Polarized Times: The Formation of the Republican Party

Many people consider March 20, 1854 to be the date of birth of the Republican Party. It was on that day, at a meeting in Ripon, Wisconsin, that a group of anti-slavery activists held what is considered by many as the first public meeting of the party. In the course of the debate over the Nebraska bill, a man named Alvan Earl Bovay (pictured below) wrote to Horace Greeley on February 26, 1854, urging Greeley to use his newspaper, the New York Tribune, to call together every opponent of the Nebraska bill and unite them under the name Republican. A preliminary meeting was called by Bovay on March 1st, 1854 and it was resolved that if the Nebraska bill passed, a new party opposed to the principles of the bill should be formed. Greeley responded offering some support for the idea, but did not mention it in his paper.


Bovay was born in Adams, Jefferson County, New York, on July 12, 1818. he was graduated from Norwich University in Vermont at age 23 and began a career as a teacher in New York state. He later became Professor of Languages in the Bristol Military Academy before reading law and teaching school in new York City. It was there that he became secretary of the National Reform Association. He met and became a friend of Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune. Bovay was admitted to the bar in Utica, N. Y., in 1846. In late 1850, he he moved to Wisconsin and settled in Ripon where he began the practice of law. He became a member of the Whig Party, but could see the writing on the wall which predicted that party's disintegration.

During the National Whig Convention in 1852, Bovay was visiting in New York City, where he met Greeley for lunch in the Lovejoy Hotel. Bovay correctly predicted that General Winfield Scott would be chosen as the Whig Party's presidential nominee, even though at the time Scott was not in the lead. Greeley felt confident of a Whig victory in the next election, while Bovay correctly predicted the defeat of the Whig party. The issue of slavery had become as much of a political as of a moral issue, and Bovay told Greeley that it was time for the formation of a new party that would bring together all of the anti-slavery elements of all of the other parties. When asked by Greeley what name he would give to the new party, Bovay suggested the name "Republican."

Bovay returned to Wisconsin and continued to support the Whig party. His prediction about the defeat of General Scott came true, and after the presidential election of 1852 the Whig party disintegrated. Many of the old party members joined the new American or "Know-Nothing" party that had just been organized. This was a time of intense polarization and unrest throughout the country and a time when people seemed to be losing confidence in their political leaders.

During the Congressional session of 1853-54, Senator Stephen A. Douglas, of Illinois introduced the "Kansas- Nebraska Bill". The bill caused a storm of indignation from the anti-slavery factions in the North. Bovay and his followers were convinced that the time had come to take some form of action. On February 26, 1854, when the Nebraska Bill was before the senate, Bovay wrote to Greeley explaining how- strong the feeling was in his area against the Nebraska Bill. He told Greeley that since the New York Tribune was the leading paper in the country, he urged him to mount a call for unity among the bill's opponents. Bovay told Greeley that these groups should band them together under the name Republican

Bovay called for a meeting in Ripon. The meeting's notice read: "NEBRASKA. A meeting wall be held at 6:30 o'clock this Wednesday evening at the Congregational Church in the Village of Ripon to remonstrate against the Nebraska swindle." This meeting was held on Wednesday, March 1, 1854. At the meeting a resolution was adopted, which read as follows:

"Resolved, That of all the outrages hitherto perpetrated or attempted upon the North and freedom by the slave leaders and their natural allies, not one com¬ pares in bold and impudent audacity, treachery and meanness with this, the Nebraska Bill; as to the sum of all its villainies it adds the repudiation of a solemn compact held as sacred as the constitution itself for a period of thirty- four years."

A resolution was also adopted which stated that if the Nebraska Bill, then pending in the senate, should pass, they would cast off their old party organizations and form a new party directly opposed to the principles of the Nebraska Bill. On March 3 the Nebraska Bill passed the Senate. Bovay decided to call a second meeting for more definite action and to attempt to create a new party. Greeley's letter in reply, dated March 7, agreed with the plan of organizing a party if there was sufficient public support, but Greeley did not make any mention of the idea in the Tribune.

The second meeting was held in the school-house of district No. 2 on Monday evening, March 20, 1854. Bovay personally went from house to house and from business to business. He even stopped men on the street to get their names for the meeting. Out of the 100 voters in Ripon, 54 showed up to the meeting, composed mainly of Whigs, Democrats and Free-Soil party members. They met at 6:30 p. m., filling the school-house. After length deliberation, a formal vote was held and committees of the Free-Soil and Whig parties were dissolved and a the committee of the new party was formed.

The Nebraska Bill passed the House on May 22, 1854. The next day about thirty anti-slavery members of the House of Representatives from both of the major parties held a meeting and discussed organizing a new party under the name "Republican". President Franklin Pierce signed the bill into law on May 30, 1854.

On June 7, 1854, a state convention was held in Strong, Maine for prohibitionists and anti-slavery Democrats. At this meeting C. J. Talbot, the presiding officer, delivered an address calling for a combination of these two parties with the old-line Whigs under the name of "The Republican Party." This suggestion had considerable support. Today Maine Republicans claim that this was the first time that the name Republican Party was used in a public assembly, though this in contradicted by the reports of Bovay's gathering in Wisconsin. A convention was held in Strong on August 7, 1854, and the name Republican was adopted for the party.

On June 12 Bovay once again wrote to Greeley urging him to put forth the name Republican into his publication. On June 24, an article appeared in the Weekly Tribune, entitled "Party Names and Public Duty," in which the editor recommended the name Republican, previously suggested to him by Mr. Bovay, to designate those who had united to pursue the goals of anti-slavery. Greeley learned that a convention had been called in Michigan to protest the Nebraska Bill and he wrote to Mr. Jacob M. Howard, suggesting that the convention adopt the name Republican for the party that he thought was about to be formed. The Anti-Nebraska convention in Michigan met at Jackson on July 6 and gave the name Republican to the party.

Several other state conventions followed uniting opposition to the Nebraska bill. At such conventions, both Wisconsin and Vermont chose the name Republican. In July Asher N. Cole, editor of an Alleghany County New York newspaper, called a mass meeting of anti-slavery voters at Friendship in that county. It also adopted the name Republican Party and for years afterward in western New York, Cole was referred to as the "Father of the Republican Party." A convention of anti-slavery men was held in New York state on August 16, and another on .September 27. A convention was also held in Massachusetts on September 7. The anti-slavery state conventions which were held during the summer and fall of 1854 resulted in an electoral changes in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Fifteen states showed anti-slavery pluralities in the House and eleven Senators were either elected as Republicans voted with the new party.

An informal convention for the purpose of creating a national organization was held in Pittsburgh, on February 22, 1856. This convention met in response to a call issued by the chairmen of the Republican state committees of Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin. Twenty-four delegates were present and the name Republican was adopted for the national party. Delegates declared that the object and purpose of the new party was its opposition to the extension of slavery into free territory. Present at this convention were Horace Greeley and Abraham Lincoln. At this convention a Republican National Committee was formed.

The first national delegate convention met in Philadelphia on June 17, 1856, selected because it was the anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill. The convention nominated John C. Fremont of California for President and William L. Dayton of New Jersey for Vice-President. Meanwhile, opposition to the Nebraska Bill was growing within the Democratic Party also. Opponents included Salmon Chase of Ohio, Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, Edward Wade of Ohio, Gerrit Smith of New York, and Preston King also of New York. Chase and Sumner had been considered as presidential candidates for the new party, but each requested that his name be withdrawn from nomination.


Although Fremont lost the election of 1856, it was clear that his position was the prevailing one in the free states and that slavery had become an intensely polarizing issue. In the free states, there was a three-way campaign, which Frémont won with 45.2% of the vote to 41.5% for Democrat James Buchanan and 13.3% for Know-Nothing candidate Millard Fillmore. In these states, Frémont received 114 electoral votes to 62 for Buchanan. In the slave states, however, Fremont was shut out. Buchanan won 56.1% of the vote to 43.8% for Fillmore and 0.1% for Frémont. Buchanan won 112 electoral votes, compared to 8 for Fillmore. Nationwide, Buchanan won 174 electoral votes, enough for a majority. Frémont received no votes in ten of the fourteen slave states with a popular vote. He received votes in only four slave states: 306 in Delaware, 285 in Maryland, 283 in Virginia, and 314 in Kentucky.

