fell on hard times after 1970, faced with stiff competition from low-cost producers around the globe. Toyota and Nissan threatened the giant domestic auto industry and in the late 1970s Detroit and the auto workers union combined to fight for protection. Quotas were agreed to as an alternative to high tariffs. By limiting the number of Japanese automobiles that could be imported, quotas caised Japanese companies push into larger, and more expensive market segments. The Japanese producers, limited by the number of cars they could export to the US, increased the value of their exports to maintain revenue growth. This action threatened the American producers' historical hold on the mid- and large-size car markets.


During the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations Republicans abandoned protectionist policies, and came out against quotas and in favor of minimal economic barriers to global trade. Free trade with Canada came about as a result of the Canada–U.S. Free Trade Agreement of 1987, which led in 1994 to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). President Bill Clinton, with strong Republican support in 1993, pushed NAFTA through Congress over the vehement objection of labor unions. In 2000 Clinton worked with Republicans to give China entry into WTO and "most favored nation" trading status (i.e., the same low tariffs promised to any other WTO member). Opposition to liberalized trade came increasingly from labor unions, who argued that this system also meant lower wages and fewer jobs for American workers who could not compete against wages paid in China.

Tensions over trade policies and protectionism vs. free trade are nothing new. While President Trump's trade policies are a divergence from those espoused by recent administrations both Democratic and Republican, there is nothing unprecedented about strong disagreement over trade policies between Democrats and Republicans.

The Unprecedented Presidency: Presidents and Twitter

The phrase "unprecedented presidency" should be credited to Washington Post reporter Lillian Cunningham, creator and narrator of the wonderful podcast series "Presidential", who used this phrase for her most recent podcast. That podcast compared some of the more unusual aspects of the Trump Presidency, not the least of which is his use of social media sites such as Twitter.


President Trump's use of social media has been one of his strongest methods of attracting attention. He frequently uses Twitter and other social media platforms to comment about other politicians, celebrities, private citizens and daily news, sometimes approvingly, but more frequently to be critical. His twitter profile @RealDonaldTrump has over 82 million followers and has posted over 53,000 tweets as of the date of this entry and many consider his tweets to be official statements by the President of the United States. He has been accused by The New York Times, in an article published November 2, 2019, of having "retweeted 217 accounts that have not been verified by Twitter," at least 145 of which "have pushed conspiracy or fringe content. His tweets resulted in the House of Representatives voting on July 16, 2019 to censure him for "racist comments". A June 2017 Fox News poll, 70 percent of respondents said Trump's tweets were hurting his agenda, and a January 2019 UMass Lowell poll, found that 68% of all respondents surveyed between the ages of 18–37 agreed with the statement that President Trump tweets too much.

It is difficult to pick just one or two of the most controversial twitter messages or subjects, though his tweets concerning North Korea are particularly memorable. In September 2017, President Trump posted tweets about North Korea. On September 19, he tweeted, "we will have no choice but to totally destroy #NoKo", and on September 23, "Just heard Foreign Minister of North Korea speak at U.N. If he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won't be around much longer!" "Little Rocket Man" is President Trump's nickname for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Many have speculated that these tweets are used for the purpose or of distracting from negative news or issues, as well as a means of trying to control the news cycle by getting ahead of news day and setting the tone for what will be discussed. It is the opinion of Dan Mahaffee of the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress that these tweets are used to distract from pressing national issues. He calls the tweets "as intemperate outbursts or merely stream-of-consciousness responses to current events would thus greatly underestimate their impact and reach." Examples of the use of tweets as a distraction include the President's Twitter attacks against NFL players kneeling during the national anthem as "weapons of mass distraction" in order to divert attention from the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. One reporter observed that "The more time that is spent discussing the president's latest stand-off with the NFL, the less time is spent discussing the Republicans' latest failed efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare, and other administration shortcomings." Philip Bump of the Washington Post called the President's Tweets an attempt to create a distraction at times of unfavorable news related to the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller.

President Trump is not the first president to make use of this social media. Barack Obama's Twitter account @BarackObama was the official account on Twitter for former President Barack Obama, and was also used for election purposes. Obama also used the White House's Twitter account @WhiteHouse for his presidential activities. As of today, this account has over 120 million followers, giving him the most followed Twitter account. He also follows over 604 thousand accounts. He used Twitter to promote legislation and support for his policies, to communicate with the public regarding the economy and employment, and he used Twitter in his presidential campaigns. During his 2008 campaign the account was often the world's most followed. His account became the third account to reach 10 million followers in September 2011.

@BarackObama was launched on March 5, 2007 but after the 2008 United States presidential election, the Democratic National Committee was believed to have taken over the account. In a speech in November 2009, Obama stated "I have never used Twitter", although he had over 2.6 million followers. He said that the @BarackObama account was "run by #Obama2012 campaign staff. Tweets from the President are signed -bo."

Obama held public forums in which he fielded questions posted on Twitter. On July 6, 2011, he participated in what was billed as "Twitter Presents Townhall @ the White House". The event was held in the East Room of the White House and was streamed online. His average responses were over 2000 characters, but when Speaker of the United States House of Representatives John Boehner tweeted "Where are the jobs?" to the hashtag #AskObama, his response was 3111 characters. Obama started the session with a sample tweet to himself through @WhiteHouse that said "in order to reduce the deficit, what costs would you cut and what investments would you keep – bo".

On July 29, 2011, during the United States debt-ceiling crisis, the account lost over 40,000 followers when the president asked "Americans Friday to call, email and tweet Congressional leaders to 'keep the pressure on' lawmakers in hopes of reaching a bipartisan deal to raise the nation's $14.3 trillion debt limit ahead of an August 2 deadline." Later in 2011, Obama used Twitter again to try to encourage the people to voice their opinion on legislation when he was attempting to pass the American Jobs Act.

Twitter was launched in March of 2006, and while George W. Bush has a twitter account @GeorgeWBush, it has no followers and follows no one. Tweets are protected, and it is likely that the account was opened simply to prevent others from opening a parody account under that name.

Canada Day Potus Geeks Edition

It's Canada Day today. On July 1, 1867 (153 years ago today) the Dominion of Canada came into being as four British colonies formed a Confederation and gained nationhood status. Since that time, Canada and the United States have shared the world's longest undefended border. For over sixty years it was a tradition for a new president to make his first state visit to Canada since Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited Quebec City on July 31, 1936. That tradition was broken in 2001 by George W. Bush, whose first state visit was to Mexico, but his second was to Canada. Barack Obama followed the tradition, but Donald Trump chose not to follow it, traveling to Saudi Arabia instead. President Trump made his first visit to Canada when he attended the G-7 Summit in La Malbaie, Quebec in June of 2018.

Canadian Confederation came about largely from a fear that the four Canadian colonies would be invaded by the United States. Great Britain's military budget was stretched pretty thin, in 1867 and the time was right for giving Canadians peaceful independence. At the time, Secretary of State William Seward desperately wanted to expand the nation north. The story of how all of this led to Canadian nationhood is ably explained in author John Boyko's wonderful and informative 2013 work entitled Blood and Daring: How Canada Fought the American Civil War and Forged a Nation (reviewed here).

