Potus Geeks Summer Reruns: Abraham Lincoln and Civil War Censorship

Originally posted on December 5, 2016 as part of our series on Presidents and the Media.

As author Harold Holzer points out in his 2015 book Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War for Public Opinion (reviewed here in this community), during the Civil War, the battle for public opinion was almost as important as the battles fought with bullets and bayonets. President Abraham Lincoln was a master tactician when it came to using public opinion as both a political weapon as well as a military aid. He used the press not only to get his message out in an era before electronic mass communication, but also to prevent his opponents from having similar access to the hearts and minds of the people. He did this through the use of military censorship, control of the post office and telegraphs, and through the use of patronage.

At the time, New York City was the media capital of the western world. The big three media moguls in New York City were Horace Greeley of the Tribune, James Gordon Bennett of the Herald, and Henry Raymond of the Times. Each had interesting life stories and personalities. There were also many other influential newspapers in other parts of the country, including in Washington D.C., Philadelphia and in Lincoln's home state of Illinois, where Lincoln purchased a newspaper printed in German to bolster his electoral chances in that state.

Lincoln used censorship of those journalists and newspapers whose views did not accord with the administration or its prosecution of the war, justifying the practice as being one which saved lives by shortening the war (or more accurately, but not enabling Lincoln's enemies to prolong the war by raising the spirits of those who opposed the Union). Many newspapers that were critical of the Union cause were censored of shut down. Their reporters were treated differently depending on how they reported from the battlefield, and some editors were even jailed for their anti-administration views. Often it was members of the public, through mob actions, who took it upon themselves to violently censor the newspapers. Freedom of the press was a casualty of the Civil War, and the real debate is whether or not this was justified under the circumstances of the time.

Lincoln also used the press as a means of getting his message to the people in a era before the ability to speak directly to the masses existed (i.e. at a time before radio and television.) For example, when emancipation became an issue, Lincoln wrote his famous response to Horace Greeley's "Prayer of Twenty Millions" editorial, which accused Lincoln of using his abolitionist leanings as the reason for the death of so many young men in the war. In response, Lincoln famously wrote "If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that".


In mid-August 1861, four newspapers in New York City: the New York Daily News, the Journal of Commerce, Day Book, and Freeman’s Journal were all given a presentment by a Grand Jury of the United States Circuit Court for "frequently encouraging the rebels by expressions of sympathy and agreement". A series of federal prosecutions of newspapers throughout the northern United States followed. The target was any newspaper that printed expressions of sympathy for Southern causes or criticisms of the Lincoln Administration. Lists of "peace newspapers" were published in the New York Daily News and many of these met with retributions. For example, the Bangor Democrat, in Maine, was one of these newspapers. A group believed to be part of a covert Federal raid, destroyed the newspaper's printing press and burned down the newspaper facility.

Lincoln sanctioned the censorship of newspapers that were sympathetic to the confederacy by the use of executive orders that he issued. His eighth order issued on August 7, 1861, which made it both illegal and punishable by death to hold "correspondence with" or give "intelligence to the enemy, either directly or indirectly". Many strong union supporters interpreted this as explicit permission for action against these papers, either through lawful means, or through vigilante justice as occurred in Bangor.

Lincoln was able to effect control of press censorship because in those days, stories were filed by telegraph and Lincoln controlled telegraph usage. Censorship of news dispatches filed in Washington began in April in 1861, a time when the government assumed control of the telegraph wires commencing from the city. Control of censorship was first placed under the Treasury Department, then transferred to the War Department, then to the State Department and then back to the War Department, under whose authority it remained from February 25, 1862, on. Journalist Ben Perley Poore wrote in his memoirs:

"The Washington press was despotically governed during the war. The established censorship was under the direction of men wholly unqualified, and on several occasions the printed editions of influential journals, Republican or Democratic were seized by Secretary Stanton for having published intelligence which he thought should have been suppressed. Bulletins were issued by the War Department, but they were often incorrect. It was known that the Washington papers, full of military information, were forwarded through the lines daily, yet the censors would not permit paragraphs clipped from those papers to be telegraphed to Boston or Chicago, where they could not appear sooner than they did in the Richmond papers. The declaration, ‘I am a newspaper correspondent,’ which had in former years carried with it the imposing force of the famous, ‘I am a Roman citizen,’ no longer entitled one to the same proud prerogatives, and journalists were regarded as spies and sneaks."

This type of censorship became necessary because Northern papers quickly found their way into hands of Confederate generals. Lincoln tried to pursue a middle course on censorship. When Missouri Radicals complained about General John M. Schofield "muzzling the press" in September 1863, Lincoln responded: "I think when an office in any department finds that a newspaper is pursuing a course calculated to embarrass his operations and stir up sedition and tumult, he has the right to lay hands upon it and suppress it, but in no other case.

Lincoln gave a number of informal interviews to reporters he trusted, but he did not hold press conferences. When Washington correspondents looked for news, they sought out Congressmen.

Drastic measures were sometimes taken where it was seen necessary for military purposes.There were repeated civil and military actions to shut down newspapers for supposedly seditious behavior. This was more common early in the war in the border states of Maryland and Missouri, but actions were also taken in big northern cities like Chicago and New York. Such actions were sometimes headaches for Lincoln. He acted to reverse such suppression on occasion, such as when the Chicago Times was shut down by General Ambrose Burnside on June 2, 1863. The Times, under editor Roger Storey, had become progressively more anti-war and harshly criticized Burnside’s arrest of former Congressman Clement Vallandigham the previous month. Popular opinion in Chicago was inflamed, both for and against Burnside. Fearing street violence, a group of Chicago civic leaders sent a petition to the White House. Congressman Isaac Arnold asked Lincoln to reverse Burnside’s action, which the President did on June 4. Lincoln telegraphed orders suggesting that the order be lifted, to which Burnside followed with an order to revoke General Order 84 on June 4, 1863.

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Lincoln was careful to cultivate northern editors as he approached reelection in 1864. He had appointed many journalists to federal office including John Bigelow of the New York Evening Post, as a diplomat in Paris; Thomas McElrath, New York Tribune, as appraiser at the New York customhouse; D.P. Holloway, Richmond Palladium, as commissioner of patents; John L. Scripps as postmaster in Chicago; James Watson Webb of the New York Courier and Enquirer as minister to Brazil; and John D. Defrees, Indianapolis Atlas, as superintendent of public printing. In the fall of 1864, President Lincoln hinted at the possibility of other appointments before key editors, including the postmaster general for Horace Greeley and Minister to France for James Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald.

Lincoln was skillful in his use of the media during the war, even though this did not always endear him to the press. But as one writer on this subject observed, "Most of the leading American newspapers were anti-Lincoln in 1860, and they remained anti-Lincoln till April 15, 1865, when they suddenly discovered that President had been the greatest man in the world."

Potus Geeks Summer Reruns: The Friendship of George W. Bush and Michelle Obama

Originally posted on July 6, 2018 as part of a series called Islands of Civility".

It is not unheard of for former presidents to form friendships in their retirement, even when they come from difficult political parties. Examples of this include Grover Cleveland and William McKinley, Herbert Hoover and Harry Truman or Bill Clinton and both Presidents Bush. It is somewhat surprising that former President George W. Bush and former first lady Michelle Obama have developed a close friendship, especially considering their political differences. It speaks well of both of them that they are able to keep their political and ideological differences from becoming person, something that is becoming less common in these politically polarized times.

In September of 2016, the two appeared together at the opening ceremony for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. A photograph taken of the former first lady's embrace of the 43rd President went viral. Bush later told a reporter that the photograph accurately reflected the warm feelings he had for Mrs. Obama, stating, "When I saw her, it was a genuine expression of affection. " Earlier that year, the Bushes and the Obamas were photographed together joining hands during the singing The Battle Hymn of the Republic at an interfaith memorial service for the victims of the Dallas police shooting on July 12, 2016, in Dallas. The two former first couples are often seated next to each other during ceremonial events, including the the funeral for former first lady Nancy Reagan, the 2015 commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights march in Selma, Alabama and even at the inauguration of Donald Trump.