Polarized Times: Bleeding Kansas

When the Compromise of 1850 passed, many people suspected that it was only a band-aid solution to a problem that would someday tear the nation apart. By this time virtually the entire democratic world had recognized that slavery was morally reprehensible, but the slave states in the south continued to insist on the continuation of this "peculiar institution". The abolitionist movement grew and the choice facing the United States soon became a stark one: the abolition of slavery would either split the country into two nations, or it would have to be held together by force.

The two prevailing political parties addressed the issue in different ways. The Whig Party fractured, with many Whigs ultimately joining the new Republican Party, a party which opposed slavery. The Democrats continued to run "doughface" candidates, i.e. northerners who were willing to tolerate the continuation of slavery in order to appease southern slaveholders. After Millard Fillmore's term in office ended, the Democrats selected such a candidate, former New Hampshire Senator Franklin Pierce as its candidate for President. Pierce was able to attract wider support than his Whig opponent, General Winfield Scott, and he was elected President in the 1852 election.

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The term "Bleeding Kansas" is used to describe the violent political battle between anti-slavery Free-Staters and pro-slavery "Border Ruffians" that took place in the Kansas Territory between 1854 and 1861 over the issue of whether slavery would be permissible in the territory. The Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854 was passed as an effort to address this problem. It called for "popular sovereignty". This meant that the decision about slavery was to be made by the settlers not by Congress. The pro-slavery side believed that every settler had the right to bring his own property, which was defined to included slaves, into the territory. Anti-slavery "free soil" forces opposed slavery both on moral grounds and because many were concerned that rich slaveholders would buy up all the good farmland and work them with slaves, to the disadvantage of non-slaveholders. The conflict turned violent and two presidents failed to take adequate steps to prevent and address the bloodshed.

In 1820, the Missouri Compromise helped to maintain a tenuous balance of political power between pro and anti slavery interests in the north and south. In May 1854, Congress passed the Kansas–Nebraska Act, which contemplated the admission of this territory as a state. Those supporting both sides of the question arrived in Kansas to establish residency. Kansas Territory officials were appointed in 1854 by the pro-slavery administration of President Franklin Pierce. Pro-slavery interests were aided by thousands of non-resident pro-slavery Missourians who entered Kansas with the goal of winning local elections for those like minded. Territorial elections were sometimes won by fraud and intimidation.

To counter this, northern abolitionist elements flooded Kansas with "free-soilers." Anti-slavery Kansas residents wrote the first Kansas Constitution in 1855. They elected the Free State legislature in Topeka. The pro-slavery elements set up a parallel government in Lecompton. The two Territorial governments each claimed legitimacy, resulting in intense conflict. Pro-slavery forces settled towns including Leavenworth and Atchison. At the same time, citizens of the North, many aided by the New England Emigrant Aid Company, moved to Kansas to make it a free state and settled towns including Lawrence, Topeka and Manhattan.

A clash between the pro and anti slavery sides seemed inevitable. In November 1854, thousands of armed pro-slavery men known as "Border Ruffians", mostly from the slave state of Missouri, moved into the Kansas Territory. They swayed the vote in the election for a non-voting delegate to Congress in favor of pro-slavery candidate John Whitfield. The following year a Congressional committee was appointed to investigate the election. The committee reported that 1729 fraudulent votes were cast compared to 1114 legal votes. In one location only 20 of the 604 voters were residents of the Kansas Territory. In another 35 were residents and 226 non-residents.

On March 30, 1855, the Kansas Territory held the election for its first Territorial Legislature. It was an important election because this legislature would decide whether Kansas Territory would allow slavery. Once again the "Border Ruffians" from Missouri again streamed into the territory to vote, and proslavery delegates were elected to 37 of the 39 seats. Territorial Governor Andrew Reeder invalidated the results in five voting districts, because of concerns about voter fraud, and a special election was held on May 22, 1855, to elect replacements. Eight of the eleven delegates elected in the special election were Free-State, but this still left the pro-slavery camp with a 29–10 majority.

In the summer of 1855 around 1,200 anti-slavery New Englanders emigrated to Kansas Territory.Abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher armed many of them with Sharps rifles, which came to be known as "Beecher's Bibles". To address the rising tension, Congress sent a special committee to Kansas Territory in 1856. The committee report concluded that if the election on March 30, 1855, had been limited to "actual settlers" it would have elected a Free-State legislature. The report called the legislature seated "an illegally constituted body" which "had no power to pass valid laws."

The pro-slavery territorial legislature ignored the Congressional committee's report. It convened in the newly created Territorial Capital in Pawnee on July 2, 1855. The legislature invalidated the results from the special election in May and seated the pro-slavery delegates elected in March. After only one week in Pawnee, the legislature moved the territorial capital to the Shawnee Mission on the Missouri border, where it reconvened and passed pro-slavery laws.

In August 1855, antislavery residents met to formally reject the pro-slavery laws. This led to the election of Free State delegates, and the writing of the Topeka Constitution. But in a message to Congress on January 24, 1856, President Franklin Pierce declared that the Free-State Topeka government was illegitimate and insurrectionist.

The parallel legislatures intensified the conflict. On November 21, 1855 a Free-Stater named Charles Dow was shot by a pro-slavery settler named. Another free stater named Thomas Barber was shot and killed near Lawrence on December 6. On May 21, 1856, a group of pro-slavery Missourians invaded Lawrence and burned the Free State Hotel, destroyed two newspaper offices, and ransacked homes and stores.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, Republican Senator Charles Sumner took to the floor in May of 1856 to speak out against the threat of slavery in Kansas. In his speech he attacked what he called "the Slave Power". In the speech (called "The Crime against Kansas") Sumner ridiculed elderly South Carolina Senator Andrew Butler. He compared his pro-slavery plans for Kansas to the raping of a virgin. The next day Butler's cousin, South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks, attacked Sumner on the Senate floor with a heavy cane, badly injuring him. The action intensified the North-South split.

The violence in Kansas continued to escalate. Ohio abolitionist John Brown led his sons and other followers to plan the murder of settlers who spoke out in favor of slavery. At a proslavery settlement at Pottawatomie Creek on the night of May 24, Brown's group removed five pro-slavery men from their homes and hacked them to death with broadswords. Brown and his men escaped.

The pro-slavery Territorial government that Franklin Pierce had sanctioned had moved to Lecompton. In April 1856, a Congressional committee arrived there to investigate voting fraud. The committee found the elections improperly elected by non-residents, but President Pierce refused to recognize these findings and continued to authorize the pro-slavery legislature, which Free State supporters called the "Bogus Legislature."

On the Fourth of July in 1856, Pierce sent 500 Army troops to Topeka from Ft. Leavenworth and Ft. Riley. With their cannons pointed at Constitution Hall, and the long fuses lit, Colonel E.V. Sumner, a cousin to Senator Charles Sumner, ordered the dispersal of the Free State Legislature.

In August 1856, thousands of pro-slavery men formed into armies and marched into Kansas. Also during that month, John Brown and several of his followers fought with 400 pro-slavery men in what was called the "Battle of Osawatomie". The hostilities raged for another two months until Brown left the Kansas Territory.

A new territorial governor, John W. Geary was appointed in September and he was able to broker a fragile peace for the next two years, with occasional violent incidents. James Buchanan was inaugurated president in March of 1857. On May 18, 1858, an incident known as the Marais des Cygnes massacre occurred, in which Border Ruffians killed five Free State men. In all, approximately 56 people died in Bleeding Kansas by the time the violence ended in 1859.

In 1857, the second constitutional convention drafted the "Lecompton Constitution", a pro-slavery document. The Lecompton Constitution was supported by President James Buchanan. But Congress instead ordered another election because of voting irregularities uncovered. On Aug. 2, 1858, Kansas voters rejected the Lecompton Constitution by a lopsided vote of 11,812 to 1,926. The Leavenworth Constitution was written and passed by Free State delegates. It was more radical than other Free State proposals in that it would have extended suffrage to "every male citizen", regardless of race. Voter turnout for the vote on this constitution on May 18, 1858 was light as even some of the anti-slavery supporters thought it went too far. This proposed constitution was forwarded to the U.S. Senate on January 6, 1859, but it died in committee. The Wyandotte Constitution drafted in 1859 represented the Free State view of the future of Kansas. It was approved in a referendum by a vote of 10,421 to 5,530 on October 4, 1859. With southern states still in control of the Senate, Kansas awaited admission to the Union until January 29, 1861.