The relationship of the two nations began with a rocky start. Like Seward, President Ulysses Grant also had dreams of making Canada part of the United States. When the first Prime Minister of Canada, Sir John A. Macdonald, visited Washington, D.C. in 1871, Grant did not want to meet with Macdonald and didn't even send any official to greet the Prime Minister on his arrival. The two men met twice, and Grant was cold towards Macdonald on both occasions.

Canada would be 66 years old before a US President visited Canada in an official capacity, although William Howard Taft loved to vacation in Quebec and Woodrow Wilson vacationed in Ontario. Warren Harding made the first presidential visit to Canada on a Vancouver stopover from Alaska in 1923. (It was later in that same trip that Harding died in San Francisco.) Harding played a round of golf in Vancouver and made a very cordial speech, some of the words of which are memorialized in a monument in Vancouver's Stanley Park. (One of my favorite journal entries in this community is about a trip I made to Stanley Park to look for the monument, which I entitled Finding Warren Harding or Forgive Me My Trespasses.) Vancouver has another notorious connection to the Presidency. The Vancouver Cigar Company continues to advertise itself as being the place where Bill Clinton bought the infamous cigar mentioned in the Starr Report in the section detailing Clinton's shenanigans with Monica Lewinsky.


The first consequential visit made by a President to Canada was when Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited Quebec City in 1936. “I have never heard a Canadian refer to an American as a ‘foreigner,’” Roosevelt said in Quebec City. “He is just an ‘American.’ And in that same way, in the United States, Canadians are not ‘foreigners,’ they are ‘Canadians.’” The partnership of Franklin D.Roosevelt and Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King was an interesting one, as both men dominated their respective governments for much of the Great Depression and the Second World War. Each was the longest-serving leader of their respective nation, Roosevelt for 12 years and King for 22 years. Roosevelt's cordiality towards Canada was especially charitable, given than FDR would have more reason than most to hold a resentment against the nation. It was at his vacation home of Campobello Island, part of the Canadian province of New Brunswick, where FDR was struck with polio and lost the ability to walk.

Things have not always been so friendly, especially when the leaders came from opposite ends of the political spectrum. For example, in 2002 when Françoise Ducros, a top aid to then Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, called President George W. Bush "a moron," while Bush's staff called Chretien "dino", short for dinosaur. Even earlier than this there were times when relations were less than cordial. In a 1961 speech to the Canadian Parliament, President John F. Kennedy characterized the relationship between the U.S. and Canada by saying: "Geography has made us neighbors, history has made us friends, economics has made us partners, necessity has made us allies." But privately Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker said of President John F. Kennedy: "He's a hothead. He's a fool – too young, too brash, too inexperienced and a boastful son of a bitch!"

In 1965 at the height of the Vietnam War, Prime Minister Lester Pearson (winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in making Canada a leader in peace-keeping) visited President Lyndon Johnson at the White House. Pearson had just made a scathing speech the previous night, in which he was critical of US involvement in the Vietnam War. He appeared at the White House the next day to confront a livid Johnson. According to journalist Lawrence Martin, LBJ grabbed Pearson by the shirt collar, lifted the diminutive prime minister off of the floor and shouted, "You pissed on my rug!"

In 1969 Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau told the National Press Club in Ottawa that living next to the U.S. "is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly or temperate the beast, one is affected by every twitch and grunt." Two years later, in 1971 it was revealed that President Richard Nixon called Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau "an asshole" in his private tapes. Trudeau replied, "I've been called worse things by better people." Later that year, after Trudeau had left a session with Nixon in the Oval Office, and Nixon said to H.R. Haldeman, his chief of staff: "That Trudeau, he's a clever son of a bitch." Trudeau so infuriated Nixon during the visit that Nixon called him "a pompous egghead" and told Haldeman: "You've got to put it to these people for kicking the U.S. around after what we did for that lousy son of a bitch. Give it to somebody around here." This was when Nixon ordered Haldeman to plant a negative story about Trudeau with columnist Jack Anderson.

But there have also been many instances of friendly and respectful relations. For example, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and President Ronald Reagan had a very strong relationship, likely because of their common conservative point of view. At one function on St. Patrick's day in 1985 when Reagan was visiting Canada, the two men joined together to sing "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling." Mulroney would later speak at Reagan's funeral with fond remembrances. In September of 2000 George H. Bush and his wife Barbara attended the wedding of Caroline Mulroney, daughter of the former Prime Minister.

In 2001, following the September 11th tragedy, thousands of airline travelers were diverted to Canadian airports and given assistance. President George W. Bush, in a speech to Congress, thanked countries all over the world for standing with the United States in its fight against terror after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. He did not mention Canada. Some perceived this as a snub, but an aide to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien said: "If it is anything, it is an indication that our support goes without saying." The aide was Françoise Ducros. In November of 2004, George W. Bush received a chilly reception in Ottawa when he made his first state visit to Canada. About 5,000 protesters turned up on Parliament Hill, and a smaller group clashes with police outside the Chateau Laurier hotel.

On July 6, 2006, Canada's Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper made his first official visit to Washington on Bush's 60th birthday. Harper was given the honor of staying at Blair House, the official White House guest quarters. The prime minister came bearing birthday gifts for Bush: a Calgary Stampede belt buckle and an RCMP Stetson hat.

Barack Obama made his first state visit to Canada in 2009, but has appeared to show little interest in his northern neighbor, although the two nations did cooperate in the bailout of General Motors. Among the issues causing tension during the Harper and Obama years were the Keystone XL pipeline (Obama did not support a proposed pipeline from Alaska to the 48 states through Canada, while Harper saw the economic advantages for Canada), the new Detroit-Windsor bridge that Ottawa had essentially offered to build for Michigan (but the Obama administration will not kick in $250 million for a needed customs plaza at the same time the U.S. Senate wanted to spend tens of billions reinforcing the southern border with Mexico), a dispute over improvements to the Peace Bridge at Fort Erie, and differences of opinion over Israel.

Relations between Donald Trump and current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (son of former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau) have not gone so well. In April of 2017, Trump announced a 20 per cent tariff on Canadian lumber entering the U.S. Then early last month, Trudeau expressed his disappointment with Trump over the president's decision to pull out of the Paris climate change agreement. Trudeau said, "We are deeply disappointed that the United States federal government has decided to withdraw from the Paris agreement. Canada is unwavering in our commitment to fight climate change and support clean economic growth. Canadians know we need to take decisive and collective action to tackle the many harsh realities of our changing climate."

The prospect of a U.S. immigration crackdown also prompted hundreds of asylum seekers to cross the Canada-U.S. border to make their claims in Canada instead. The night of Mr. Trump’s election win saw a huge spike in interest in Americans moving north. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s website suffered outages due to heavy traffic. During the early stages of the Corona virus pandemic, President Trump ordered a stop to the export of surgical masks and respirators from the United States to Canada.