The friendship is described by both as more than just fodder for photo ops. The former President says that his liking for Michelle Obama comes from the fact that, in his words, "she kind of likes my sense of humor. Anybody who likes my sense of humor, I immediately like." He added in the same interview, "I can't remember where else I've sat next to her, but I probably have a few wisecracks and she seemed to like it OK. I needle her a little bit and around her, I'm fairly lighthearted. They (the Obamas) are around serious people all the time and we just took to each other."

The transition from the Bush administration to the Obama administration was reported to be one of the most cordial and civil, in contrast to the one which occurred from the Clinton administration eight years earlier, when Clinton staff members vandalized the offices of incoming Bush staff members in a series of pranks that left the taxpayer with a hefty bill. At Barack Obama's inauguration, Bush was observed to be engaged in joking with the Obama children as well as with the new first couple.

The admiration is not one sided. When Bush's official portrait was unveiled at a White House ceremony on May 31, 2012, both President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama expressed their appreciation for the example set by the Bush family during their eight years in the White House and the guidance and help provided during the transition. President Obama said: "George, you went out of your way, to make sure the transition to new administration was as seamless as possible. I'll always be grateful for that." Obama praised Bush's strength and resolve that reassured the nation after the September 11 terrorist attacks, and for the anti-terrorism efforts begun in the Bush administration. He said: "After three-and-a-half years in office and more gray hair, I have a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by the men before me, including President Bush. You can't make everyone happy, I think that's something President Bush and I learned pretty quickly. We may have our differences politically, but the presidency transcends those differences."

At that same ceremony, Bush joked that he hoped President Obama would find reassurance because, when walking the White House halls at night mulling over a major problem, "you'll now be able to gaze at this portrait and ask 'What would George do?'" Mrs. Bush also drew a big laugh when she said in reference to the new paintings that "nothing makes a house a home like having portraits of its former occupants staring down at you." George Bush went on to remind Michelle Obama of how Dolley Madison had famously saved the portrait of George Washington when the White House was burned by the British during the War of 1812, and what she would be expected to do "

In the most emotional moment at that ceremony, Bush's voice cracked a little as he said of his father -- the nation's 41st president -- that he was honored the portrait would be "hanging near a man who gave me the greatest gift possible, unconditional love, and that would be No. 41."

When Michelle Obama rose to speak, she began by saying: "I don't think we have enough tissue to go around. Jenna and Barbara, they're just a mess," she added in reference to the Bush daughters. The Obamas made a point of thanking the Bush twins for the guidance they provided the Obama daughters, with Obama noting his two girls have followed the advice to make loyal friends and slide down the banisters.

Following is a youtube video of some of the remarks made at that ceremony:

On March 2, 2017, Bush was a guest on the talk show Ellen, hosted by Ellen DeGeneres. When asked about this friendship that transcended political lines and ran contrary to the modern climate of political polarization, Bush said "That surprised everybody, that people on opposite sides of the political spectrum can actually like each other." When asked by DeGeneres if his friendship with Michelle was stronger than his relationship with her husband, Bush replied, "Well, let's put it this way, he's never given me a hug that way."

Barack Obama Turns 60

On August 4, 1961 (60 years ago today), Barack Hussein Obama II was born, not in Kenya as some have claimed, but in Honolulu, Hawaii. He was the 44th President of the United States, and the first African American to hold the office. President Obama is a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, where he served as president of the Harvard Law Review. He was a community organizer in Chicago before earning his law degree and he worked as a civil rights attorney and taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School from 1992 to 2004. He served three terms representing the 13th District in the Illinois Senate from 1997 to 2004. In 2000, he lost a Democratic primary race for Illinois's 1st congressional district in the United States House of Representatives to four-term incumbent Bobby Rush.

In 2004, Obama received national attention during his campaign to represent Illinois in the United States Senate with his unexpected victory in the March Democratic Party primary, and his keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in July. He was elected to the Senate in November. Halfway through his first term as a US Senator, he began his presidential campaign in 2007 and, after a close primary campaign against Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2008, he won the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. He then defeated Republican nominee John McCain in the general election, and was inaugurated as president on January 20, 2009. Nine months after his election, Obama was named the winner of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.

During his first two years in office, Obama signed into law economic stimulus legislation in response to the Great Recession. This included the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010. Other major domestic initiatives in his first term included the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, often referred to as "Obamacare". The Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was also passed during his first term. The Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010 was also passed as well.

In foreign policy, President Obama ended U.S. military involvement in the Iraq War. He also increased U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan, signed the New START arms control treaty with Russia, ordered U.S. military involvement in Libya, and ordered the military operation that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden. Despite these accomplishments, in November 2010, the Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives as the Democratic Party lost a total of 63 seats. After a lengthy debate over federal spending and whether or not to raise the nation's debt limit, Obama signed the Budget Control Act of 2011 and the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012.

Obama was re-elected president in November 2012, defeating Republican nominee Mitt Romney. During his second term, Obama has promoted stronger gun control legislation in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and his administration filed briefs which urged the Supreme Court to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 and California's Proposition 8 as unconstitutional. In foreign policy, Obama has continued the process of ending U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan.

In 2015, the centerpiece of Obama's foreign policy was an agreement on nuclear arms with Iran. In 2013, Obama's administration opened negotiations with Iran to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons. Negotiations took two years with numerous delays, with a deal being announced July 14, 2015. The deal, titled Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, saw the removal of sanctions in exchange for measures that would prevent Iran from producing nuclear weapons. While Obama hailed the agreement as being a step towards a more hopeful world, the deal drew strong criticism from Republican and conservative quarters, and from Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

President Obama's presidency ended on January 20, 2017, when he attended the inauguration of President Donald Trump. In May of 2015 it was announced that a site been selected for his Presidential Library. It will be built on the south side of Chicago. In July of 2016 he spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, strongly endorsing Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, who he described as being more qualified to be president than "me or Bill" (referring to the candidate's husband, former President Bill Clinton).

In February of 2017, Obama went on a holiday which included kite-surfing with billionaire Richard Branson. On March 2, 2017, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum awarded its annual Profile in Courage Award to Obama "for his enduring commitment to democratic ideals and elevating the standard of political courage." The following month, on April 24, 2017, Obama made his first public appearance out of office, at the University of Chicago aimed at the engagement with a new generation as well as an appeal for their participation in politics. On May 4, 2017, three days ahead of the French presidential election, Obama publicly endorsed Emmanuel Macron, stating: "He appeals to people’s hopes and not their fears, and I enjoyed speaking to Emmanuel recently to hear about his independent movement and his vision for the future of France." Macron went on to win the election. He has recently traveled to Europe, delivering a speech in Milan, Italy on May 9, 2017, at a food innovation summit. On May 25, 2017, he made a joint public appearance with Chancellor Angela Merkel. He was at Kensington Palace in England where he met with Prince Harry on May 27, 2017. He offered condolences following the Manchester Arena bombing that occurred five days earlier.

On June 1, 2017, after President Trump announced his withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement, Obama released a statement disagreeing with the decision. During an appearance at the Seoul conference on July 3, Obama said the Paris Agreement "will still be a critical factor in helping our children solve the enormous challenge in civilization."

On September 5, 2017, after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. President Obama released a post on Facebook that was very critical of the decision. On September 7, 2017, Obama partnered with former presidents Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush to work with One America Appeal to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma in the Gulf Coast and Texas communities.

Obama went on an international trip from November 28 to December 2, 2017, visiting China, India and France. In China, he delivered remarks at the Global Alliance of SMEs Summit in Shanghai and met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing. He then went to India, where he spoke at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit before meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi over lunch. He also held a town hall for young leaders, organized by the Obama Foundation. He met with the Dalai Lama while in New Delhi and ended his five-day trip in France where he met with French President Emmanuel Macron, former President Francois Hollande and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, later speaking at an invitation-only event on climate issues.

On October 31, 2017, Obama hosted the inaugural meeting of the Obama Foundation in Chicago. He plans to make the foundation to be the central focus of his post-presidency. He has also been working on a Presidential memoir, in a reported $65 million deal with Penguin Random House. As well, the Barack Obama Presidential Center is Obama's planned presidential library. It will be hosted by the University of Chicago and located in Jackson Park on the South Side of Chicago. In August 2018, the Chicago Park District began construction of the project, but it suspended in September. The District stated that construction will not restart before a dialogue with federal agencies confirms that work is appropriate. On June 11, 2019, a court granted judgement dismissing the lawsuit to block construction of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park.