Pierce's reputation suffered because of his support for the pro-slavery interests in Kansas. The midterm congressional elections of 1854 and 1855 were devastating to the Democrats, who lost almost every state outside the South. Pierce was not renominated by his party.

Remembering James K. Polk

On June 15, 1849 (174 years ago today), James Knox Polk, the 11th President of the United States, died at his home, Polk Place, in Nashville, Tennessee, at the age of 53. Despite being a one term President, he has consistently been ranked as one of the greatest presidents because of his ability to set an agenda and achieve all of it, though at least one Polk historian disputes the accuracy of this notion.

Every year when I recall Polk's legacy, I always think of the words from the last verse of the song "James K. Polk" by the alternative group They Might Be Giants:

In four short years he met his every goal
He seized the whole southwest from Mexico
Made sure the tariffs fell
And made the English sell the Oregon territory
He built an independent treasury
Having done all this he sought no second term
But precious few have mourned the passing of
Mister James K. Polk, our eleventh president
Young Hickory, Napoleon of the Stump

Whether or not Polk did indeed meet his every goal (and some would dispute the accuracy of that claim), there is something about Polk that fascinates those of us who are potus_geeks. In a post about Polk in a previous year I opened with the words "My name is Ken and I'm a Polkaholic." There is something addictive about learning about Polk that has caused me to read almost every book I could find about him, and it has motivated me to travel to the James K. Polk Ancestral Home, his de facto presidential museum located in Columbus, Tennessee not once, but twice. (Once I drove there and back from Pensacola, Florida, stopping in Mobile, Alabama to pick up a friend for the trip, all in the same day. If that's not untreated Polkaholism, I don't know what is.)

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In an article in the Daily Beast, Polk was called the "least known consequential president" of the United States. He was born in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina on November 2, 1795. He moved to Tennessee, the state that represented as a Democrat, in the US House of Representatives. Polk served as the 17th Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1835 to 1839. He was Governor of Tennessee from 1839–1841, but lost his bid for re-election in 1841 and again in 1843.

Most considered Polk to be a has-been at that point, but he was the Democratic Party's surprise candidate for president in 1844, after neither of the three front-runners could win a 2/3 majority of the delegates. Polk defeated Henry Clay of the Whig Party by promising to annex the state of Texas. Polk was a protégé of Andrew Jackson and governed on the principles of Jacksonian Democracy.

Polk was known for a number of foreign policy successes. He threatened war with Britain over the issue of which nation owned the Oregon Country, and then compromised and split the ownership of the region with Britain. When Mexico rejected American annexation of Texas, Polk led the nation into the Mexican-American War, which gave the United States most of its present Southwest. Many believe it was an unjust war. Polk secured passage of the Walker tariff of 1846, which lowered rates which benefited his native South, and he established a treasury system that lasted until 1913.

During Polk's term, the U.S. Naval Academy and the Smithsonian Institution opened, the groundbreaking for the Washington Monument took place, and the first postage stamps in the United States were issued. He was a workaholic and a micro-manager. Polk kept his promise to serve only one term and did not run for reelection.


Polk's time in the White House took its toll on his health. He never took a holiday and his time in the White House exhausted him. Polk lost weight and had deep lines on his face and dark circles under his eyes. After his term ended, he traveled home to Tennessee, embarking on a goodwill tour of the south on his way home. He is believed to have contracted cholera in New Orleans, Louisiana, on the way home. James K. Polk died at his new home, Polk Place, in Nashville, Tennessee, at 3:15 pm on June 15, 1849, three months after leaving office. He was buried on the grounds of Polk Place. Polk's last words were directed to his wife Sarah, to whom he was very devoted. He is reported to have said "I love you, Sarah. For all eternity, I love you." As Polk's biographer Walter Borneman wrote in his 2008 book entitled Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America: "Even if this utterance was embellished, there was nothing in Polk's life to suggest that the sentiment behind it was not true."

Polk had the shortest retirement of all Presidents at 103 days, and he was the youngest former president to die in retirement. He and his wife are buried in a tomb on the grounds of the Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville, Tennessee. I paid a visit there in October of 2014 when I was in Nashville, staying at a hotel a very short walk away. There are those who would like to see Polk's remains relocated to Columbia, Tennessee. Stay tuned for what will happen on that front.

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If you still haven't seen it, here is a video of the song James K. Polk by They Might Be Giants:


Donald Trump's Birthday

Today former President Donald John Trump celebrates his 78th birthday. President Trump was born on June 14, 1946 in Queen's New York. His years on this planet have been eventful and fast-paced, and that is unlikely to change for the 45th President. Before entering politics, Trump was a businessman and television personality. He is controversial and colorful, with an appeal to those who dislike the notion of career politicians as usual, those who dislike political correctness and those who are looking for someone to shake things up in Washington. Conversely, he is intensely disliked by those of the left of the political spectrum and by those who perceive him to be too impulsive. His presidency increased a trend of polarization that has been present since at least the latter half of the Clinton Presidency.


Donald Trump was born and raised in Queens, one of the five boroughs of New York City. He earned an economics degree from the Wharton School. Trump's father Fred was born in 1905 in the Bronx, and started working with his mother in real estate when he was 15, shortly after his father's death. Their company, Elizabeth Trump and Son, was mainly active in the New York boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn. Fred Trump eventually built and sold thousands of houses and apartments. The company later became The Trump Organization when Donald Trump took over its leadership in 1971. Trump ran the company for 45 years until 2016. During his real estate career, Trump built, renovated, and managed a significant number of office towers, hotels, casinos, and golf courses.

Recognizing the value of diversity in business interests, Trump also conducted several side ventures. He has has licensed the use of his name for the branding of various products and properties, including Trump Entertainment Resorts. He is also the founder of Trump University. His fame and name recognition increased significantly when he produced and hosted a reality television series on NBC from 2004 to 2015 called "The Apprentice". It was on that series that Trump became famous for his signature phrase "You're fired!" In their 2017 annual ranking of billionaires, Forbes Magazine estimated Trump's net worth to be $3.5 billion, making him the 544th richest person in the world, and 201st in the United States. These estimates have been disputed with sources such as Bloomberg News estimating his net worth to be lower ($3 billion in 2016) and others including Trump himself estimating it to be much higher.

Thus far, Trump has the distinction of being the only President to have appeared in a televised wrestling match. Trump is a World Wrestling Entertainment fan and a friend of WWE chairman Vince McMahon and in 1988 and 1989 Trump hosted WrestleMania IV and V at his Boardwalk Hall. He appeared in WrestleMania VII, and was interviewed ringside at WrestleMania XX. Trump also appeared at WrestleMania XXIII in a match called "The Battle of the Billionaires". He was in the corner of wrestler Bobby Lashley, while McMahon was in the corner of Lashley's opponent Umaga, with Stone Cold Steve Austin as the special guest referee. The terms of the match were that either Trump or McMahon would have their head shaved if their competitor lost. Lashley won the match, and so McMahon was shaved bald.

According to Trump biographer and controversial supporter Roger Stone, Trump was influenced by Richard Nixon, who predicted that Trump might someday become President. (The other famous predictor of a Trump presidency was the character Lisa Simpson on the Fox TV show "The Simpsons"). Trump first publicly expressed interest in running for political office in 1987, when he spent almost $100,000 to place full-page ads in several newspapers. The ads read "America should stop paying to defend countries that can afford to defend themselves and should present Western Europe and Japan with a bill for America's efforts to safeguard the passage of oil tankers in the Persian Gulf." According to a Gallup Poll at the time, Trump was the tenth most admired person in America. He briefly ran for the Reform Party's presidential nomination in 2000 and won two primaries, but withdrew his candidacy early on.