The future of relations between the two countries will face many more challenges. Evan Annet of the Globe and Mail wrote:

Canada and the U.S. are as different as can be on trade right now. One is led by a liberal who champions global trade, the other by a nativist conservative who, in his inauguration speech, pledged an “America first” attitude to not only trade, but immigration, foreign policy and taxes. Mr. Trump wants to renegotiate the North American free-trade agreement with Canada and Mexico. Any new agreement would have dramatic implications for Canadian businesses and the flow of goods and workers between the countries. The earliest NAFTA renegotiations can officially begin is this August, and in the meantime, Canada has contentious issues to work out with Washington about its dairy supply-management system and softwood lumber exports.

The era of good feelings for US-Canada relations may be suspended for the time being. President Trump and Prime Minister Trudeau continue to be openly critical of one another. As recently as last December, the two leaders traded insults with Trump calling Trudeau "two faced" after Trudeau and other world leaders were overheard mocking the President at the recent G-7 summit.

The US remains Canada’s largest trading partner, a relationship valued at $673.9 billion. A recent report prepared by the CD Howe Institute finds that the tariffs will cause significant economic pain in both countries: Canada could lose as many as 6,000 jobs and a 0.33% GDP reduction, whereas the US would lose 22,700 jobs, but only a 0.02% disruption to the GDP. Canada has introduced more than $16bn in retaliatory tariffs against the United States, meant to inflict targeted pain on politically vulnerable industries, such as whisky, orange juice, frozen pizzas and soy beans. President Trump has threatened to impose a 25% tariff on Canadian-made automobiles, a move that would devastate the $80 billion Canadian auto industry. These are troubling times for Canada-US relations.

But for today, let's send best wishes for a Happy Canada Day.

Presidents in Their Youth: George Washington

We conclude this series by going back to the beginning. A recent biography of George Washington is entitled "You Never Forget Your First" and there must be some truth in that because, while the early years of many of the early Presidents may not be well documented, George Washington's youth seems to have been well chronicled.


The Washington family had been a wealthy Virginia family and had made its fortune in the buying and selling of land. The family first set foot in the new world sometime in 1656 when Washington's great-grandfather John Washington immigrated from Sulgrave, England, to the British Colony of Virginia. Following his arrival, he managed to amass 5,000 acres of land, including an estate known as Little Hunting Creek, located adjacent to the Potomac River.

George Washington was born February 22, 1732 (February 11th according to the old style Julian Calendar, then in use), at Popes Creek in Westmoreland County, Virginia. He was the first of six children of Augustine and Mary Ball Washington. At the time, English common law meant that Washington was a naturalized subject of the King, as were all others born in the English colonies. Augustine Washington was a justice of the peace and a prominent landowner in the district. Mary was his second wife. He had three children from his first marriage to Jane Butler, who died in 1730. He and Mary were married the following year. The family moved to Little Hunting Creek in 1735 when George was 3, and then to Ferry Farm near Fredericksburg, Virginia, in 1738, when he was 6. Augustine had owned over 10,000 acres of land, over 50 slaves, and the title to an iron mine. When he died on April 12, 1743, the 11 year old George Washington inherited Ferry Farm and ten slaves. His older half-brother Lawrence inherited Little Hunting Creek and renamed it Mount Vernon. (Coincidentally, the day after Augustine Washington died, Thomas Jefferson was born, less than a hundred miles away.)

In 1747, the fifteen year old future President meticulously copied out a list of 110 rules of conduct and civility from a translation of a 17th Century French book on manners. These rules were designed to teach Washington how to be successful by being polite, modest, and attentive to others, an early version of "How to Win Friends and Influence People". The book contained advice such as "Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation," and how, when in the company of a higher class of gentleman, one should not speak unless spoken to.

From an early age, Washington was concerned about how others saw him. He designed a new coat for himself, giving the tailor exacting instructions on the width of the lapels and the spacing of the buttons. Manners and presenting a good impression were important to him, especially after his older brother Lawrence began to introduce him to Virginia society.

Lawrence was 14 years older than his oldest half-brother, and he became a mentor and role model for Washington. Washington frequently visited Lawrence, and through him, he met Lawrence's brother-in-law George William Fairfax. Fairfax had a young wife named Sally that Washington became smitten with. Washington never attended college, and for the rest of his life he would be sensitive about what he called his "defective education". As a teenager he learned the trade of surveying and in 1748 he joined George William Fairfax on the task of mapping out land in the Shenandoah Valley. Aware of class distinctions, Washington would write snobbishly describing the poorer inhabitants of that region as "a parcel of Barbarians." He helped to survey the new city of Alexandria, and later was appointed county surveyor of Culpepper County. This helped him to earn money to purchase land for himself and by the time he was 18, he owned over 1500 acres of land in Virginia.

In 1751 Washington made his only trip abroad when he accompanied Lawrence to Barbados. Lawrence was dying from tuberculosis and it was hoped that the Caribbean climate would cure his brother's illness. Washington contracted smallpox during that trip. He recovered and was now immunized from the disease, but it had left his face slightly scarred. Lawrence died in 1752, and Washington leased Mount Vernon from his widow. He inherited it after her death in 1761.

By this time Washington had grown to be over six feet tall, with reddish brown hair. He sought to improve his status by following Lawrence's example and joined the military. Travelling to the colonial capital of Williamsburg, he met with Governor William Dinwiddie and was able to obtain a commission in the Virginia militia with the rank of Major. Washington's first assignment was to travel to the Ohio region and deliver an ultimatum to French troops there to vacate the region. At the time the two great world powers Britain and France were at war over control of North America.

Washington delivered the ultimatum, which was rejected by the French commander. He was promoted to Lieutanant Colonel and was given a force of less than 200 untrained men, whose task was the drive the French out. It was the spring of 1754, and the French force was five times as big, aided by local Native tribes. Washington's force happened upon a small French troop and conducted a surprise attack, only to later learn that one of the French soldiers was an envoy with a similar mission to the one Washington had earlier undertaken, delivery of a message to the British to vacate. This surprise attack marked the start of what became known as the French and Indian War.

Washington ordered the construction of a flimsy stockade which he named "Fort Necessity". Some reinforcements arrived, but fewer than Washington had hoped for. The fort was attacked by over 1000 French troops. He lost a third of his men before surrendering and returning home in defeat. In spite of this, he returned home to be hailed as a hero by his fellow Virginians. His British superiors on the other hand looked upon him as unskilled in military command.

Washington remained home, out of the army for a year, before reenlisting as an aide to General Edward Braddock. In the fall of 1755 he was appointed as commander of the Virginia regiment. As the war between Britain and France continued, most of the major battles were taking place further north, but in 1758, Washington was successful in his mission to seize Fort Duquesne from the French, doing so as the French retreated, leaving their fort in flames.