A package that contained a pipe bomb was sent to the Obama's home in Washington, D.C, on October 24, 2018. The package was intercepted by the Secret Service during routine mail screenings. Similar packages were sent to several other Democratic leaders. On October 26, 2018, Cesar Sayoc was arrested for the offense. On March 21, 2019, Sayoc pleaded guilty to 65 felony counts, including using weapons of mass destruction in an attempted domestic terrorist attack abd was sentenced to 20 years in prison on August 5, 2019.

In 2019, Barack and Michelle Obama bought a home on Martha's Vineyard. Earlier this year, on April 14, 2020, Obama endorsed his former vice president Joe Biden for president in the 2020 election. The following month, in May of 2020, Obama criticized President Trump for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, describing President Trump's response to the crisis as "an absolute chaotic disaster." Trump retaliated by accusing Obama of having committed "the biggest political crime in American history", though he refused to say what he was talking about, telling reporters "You know what the crime is, the crime is very obvious to everybody."

On May 16, 2020, Obama delivered two commencement speeches on behalf of the graduating youth who were not able to go to their physical graduation ceremonies due to the COVID 19 pandemic. He spoke about systemic racism and the coronavirus pandemic, and also on racism. He said "The fight for equality and justice begins with awareness, empathy, passion, even righteous anger. Don't just activate yourself online, change requires strategy, action, organizing, marching, and voting in the real world like never before".

More recently, in February of 2021, Obama started a podcast along with Bruce Springsteen. They call it "Renegades: Born in the USA." The subject matter of the podcast is described as "their backgrounds, music and their enduring love of America."

Potus Geeks Summer Reruns: Andrew Jackson and the Pettycoat Affair

Originally posted on February 10, 2019.

The "Pettycoat Affair" was a scandal that concerned the wives of Jackson's cabinet members, and which ended up with Jackson demanding the resignation of his cabinet.


The story goes back to the election of 1824, one in which Jackson received the most electoral votes and popular votes, but lost anyhow. When Jackson failed to receive a majority if electoral votes, the election was decided by the House of Representatives. After Henry Clay threw his support behind John Quincy Adams, Jackson believed that a "corrupt bargain" had been struck after Adams appointed Clay as his Secretary of State. Jackson began planning his next run for the presidency in 1828.

Jackson was nominated for president by the Tennessee legislature in October 1825, more than three years before the next election. Jackson's supporters attacked Adams's policies, including New York Senator Martin Van Buren. Van Buren and other Jackson allies established numerous pro-Jackson newspapers and clubs around the country. Jackson made himself available to visitors at his Hermitage plantation. In the election, Jackson won 56 percent of the popular vote and a 178 to 83 margin in the electoral vote. But the campaign was a nasty one. Both candidates were viciously attacked in the press. Jackson was called a slave trader, and a series of pamphlets known as the Coffin Handbills were published to attack Jackson for his order to execute his own soldiers at New Orleans. Another accused him of engaging in cannibalism by eating the bodies of American Indians killed in battle, while still another labeled his mother a "common prostitute" and stated that Jackson's father was a "mulatto man."

Jackson could withstand these attacks. But what hurt him was that his wife Rachel Jackson was also a frequent target of attacks. Rachel was accused of bigamy, something that was technically true at one time when Rachel mistakenly believed that her first husband, an abusive man named Lewis Robards, had obtained a divorce. Jackson's supporters slung their won mud back at Adams, claiming that while serving as Minister to Russia, Adams had procured a young girl to serve as a prostitute for Emperor Alexander I. They also stated that Adams had a billiard table in the White House and that he had charged the government for it.

Rachel had been in poor health before the election and when she became aware of how she was being publicly attacked, she began experiencing significant physical stress during the election season. Jackson described her symptoms as "excruciating pain in the left shoulder, arm, and breast." After experiencing pain for three days, Rachel finally died of a heart attack on December 22, 1828 three weeks after her husband's victory in the election and 10 weeks before Jackson took office as president. Jackson was distraught. He believed that the accusations from Adams's supporters had caused Rachel's death and never forgave Adams for it. At Rachel's funeral Jackson cursed Adams and his supporters, saying "May God Almighty forgive her murderers," Jackson swore at her funeral. "I never can."

Jackson left his home at the Hermitage near Nashville on January 19 and arrived in Washington on February 11. He then set about choosing his cabinet members. Jackson chose Van Buren as Secretary of State. He chose John Eaton of Tennessee as Secretary of War. Eaton was a fellow Tennessee lawyer who had served under Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans. He was also a US Senator representing Tennessee. Samuel D. Ingham of Pennsylvania was picked as Secretary of Treasury, John Branch of North Carolina as Secretary of Navy, John M. Berrien of Georgia as Attorney General, and William T. Barry of Kentucky as Postmaster General.

Margaret "Peggy" O'Neill was the daughter of William O'Neill, who owned The Franklin House, a boarding house and bar in Washington, D.C. which was a short distance from the presidential mansion. It was a popular social center for politicians and military officials. Peggy O'Neill was no simple barmaid. She was well-educated and had studied French. She was also an excellent pianist. In antebellum America, her reputation was adversely affected by the fact that she worked in a bar frequented by men and conversed casually with the clientele. She had once attempted to elope with an army officer, only to have the scheme prevented by her father. In 1816, at age 17, she married 39 year old John B. Timberlake, a purser in the United States Navy, an alcoholic who was heavily in debt. The Timberlakes befriended John Eaton in 1818. Eaton was a wealthy 28-year-old widower, newly elected to the U.S. Senate from Tennessee and a long time friend of Andrew Jackson.

Eaton helped Timberlake with his financial problems, and Eaton unsuccessfully attempted to get the Senate to pass legislation authorizing payment of debts Timberlake accrued while in the Navy. Eaton paid Timberlake's debts and helped him to get a lucrative posting to the U.S. Navy's Mediterranean Squadron. Many believed that he did so because he had designs on Peggy Eaton. While with the Mediterranean Squadron, Timberlake died in 1828. It was rumored that Timberlake killed himself as the result of Eaton's affair with Peggy, but in fact Timberlake died of pneumonia brought on by pulmonary disease.

With Jackson's blessing, Peggy and John Eaton were married on January 1, 1829, only a few months after her husband's death. The marriage shocked the mucky-mucks in Washington society. Second Lady Floride Calhoun, the wife of Vice President John C. Calhoun led a group of wives of other Washington political figures, most notably the wives of Jackson's cabinet members, in a concerted effort to shun the Eatons in public, and exclude them from parties and other social events.

Emily Donelson, the niece of Andrew Jackson's late wife Rachel, and the wife of Jackson's confidant Andrew Jackson Donelson, performed the ceremonial duties of a "First Lady". She too sided with those shunning Peggy Eaton, causing Jackson to replace her with his daughter-in-law Sarah Yorke Jackson as his official hostess. One of the only members of the cabinet who was friendly to the Eatons was Martin Van Buren, the Secretary of State, who was a widower and unmarried. He liked Eaton and this only made Jackson like Van Buren even more for not joining those who disliked the Eatons. Postmaster-General William T. Barry also sided with the Eatons.

Jackson was friendly to the Eatons, in part, because his late wife Rachel had been the subject of innuendo and in part because he had a long friendship with John Eaton. Vice-President John C. Calhoun was becoming an enemy of Jackson's not only because of his wife's leadership of the anti-Eaton group, but also because Calhoun had his own presidential aspirations. The two also differed on the subject of the protective tariff that came to be known as the Tariff of Abominations. The dispute over the tariff would lead to the Nullification Crisis of 1832, with southerners including Calhoun arguing that states could refuse to obey federal laws to which they objected, even to the point of secession from the Union, while Jackson vowed to prevent secession and preserve the Union at any cost.

In 1830, it was revealed that Calhoun, while Secretary of War, had favored censuring Jackson for his 1818 invasion of Florida. Calhoun had asked Eaton to approach Jackson about the possibility of Calhoun publishing his correspondence with Jackson at the time of the Seminole War, likely believing that this would put him in a good light when he decided to run for president. Eaton refused to do so, but Calhoun published the letters anyhow. This further enraged the President.