Trump made his first speaking appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in February 2011. His appearance at CPAC was organized by GOProud, an LGBT conservative organization. GOProud pushed for a write-in campaign for Trump at CPAC's presidential straw poll. In June of 2015, Trump launched his campaign for the 2016 presidential election and quickly emerged as the front-runner among seventeen candidates in the Republican primaries. His campaign was not taken seriously at first, but one by one his opponents dropped out as Trump steamrolled through the primaries. His remaining opponents all suspended their campaigns by the end of May 2016, and in July he was formally nominated at the Republican National Convention. Indiana Governor Mike Pence was chosen as his running mate. His "shoot from the hip" speaking style generated a lot of free media coverage and news of his campaign led and dominated most of the news coverage of the election campaign. He was able to overcome a late "October surprise" when offensive comments of a sexual nature that he had made years earlier to NBC entertainment personality Billy Bush were broadcast in the campaign. This issue was not damaging enough to deter voters in states comprising an electoral college majority to vote for him. He was even able to wrestle away a number of "blue states" which had previously been considered safe Democratic states and part of the "blue wall" that previous Republican presidential candidates had been unable to win.

Trump won the general election on November 8, 2016, in a surprise victory against Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. He was inaugurated as president on January 20, 2017. At that time he became both the oldest and the wealthiest person ever to win the presidency. He is also first elected president without prior military or government service, and the fifth to have won the election while losing the popular vote.


Trump's political positions have been called populist, protectionist, and nationalist. During his first few months in office, Trump issued almost 40 executive orders, the most controversial of which were executive orders 13769 and 13780 dealing with denying admission to the US of people from several foreign countries. These orders were blocked by federal courts. His nominee to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, was confirmed by the United States Senate on April 7, 2017, and he drew criticism for his firing of controversial FBI Director James Comey. He was unique in his use of the social media app Twitter as a means of getting his message out. While he was criticized for the bluntness of this method and of some of the content of his tweets (and later banned from it and other social media), it was certainly extremely effective as a means of getting noticed. Whatever else one may wish to say about President Donald Trump, two things are clear: (1) He was elected as President of the United States by the voters in accordance with the rules set out in the Constitution, and (2) Very few people have a neutral opinion of him.

Trump lost the 2020 presidential election to Joe Biden but refused to concede, claiming widespread electoral fraud and attempting to overturn the results by lobbying government officials, as well as by mounting scores of unsuccessful legal challenges. On January 6, 2021, Trump urged his supporters to march to the Capitol, as electoral votes were formally being counted. Many of them then stormed the Capitol, resulting in a number of deaths and temporarily interrupting the electoral vote count.

Trump is the only federal officeholder in American history to have been impeached twice. After he pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to investigate Biden in 2019 as a prerequisite to sending US aid to Ukraine, he was impeached by the House of Representatives for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in December. The Senate acquitted him of both charges in February 2020. The House of Representatives impeached Trump a second time in January 2021, for incitement of insurrection. The Senate acquitted him in February, after he had already left office.


Trump announced his candidacy for re-election in 2024 and captured the Republican Party's nomination for President by willing almost all of the primaries that he was entered in. More recently he had become the first former president to be indicted in both state and federal courts. In May 2024, a Manhattan jury found him guilty on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. In June of 2023 a federal grand jury indicted him on 37 counts related to his handling of classified documents. He is scheduled to be sentenced for the Manhattan convictions on July 11th of this year.

Polarized Times: The Compromise of 1850

In 1848, the Whig Party convinced popular General Zachary Taylor to run as their candidate, even though Taylor had never run for office before. No one was even sure what party he belonged to or if he had ever even voted before. Taylor ultimately decided that he supported the Whig Party and agreed to run as their candidate. He won the election as President in November of 1848, as tensions were mounting between slave-holding states and free states. More territory had been acquired during the Mexican War and strong disagreement existed over whether some, all or none of the new territory would allow slavery.

Many in the Whig Party expected that the politically naive Taylor would do as he was told and simply follow the party line on the question of what would become of the new territory. As a southerner who owned slaves himself, southerners expected that they had an ally in the White House. During his brief tenure as president, Taylor surprised many, and established himself as a strong supporter of the union. He refused to take his marching orders from the Whigs in Congress. Debate over the slave status of the large territories claimed in the Mexican War led to threats of secession from Southerners, but despite being a Southerner and a slaveholder himself, Taylor did not support the expansion of slavery. He wanted settlers in New Mexico and California to bypass the territorial stage and draft constitutions for statehood. Debate over the issue led to the Compromise of 1850, something that Taylor did not support. But before the issue could be decided, Taylor died suddenly of a stomach-related illness in July 1850.

The Compromise of 1850 was a package of five bills, passed in Congress in September of 1850, intended to broker a peace in the confrontation between the slave states of the South and the free states of the North concerning the status of the newly acquired territories. The compromise was drafted by Whig Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky. It was negotiated between Clay and Democrat Stephen Douglas, and for a time it prevented secession or civil war and reduced sectional conflict. On September 9, 1850, the Compromise of 1850 transferred a third of Texas's claimed territory (now parts of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Wyoming) to the control of the United States government in return for the federal government assuming $10 million of Texas's pre-annexation debt.

Under the compromise, Texas surrendered its claim to New Mexico, as well as its claims north of the Missouri Compromise Line. It transferred its public debt to the federal government, and retained the control over El Paso. California's application for admission as a free state with its current boundaries was approved and a Southern proposal to split California at parallel 35° north to provide a Southern territory was abandoned.

The New Mexico Territory and Utah Territory could in principle decide in the future to become slave states by popular vote, even though Utah and a northern fringe of New Mexico were north of the Missouri Compromise Line where slavery had previously been banned. These lands were generally unsuitable for plantation agriculture and their existing settlers were non-Southerners uninterested in slavery. The unsettled southern parts of New Mexico Territory, where Southern hopes for expansion had been centered, remained a part of New Mexico instead of becoming a separate territory.

The most significant Southern gains were (1) a stronger Fugitive Slave Act, the enforcement of which offended Northern public opinion, and (2) preservation of slavery in Washington, DC, although the slave trade was banned there.

The Compromise became possible after the sudden death of Zachary Taylor. Although Taylor was a slave owner, he favored excluding slavery from the Southwest. Whig leader Henry Clay designed a compromise, which failed to pass in early 1850, due to the opposition of both pro-slavery southern Democrats, led by John C. Calhoun, and anti-slavery northern Whigs. Calhoun's supporters thought that the compromise didn't offer enough to the slave states, while the northern Whigs thought it gave too much. At Clay's suggestion, Democratic Senator Stephen Douglas divided Clay's bill into several smaller pieces and he was able to narrowly win their passage over the opposition of those with stronger views on both sides.

The debate in Congress became quite heated at times. On April 17, a "Committee of Thirteen" had agreed on the border of Texas as part of Henry Clay's plan. The dimensions were later changed. That same day, during debates in the Senate, Vice President Fillmore and Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri had a heated exchange. During the heated debates, Compromise floor leader Henry S. Foote of Mississippi drew a pistol on Benton.

In early June, nine slaveholding Southern states sent delegates to a gathering in Nashville known as the Nashville Convention. Their goal was to determine their course of action if the compromise passed. Some delegates preached secession, but the moderates prevailed and proposed a series of compromises, including extending the dividing line designated by the Missouri Compromise of 1820 to the Pacific Coast.

After Zachary Taylor's death on July 9, 1850, Vice-President Millard Fillmore became president. Despite being a Northerner from New York, Fillmore had very different views on the slavery issue from Taylor. Before Taylor's death, Fillmore told Taylor that, as President of the Senate, he would use his tie-breaking vote to support the Compromise of 1850. When Fillmore took office, the entire cabinet offered their resignations. Fillmore accepted them all and appointed men who supported the compromise, (except for Treasury Secretary Thomas Corwin). When the compromise finally came before both Houses of Congress, Fillmore urged Congress to pass the original bill. This provoked an enormous battle in congress.

President Fillmore had support Clay's proposal and the various bills were initially combined into one "omnibus" bill. Despite Clay's efforts, it failed in a crucial vote on July 31, opposed by southern Democrats and by northern Whigs. Clay announced on the Senate floor the next day that he intended to pass each individual part of the bill. But the 73-year-old Clay was physically exhausted and was suffering from the effects of tuberculosis, which would eventually kill him. Clay left the Senate to recuperate in Newport, Rhode Island, and Senator Stephen A. Douglas took the lead in attempting to pass Clay's proposals through the Senate.