Washington longed for advancement in the British Army, going so far as to design his own officer's uniform as well as the uniform for his troops. He was on a quest for a Royal Commission in the regular British Army. He rode to Boston to meet with the acting commander in chief of British forces in North America. When this mission failed, he tried again, this time riding to Philadelphia, and once again ending up empty handed. But as one of his leading biographers Ron Chernow notes, Washington would never receive the recognition he sought, always being perceived by his British masters as of lower class, a mere colonist, unworthy of the honors he sought.


On January 6, 1759, the 26 year old Washington married Martha Dandridge Custis, a 27-year-old widow, whose late husband was the wealthy plantation owner Daniel Parke Custis, who Washington described as "an agreeable consort." Their marriage took place at Martha's estate. She brought with her into the marriage over 6000 acres of land, one hundred slaves, and two children: John Parke Custis (Jacky) and Martha Parke (Patsy) Custis. The did not have any children together, and there is speculation that Washington's bout with smallpox had rendered him sterile, or alternatively that Martha's second experience with childbirth had left her with a medical issue that left her unable to have any more children. The new family moved to Mount Vernon, where Washington took up life as a planter of tobacco and wheat. In 1759 he would be elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses. But he was not done with soldiering, or with politics. He would emerge as a leading military hero of the forthcoming revolution and would also come to be known as the "Father of His Country."

Presidents in Their Youth: Abraham Lincoln

The previous entries in this series have been chosen either because the subject was marking some anniversary that day, or because of a random draw from a deck of cards with Presidents faces on them. But for the last two entries in this series, we will look at the early years of the two most iconic Presidents.


Abraham Lincoln was born on Sunday, February 12, 1809. He was the second child and the first son of Thomas Lincoln and the former Nancy Hanks. Lincoln was born, fittingly enough, in a log cabin located near Hodgenvillie, in Hardin County, Kentucky. It was a windowless log cabin with a dirt floor. His paternal roots reached back to England, where Thomas's ancestors left in 1637 to settle in Massachusetts. Thomas's father, who was also named Abraham Lincoln, died in 1786 in an attack by an unfriendly Native American tribe, at Hughes Stanton, a fort located about 20 miles east of modern day Louisville. Thomas was a carpenter and a farmer, but had no formal education. Little is known about Nancy Hanks' ancestry. According to former Presidential candidate George McGovern, one of Lincoln's biographers, Lincoln himself believed that his mother had been born "out of wedlock". Nancy had worked as a seamstress. They called their farm "Stinking Spring".

In 1811 Thomas moved his family, composed of Nancy, his four year old daughter Sarah, and the future president, then a two-year-old, to another farm near Knob Creek in Graves County, Kentucky. There, a third child named Thomas was born, but he died in infancy. Lincoln and his sister attended ABC school, taught by itinerant teachers, and Nancy joined the local Baptist church. Thomas farmed and also worked at the local jail guarding prisoners and helping to build roads.

In December of 1816 the family moved once again, this time out of state to Pigeon Creek, in Spencer County, Indiana. Thomas cleared the land, built a cabin and planted 17 acres, with help from his 7 year old son. In 1818 Nancy died from a condition called milk sickness, caused by drinking the milk of a cow that had eaten poisonous white snakeroot. Lincoln was said to have taken the death of his mother quite hard.

Thomas soon remarried, to a woman he had known since childhood, named Sarah Bush Johnson. She was a widow and had three children. The blended family seemed to get along well and Sarah seemed to bring order to the household. She had Thomas install a floor in the cabin and put in windows. More importantly to the future President, she took an interest in Abraham Lincoln's education. She gave him some of her books and encouraged him to pursue his education. The two forged a strong bond, and she later said, "Abe was the best boy I ever saw. He never gave me a cross word or look, and never refused, in fact or even in appearance, to do anything I requested him." Lincoln himself referred to her as his "best friend" adding that no son could ever love a mother more than he loved her.

Thomas, on the other hand, saw his son's desire for more education as contributing to the loss of his main laborer. The two quarreled over the son's inattention to his chores. Lincoln said that although his father taught him to work hard, "he never learned me to love it." Lincoln's poor work ethic when it came to physical labor caused a rift between father and son, and sometimes resulted in corporal punishment. Another cause for conflict was Lincoln's refusal to attend the Little Pigeon Baptist Church.

In his late teens, Lincoln traveled around the region attending barn raisings, corn shuckings and other community gatherings. He developed a reputation as an entertaining joke and story teller. He and his cousin Dennis Hanks sawed firewood that they sold to steamships. In the summer of 1828, he and his cousin were hired by a businessman named James Gentry to pilot a flatboat along the Mississippi River to New Orleans. They managed to fight off some would-be robbers along the way. In New Orleans, Lincoln saw enslaved people being bought and sold before returning home.

In 1830 Thomas Lincoln moved his family once again, this time to Macon County, Illinois. But after putting down roots, Thomas Lincoln moved yet again, this time to Coles County. Abraham Lincoln was now 21 years of age. He decided not to accompany the family. With his cousin Dennis Hanks and his stepbrother John Johnston, they went to Springfield. They worked operating a flatboat at first. Their employer, Dennis Offutt, was impressed with Lincoln, and offered him a job working at a general store that Offutt was opening in New Salem, Illinois. Lincoln excelled at the work and became liked by the townsfolk. He engaged in a wrestling match with a local tough named Jack Armstrong. The two later became good friends.

Lincoln's popularity in the community led to his first foray into politics. Though he had lived in New Salem for less than a year, in March of 1832 he ran for the Illinois General Assembly. His campaign platform called for navigational improvements on the Sangamon River. His skill as an entertaining speaker could not make up for a lack of education, well connected or powerful friends, and most importantly, money, and he lost the election.

The store was doing poorly and Lincoln found himself in need of work. He volunteered to serve in the Illinois Militia to respond to an uprising led by Chief Black Hawk, known as the Black Hawk War, and he was elected to serve as a captain of his company. Fortunately for Lincoln, he never was involved in any battles or skirmishes, and would later joke about his service, claiming that he had "fought his way through hordes of mosquitoes." He returned home to his campaign, but finished eighth out of 13 candidates (the top four were elected), though he received 277 of the 300 votes cast in the New Salem precinct.


Though he was not successful, his political connections got him a job as local postmaster. A second attempt at running a general store failed because his partner was an alcoholic who drank up the profits. He then took a job as a deputy county surveyor. He continued his interest in politics, declaring his support for the Whig Party, and becoming an admirer of Henry Clay, as well as a critic of Andrew Jackson. In 1834, Lincoln was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives, finishing second among thirteen candidates. He would serve four terms, leaving the House in 1842. Though Lincoln would go on to lose more elections that he won, prior to his Presidency, he had found the career for which he had been born.

Presidents in Their Youth: James Madison

James Madison Jr. descended from a family of plantation owners that had lived in Virginia's Piedmont district for over a century before his birth. Madison was born on March 16, 1751, (March 5, 1750 according to the Julian Calendar, which had been in use at the time of his birth) at Belle Grove Plantation near Port Conway, Virginia. His parents were James Madison Sr. and Nelly Conway Madison. His family had lived in Virginia since the mid-1600s. James Madison's grandmother was the sister of Zachary Taylor's father, making the two presidents second cousins.