In 1831, Martin Van Buren offered to resign, in order to give Jackson the opportunity to reorganize his cabinet by asking for the resignations of the anti-Eaton cabinet members. The entire cabinet resigned except for Postmaster General William T. Barry was the lone cabinet member to stay. Eaton was later appointed as governor of Florida Territory, and then as minister to Spain.

On June 17, 1831, the day before Eaton formally resigned, an article appeared in the Telegraph alleging that the families of three cabinet members (Samuel Ingham, John Branch, and John M. Berrien) had refused to associate with Mr. Eaton. Eaton wrote to all three men demanding that they answer for the article. Ingham sent back a contemptuous letter admitting the allegation. On June 18, Eaton challenged Ingham to a duel through Eaton's brother in law, Dr. Philip G. Randolph. The next morning Ingham sent a note to Eaton discourteously declining the invitation, calling the situation one of "pity and contempt." Eaton wrote a letter back to Ingham accusing him of cowardice. Ingham was informed that Eaton, Randolph, and others were looking to assault him. Ingham told Jackson his version of what took place, and Jackson then asked Eaton to answer for the charge. Eaton admitted that he had "passed by" Ingham residence, but did nothing more.

In 1832, Jackson nominated Van Buren to be Minister to Great Britain. Calhoun organized opposition in the senate to the nomination and cast a tie-breaking vote against it. This made Jackson think even more of Van Buren and in 1832 Van Buren was nominated for vice president, and was elected as Jackson's running mate when Jackson won a second term in 1832. Van Buren thus became the heir to the presidency, and succeeded Jackson in 1837.

After the controversy ended Jackson asked Emily Donelson to return as his official hostess and she did so, along with Sarah Yorke Jackson. Emily later returned to Tennessee after contracting tuberculosis, leaving Sarah Yorke Jackson to serve alone as Jackson's hostess.

John Calhoun resigned as vice president shortly before the end of his term, and returned with his wife to South Carolina.

In later writing a letter to a friend, Jackson said of the Petticoat affair, "I would rather have live vermin on my back than the tongue of one of these Washington women on my reputation."

In his book The Best Looking One Always Wins, (reviewed here in this community), the author Dr. Ryil Adamson tested the theory that is the premise of his book as it applied to one of Andrew Jackson's elections, by polling the servers at a bar that he and some friends were attending, in homage to Peggy Eaton.

Remembering Warren Harding

On August 2, 1923 (98 years ago today) Warren Gamaliel Harding, the 29th President of the United States, died in San Francisco while on a west coast tour as President. He was 57 years of age.

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Harding was born November 2, 1865, in Blooming Grove, Ohio. He was the eldest of eight children born to Dr. George Tryon Harding, Sr. and Phoebe Elizabeth (Dickerson) Harding. It was rumored in Blooming Grove that one of Harding's great-grandmothers might have been African American. Harding's great-great grandfather Amos claimed that the rumor was falsely began a thief, who had been caught in the act by a member of the Harding family.

Harding became an accomplished public speaker in college, and graduated in 1882 at the age of 17 with a Bachelor of Science degree. As a youth he was an accomplished cornet player and played in various bands. In 1884 his Citizens' Cornet Band won the third-place $200 prize at the highly competitive Ohio State Band Festival in Findlay.

On July 8, 1891, Harding married Florence Kling DeWolfe, the daughter of his rival Amos Hall Kling. Florence was a divorcée, five years Harding's senior, and the mother of a young son. Her first marriage, to an alcoholic, had led to her being disowned by her father.

Harding was newspaper publisher in Ohio. In 1893, his newspaper the Marion Star, replaced the Independent as the official paper for Marion's governmental notices, after Harding exposed the rival paper for overcharging the city. In 1896, the Independent ceased doing business and its owner was his father-in-law, Amos Kling wasted no time in financing and launching another rival paper, the Republican Transcript. In 1900, a political opponent, J.F. McNeal, with the help of Kling, secretly bought up $20,000 in loans owed by Harding, and immediately called them due in full. Harding just barely succeeded in securing the funds to pay off the debt.

Harding served in the Ohio Senate, as the 28th Lieutenant Governor of Ohio and as a U.S. Senator from 1915–1921. He was the first incumbent United States Senator and the first newspaper publisher to be elected President. He was selected as a compromise choice at the 1920 Republican National Convention. During his presidential campaign, in the aftermath of World War I, he promised a return of the nation to "normalcy". In the 1920 election, he and his running mate, Calvin Coolidge, defeated Democrat and fellow Ohioan James M. Cox in the largest presidential popular vote landslide (60.36% to 34.19%) since popular vote totals were first recorded in 1824.

Harding rewarded loyal friends and supporters, but scandals and corruption, including the notorious Teapot Dome scandal, eventually pervaded his administration. His Attorney-General Harry Daugherty was later tried, convicted, and sent to prison for bribery or defrauding the federal government.

In foreign affairs, Harding rejected Woodrow Wilson's League of Nations, and signed a separate peace treaty with Germany and Austria, formally ending World War I. He also strongly promoted world Naval disarmament at the Washington Naval Conference, and urged U.S. participation in a proposed International Court. Domestically, Harding signed the first child welfare program in the United States and dealt with striking workers in the mining and railroad industries. The nation's unemployment rate dropped by half during Harding's administration. In a show of political courage, he made a prominent speech in the heart of the south, in Birmingham, Alabama, condemning racial discrimination.

In the summer of 1923, Harding boarded a naval transport ship, the USS Henderson, and became the first President to travel to Alaska. Rumors of corruption in his administration were beginning to circulate in Washington. While in Alaska, Harding was profoundly shocked by a long message he received detailing illegal activities previously unknown to him. The purposes for Harding's visit to Alaska was to encourage colonization of the state. He hoped that with the completion of the Alaska Railroad, World War I veterans would return to their home territory and any impoverished workers in the lower states could come to Alaska and make or find their own employment. President Harding brought along with him to the territory the Secretary of Interior Hubert Work, Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, and Secretary of Agriculture Henry C. Wallace.

Harding arrived in Alaska on the USS Henderson on July 7, 1923. He visited Metlakatla, and Ketchikan on July 8, Wrangell on July 9, Juneau on July 10, Skagway and Glacier Bay on July 11, Seward, Snow River on the Kenai Peninsula, and Anchorage on July 13, Chickaloon, Sarah Palin's home of Wasilla and Willow on July 14, Montana Station and Curry on July 14, Cantwell, McKinley Park and Nenana on July 15. On July 15, 1923, President Harding drove in the golden spike on the north side of the steel Mears Memorial Bridge that completed the Alaska Railroad. The trip continued to Fairbanks on July 15. The President and his wife returned to Seward and they took the Henderson to Valdez (July 19), Cordova (July 20) and Sitka (July 22).

On July 26, 1923, having departed Alaska on the USS Henderson, President Harding toured Vancouver, British Columbia; the first sitting U.S. President ever to visit Canada. President Harding played a round of golf at the Shaughnessy Heights Golf Club, after which he complained of nausea and upper abdominal pain. His doctor, Charles E. Sawyer, believed Harding's illness to be a severe case of food poisoning. Harding's pulse and breathing rate were rapid and he was given digitalis. President Harding met with British Columbia Premier John Oliver and Mayor of Vancouver Charles Tisdall at the Hotel Vancouver. Harding spoke in front of 50,000 people at Stanley Park. He inspected The Vancouver Regiment honor guard accompanied by Canadian Brigadier General V.W. Odlum.

Coming into Seattle, Washington, President Harding's transport ship, USS Henderson, accidentally rammed into a U.S. naval destroyer due to fog. While in port, Harding reviewed the U.S. naval fleet and visited the Bell Street Pier. In Seattle, Harding greeted children and led 50,000 Boy Scouts in the Pledge of Allegiance. President Harding gave his final speech to a large crowd of 25,000 people at the University of Washington stadium in Seattle. Harding had rushed through his speech not waiting for applause by the audience. He then traveled by train from Seattle to Portland, Oregon. Harding's scheduled speech in Portland was canceled because he was not feeling well.