Fillmore was anxious to find a quick solution to the conflict in Texas over the border with New Mexico, which threatened to become an armed conflict between Texas militia and the federal soldiers. Fillmore denied Texas's claims to New Mexico. He took the position that the United States had promised to protect the territorial integrity of New Mexico under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Fillmore's resolve on this issue helped convince Texas's U.S. Senators, Sam Houston and Thomas Jefferson Rusk, to support Stephen Douglas's compromise. With their support, a Senate bill providing for a final settlement of Texas's borders won passage days after Fillmore delivered his message. Under the terms of the bill, the U.S. would assume Texas's debts, while Texas's northern border was set at the 36° 30' parallel north (the Missouri Compromise line) and much of its western border followed the 103rd meridian. The bill attracted the support of a bipartisan coalition of Whigs and Democrats from both sections, although most opposition to the bill came from the South.

The Senate quickly moved onto the other major issues, passing bills that provided for the admission of California, the organization of New Mexico Territory, and the establishment of a new fugitive slave law. The debate moved to the House of Representatives, where Fillmore, Senator Daniel Webster, Douglas, Congressman Linn Boyd, and Speaker of the House Howell Cobb took the lead in convincing members to support the compromise bills that had been passed in the Senate. The Senate's proposed settlement of the Texas-New Mexico boundary faced intense opposition from many Southerners. Some Northerners also opposed the measure because they believed that the Texas did not deserve monetary compensation. After a series of close procedural votes that tried to delay consideration of the issue, the House voted to approve a Texas bill similar to that which had been passed by the Senate. After that vote, the House and the Senate quickly agreed on each of the major issues, including the banning of the slave trade in Washington. The president quickly signed each bill into law except for the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. He ultimately signed that law as well after Attorney General Crittenden assured him that the law was constitutional. Many in Texas wanted to send a military expedition into New Mexico, but in November 1850 the state legislature voted to accept the compromise.

Fillmore's message to Congress in which he recommended that Texas be paid to abandon its claims to part of New Mexico, aided in gathering support for the compromise among northern congressmen. So did his mobilization of 750 Federal troops to New Mexico. These measures helped to shift a critical number of northern Whigs in Congress away from their insistence upon the Wilmot Proviso (the stipulation that all land gained by the Mexican War must be closed to slavery, proposed by Congressman David Wilmot).

Douglas's effective strategy in Congress combined with Fillmore's message to Congress gave momentum to the Compromise movement. Breaking up Clay's single legislative package, Douglas presented five separate bills to the Senate which individually would:

1. Admit California as a free state.
2. Settle the Texas boundary and compensate the state for lost lands.
3. Grant territorial status to New Mexico.
4. Place federal officers at the disposal of slaveholders seeking escapees—the Fugitive Slave Act.
5. Abolish the slave trade, but not slavery, in the District of Columbia.

Each measure obtained a majority, and, by September 20, President Fillmore had signed them into law. Fillmore had won the battle, but ended up losing the war. His actions split the Whigs irreparably, as Whigs on both sides were upset by the compromise, which led to a party division that was never healed. Northern Whigs said "God Save us from Whig Vice Presidents." The President lost his bid to be nominated as the party's candidate in the 1852 election. Millard Fillmore was the last Whig President of the United States and by 1856 the party was a shadow of its former self, with many former anti-slavery Whigs joining the newly formed Republican Party.

Polarized Times: The Mexican War

There have been times in US history (such as 1941 or 2001) when war in response to aggression united rather than polarized the nation. Sometimes, as in the case of the second world war, the nation remains united. Other times, as in the case of Vietnam or Iraq, the decision to go to war leaves the nation deeply divided. In 1846, when it was reported that Mexican troops had attacked some of General Zachary Taylor's soldiers, the U.S. Congress approved a declaration of war against Mexico on May 13, 1846, after only a few hours of debate. Southern Democrats gave their strong support. Only 14 Whigs voted against going to war, including Massachusetts Congressman (and former President) John Quincy Adams. Support for the war was generally divided along sectional lines. Most Whigs opposed the war, while most Democrats supported it. Southern Democrats supported the war in the hope of adding territory to the South where slavery would be permitted, and in order to avoid being outnumbered by the faster-growing North. John L. O'Sullivan, the editor of the Democratic Review, wrote that "it must be our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions." The phrase "manifest destiny" soon caught on.

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Northern antislavery elements feared the expansion of the Southern Slave Power. Whigs wanted to strengthen the economy with industrialization. John Quincy Adams voiced concerns about expanding into Mexican territory in 1836 when he opposed Texas annexation. He continued this argument in 1846 for the same reason. War with Mexico would add new slavery territory to the nation.

After Texas was admitted to the Union as a state in the dying days of John Tyler's administration, James K. Polk turned his mind to acquiring more land from Mexico. At first he tried to negotiate for the purchase of Mexican land. In 1845, he sent diplomat John Slidell to Mexico to purchase California and New Mexico for between 20 and 30 million dollars. Slidell's arrival caused political turmoil in Mexico after word leaked out that he was there to purchase additional territory and not to offer compensation for the loss of Texas. The Mexicans refused to receive Slidell, so in January 1846, to increase pressure on Mexico to negotiate, Polk sent troops under General (and future President) Zachary Taylor into the area between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande—territory that was claimed by both the U.S. and Mexico.

Polk's critics alleged that he had been dishonest on two grounds. Firstly, they disputed whether on not Polk had the authority to send the Army to Mexico in the first place, or whether he needed Congressional approval to do so. The second issue concerned whether the army that Polk sent had proper cause to enter Mexico once they were there.

The Constitution was unclear on the first of these issues. It gave Congress the power to declare war, while making the President the Commander in Chief. In 1827, the US Supreme Court ruled in the case Martin v. Mott that it was constitutional for Congress to vest the president with the discretionary authority to decide whether an emergency had arisen and to raise a militia to meet such a threat of invasion or civil insurrection.

Polk addressed Congress on May 11, 1846. In his speech, he told Congress: "Mexico has passed the boundary of the United States, has invaded our territory and shed American blood upon the American soil." Polk claimed the move was a defensive measure. Expansionists supported his action. But some Whigs said that the movement was an invasion of Mexico rather than a defense of Texas. On May 13, Congress declared war, with a vote of 40-2 in the Senate and 174-14 in the House.

When the war was won, the acquisition of new land seemed to validate Democrats' belief in Manifest Destiny. While the Whigs had opposed the war, they made Zachary Taylor their presidential candidate in the election of 1848, seeing his military performance as a means of winning the presidency, notwithstanding their previous criticism of the war. But many veterans of the war returned home as broken men. Henry Clay, Jr., son of the man that James K. Polk defeated to win the presidency, was killed in the war at the Battle of Buena Vista.

A month before the end of the war, Polk was criticized in a United States House of Representatives amendment to a bill praising Major General Zachary Taylor for "a war unnecessarily and unconstitutionally begun by the President of the United States." This criticism was one in which Congressman Abraham Lincoln played an important role. Lincoln and others in Congress called for congressional scrutiny of the war's beginnings, including factual challenges to claims made by President Polk.

Lincoln moved a number of resolutions in the House of Representatives on December 22, 1847, as a Whig representative from Illinois. The resolutions called on President James K. Polk to provide Congress with the exact location (the "spot") upon which blood was shed on American soil, as Polk had claimed in 1846 when asking Congress to declare war on Mexico. Lincoln was very persistent in pushing his "spot resolutions" and some began referring to him as "spotty Lincoln." Lincoln's resolutions were a challenge to the validity of the president's words, and to Polk's integrity. They were representative of an ongoing and polarizing political power struggle between Whigs and Democrats of the issue of the expansion of slavery and of the allegation that Polk and the Democrats were using the war for this ulterior motive.

Lincoln brought a total of eight resolutions which called on Polk to account for his decision to take the nation into war. The first resolution read: "whether the spot on which the blood of our citizens was shed, as in his messages declared, was or was not within the territory of Spain, at least after the treaty of 1819, until the Mexican revolution." The second asked "whether that spot is or is not within the territory which was wrested from Spain by the revolutionary Government of Mexico." The other six resolutions sought to determine whether the territory on which the casualties occurred was ever under the government or laws of Texas or of the United States.