Madison was the oldest of twelve children. He had seven brothers and four sisters, but only six of his siblings would live to adulthood. His father was a tobacco planter who grew up on a plantation called Mount Pleasant, which he had inherited from his father. The plantation was operated by approximately 100 enslaved persons, and was 5,000 acres in size, making Madison's father was the largest landowner in the Piedmont region. In those days land holdings was the measure of status. Madison's maternal grandfather was also a prominent planter and tobacco merchant. In the early 1760s, the Madison family moved into a newly built house, which they named Montpelier. It was where James Madison would breathe his last breath in 1836.

The family connections for the Madison family were significant. The clergyman who presided over his baptism was a relative. So was his namesake, Bishop James Madison, the President of the College of William and Mary. As a child, James Jr. was called Jemmy, to distinguish him from his father, James Sr. His father's influence as the largest landholder in the region and patriarch of the family, resulted in his holding the offices of Justice of the Peace, vestryman of the church, and commander of the county militia.

From age 11 to 16, Madison was tutored by Donald Robertson, a Scottish instructor who also tutored the children of a number of prominent planter families. Madison was taught mathematics, geography, and modern and classical languages. He was said to have excelled at Latin. When he turned 16, Madison returned to Montpelier, where he began a two-year course of study under the Reverend Thomas Martin, to prepare him for college. As a child he experienced a number of health problems, and this affected his choice of school. Most children of prominent Virginians at this time were sent to attend the College of William and Mary. But his father was worried that the lowland Williamsburg climate might be a home infectious disease of the day such as cholera or scarlet fever. Instead, Madison was sent to the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) in 1769. There he studied Latin, Greek, theology, the works of the Enlightenment scholars, oratory and debate.

At Princeton, Madison became a leading member of the American Whig Society. His closest friend was future Attorney General William Bradford. Madison was able to complete Princeton's three-year bachelor of arts degree in just two years, graduating in 1771. Now at a crossroads in his career, Madison considered entering into either the clergy or the legal profession. Instead, he remained at Princeton to study Hebrew and political philosophy under President John Witherspoon before returning home to Montpelier in early 1772. Witherspoon had a profound influence on Madison's ideas on philosophy and morality. This was said to be where the seeds of Madison's passion for liberty were planted.

After returning to Montpelier, Madison tutored his younger siblings. Probably as a result of Witherspoon's influence, Madison appeared to have made his choice among prospective careers. He began to study law books on his own in 1773. He asked his Princeton friend William Bradford, who was now studying law under Edward Shippen in Philadelphia, to send him a written plan on reading law books. But by 1783, though he had studied a lot of law books, Madison still had not joined the bar or practiced law. He never did.

In 1765, Great Britain had passed the Stamp Act, and the British-American colonies of North America began to demand proper representation and independence. King George III declined to grant the British-American colonies representation in Parliament or independence. The British cited the high cost of aiding the colonists in their fight of the French and Indian War. By the early 1770s the relationship between the British-American colonies and Britain deteriorated over the issue of British taxation, and the American Revolutionary War began in 1775. The American colonists split between two factions, the Loyalists to King George III, and the Patriots. Madison joined the latter, and insisted that those in his county take a loyalty oath to their cause. Madison argued that Parliament had exceeded its authority by imposing taxation on the British-American colonies, without giving them representation in Parliament. He also favored de-establishing the Anglican Church in Virginia, arguing that an established religion was detrimental because it encouraged closed-mindedness and unquestioning obedience to the authority of the state.

In 1774, Madison, took a seat on the local Committee of Safety, a pro-revolution group that oversaw the local Patriot militia. In October 1775, he was commissioned as the colonel of the Orange County militia, serving as his father's second-in-command. This lasted until he was elected as a delegate to the Fifth Virginia Convention, which was charged with producing Virginia's first constitution. Madison was frequently in poor health, and he never saw battle in the Revolutionary War. But he was recognized for his service to his state and to his country as a wartime leader.

At the Virginia constitutional convention of 1776, Madison was able to convince delegates to alter the Virginia Declaration of Rights to provide for "equal entitlement," rather than mere "tolerance," in the exercise of religion. With the passage of the Virginia constitution, Madison was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, and he was subsequently elected to the Virginia governor's Council of State. In that role, he worked closely with Governor Thomas Jefferson.

On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was published formally declaring 13 American states an independent nation, no longer under the Crown or British rule. Madison served on the Council of State from 1777 to 1779, when he was elected to the Second Continental Congress, the governing body of the United States. The Continental Congress faced many difficult challenges: war against Great Britain, the world's leading military power, runaway inflation, lack of revenue to finance the war, and lack of cooperation between the different levels of government. Madison soon gained expertise on financial issues, as well as a master of parliamentary procedure. He was frustrated by the failure of the states to supply needed requisitions, and he proposed to amend the Articles of Confederation to grant Congress the power to independently raise revenue through tariffs on foreign imports. General George Washington, Congressman Alexander Hamilton, and many other leading figures favored the amendment, it was defeated because it failed to win the ratification of all thirteen states.

Madison was an ardent supporter of a close alliance between the United States and France, and, as an advocate of westward expansion. He strongly believed that the United States had the right to navigation on the Mississippi River and control of all lands east of it. After serving Congress from 1780 to 1783, Madison won election to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1784.

Remembering James Madison

On June 28, 1836 (184 years ago today) James Madison, Jr. the 4th President of the United States, died at his home Montpelier in Orange, Virginia. He was 85 years of age. Born on March 16, 1751, Madison is remembered as a great statesman, and a great political theorist. He is considered by many to be the "Father of the Constitution" because he was instrumental in the drafting of the United States Constitution and was the author of the Bill of Rights. He was a career politician for most of his adult life.

James Madison, Jr. was born at Belle Grove Plantation near Port Conway, Virginia on March 16, 1751, (March 5, 1751 on the Julian calendar which was then in use). His father was a tobacco planter and a slaveholder. he was small in stature, five feet, four inches in height and it is said that he never weighed more than 100 pounds, making him was the smallest president. During the American Revolutionary War, Madison served in the Virginia state legislature from 1776 to 1779, where he became a protégé of Thomas Jefferson.

Madison attended the Philadelphia Convention in 1787 where he wrote "the Virginia Plan" which became the blueprint for the constitution that was produced at the convention. Madison became one of the leaders in the movement to ratify it. He worked with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay to produce the Federalist Papers in 1788. Circulated only in New York at the time, they would later be considered among the most important treatises in support of the Constitution. He was also a delegate to the Virginia constitutional ratifying convention, and was instrumental to the successful ratification effort in Virginia. During the drafting and ratification of the constitution, he favored a strong national government, though later he grew to favor stronger state governments, before finally settling between the two extremes.