The President's train continued south to San Francisco. Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover sent a telegram from Dunsmuir, California, to his friend Dr. Ray L. Wilbur, asking Wilbur to meet and to personally examine the President. Arriving at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, Harding developed a respiratory illness believed to be pneumonia. A severely exhausted Harding was given digitalis and caffeine that momentarily helped relieve his heart condition and sleeplessness.

On Thursday, Harding's health appeared to be improving, so his doctors went to dinner. His pulse was normal and his lung infection had subsided. Unexpectedly, during the evening, Harding shuddered and died suddenly in the middle of conversation with his wife in the hotel's presidential suite, at 7:35 p.m. on August 2, 1923.

Immediately after President Harding died, word quickly spread to the San Francisco streets that the President was dead. People rushed into the Palace Hotel and rapidly crowded into the hallways. The San Francisco chief of police, Daniel J. O'Brian, finally was able to clear the hotel of the unruly mob and members of Harding's official party could come see him.

After some discussion, the doctors issued a release indicating the cause of death to be "some brain evolvement, probably an apoplexy". Mrs. Harding refused to allow an autopsy. Naval medical consultants who examined the president in San Francisco concluded he had suffered a heart attack.

Harding was succeeded as President by Vice President Calvin Coolidge, who was sworn in while vacationing at Plymouth Notch, Vermont, by his father, a Vermont notary public.

Historians have been unkind to Harding due to the multiple scandals during his administration and as a result, Harding has received low rankings as President. This year's recent release of more of Harding's "love letters" to his mistress Carrie Phillips haven't helped. But his reputation has increased among some historians, who give him credit for his conservative financial policies, fiscal responsibility, and his endorsement of African American civil rights. Harding's creation of the Budget Bureau was a major economic accomplishment that reformed and streamlined wasteful federal spending. President Harding contended with racial problems on a national level, rather than sectional, and openly advocated African American political, educational, and economic equality inside the Solid South.

Author James David Rosenalt has a more complimentary assessment of Harding in his 2009 book The Harding Affair (reviewed in this community here). It's one I tend to agree with. Robenalt writes at pages 3-4:

He had a rare political attribute: courage. In his first address to Congress, he asked for the passage of an anti-lynching law. Six months after taking office, he was the first sitting president to travel into the deep south to make a bold civil rights speech. Democracy was a lie if blacks were denied political equality, he told an enormous crowd separated by color and a chain-link fence in Birmingham, Alabama. A few months later, on his first Christmas in the White House, he pardoned Socialist leader Eugene Debs, who was rotting away in an Atlanta prison. Debs's crime? He spoke out against the draft and the war after America entered the conflict.

Potus Geeks Summer Reruns: Finding Warren Harding (or Forgive Me My Trespasses)

[Originally posted August 26, 2012]

Warren Harding was the first sitting President to visit Canada. He did it in 1923 on what would become the last journey of his life. He died on August 2, 1923 while on a tour of the west coast that included several destinations in Alaska, Seattle, Portland and San Francisco, where Harding died at the Palace Hotel.

In the days before commercial air travel, Harding had to travel through British Columbia by train to get from Alaska to Washington state. He visited the city of Vancouver on July 26, 1923, when he became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Canada. (William Howard Taft and Franklin Roosevelt had vacationed in Canada prior to becoming president.) According to news reports from back then, Harding was a very popular visitor who was loved by the locals. BC premier John Oliver and Vancouver’s mayor Charles Tisdall hosted a lunch in his honor at the Hotel Vancouver. An estimated 50,000 Vancouverites crowded into Stanley Park (Vancouver's version of Central Park, only bigger) to hear Harding speak. It was, as a sanitized Joe Biden might say, a big fricken' deal.

Harding played some golf while he was in Vancouver, at the Shaughnessey Golf Club (where today the rich and famous in Vancouver society continue to play). Harding had been unwell on the trip and after playing six holes of golf, he became so tired that, to quell any suspicions, he moved to the 17th hole, then finished the 18th. The photo below shows the Harding foursome: from left to right F.W. Peters, General Superintendent of the Canadian Pacific Railroad, Chief Justice D.A. McDonald of the BC Court of Appeal, Harding and a fourth person identified as the Hon. Dr. King.


After the game Harding called for White House homeopath Sawyer, complaining of nausea and pain in the upper abdomen. Sawyer found the President had a pulse of 120 beats per minute and was breathing 40 times per minute. (Both of these readings were abnormally high for a man of Harding's age.) Intensive cardiac therapy including digitalis was started.

A week later Harding and his entourage were in San Francisco, and that is where Harding died, exactly one week after visiting Vancouver. The city of Vancouver was saddened by Harding's death. Harding had belonged to the Kiwanis Club, and the Kiwanis Club of Vancouver initiated a drive for a grand memorial to him in Stanley Park, at the site where he spoke. The monument was designed by Vancouver sculptor Charles Marega, also a Kiwanian, and unveiled in 1925.

One summer day, I was in Vancouver and I decided that as the geekiest of the potus_geeks, it was my solemn duty to visit the Harding Monument. I am very familiar with Stanley Park. I used to run through the trails and on the seawall there a lot when I used to train for marathons, but in spite of my familiarity with the park, finding this monument was no small feat. I located it on a map of the park and walked around looking for it, but couldn't seem to find it. By fluke, I found the back of the monument, but when I tried to walk around to the front, I was thwarted by a high fence. It turned out that the monument was inside the Malkin Bowl (an outdoor theater enclosed in a fence.) I was able to find a break in the fence and probably trespassed, but I was able to get in and snap a picture of the monument. Nobody caught me, so I snapped my picture and left the same way I came in. That's my daily story of breaking and entering.


More pictures of the monument appear behind the cut.

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Potus Geeks Summer Reruns: Ulysses Grant's Try for a Third Term

Note: During the month of August each year, potus_geeks takes a holiday and reposts articles previously posted in other years. The article below was originally posted on April 24, 2017.

Ulysses Grant entered the White House as President in 1869, having been a popular Union General, popular in the North that is. It was said that prior to Lincoln's assassination, Grant was the most popular man in the Union. But he left office in 1877, having served two consecutive terms as president. Grant considered seeking a third term at that time, something that had not yet been done. Though doing so was not yet prohibited under the Constitution, up to that time it was seen as precedent, set by George Washington, for a president to step down after the end of his second term.

As the 1876 election approached, Grant's supporters in Congress suggested that Grant he not seek a third term. A number of scandals had come to light within Grant's administration, and while it was not suggested that Grant was personally corrupt, these had nevertheless affected his electability adversely. Grant accepted the advice of his advisors and told his wife Julia, "I do not want to be here another four years. I do not think I could stand it." Grant left the White House after his successor, Rutherford Hayes, was inaugurated and he and his wife decided to use their savings to travel around the world. John Russell Young, a reporter with the New York Herald, traveled with the Grants and documented their journey. He later published a book about the Grants' travels called Around the World with General Grant. Young noticed that Grant's popularity remained very high outside of his home country. He was given grand receptions in Tokyo and Peking, China and was feted by world leaders in both Europe and Asia.

Meanwhile at home, President Rutherford B. Hayes led a divided Republican Party. Hayes had moved away from party patronage by offering government jobs to Southern Democrats instead of Northern Republicans. His actions drew heavy criticism from those inside his party, including Roscoe Conkling of New York and James G. Blaine of Maine (two men who led opposing factions within the party, but who agreed on their opposition to Hayes). Hayes had soon realized, after the disputed and controversial 1876 election, that he was unlikely to win in 1880, and had announced at his 1877 inauguration that he would not run for a second term. Without an incumbent president in the race, the rival factions within the Republican Party, the Stalwarts (led by Conkling) and the "Half-Breeds" (led by Blaine) positioned themselves for the 1880 presidential election campaign.

Grant returned to the United States ahead of schedule. His positive reception and encouragement from the Stalwarts led him to believe that he could win a third term in office. Conkling and two other powerful party bosses, Donald Cameron of Pennsylvania and John A. Logan of Illinois, supported Grant. A confident Conkling was quoted as saying, "Nothing but an act of God could prevent Grant's nomination." But others, such as Grant's friend John Russell Young, told Grant that he would lose the election, and should withdraw to avoid embarrassment. Young told Grant that there was strong opposition to the ideas of any president serving a third term.