The House of Representatives never acted on Lincoln's resolutions, but they understood the Whig position that President Polk lacked persuasive grounds to begin the war. Lincoln biographer David Herbert Donald wrote, "nobody paid much attention to his resolutions, which the House neither debated nor adopted". Democrats spun the resolutions as unpatriotic. Many Whigs were concerned that criticism of the war would hurt the Whigs politically.

In his initial report to Congress, Polk had said that the American soldiers fell on American soil. In point of fact, they had actually fallen on disputed territory, between the Rio Grande and Nueces River. Both Texas and Mexico laid claim to this land.

Lincoln's attack won lukewarm support from fellow Whigs in Illinois and the resolutions likely stunted his political future in the heavily Democratic state of Illinois. As for Polk, he died on June 15, 1849, 169 years ago today, and 103 days after leaving office. The issue of his accountability for the statement as to the reason for going to war also appears to have died with him, though it lives on in the minds and writings of many antebellum historians.

Potus Geeks Book Review: Awakening the Spirit of America by Paul Sparrow

As the world approached the second great war of the twentieth century, the of the most popular Americans were President Franklin Roosevelt and aviator Charles Lindbergh. Roosevelt, often referred to by his initials FDR, was credited by many Americans for guiding the nation on its way out of the Great Depression through a combination of comprehensive social legislation and reassuring oratory. Lindbergh, known as "Lucky Lindy" had personified American ingenuity and resilience by completing the first nonstop flight from New York City to Paris, a distance of 3,600 miles, flying alone for almost 34 hours in his plane, the Spirit of St. Louis. But despite their having notoriety in common, the two men couldn't be more different. Lindberg was athletic, Roosevelt was physically disabled, though he was able to conceal his disability from the public. Lindbergh was an isolationist, an antisemite and an admirer of Nazi Germany. Roosevelt was an interventionist who longed to help those suffering in Europe at the hands of Hitler and his supporters. He saw the German dictator for the monster that he was.

It was not only these two titans who were divided on these issues. Many Americans feared the prospect of their nation being drawn into another European conflict, with the resulting casualties that would follow, while others did not want their nation to stand by idly while a genocide orchestrated by a megalomaniac took place in Europe. This polarization sets the backdrop for Paul Sparrow's outstanding 2024 chronicle of those times, entitled Awakening the Spirit of America: FDR's War of Words With Charles Lindbergh and the Battle to Save Democracy.

Sparrow sets the stage for this conflict so beautifully, as if the reader is present when these events are unfolding. He generously shares much of FDR's persuasive rhetoric, as well as the process leading up to many of the great addresses given by FDR in his fireside chats, campaign speeches, State of the Union Addresses, Inaugural addresses and other public communications. He also highlights Lindbergh's "America First" campaign, and the arguments that the aviator turned activist used to play on public fears about the nation being drawn into another large scale war. Lindbergh not only sought to convince Americans that peaceful co-existence with Germany was possible, but also attacked Jewish businessmen who he accused of controlling the media and providing the nation with "fake news."

This book also tells the story of the formation of the relationship between Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, examining the intense pressure that Churchill was under and the courage he exhibited while under that pressure, as well as the political tightrope that Roosevelt had to skillfully walk as he worked towards his goal of aiding those suffering as the result of Hitler's aggression, while realizing that moving too quickly would quash any hope of achieving that goal because of Americans' understandable aversion to getting into another hot war. The author makes a convincing case as to why FDR, though far from perfect, was probably the best leader for the nation at that particular point in history.


This book is valuable both as a chronicle of a very precarious time for democracy in America, but also as a reminder that those who fail to learn from the mistakes of history may be bound to repeat them. It is a lesson as relevant today as it was in the 1940s. The following quote from Roosevelt is as observant today as it was when he spoke these words in his 1940 re-election campaign:

"Certain techniques of propaganda, created and developed in dictator countries, have been imported into this campaign [1940]. It is the very simple technique of repeating and repeating and repeating falsehoods, with the idea that, by constant repetition and reiteration, with no contradiction, the misstatement will finally come to be believed. They are used to create fear by instilling in the minds of our people doubt of each other, doubt of their government, and doubt of the purposes of their democracy."

Polarized Times: The Fight Over the Annexation of Texas

In his long career as a United States Senator, it seemed that Henry Clay was always on one side or another when it came to contentious issues, from the War of 1812 to the Compromise of 1850. While Clay is remembered as the "Great Compromiser", he wasn't always looking to compromise and was often championing one side or the other of some contentious issue, such as war with England, the National Bank, or the annexation of Texas.

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The Spanish had laid claim to what is now Texas in 1519, and it was part of the vast Spanish empire taken by force by Spanish Conquistadors from the indigenous people. When the Louisiana territory was purchased by the United States from France in 1803, the border along the northern frontier of Texas was negotiated between Secretary of State John Quincy Adams and the Spanish ambassador to the United States, Luis de Onís y González-Vara. The Florida Treaty of February 22, 1819 established its boundaries, but, Texas remained an object of fervent interest to American expansionists because of its fertile lands.

The Missouri Compromise increased southerners' desire for expansion south of the 36°30' parallel, which divided free-soil and slave-soil outside of Missouri. Among these was Representative John Tyler of Virginia. He saw territorial growth as a national goal to counter the rise of sectional differences over slavery.

When Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, the United States did not contest the new republic's claims to Texas. Both John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson made attempts to negotiate the purchase of some or all of provincial Texas from the Mexican government, but were not successful. Anglo-American immigrants, primarily from the Southern United States, began emigrating to Mexican Texas in the early 1820s at the invitation of the Texas state government, which sought to populate the sparsely inhabited lands of its northern frontier for cotton production. Stephen F. Austin managed the regional affairs of the mostly American-born population, mainly slaveholders, and Mexican authorities were initially content to allow slavery, under the legal fiction of 'permanent indentured servitude', similar to Mexico's system of peonage.

It was difficult for the Mexican government to enforce its laws in the vast Texas frontier, especially the prohibition against slavery or the requirement that all settlers be Catholic or convert to Catholicism. New restrictions were imposed in 1829–1830, outlawing slavery throughout the nation and terminating further American immigration to Texas. In 1835, an army under Mexican President Santa Anna entered its territory of Texas and abolished self-government. Texans responded by declaring their independence from Mexico on March 2, 1836. On April 20–21, rebel forces under Texas General Sam Houston defeated the Mexican army at the Battle of San Jacinto. In June 1836, Santa Anna agreed to Texas independence, but the Mexican government refused to honor Santa Anna's pledge. Texans obtained a form of independence not officially recognized by Mexico. In the years following independence, the migration of white settlers and importation of slave labor into the vast republic slowed down because Americans who considered migrating to the new republic were hesitant because of the volatile political situation with Mexico. Texas experienced labor shortages, reduced tax revenue, large national debts and a diminished militia.

The Anglo-American immigrants living in newly-independent Texas overwhelmingly wanted to become part the United States. But President Andrew Jackson delayed recognizing the new republic until the last day of his presidency to avoid raising the issue during the 1836 general election. Jackson was concerned about losing support in the north because of concerns that Texas could potentially form several new slave states and undermine the North-South balance in Congress.

Jackson's successor, Martin Van Buren, viewed Texas annexation as a political liability that would lose his party its support in northern states. He was presented with a formal annexation proposal from Texas minister Memucan Hunt, Jr. in August 1837, but rejected it, not wanting a repeat of the conflict that had occurred in 1820. Annexation resolutions were presented in each house of Congress but these were either soundly defeated or tabled. After the election of 1838, new Texas president Mirabeau B. Lamar withdrew his republic's offer of annexation.

Hopes for annexation grew in 1841 when John Tyler became president, following the death of William Henry Harrison, who had defeated US President Martin Van Buren in the 1840 general election. Harrison died just 31 days into his presidency. Tyler became president, but was soon expelled from the Whig party later in 1841 for repeatedly vetoing his party's domestic finance legislation, and generally because he had clashed with leading Whigs such as Henry Clay over his right to assume the presidency and his unwillingness to follow their dictates. Tyler found himself isolated and outside the two-party mainstream. He hoped that foreign affairs would salvage his presidency.

