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Presidential Legacies: Chester Alan Arthur

No one ever expected Chester Alan Arthur to be President of the United States. He had never held any elected office prior to the election of 1880. He had always been a bagman (a fundraiser) and a backroom politician. No one ever expected Arthur to be chosen as the Republican Party's nominee for Vice-President and only got the job because no one else from the Stalwart faction of the Republican Party would take the job. Even after the ticket of Garfield and Arthur won the election, no one expected that the robust and relatively young President Garfield would die in office. When Arthur became President following Garfield's death, everyone expected his administration would be a corrupt one. Arthur would prove them wrong. Journalist Alexander McClure would later write, "No man ever entered the Presidency so profoundly and widely distrusted as Chester Alan Arthur, and no one ever retired more generally respected, alike by political friend and foe."


Arthur was born in Fairfield, Vermont, probably. During the election campaign of 1880, a Democratic Party supporter named Arthur Hinman was doing opposition research and wrote a book claiming that Arthur was actually born in Canada. The claim is doubtful and the rumors had no effect on the election outcome. Arthur was probably born in 1829. He told people that he was born in 1830, but his family bible and other records make the 1829 date more probable. Arthur grew up in upstate New York, influenced by the abolitionist leanings of his clergyman father. He practiced law in New York City where part of his law practice involved handling civil rights cases. For a brief period he went to Kansas during the bleeding Kansas saga, working on the side of the anti-slavery cause. Arthur served as quartermaster general of the New York Militia during the American Civil War, a job which brought with it the rank of General. He chose not to serve in the field because his wife from from Virginia and had family fighting for the other side.

Following the war, Arthur became very active in Republican politics and quickly rose in New York Senator Roscoe Conkling's political machine known as the Stalwarts. Arthur was appointed by President Ulysses S. Grant to the lucrative and politically powerful post of Collector of the Port of New York in 1871, probably the highest paying job in government. In 1878, the new president, Rutherford B. Hayes, fired Arthur from that job as part of a plan to reform the federal patronage system in New York. But Arthur earned his retribution when he was selected as Garfield's running mate in 1880. Arthur, an eastern Stalwart, was nominated for vice president to balance the ticket in order to keep the Stalwarts working for Garfield's re-election. Roscoe Conkling had instructed other Stalwarts to turn the job down, but the recently widowed Arthur defied his leader and accepted the job. Six months into his term, Garfield was assassinated and Arthur was President.

At the outset, no one trusted Arthur and everyone assumed that as a Stalwart and product of Conkling's machine, his administration would be a corrupt one, whose only goal was to line the pockets of its faction's membership. To the surprise of reformers, and probably everyone else, Arthur took up the cause of civil service reform. He advocated for and enforced the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act, legislation that called for the filling of government jobs based on merit and not on political connections. He presided over the rebirth of the United States Navy. He also embarked on a western tour that took him to Yellowstone Park. Arthur reluctantly signed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which resulted in denying citizenship to Chinese Americans until 1898 and barred Chinese immigration until 1943. It was the first total ban on an ethnic or national group from immigrating to the country.

At the time many perceived Arthur as a lazy president. In truth, he suffered from poor health, specifically a terminal kidney ailment that he tried to keep hidden. Arthur made only a limited effort to secure the Republican Party's nomination in 1884, and when that was unsuccessful, he retired at the end of his term. He earned praise among contemporaries for his surprisingly solid performance in office. The New York World summed up Arthur's presidency at his death in 1886, when it wrote: "No duty was neglected in his administration, and no adventurous project alarmed the nation." His friend Mark Twain wrote of him, "It would be hard indeed to better President Arthur's administration."

Over the 20th and 21st centuries, however, Arthur's reputation mostly faded among the public. He is generally ranked as an average president by historians and scholars, and one of the most obscure president. He has even been called "the Most Forgotten U.S. President". There are few monuments or memorials to him, with the most notable being created in 1898, a fifteen-foot bronze figure of Arthur standing on a Barre Granite pedestal, created by sculptor George Edwin Bissell and installed at Madison Square, in New York City. The statue was dedicated in 1899 and unveiled by Arthur's sister, Mary Arthur McElroy. At the dedication, Secretary of War Elihu Root spoke and described Arthur as "wise in statesmanship and firm and effective in administration."

Arthur's unpopularity in life carried over into his assessment by historians, and until very recently he may have been the President with the fewest biographies. In 1935, historian George F. Howe said that Arthur had achieved "an obscurity in strange contrast to his significant part in American history." He added that "Arthur remained to everyone a man of his word; he kept scrupulously free from corrupt graft; he maintained a personal dignity, affable and genial though he might be. These restraints distinguished him sharply from the stereotype politician."In 1975, his leading biographer, Thomas C. Reeves, would write that Arthur's "appointments, if unspectacular, were unusually sound; the corruption and scandal that dominated business and politics of the period did not tarnish his administration." In his 2004 biography for the American Presidents Series, Zachary Karabell wrote, although Arthur was "physically stretched and emotionally strained, he strove to do what was right for the country."