At first, Grant listened to Young's advice and wrote a letter to Donald Cameron, authorizing his name to be withdrawn from the nomination contest. But his wife Julia disagreed and told her husband, "If General Grant were not nominated, then let it be so, but he must not withdraw his name – no, never." Young delivered the letter, but no action was taken to remove Grant's name from nomination.

The other main contender for the Republican nomination was James G. Blaine. Blaine, a senator from Maine who had also served as Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. Four years earlier Blaine had campaigned for the party's nomination, but he had been accused of fraudulent activities involving railroad stocks. Despite his attempt to clear his name, Blaine was tarnished by the scandal throughout the rest of his political career. On the Sunday before balloting was to begin in Cincinnati, Ohio, Blaine collapsed at the steps of Washington Congregational Church. He was unconscious for two days, and as a result, he lost support because of concerns over his health.

After Blaine's failure in 1876, his supporters once again pressed for his nomination at the 1880 convention, which was held in Chicago. Despite the previous scandal allegation, in 1880 Blaine attracted nationwide support for his candidacy. He argued for the gold standard, support for big business, a tariff to protect American jobs, civil rights for freed blacks and Irish independence.

Another leading candidate was Ohio Senator John Sherman, the brother of Grant's second-in-command William Tecumseh Sherman. Under President Hayes, Sherman served as the Secretary of the Treasury. He was a supporter of the gold standard and called for building up the country's gold reserves. Sherman was not seen as eloquent or personable, but he was an able politician.

James Garfield came to the Chicago Convention as a Senator-elect from Ohio, who had represented the state in the United States House since 1863. In 1859, as a Republican, Garfield was elected to the Ohio Senate. He served as state senator until 1861, when he enlisted in the Union Army at the start of the Civil War. Garfield served honorably and rose to the rank of brigadier general in March 1862.

In 1872, Garfield faced charges for receiving $329 in tainted money from the Crédit Mobilier of America corruption scandal. Garfield denied the charges and there was not much evidence against Garfield, so his political career was not significantly affected. Four years later, when James G. Blaine moved from the House to the United States Senate, Garfield became the Republican floor leader of the House. That year, Garfield served as a member of the Electoral Commission that awarded 20 hotly contested electoral votes to Rutherford B. Hayes in his contest for the Presidency against Samuel J. Tilden. When John Sherman entered the race Garfield changed his allegiance from Blaine to Sherman, and placed Sherman's name in nomination.

Party bosses Conkling, Cameron and Logan used their influence to have their delegations support Grant. Before the opening of the convention, the Albany Evening Journal predicted that Blaine had 277 votes, Grant had 317, Sherman had 106, and 49 were split among other candidates. 379 votes were needed to win. A debate ensued over whether or not states would adopt a "unit rule: that would require all delegates from a particular state must vote for the candidate preferred by the majority of that state's delegation, in order to prevent a long deadlock.

Before any voting began, the delegates had to vote on whether or not the convention would adopt the unit rule. If the rule was supported by a majority of the delegates, then state party bosses would be able to solidify Grant's nomination bid. Conkling and the other Stalwart bosses could silence the votes of nearly sixty dissenters from the states they represented. Cameron was chairman of the Republican National Committee and he planned to use his power to adopt new rules for the convention, specifically the unit rule. Supporters of the Sherman and Blaine campaigns rallied to prevent this.

At 7:00 P.M. on May 31, J. Donald Cameron convened the Republican National Committee's last meeting before the opening of the convention. At the meeting, George Frisbie Hoar, a neutral senator and delegate from Massachusetts, was elected as the convention's temporary chairman. To avoid losing control of the situation, Conkling asked his trusted supporter, Chester Alan Arthur, to come up with a compromise. Arthur proposed that the delegates decide on the unit rule in a free vote, and in return, Cameron would be restored as the chairman of the national committee. The compromise was agreed to.

At noon on Wednesday, June 2, Cameron opened the Convention. The next morning, Conkling then submitted a resolution that bound every delegate in the hall to support the party's nominee. Conkling said that "no man should hold his seat here who is not ready so to agree." A voice vote was called, and the resolution received nearly unanimous delegate support.

On Saturday night, the alphabetical roll call of the states to present nominees was conducted. Candidates were nominated, with the first candidate being Blaine. James Garfield gave the nomination speech for John Sherman. Garfield's speech was so eloquent, and well received that it caused delegates to begin thinking of Garfield as a contender for the nomination. Some members of the Sherman campaign were disappointed by Garfield's speech because it had not extolled Sherman's praises sufficiently.

On Sunday night, June 6, Indiana senator Benjamin Harrison came to Garfield's hotel suite and asked him under what conditions he would accept the nomination. Garfield said that he had come to the convention for the sole purpose of supporting John Sherman, and that he had no interest in the nomination.

At ten o'clock on Monday morning, convention chairman Hoar banged his gavel to open the convention. Eugene Hale moved to immediately proceed to the presidential nominee balloting, and Roscoe Conkling seconded the motion. The unit rule had failed to pass and delegates knew that it would take a number of ballots before a winner would be chosen. The first surprise during the balloting roll call came when John A. Logan of Illinois announced that of his state's forty-two delegates, only twenty-four were voting for Grant. New York faced a similar situation. Of its seventy delegates, fifty-one supported Grant, seventeen were for Blaine, and the remaining two supported Sherman. The situation for Grant was even worse in Pennsylvania. Only thirty-two of the state's fifty-eight delegates voted for Grant.

On the first ballot Grant received 304 votes, Blaine had 284, Sherman had 93, Vermont senator George F. Edmunds received 34, Elihu B. Washburne, who had served as the United States Ambassador to France under President Grant, had 30, and Minnesota senator William Windom received 10. Back in Washington, D.C., both Blaine and Sherman were disappointed by their first-ballot vote totals. Sherman still believed that his total would increase when the Grant vote abandoned him. In Galena, Illinois, Grant did not express any emotions after being told about the first-ballot vote totals. One newsman reported, "the silent soldier was smoking his cigar with all his usual serenity." Grant's wife suggested to her husband that he surprise the delegates in Chicago with a visit, but Grant thought this was inappropriate and unwise.

At the convention the voting continued. On the second ballot of the day, a Pennsylvania delegate named W. A. Grier cast a vote for James Garfield. Delegates cast eighteen ballots before taking a recess for dinner. After dinner, they came back and cast ten more ballots, but no candidate was close to the 379 votes needed to win. After twelve hours of balloting, Massachusetts delegate William Lovering moved to adjourn for the night and the motion passed. After twenty-eight ballots, Grant had 307 votes, Blaine had 279 and Sherman had 91, and the rest of the votes were split between favorite son candidates like William Windom and George F. Edmunds.

During the recess, backers for Sherman and Blaine met but no deal could be struck. Surprisingly, Roscoe Conkling refused to be considered as a candidate himself. He said "I am here as the agent of New York to support General Grant to the end. Any man who would forsake him under such conditions does not deserve to be elected, and could not be elected.

The first ballot on Tuesday morning, June 8, Massachusetts switched their twenty-one votes from Senator George Edmunds to John Sherman, spiking his total to 116. Three Minnesota delegates switched their support from William Windom, to James G. Blaine. By the thirty-second ballot, Blaine had dropped six votes from the night before, and Grant had increased his total to 309. On the thirty-third ballot, nine Wisconsin delegates shifted their support from Grant to Elihu Washburne. On the next ballot, sixteen of twenty Wisconsin delegates changed their vote to James Garfield.

On the thirty-fifth ballot, Benjamin Harrison of Indiana announced that his state would shift all twenty-seven of its votes (mostly coming from the Blaine column) to Garfield. Four Maryland delegates and one delegate each from Mississippi and North Carolina also switched their vote to Garfield, bringing his total to 50. Blaine saw that his chances for winning the nomination were slipping. He felt that the most suitable candidate was James Garfield. Garfield was a close friend, and he felt that by supporting Garfield, he could defeat Grant and Conkling and possibly receive an appointment in Garfield's cabinet.

John Sherman also listened to advice from his key advisers and decided to shift all his support to Garfield. Finally, on the thirty-sixth ballot, James Garfield won the Republican nomination. He received 399 votes, 93 higher than Grant's total. Blaine finished with 42, Washburne had 5, John Sherman had 3, and the remaining were split amongst other minor candidates.