In his first address to Congress in special session on June 1, 1841, Tyler announced his intention to pursue an expansionist agenda. He believed that annexing Texas would win him a second term in the White House, and this became his personal obsession, calling the acquisition of Texas as the "primary objective of his administration".

Following the resignation of his anti-annexation Secretary of State Daniel Webster in June of 1843, Tyler appointed Abel P. Upshur, a Virginia states' rights champion and ardent proponent of Texas annexation. In late September 1843, Upshur sent communications to Great Britain, intended to raise concerns about British designs to acquire Texas. He leaked the communique to the press to inflame popular Anglophobic sentiments. He also leaked information about American abolitionists who had been meeting with Lord Aberdeen, British Foreign Secretary, to provide funds to the Texas in exchange for the emancipation of its slaves. American Minister (Ambassador) Edward Everett concluded that British interest in the abolitionists plan was weak, but Tyler downplayed this conclusion.

John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, a pro-slavery advocate, claimed that British designs on Texas were real and required immediate action to prevent a takeover of Texas by Great Britain. On September 18, 1843, Tyler ordered secret talks opened with Texas Minister to the United States Isaac Van Zandt to negotiate the annexation of Texas. Face-to-face negotiations commenced on October 16, 1843.

Meanwhile, Texas President Sam Houston was negotiating with the Mexican government to consider a treaty that would permit Texas self-governance, possibly as a state of Mexico, with Great Britain acting as mediator. Houston believed that Tyler lacked political support for Texas annexation. The 1844 general election in the United States was approaching and the leadership in both the Democratic and Whig parties remained unwilling to support Texas annexation and Houston thought that brokering a deal with Mexico, with British support, was his best option.

Secretary of State Upshur pursued Texas diplomats to begin annexation talks. He wrote President Sam Houston in January 1844 claiming that a two-thirds majority in Senate could be obtained to ratify a Texas treaty. Texans were reluctant to pursue a US-Texas treaty without a written commitment of military defense from America. Because only Congress could declare war, the Tyler administration lacked the constitutional authority to commit the US to support of Texas. Upshur provided a verbal assurance of military defense for Texas, and President Houston authorized the reopening of annexation negotiations.

Mexican diplomats soon learned that US-Texas talks were taking place. Mexican minister to the U.S. Juan Almonte warned Upshurthat if Congress sanctioned a treaty of annexation, Mexico would break diplomatic ties and declare war. Upshur pressed forward with the negotiations, while lobbying US Senators to support annexation. By early 1844, Upshur told Texas officials that 40 of the 52 members of the Senate were pledged to ratify the Tyler-Texas treaty. Tyler, in his annual address to Congress in December 1843, did not mention the secret negotiations.

The Tyler-Texas treaty was in its final stages when Upshur and Secretary of the Navy Thomas W. Gilmer, died in an accident aboard USS Princeton on February 28, 1844, just a day after completing a preliminary treaty draft agreement with the Texas Republic. The Princeton disaster was a major setback for Texas annexation. Tyler relied on Secretary Upshur to obtain critical support from Whig and Democratic Senators during the upcoming treaty ratification process. To make matters worse, Tyler selected John C. Calhoun to replace Upshur as Secretary of State and to finalize the treaty with Texas. The choice of Calhoun was problematic, because it made it appear that the focus of the negotiations was all about the expansion of slavery, but Tyler believed Calhoun to be a strong advocate of annexation.

Senator Robert J. Walker of Mississippi, a key Tyler ally, issued a widely distributed letter, reproduced as a pamphlet, which made the case for immediate annexation of Texas. Walker argued that Texas referenced the Monroe Doctrine and claimed that annexation was necessary to prevent European involvement in North American affairs. He also appealed to racial prejudice and said that when slavery ultimately ended, freed slaves would have a corridor to South America to resettle, rather than remaining in the United States. Walker also warned that if annexation failed, imperialist Great Britain would manipulate the Republic of Texas into emancipating its slaves, forecasting a dangerous destabilizing influence on southwestern slaveholding states. Walker's pamphlet increased support for Texas annexation from pro-slavery expansionists in the South

The Tyler-Texas treaty was signed on April 12, 1844. It called for Texas to join the Union as a territory, following constitutional protocols. Texas would cede all its public lands to the United States, and the federal government would assume all its bonded debt, up to $10 million. Four new states could ultimately be carved from the former republic. Any reference to slavery was omitted from the document so as not to antagonize anti-slavery sentiments during Senate debates, although it provided for the "preservation of all [Texas] property". When the treaty was signed, Tyler complied with the Texans' demand for military and naval protection, sending troops to Fort Jesup in Louisiana and a fleet of warships to the Gulf of Mexico. Secretary of the Treasury John C. Spencer protested the constitutional implications of Tyler's application of military force without congressional approval. He refused to transfer contingency funds for the naval mobilization, and tendered his resignation.

Tyler submitted his treaty for annexation to the Senate on April 22, 1844. A two-thirds majority was required for ratification. Tyler had wanted the treaty to be debated secretly in Senate executive session, but news of Calhoun's warning to Great Britain leaked to the public. Critics of the treaty argued that the sole objective of Texas annexation was the preservation of slavery. Anti-annexation support in the North grew among both major parties. The leading presidential hopefuls of both parties, Democrat Martin Van Buren and Whig Henry Clay, each publicly denounced the treaty. Texas annexation became a key issue in the 1844 general election.

Tyler began to organize a third party in hopes of inducing the Democrats to embrace a pro-expansionist platform. Pro-annexation delegates among southern Democrats quashed the hopes of anti-expansion candidate Martin Van Buren at the Democratic Party's Presidential nominating convention, and the convention ended up choosing "Dark Horse" candidate James K. Polk of Tennessee, a supporter of Annexation.

In August 1844, Tyler withdrew from the race, because the Democratic Party was now committed to Texas annexation. Assured that Polk would champion Texas annexation, Tyler urged his supporters to vote Democratic. In the election, Polk narrowly defeated Whig Henry Clay in the November election. Polk proposed to acquire Texas under the doctrine of Manifest Destiny rather than on the pro-slavery agenda of Tyler and Calhoun.

The Senate had voted on Tyler's proposed treaty on June 8, 1844, and the treaty failed by a vote of 16 for to 35 against. Whigs had opposed it almost unanimously (1–27), while Democrats were mostly in favor (15–8). Undaunted, Tyler had asked the House of Representatives to consider other constitutional means to authorize passage of the treaty. Congress adjourned before debating the matter.

The same Senate that had rejected the Tyler–Calhoun treaty in June reassembled in December 1844 in a brief lame-duck session. In his annual address to Congress on December 4, Tyler declared the Polk victory a mandate for Texas annexation and proposed that Congress adopt a joint resolution procedure by which simple majorities in each house could secure ratification for the Tyler treaty. The national sentiment for Manifest Destiny made electors feel obligated to admit Texas to the Union. By early February 1845, the Senate began to debate the amended Tyler treaty, but its passage seemed unlikely. Anti-annexation Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri had been the only Southern Democrat to vote against the Tyler-Texas measure in June 1844. Now, as pro-annexation sentiment grew in his home state, Benton reconsidered his position. He advanced an alternative resolution that simply called for five bipartisan commissioners to resolve border disputes with Texas and Mexico and set conditions for the Lone Star Republic's acquisition by the United States.

The Benton proposal was intended to calm northern anti-slavery Democrats and allow President-elect James K. Polk to work out details of the annexation. Polk had expressed his wish that Texas annexation should be accomplished before his inauguration on March 4, 1845, the same day Congress would end its session. On his arrival in the capital, he found the senate stalled and he urged Senate Democrats to unite under a dual resolution that would leaving enactment of the legislation to Polk's discretion when he took office. On February 27, 1845, less than a week before Polk's inauguration, the Senate voted 27–25 to admit Texas. All twenty-four Democrats voted for the measure, joined by three southern Whigs. The next day, in an almost strict party line vote, the resolution was passed in the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives. President Tyler signed the bill the following day, March 1, 1845.