In 1789, Madison became a leader in the new House of Representatives, drafting much of its legislation. He drafted the first ten amendments to the Constitution, which led to his being called the "Father of the Bill of Rights". Madison worked closely with President George Washington to organize the new federal government. Breaking with Hamilton and what became the Federalist Party in 1791, Madison and Thomas Jefferson organized what they called the Republican Party (later called the Democratic-Republican Party).

He served as Thomas Jefferson's Secretary of State from 1801 to 1809. In that capacity he oversaw the Louisiana Purchase, which doubled the nation's size. Madison was elected President in 1808, succeeding Jefferson. He presided over renewed prosperity for several years and after the failure of diplomatic protests and a trade embargo against Great Britain, he led the nation into the War of 1812. He was responding to end British encroachments on American rights, including impressment of its sailors and influence among Britain's Indian allies, whose resistance blocked United States settlement in the Midwest around the Great Lakes. Madison found the war to be a huge challenge. The nation did not have a strong army nor a strong financial system. When the war ended, he afterward supported a stronger national government and a strong military, as well as the national bank, all of which he had previously opposed.

Like most other Virginia statesmen of that era, Madison was a slaveholder who inherited his plantation known as Montpelier, and owned hundreds of slaves during his lifetime. Madison supported what was known as the "Three-Fifths Compromise", which allowed three-fifths of the enumerated population of slaves to be counted for representation.

When Madison left office in 1817, he retired to Montpelier. He was 65 years old and his wife Dolley was 49. Madison left the presidency a poorer man than when he entered, due to the steady financial collapse of his plantation, aided by the continued low price of tobacco and his stepson's mismanagement. In his later years, Madison became extremely concerned about his historic legacy. He took to modifying letters and other documents in his possession: changing days and dates, adding and deleting words and sentences, and doing other editing. For example, he edited a letter written to Jefferson criticizing the Marquis de Lafayette.

In 1826, after the death of Jefferson, Madison was appointed as the second Rector ("President") of the University of Virginia. He retained the position as college chancellor for ten years until his death in 1836. In 1829, at the age of 78, Madison was chosen as a representative to the constitutional convention in Richmond for the revising of the Virginia state constitution. It was his last appearance as a legislator. Between 1834 and 1835, Madison sold 25% of his slaves to make up for financial losses on his plantation.

In his latter years, even with his bad health, Madison wrote frequently on political subjects, including an essay against the appointment of chaplains for Congress and the armed forces. But Madison found himself ignored by the new political leaders. He died on June 28, and is buried in the Madison Family Cemetery at Montpelier.

Presidents in Their Youth: Harry Truman

When one looks at the life of Harry Truman, it is easy to find reasons why he would probably never become President of the United States. He was not rich, connected, athletic, academically stellar or successful in the business world. He had poor eyesight, never made millions and he certainly had his share of setbacks in life. But he had determination and did not give up on himself, even when many others had.


Harry S. Truman was born on May 8, 1884 in Lamar, Missouri. His parents were John Anderson Truman and Martha Ellen Young. He was named for his maternal uncle, Harrison "Harry" Young, but his parents couldn't agree of a middle name, so all he got was a middle initial, "S", to honor his grandfathers, Anderson Shipp Truman and Solomon Young. He was the oldest of three siblings. A brother, John Vivian, was next in the family and he was followed by sister Mary Jane. His first six years of life were spent on a series of farms. John Truman was a farmer and also a livestock dealer. The Truman family lived in Lamar until Harry was ten months old, and then they moved to a farm near Harrisonville, Missouri. After that the family next moved to Belton, and in 1887 to his grandparents' 600-acre farm in Grandview. When Truman was six, his parents moved to Independence, Missouri, the place he always called home.

Independence was a town of 6,000 people. Today it is a suburb just southeast of Kansas City. For his first two years there, Harry attended the Presbyterian Church Sunday School, but did not enroll in the local elementary school until he was eight. Independence had a large Jewish population and as a youth, Harry found work as what was called a "Shabbos goy", which meant that he would do work for his Jewish neighbors that they were prohibited from doing for religious reasons on certain days. He also liked music and as a child he woke up at five a.m. every morning to practice the piano. He took lessons until he was fifteen, and becoming quite a skilled player.

In 1900, the Democratic National Convention was held in Kansas City. Harry Truman's father had many friends who were active in the Democratic Party and 16 year old Harry worked as a page at the convention, at which the great orator William Jennings Bryan was nominated as the Party's Presidential Candidate for the second consecutive time.

Harry Truman graduated from high school the following year in 1901. It was his goal to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point, and he hoped to utilize the political connections he had made. Unfortunately, he had very poor eyesight. A further setback was the state of the family finances. John Truman suffered a series of losses that bankrupted the family. The family could not afford to sent their oldest son to any sort of post-secondary education. Truman is the only president since William McKinley who did not have a college degree.Instead Harry Truman took a job with the Santa Fe Railroad as a payroll clerk. Later he became a bank clerk in Kansas City where he worked until 1906. Truman and his brother Vivian worked as clerks at the National Bank of Commerce in Kansas City. Coincidentally, one of their coworkers, who also lived in the same rooming house, was Arthur Eisenhower, brother of the man who would succeed Truman as President. The job paid reasonably well, but John Truman had resumed farming and needed his son back on the farm. For the next 11 years, that was Harry Truman's job, helping to run the family farm. He did scratch his itch for a military life somewhat by joining the Missouri National Guard artillery unit. He participated in drill sessions and summer encampments, but after two tours of duty he found it was too much to manage along with the demands of the farm.

When he returned to Independence, Truman began courting Bess Wallace. He had known Bess since his school days. She was the oldest of four (she had three younger brothers). Her father had committed suicide in 1903. Truman proposed to Bess in 1911, but she turned him down. Truman was determined to propose again, but he wanted to have a better income than that earned by a farmer.

In 1917, the United States entered the First World War, and Truman re-enlisted in his unit with the National Guard. By now he was a 33 year old farmer, too old to be drafted, but desirous of serving his country. He also had political aspirations, and wrote about them in letters to Bess. Truman had forged friendships with many of the men in the local guard unit, and the practice at the time was for the men to elect their own officers. There was still the issue of his eyesight however. At his induction, his eyesight without glasses was 20/50 in the right eye and 20/400 in the left (past the standard for legal blindness). His vision was too poor to qualify, but he took the test a second time and passed by secretly memorizing the eye chart. He was elected as first lieutenant for his unit.

Truman was sent for training to Camp Doniphan, Fort Sill, near Lawton, Oklahoma, before heading "over there" to France. His regiment became part of the 129th Field Artillery. The regimental commander during its training was Robert M. Danford, who later served as the Army's Chief of Field Artillery and as a mentor to Truman. Truman later said he learned more practical, useful information from Danford in six weeks than from six months of formal Army instruction.