By many accounts, Garfield was genuinely overwhelmed with emotion after winning the nomination. One reporter described him looking "as pale as death, and seemed to be half-unconsciously to receive the congratulations of his friends." Grant followers, including Roscoe Conkling, made no effort to conceal their disappointment. Conkling made note of the 306 delegates who had supported Grant throughout the entire balloting and formed a "Three Hundred and Six Guard" society that held annual dinners, and even drew up a commemorative coin with the inscription, "The Old Guard".

Later, Garfield wrote a letter to his wife Lucretia stating that "if the results meet your approval, I shall be content." She was thrilled with her husband's good news. Garfield subsequently resigned the Senate seat to which he had been elected for the term beginning in 1881, and the Ohio Legislature then elected Sherman to fill the vacancy.

Garfield decided that it would be best if a New York Stalwart as Garfield's vice presidential running mate, partly to placate Conkling, and partly to balance the ticket geographically. Levi P. Morton declined after consulting with Conkling, who was unhappy about Grant's loss. He told Morton not to accept. The nomination was then offered to Chester A. Arthur, who had close Stalwart ties to Conkling, but who had impressed delegates with his work to broker the compromise on the selection of a convention chairman. Conkling tried to talk Arthur out of accepting, but Arthur declined to follow Conkling's wishes. Arthur had never held any elected political office and he said that the Vice Presidency was "a greater honor than I ever dreamed of attaining." Arthur won the nomination after he received 468 votes, finishing first over Elihu Washburne (193 votes), and Marshall Jewell (44 votes).

Convention chairman Hoar banged his gavel at 7:25 P.M. on June 8, the longest ever Republican National Convention was adjourned. Garfield and Arthur would go on to win the election. Less than a year after that, James Garfield would be dead, the victim of an assassin's bullet followed by negligent medical treatment. Chester Alan Arthur, the man who had never held any elected office before becoming Vice-President, would succeed Garfield as President.

Remembering Andrew Johnson

On July 31, 1875 (146 years ago today) Andrew Johnson, the 17th President of the United States, died at his home in Elizabethton, Tennessee at the age of 66, after suffering a stroke.


Andrew Johnson (his full name) was born in Raleigh, North Carolina. He was born into relative poverty. His father Jacob was the town constable of Raleigh, but died of an apparent heart attack when Andrew was three, while ringing the town bell, shortly after rescuing three drowning men. His mother Polly Johnson had worked as a washerwoman. She continued in that occupation in order to support her three children, of which Andrew was the youngest.

Johnson became a tailor and moved to Tennessee to embark on a political career. He was a self-educated man and reputed to be a good speaker. He married Eliza McCardle when both were teenagers. They had five children together. Johnson served as an alderman and as Mayor of Greeneville, Tennessee and then sat in both houses of the Tennessee legislature. He went on to spend five consecutive terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and two terms as Governor of Tennessee, all as a Democrat.

When Tennessee seceded from the Union in 1861, Johnson was a Democratic U.S. Senator from Tennessee. He was a staunch unionist who had campaigned against secession and was the only Southern senator not to resign his seat during the Civil War. Despite his strong union sentiments, he supported the institution of slavery. In 1862, Abraham Lincoln appointed Johnson military governor of occupied Tennessee, where he was effective in fighting the rebellion and aiding the Union cause.

Johnson was nominated as the vice presidential candidate with Lincoln in 1864 on the National Union Party ticket. He and Lincoln were elected in 1864, and inaugurated in early 1865. According to many reports, Johnson was quite drunk when he was sworn in as Vice-President. A month later, Lincoln was assassinated and Johnson assumed the presidency. A co-conspirator of John Wilkes Booth had chickened out of his part in the plan, which was to kill Johnson.

Johnson's presidency is perhaps best encapsulated in this summary of his biography in the American Presidents Series by Harvard professor Annette Gordon-Reid:

Andrew Johnson never expected to be president. But just six weeks after becoming Abraham Lincoln's vice president, the events at Ford's Theatre thrust him into the nation's highest office.

Johnson faced a nearly impossible task to succeed America's greatest chief executive, to bind the nation's wounds after the Civil War, and to work with a Congress controlled by the so-called Radical Republicans. Johnson was ill-suited for this daunting task. His vision of reconciliation abandoned the millions of former slaves (for whom he felt undisguised contempt) and antagonized congressional leaders, who tried to limit his powers and eventually impeached him.

The climax of Johnson's presidency was his trial in the Senate and his acquittal by a single vote, amidst drama and palpable tension. Despite his victory, Johnson's term in office was a crucial missed opportunity; he failed the country at a pivotal moment, leaving America with problems that we are still trying to solve.

Johnson almost didn't become President. He was supposed to be assassinated on the same night as Lincoln, but he escaped attack when his would-be assassin, George Atzerodt, failed to go through with the plan and got drunk instead. Johnson had been nominated as the vice presidential candidate in 1864 on the National Union Party ticket as part of Lincoln's plan to show unity and to show that he was first and foremost concerned with preserving the union, even above ending slavery. Johnson was a pro-union man, and remained one even after the war began. But he was also in favor of slavery. He and Lincoln were elected in 1864, inaugurated in early 1865 (Johnson got drunk at his inauguration according to many reports) and a month later Johnson assumed the presidency upon Lincoln's assassination.

As president, Johnson implemented his own form of Presidential Reconstruction, a series of proclamations directing the seceded states to hold conventions and elections to re-form their civil governments. It wasn't the reconstruction that Lincoln had articulated and certainly not the one the abolitionist "Radical Republicans" had in mind. These proclamations along with Johnson's rush to bring the former Confederate states back into the union without due regard for freedmen's rights and his vetoes of civil rights bills embroiled him in a bitter dispute with the Radical Republicans who became infuriated with Johnson's lenient policies. The Radicals in the House of Representatives impeached him in 1868 (a first for a U.S. president), charging him with violating the Tenure of Office Act, when he sought to remove his Secretary of War without Senate approval. His trial in the Senate ended in an acquittal by a single vote.

After his term as President ended, Johnson traveled extensively throughout the country to reiterate his views, especially on reconstruction. He campaigned for re-election to the U.S. Senate in 1869, but lost by a narrow margin. In 1872 he ran for election to fill Tennessee's new at–large seat in the House of Representatives. He lost in this election as well. In 1873 Johnson contracted cholera during an epidemic but soon recovered. He also suffered financial losses of about half of his assets when the First National Bank went under. In 1874, the Tennessee legislature elected him over five other candidates to the U.S. Senate. In his first and last speech in the Senate, Johnson spoke eloquently in opposition to President Ulysses Ulysses Grant's military intervention between rival governments in Louisiana. He is the only former president to serve in the Senate after serving as president.

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During a Congressional recess, Johnson died from a stroke that he suffered near Elizabethton, Tennessee, on July 31, 1875. When he was buried, his body wrapped in an American flag and a copy of the U.S. Constitution was placed under his head, according to his wishes.

Lyndon Johnson and Medicare

On July 30, 1965 (56 years ago today) President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Social Security Act of 1965 into law, establishing Medicare and Medicaid.President He did so under the watchful eye of a former President. Johnson wanted the centerpiece of his legacy to be what he termed "the Great Society." Included in this vision was Johnson's "war on poverty", which Johnson began in 1964, while completing the term of his assassinated predecessor President John F. Kennedy.

At Johnson's urging, Congress passed a number of bills which created programs such as Head Start (services to low income children and their families), food stamps, Work Study (which assisted students with the costs of post-secondary education), Medicare and Medicaid.

At the time that Johnson was pushing for the medicare program, half of the country’s population over age sixty-five had no medical insurance, and a third of them lived in poverty, unable to afford proper medical care. Shortly after his November election win, Johnson instructed Health, Education, and Welfare assistant secretary, Wilbur Cohen, to make Medicare the administration’s “number one priority.” On January 4, Johnson showcased the issue in his State of the Union message. three days later he pressed for passage of Medicare, issuing a statement to Congress demanding that America’s senior citizens “be spared the darkness of sickness without hope.”