On his last full day in office, President Tyler, with the urging of his Secretary of State Calhoun, dispatched an offer of annexation to the Republic of Texas by courier. Calhoun apprised President-elect Polk of the action. When President Polk took office on (at noon EST) March 4, he was in a position to recall Tyler's dispatch to Texas, but, after conferring with his cabinet, Polk allowed the courier to proceed with the offer of immediate annexation to Texas. Polk believed that protracted negotiation would cause what had taken place to go off the rails.


On May 5, 1845, Texas President Jones called for a convention on July 4, 1845, to consider the annexation and a constitution. On June 23, the Texan Congress accepted the US Congress's joint resolution of March 1, 1845, annexing Texas to the United States, and consented to the convention. On July 4, the Texas convention debated the annexation offer and almost unanimously passed an ordinance assenting to it. The convention remained in session through August 28, and adopted the Constitution of Texas on August 27, 1845. The citizens of Texas approved the annexation ordinance and new constitution on October 13, 1845. President Polk signed the legislation making Texas a state of the Union on December 29, 1845. Texas formally relinquished its sovereignty to the United States on February 14, 1846.

George H. W, Bush's 100th Birthday

George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st President of the United States was born June 12, 1924, 100 years ago today. He passed away on November 30, 2018 at the age of 94. In those 94 years he lived a full and amazing life. Besides being President, he was a war hero, captained a baseball team in two world series, served as a congressman, an ambassador, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Director of the CIA, and Vice-President. He was a father, grandfather and a great-grandfather and was the last living former President to be a veteran of World War II. He had a very active retirement, celebrating his 90th birthday with a "Crazy Socks Party" at his Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas and also by jumping out of an airplane. His last year was a challenging one, with the passing of the love of his life, former first lady Barbara Bush, who died on April 17, 2018.

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

His death on November 30, 2018 was announced by his son, George W. Bush, who released a statement, on behalf of himself and his siblings, saying:

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

Polarized Times: John Tyler's Alienates His Own Party

A recent biography of the 10th President is entitled President Without a Party (reviewed here in this community.) As we have seen, polarization in presidential politics is not a recent invention, but usually one of the two poles attracts supporters of the President. However in John Tyler's case, he managed to repel both political parties of his time, the Whigs on whose ticket he was elected, and the Democrats, a party that he had once belonged to. While both of the major political parties were still polarized, they agreed on at least one thing, they didn't want Tyler as President.

William Henry Harrison was the first president to die during the course of his presidency. He passed away on April 4, 1841, on the 32nd day of his term. Since this was a first, no one knew what should happen when it came to the matter of who would fill the vacancy. Was the Vice-President merely a placeholder until the next election, was he acting president, did he have all the powers of the president but not the title, or was he in fact the president? It was new territory and there was no consensus as to what should happen and no precedent to follow.


Up to that point John Tyler, Harrison's Vice-President, had been a non-entity in the new administration. This fact emboldened leaders in Congress to adopt an interpretation of the Constitution that inflated their powers and denigrated the authority of the Vice-President. John Tyler was sworn in as Vice-President on March 4, 1841, in the Senate chamber. He delivered a three-minute speech about states' rights, and then he began performing his first official duty of that office: swearing in the new senators and attending President Harrison's inauguration. Following Harrison's two-hour speech on that cold March 4th, Tyler returned to the Senate to receive the President's Cabinet nominations. He hadn't offered his opinions to Harrison about who should be in the cabinet, and Harrison never solicited Tyler's advice on the matter. Tyler presided over the confirmations the following day on March 5th. That took him a total of two hours as President of the Senate. Expecting few responsibilities, he then left Washington, quietly returning to his home in Williamsburg, Virginia. In the words of historian Robert Seager, in his Tyler biography And Tyler Too: A Biography of John and Julia Gardiner Tyler, "Had William Henry Harrison lived, John Tyler would undoubtedly have been as obscure as any vice-president in American history." In those days the Vice-President didn't even attend cabinet meetings and John Tyler was no exception to that practice.


In late March after Harrison came down with pneumonia and became quite ill, Secretary of State Daniel Webster sent word to Tyler of Harrison's illness on April 1. Two days later, Richmond attorney James Lyons wrote with the news that the president had taken a turn for the worse. In his letter, Lyons wrote: "I shall not be surprised to hear by tomorrow's mail that Gen'l Harrison is no more." Tyler decided not to travel to Washington. He thought it might appear unseemly if he did, as if he was anticipating the president's death. At dawn on April 5, 1841 (176 years ago today) Daniel Webster's son Fletcher, who was the Chief Clerk of the State Department, arrived at Tyler's plantation with a letter from Webster, informing Tyler that Harrison had died the previous morning.

Harrison's unprecedented death caused considerable confusion as to who would perform the President's duties. At the time the Constitution read as follows:

In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the same shall devolve on the Vice President.

A debate immediately ensued as to whether the actual office of President "devolved" upon Vice President Tyler, or only its powers and duties. But in John Tyler's opinion, there was nothing to debate about the matter. Tyler arrived in Washington at 4:00 a.m. on April 6, 1841, and he had made up his own mind that he was now the President of the United States. He took the oath of office in his hotel room. The oath was administered by Judge William Cranch, Chief Judge of the United States Circuit Court of the District of Columbia, a judge who hailed from Massachusetts. However in Tyler's opinion, the oath was redundant to the oath he had already taken as Vice President. Out of an abundance of caution, he took the oath anyway.

Immediately after his inauguration, Tyler called Harrison's cabinet into a meeting. At that meeting, Secretary of State Daniel Webster informed Tyler of Harrison's practice of making decisions by a majority vote of cabinet. The cabinet expected Tyler to continue this practice, but Tyler is quoted as having told them:

I beg your pardon, gentlemen. I am very glad to have in my Cabinet such able statesmen as you have proved yourselves to be. And I shall be pleased to avail myself of your counsel and advice. But I can never consent to being dictated to as to what I shall or shall not do. I, as President, shall be responsible for my administration. I hope to have your hearty co-operation in carrying out its measures. So long as you see fit to do this, I shall be glad to have you with me. When you think otherwise, your resignations will be accepted.

Tyler delivered an inaugural address on April 9, 1841, but his assertion that he was President was not immediately accepted by opposition members in Congress. Congressman (and former President) John Quincy Adams, took the position that Tyler was merely a caretaker and should either be called "Acting President", or remain Vice President. Another who questioned Tyler's authority was Whig leader Henry Clay. Clay wanted to be the real power behind the presidency. He too saw Tyler as the "Vice-President" and considered his presidency as a mere "regency".

But Tyler managed to convince a majority of legislators of his position and on June 1, 1841, both houses of Congress passed resolutions declaring Tyler the 10th President of the United States. In both houses of Congress, unsuccessful amendments were offered to strike the word "president" in favor of language suggesting a lesser rank such as "vice president" of "acting president", but these failed to pass.

John Tyler became the first U.S. Vice President to assume the office of President upon the death of the incumbent, establishing a precedent that would be followed seven times later. In 1967 Tyler's action of assuming both the full powers and the title of the presidency was legally codified in the Twenty-fifth Amendment.

Despite the Senate and House resolutions of support, Tyler's detractors like Clay and Adams, refused to accept him as President. He was referred to by many nicknames by his detractors, including "His Accidency". However, Tyler never wavered from his conviction that he was the rightful President. When his political opponents sent correspondence to the White House addressed to him as "Vice President" or "Acting President," Tyler had it returned unopened.

In an assessment of the significance of Tyler's insistence on assuming the full mantle of the presidency, the Miller Center, an affiliate of the University of Virginia that specializes on presidential scholarship, public policy and political history, concludes as follows:

"[T]he very stubbornness that undermined Tyler's work as President led to his greatest contribution to the office. By claiming the right to a fully functioning and empowered presidency instead of relinquishing the office or accepting limits on his powers, Tyler set a hugely important precedent. And while it is doubtless that the presidency's first veto override—on his last day in office—brought little joy to the troubled President, it was instrumental in establishing the critical system of inter-branch checks and balances. The orderly transfer of power at the beginning of Tyler's term and the veto override that ended it both demonstrated that the system worked."