Truman also ran the camp canteen with a man named Eddie Jacobson, a clothing store clerk he knew from Kansas City. The canteen operated by Truman and Jacobson turned a profit. At Fort Sill, Truman met Lieutenant James M. Pendergast, nephew of Tom Pendergast, a Kansas City political boss. This was a connection that would have a profound influence on Truman's political career. In the spring of 1918 Truman was one of about one million soldiers of the American Expeditionary Forces who were in France at the time. Truman was promoted to captain in July 1918 and became commander of Battery D, 129th Field Artillery, 35th Division. The unit had a reputation for discipline problems, and Truman initially struggled to maintain order. In an incident which became known as "The Battle of Who Run", his soldiers began to flee during a sudden night attack by the Germans in the Vosges Mountains. Truman successfully ordered his men to stay and fight. He won the respect of his men by being tough, fair, and leading by example.

Truman's unit joined in a massive assault barrage on September 26, 1918, at the opening of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. They advanced with over difficult terrain to follow the infantry, and they set up an observation post west of Cheppy. On September 27, Truman ignored orders limiting him to certain targets and he turned his guns on an enemy artillery battery setting up across a river in a position allowing them to fire upon another allied Division. This attack destroyed the enemy battery. His actions were credited with saving the lives of 28th Division soldiers who otherwise would have come under fire from the Germans. Truman was criticized by his regimental commander, Colonel Karl D. Klemm, who threatened to convene a court-martial for not following orders, but it turned out to be an idle threat. During the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, Truman's battery provided support for George S. Patton's tank brigade, and fired some of the last shots of the war on November 11, 1918.

Battery D suffered only one death and one man wounded while under Truman's command in France. He received a commendation from his unit's commanding general. His wartime leadership experience and greatly enhanced and supported his post-war political career in Missouri. His friendship with the Pendergast family didn't hurt either. In May 1919 he was mustered out of the service and returned home to Independence.

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The next month, Truman married Bess Wallace on June 28, 1919, at Trinity Episcopal Church in Independence. He gave up farming for a series of business ventures because he wanted to give his new bride a better standard of living than that provided by a farmer. That didn't go so well. Shortly before the wedding, Truman and his friend Eddie Jacobson had opened a haberdashery together at 104 West 12th Street in downtown Kansas City. The venture had brief initial success, but the store went bankrupt during the recession of 1921. Truman It took until 1935 to pay off the last of the debts from that venture.

Tom Pendergast and his the Kansas City Democratic machine came to Truman's rescue. With their help Truman was elected in 1922 as one of three County Court judges in Jackson County's eastern district. This was an administrative rather than judicial court, similar to county commissioners in many other jurisdictions. Truman lost his 1924 reelection campaign in a Republican wave. He sold automobile club memberships for the next two years, but was convinced him that a public service career was his best bet, as a family man approaching middle age.

Presidents in Their Youth: Chester Alan Arthur

There are two controversies that surround the birth of Chester Alan Arthur. They are when and where.

The when part concerns the year that Arthur was born. His headstone claims that he was born on October 5, 1830. But almost all of his biographers put the date a year earlier than that at October 5, 1829. That is the date that was recorded in the family bible, and it is doubtful that Arthur's father, Reverend William Arthur would have been careless about that. There are two theories for the discrepancy. The first is that as Arthur grew older, vanity compelled him to lie about his age, as if shaving a year off would make a difference. The second is that as there was controversy about where Arthur was born, the record was clearer that by 1830, the Arthur family, which had lived in Canada at one point, was settled in at North Fairfield, Vermont where the 21st President was born.

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There was also controversy surrounding Arthur's birthplace. His father had met Arthur's mother, the former Malvena Stone, in Durham, Quebec, near the Vermont border. Reverend Arthur was teaching school there at the time. Malvina Stone, was born in Berkshire, Vermont. Her parents were George Washington Stone and Judith Stevens, and her family was primarily of English and Welsh descent. Her grandfather, Uriah Stone, had served in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Arthur's father, William Arthur, was born in Dreen, Cullybackey, County Antrim, Ireland to a Presbyterian family. He graduated from college in Belfast and emigrated to the Province of Lower Canada (modern day Quebec) in 1819 or 1820. When Arthur ran for Vice-President in 1880, a man named Arthur Hinman would publish a book alleging that Arthur was actually born in Canada and therefore ineligible to serve as Vice-President or President. This "birther" accusation, like another one made 128 years later, would be found to be unsupported by objective facts.

Malvina Stone not only met William Arthur in Dunham, Quebec, but it was there that the two were married on April 12, 1821. They had a very brief courtship. The Arthurs moved to Vermont after the birth of their first child, Regina in 1822, moving frequently due the nature of William being a minister. He moved to where there was a congregation that wanted his ministering or where there was a teaching position for him to take. The family lived in Burlington, Jericho, and Waterville. William contemplated a change of profession and he spent a brief time studying law, but gave up that notion shortly thereafter. It was while William was still living in Waterville, that he gave up both his legal studies and his Presbyterian upbringing. He joined the Free Will Baptist Church and spent the rest of his life as a minister in that sect.

William Arthur became an outspoken abolitionist. This made him unpopular with some members of his congregations and was one of thr reasons for the family's frequent moves. In 1828, the family moved yet again, this time to Fairfield, where Chester Alan Arthur was born the following year. He was the fifth of nine children and was named "Chester" after Doctor Chester Abell, the physician and family friend who assisted in his birth. His middle name Alan was that of his paternal grandfather.

The family moved to New York State in 1839 when he found a tenured position in Union Village, New York. Five years later the family moved to Schenectady. It was then that fifteen year old Chester Alan Arthur enrolled in Union College. He studied classical Greek and Roman literature, but as his biographer Zachary Karabell puts it, "Arthur's passion for Homer, Livy and Cicero was lukewarm at best." He was an average student both in his grades and in his deportment. He graduated in 1848 at age 19.

After finishing college, Arthur taught school for several years. Then in 1854 he pursued an interest that had eluded his father: law. That year he became a law clerk at the office of lawyer Erastus Culver. One thing that the two men had in common was their passion for abolitionism, one that Arthur had inherited from his father. Culver was a strong opponent of the Fugitive Slave Act, legislation which had been passed four years previously as part of the "Compromise of 1850." The law compelled free states to turn in escaped slaves found within their borders. Arthur would earn a reputation as a very capable lawyer, successfully arguing a number of civil rights cases supporting the rights of African-Americans in his state.

In 1854 Congress had also passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, controversial legislation that purported to let those territories decide for themselves whether they wished to enter the Union as free states or slave states, but which really left them at the mercy of competing interests who wished to influence the outcome. Northern "free-soilers" fought with southern pro-slavery forces in a violent clash to achieve the outcome they desired.

In 1856, Arthur and his law partner and fellow abolitionist Henry Gardner moved to Kansas to lend support to their cause. But Arthur soon learned that the issue was not going to be resolved by debate and he was not a man of violence. He returned to New York a few months later, frustrated by what was taking place in Kansas. When he returned, he joined the newly formed Republican Party.