John F. Kennedy had tried to pass similar legislation in 1962, sending a comparable bill to Capitol Hill, but it missed passage in the Senate by a few votes. As with previous efforts at heath care reform, the American Medical Association (AMA) was the chief opponent if the legislation, spending millions of dollars to oppose the bill and calling the concept “socialized medicine” and something that was intrinsically un-American. Conservatives such as Ronald Reagan warned that such a program would “invade every area of freedom in this country.” Reagan also told his audiences that Americans would have to remind future generations about “what it was like in America when men were free.”

Undaunted, Johnson believed that, in his words, “the times had caught up with the idea” and he was bolstered by the political capital he had earned in his 1964 victory over Barry Goldwater which came with increased majorities in the House and Senate. The former "Master of the Senate" first had to deal with the House Ways and Means Committee. Most members of the committee, including its Democratic chairman, Arkansas congressman Wilbur Mills, were fierce opponents of Medicare when Kennedy proposed it. They believed it to be fiscally irresponsible. But Johnson believed he could find the votes to bring Medicare to fruition. Shortly after Johnson’s 1964 election victory, in which Johnson added Arkansas to his win column, Mills agreed to “work something out” on Medicare and to work help shape the bill to ensure its passage and effectiveness.


The AMA threatened a national boycott of Medicare. Johnson took on the AMA head on, meeting with eleven of its officers at his ranch on July 11, 1965. First, he asked that the AMA support a program of rotating doctors in and out of Vietnam to serve the civilian population. When they agreed to the latter, Johnson called an impromptu press conference, in which he praised the AMA for its commitment to the Vietnamese. When reporters asked about whether the AMA would support Medicare, as Johnson knew they would, Johnson declared, “These men are going to get doctors to go to Vietnam where they may be killed. Medicare is the law of the land. Of course, they’ll support the law of the land.” He then turned to the AMA president, “You tell him.” Placed on the spot, the AMA president replied, “Of course, we will. We are law abiding citizens, and we have every intention of obeying the new law.” Within a matter of weeks, the AMA would formally endorse Medicare.

On July 30, 1965, Johnson traveled to the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri, where former President Truman and his wife Bess watched Johnson sign Medicare into law. Johnson called Truman the “real daddy” of Medicare, and he awarded President and Mrs. Truman the first two Medicare cards, numbers one and two. “He had started it all, so many years before,” Johnson wrote of Truman later. “I wanted him to know that America remembered.”

Johnson's assistant Jack Valenti quoted his boss as saying “I’m going to make Harry Truman’s dream come true. Old folks are not going to be barred from a doctor’s office or a hospital because they don’t have any money for medical attention. They are never again going to have to be sick and hurt and cry alone. It’s a god- damned crime and we’re never going to have that happen again in this country. When this bill is passed, I’m going to Independence, and I’m going to sign it in Harry Truman’s presence.” Johnson did just that.

Johnson's war on poverty turned out to be more than just rhetoric. During Johnson's years in office, national poverty declined significantly, with the percentage of Americans living below the poverty line dropping from 23% to 12%.

Ike and the Birth of NASA

On July 29, 1958 (63 years ago today) NASA was born when President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed The National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958. The Act was signed following the Soviet Union's launch of the Sputnik satellite and the nation's leadership feared that the United States was losing a step in the Cold War with the Soviets venturing into space, likely for military purposes. The legislation creating NASA was drafted by the United States House Select Committee on Astronautics and Space Exploration and on July 29, 1958 it was signed into law by President Eisenhower. Prior to this bill, space exploration was seen as a military venture, in line with the Soviet model that had launched the first orbital satellite. The Act was motivated by the lack of response by a US military infrastructure and concern that the US was falling behind in the space race.

The original 1958 legislation tasked the new Agency with conducting the aeronautical and space activities of the United States, specifically "so as to contribute materially to one or more of the following objectives:"

1. The expansion of human knowledge of phenomena in the atmosphere and space;
2. The improvement of the usefulness, performance, speed, safety, and efficiency of aeronautical and space vehicles;
3. The development and operation of vehicles capable of carrying instruments, equipment, supplies and living organisms through space;
4. The establishment of long-range studies of the potential benefits to be gained from, the opportunities for, and the problems involved in the utilization of aeronautical and space activities for peaceful and scientific purposes.
5. The preservation of the role of the United States as a leader in aeronautical and space science and technology and in the application thereof to the conduct of peaceful activities within and outside the atmosphere.
6. The making available to agencies directly concerned with national defenses of discoveries that have military value or significance, and the furnishing by such agencies, to the civilian agency established to direct and control nonmilitary aeronautical and space activities, of information as to discoveries which have value or significance to that agency;
7. Cooperation by the United States with other nations and groups of nations in work done pursuant to this Act and in the peaceful application of the results, thereof; and
8. The most effective utilization of the scientific and engineering resources of the United States, with close cooperation among all interested agencies of the United States in order to avoid unnecessary duplication of effort, facilities, and equipment.[3]

(In 2012, the legislation would be amended to add a ninth objective: The preservation of the United States preeminent position in aeronautics and space through research and technology development related to associated manufacturing processes.)

The Act did away with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), transferring its activities and resources under NASA effective October 1, 1958. The Act also created a Civilian-Military Liaison Committee, for the purpose of coordinating civilian and military space applications, and keeping NASA and the Department of Defense "fully and currently informed" of each other's space activities.

The phrase "We came in peace for all mankind", was inscribed on a plaque left on the Moon by the crew of Apollo 11, and is originates from the Act's declaration of NASA's policy and purpose: "The Congress hereby declares that it is the policy of the United States that activities in space should be devoted to peaceful purposes for the benefit of all mankind."

In 1955, in separate announcements made four days apart, both the US and the Soviet Union publicly announced that they would launch artificial satellites within the next few years. The July 29, 1955 announcement was made from the White House and it stated that the U.S. would launch "small Earth circling satellites" between July 1, 1957, and December 31, 1958, as part of the American contribution to the International Geophysical Year. Americans were shocked when, on October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched its Sputnik 1 satellite into orbit. Three months later, a nationally televised test of the American Vanguard TV3 missile failed, causing embarrassment for those responsible for the launch. Americans facetiously referred to the missile as "Flopnik" or "Stay-putnik." The success of the Soviet satellite program suggested that the Soviet Union had made a substantial leap forward in technology, and this was perceived as one that posed a serious threat to U.S. national security. President Eisenhower downplayed the significance of the Soviet launch, but this did little to remove public fear and anxiety about the perceived growing technological gap.

Many Americans rushed to build nuclear bomb shelters, and the Soviet Union played on American fears, as Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev boasted about his nation's new superiority as a world power. British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan commented during a June 1958 visit to the U.S. that Eisenhower was "under severe attack for the first time" in his presidency. Economist Bernard Baruch was also critical of the Eisenhower administration for what he saw as its failure to keep up with the Soviets. He wrote in open letter to the New York Herald Tribune titled "The Lessons of Defeat", in which he said:

"While we devote our industrial and technological power to producing new model automobiles and more gadgets, the Soviet Union is conquering space. It is Russia, not the United States, who has had the imagination to hitch its wagon to the stars and the skill to reach for the moon and all but grasp it. America is worried. It should be."

The launch spurred the US federal government into action. The Explorers program (which had earlier been supplanted by Project Vanguard) was finally able to launch an American satellite into orbit on January 31, 1958 with the successful launch of Explorer 1. In February 1958, Eisenhower authorized formation of the Advanced Research Projects Agency, later renamed the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), within the Department of Defense. Its goal was to develop emerging technologies for the U.S. military. The new agency's first major project was the Corona satellite, which was designed to replace the U-2 spy plane as a source of aerial photographic surveillance. His support for the National Aeronautics and Space Act, which established NASA as a civilian space agency, represented the consensus in his administration that created strong new trend in public opinion looking up to space exploration for both military and commercial motives. NASA took over the space technology research started by DARPA, as well as the air force's manned satellite program, Man In Space Soonest (creators apparently weren't concerned about acronyms), which was renamed as Project Mercury. The project's first seven astronauts were announced on April 9, 1959. In September 1958, the president signed into law the National Defense Education Act, a four-year program that poured billions of dollars into the U.S. education system.

The space race was on. Despise Eisenhower's best efforts, his opponents would exploit the perceived gap between Soviet and American space technology to their advantage in the 1960 Presidential Election.