Following his return, Arthur met the lovely Ellen Lewis Herndon, daughter of William Lewis Herndon, a Virginia Naval Officer. He was said to be very much in love with Ellen, who he called "Nell", in spite of her southern roots, and the two were married in October of 1859 at the Calvary Episcopal Church at Fourth Avenue and Twenty-First Street in Manhattan. He bought a home at 34 West Twenty First Street near Union Square.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, it presented a challenge to this couple. Chester Alan Arthur was an ardent abolitionist and a strong supporter of newly elected President Abraham Lincoln. Ellen Arthur's family supported the Confederacy. Arthur had considered obtaining a commission as an officer in a battlefield unit, but as Zachary Karabell so adeptly puts it, "Civil War between the states was one thing; Civil War at home was another." Nell found the conflict of emotions for her husband and her family to quite stressful, while Arthur tried to address the issue with humor, calling her his "little Confederate" or his "rebel wife". To resolve the issue of how to support the Union cause while keeping the peace at home, Arthur used his connections with Governor Edwin Morgan, who appointed Arthur Chief Engineer and later Quartermaster General for the state of New York. The latter brought with it the rank of Brigadier General, and Arthur would later be referred to by Republican supporters as "General Arthur." In this role he was responsible for the logistics of feeding, housing and supplying several thousand troops. He did so by giving the work to the lowest bidders, adopting a free market oriented solution. He had a reputation for competence and efficiency.

In 1862 however, the Republicans lost the gubernatorial election, and the new Democratic Governor fired Arthur and gave his job to someone else. Arthur resumed his lucrative law practice and used the time to build his connections both in the business world and in the Republican Party. In July of 1863, the Arthur's first-born child William died at the age of two and a half, from an infection that caused an inflammation of the brain. The grief-stricken couple remained in seclusion for several months.

Morgan was returned to the Governor's mansion in 1864 and Arthur had built up a number of powerful connections including with Secretary of State William Seward, party boss Thurlow Weed, and the up-and-coming Congressman Roscoe Conkling. In 1868 when Conkling became a US Senator. A schism developed within the Republican Party between the so-called "Stalwarts" led by Conkling and the "Half-Breeds" led by James G. Blaine of Maine. Arthur showed great prowess as a fund-raiser and formed a strong alliance with Blaine that would prove to be personally lucrative for the Arthurs. It would lead to good things for Arthur, including a well paying position as the Collector of the Port of New York that would greatly increase Arthur's personal wealth. But it would also adversely affect his reputation, giving the impression that he was only in politics to line his own pockets. It was a reputation that he would show to be a mistaken one during his under-rated presidency.

Presidents in Their Youth: Rutherford Hayes

Rutherford Hayes never knew his father. Rutherford Hayes Jr., husband to Hayes mother Sophia Birchard, was a Vermont shopkeeper who had moved the family to Ohio in 1817 as what was then called "the west" was beginning to open up. The Hayes family where Presbyterians who came to the United States in 1625 from Scotland to settle in Connecticut. Hayes father clerked in a store in Vermont before going into partnership with his brother-in-law Joseph Noyes to purchase a store in nearby Dummerston. In 1817, he moved his family to Ohio, where he lived in the town of Delaware and bought a farm, and invested in a distillery. In July of 1822, he died from a fever, just 10 weeks before his son, the future President, was born on October 4, 1822. Sophia Hayes never remarried and was left to care for Rutherford (known as "Rud") and his older sister Fanny. Two other siblings had died before Rud was born.

Sophia's husband had been a good businessman and left her some land and an unfinished brick house. The house was complete enough for the family to move into in 1823, though it would not be completely finished until 1828. Hayes maternal uncle Sardis Birchard, a lifelong bachelor, lived with the family and acted as a sort of father figure to young Rud. He was a banker and owned other businesses, and he helped to support the family. The farm was rented out to tenants, and those tenants are credited with giving the Hayes children colored Easter Eggs and this may have led to the tradition Hayes began as President of conducting the annual White House Easter Egg Hunt.

Rutherford Hayes was a sickly child at first, and he was cared for by his sister Fanny. The two siblings formed a strong bond that lasted throughout their lives. Hayes was enrolled at a local school run by a man known for being a stern disciplinarian who administered liberal doses of corporal punishment. In 1834 at age 12, Sophia took the children to visit her relatives in Vermont and Massachusetts and this was said to have began the love of traveling that Hayes came to have.

In 1836 Hayes changed schools, attending Ohio's Norwalk Seminary, a Methodist school. He liked the school much more than his previous one and did very well academically. The following year he transferred to Isaac Webb's school in Middletown, Connecticut, where he studied Latin, Greek and French. Webb wrote to Hayes' uncle Sardis, "Rutherford has applied himself industriously to his studies and has maintained a constant and correct deportment. I think he will avail himself of the advantage of an education and fully meet the just anticipations of his friends. He is well informed, has good sense, and is respected and esteemed by his companions. He is strictly economical and regular in his habits and has established a very favorable character among us."

In 1838, at age 16, Hayes enrolled in Kenyon College at Gambier, Ohio. One again he excelled at his studies and forged friendships that would lead to political connections. While at Kenyon he began keeping a diary that he kept for the rest of his life. He joined the Philomathesian Society, a literary and theatrical organization. He founded a friendship club called Phi Zeta, and honed his skills as an orator. He graduated in 1842, serving as class valedictorian.

Fanny had married William Platt, a jeweler. They lived in Columbus. Hayes planned to become a lawyer, and he began reading law with the firm of Sparrow and Matthews in Columbus. He did so while also learning to speak German. In 1843, financed by his uncle, he enrolled in Harvard Law School. Hayes enjoyed his attendance at Harvard and recalled favorably the lectures of Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story. The weekly routine he followed at Harvard, as recorded in his diary, was a grueling one. Living in Cambridge, Massachusetts also afforded him the opportunity to hear addresses by many famous orators including John Quincy Adams, George Bancroft, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Daniel Webster. He also attended plays, including many by Shakespeare.

Hayes completed his time at Harvard in February of 1845 and was admitted to the Ohio state bar in Marietta, Ohio, but opted to practice in Lower Sandusky, later renamed Fremont. His uncle Sardis was living there. In 1847 Hayes contemplated joining the army, in the midst of the Mexican War, but he fell ill, and took a trip to New England instead. This was followed by a trip to Texas with his uncle. When he returned home, he decided to move his law practice to the burgeoning city of Cincinnati. There he joined a literary club and also gave orations himself. His law practice prospered and he was involved in the defense of two high profile murder cases, including one involving a young disabled woman who poisoned a number of her employers. Though she was convicted, Hayes received high marks for the defense he conducted. In another case he defended a woman accused of murder, running an insanity defense. His client was spared the death penalty and sent to an asylum instead.


In June of 1851, after a number of other courtships, Hayes proposed to Lucy Webb, of Chillcothe, who had moved to Cincinnati. Appearing reluctant at first, Lucy replied to Hayes profession of love for her, "I must confess, I like you very well." They were married on December 30, 1852 at Lucy's house, in the presence of 30 invited guests. Their marriage lasted for almost 37 years, until her death in June of 1889.