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Polls of historians and political scientists have generally ranked Arthur as a below-average president. A 2018 poll of the American Political Science Association’s Presidents and Executive Politics section ranked Arthur as the 29th best president, while a 2017 C-SPAN survey has Chester Arthur ranked among the bottom third of presidents of all time. That survey asked 91 presidential historians to rank the 43 former presidents in various categories to come up with a composite score, resulting in an overall ranking. Arthur was ranked 35th among all former presidents. These rankings probably don't give Arthur enough credit, considering what the expectations were when he entered office, and what he was able to achieve without any real base of support in Congress.

Presidential Legacies: James Garfield

James Garfield is another of those Presidents who is sometimes left out of presidential rankings because of the brevity of his time in office. He was inaugurated in March of 1881, shot by assassin Charles Guiteau (the poster child for "disgruntled office seeker") in July of that year and dead in September, more likely from negligent medical treatment than from Guiteau's bullet. Garfield's presidency was full of so much potential. A long-time congressman and Civil War veteran, he came to the 1880 Republican Presidential Nominating Convention to nominate fellow Ohioan John Sherman. But when the delegates couldn't agree on any of the declared candidates, they chose Garfield. His untimely death left a lot of "what ifs" about how his experience and wisdom might had guided the nation through the "Guilded Age".

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Garfield was born into poverty after his father died shortly after James' birth. He worked on a canal boat and later as a teacher. For a time he was a preacher for the Church of Christ. Garfield entered politics as a Republican in 1857. He served as a member of the Ohio State Senate from 1859 to 1861. Garfield opposed Confederate secession, and he joined the Union Army, rising to the rank of major general during the Civil War. He fought in the battles of Middle Creek, Shiloh, and Chickamauga.

Garfield was first elected to Congress in 1862 to represent Ohio's 19th District. He was reluctant to leave the army and was ordered to report to War Secretary Edwin Stanton in Washington to discuss his military future. There, Garfield met Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, a fellow Ohioan, and the two became friends and political allies. Both were part of the Radical wing of the Republican Party. Chase convinced Garfield that he could do more good in Congress and Garfield took his seat in December 1863.

Throughout Garfield's extended congressional service after the Civil War, he was a supporter of the gold standard. He was a good speaker and gained a reputation as a skilled orator. At first Garfield agreed with Radical Republican views on Reconstruction, but later favored a moderate approach for civil rights enforcement for freedmen. He would serve in Congress until his nomination for President in 1880 and held a number of prestigious positions including as the Chair of the House Committees on Appropriations, Financial Services, and Military Affairs. He was implicated in the Credit Mobilier scandal of 1872, which alleged that a number of Congressmen had been given shares in the corrupt Credit Mobilier of America Company, which was building a railroad at government expense for grossly inflated prices. To secure the contract it was alleged that the company had given shares to a number of lawmakers. Suspicion surrounded Garfield's actions, but no wrongdoing was ever proven on his part.

At the 1880 Republican National Convention, Senator-elect Garfield attended as campaign manager for Secretary of the Treasury John Sherman, and gave the presidential nomination speech for him. When neither Sherman nor the two other front-runners, Ulysses S. Grant and James G. Blaine, could get enough votes to secure the nomination, delegates chose Garfield as a compromise on the 36th ballot. In the 1880 presidential election, Garfield narrowly defeated Democrat Winfield Scott Hancock.

Garfield's brief term was not without some excitement. He defied the powerful New York senator Roscoe Conkling of the Stalwart faction of the Republican Party by refusing to honor the practice of senatorial courtesy (following the recommendations of his party's senators) in making presidential appointments in their state. He purged corruption in the Post Office, and appointing a U.S. Supreme Court justice. He appointing William H. Robertson to the lucrative post of Collector of the Port of New York, over Conkling's objections. When Conkling brought about a showdown by resigning from the Senate, expecting that his state government would reappoint him as a form of exoneration, Conkling lost and Garfield won. Robertson won confirmation in the senate and Conkling's resignation left Garfield with one less problem.

Garfield promoted agricultural technology, an educated electorate, and civil rights for African Americans. He also proposed substantial civil service reforms, reforms which were eventually passed by Congress in 1883 and signed into law by his successor, Chester A. Arthur, as the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act.

On July 2, 1881, Garfield was shot at the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station in Washington D.C. by Charles J. Guiteau, a mentally ill office seeker. The wound was not immediately fatal for Garfield, but he died on September 19, 1881. Negligent medical treatment is seen by many as the cause of Garfield's death. Guiteau was executed for the murder of Garfield in June 1882.

Historians often forgo listing Garfield in rankings of U.S. presidents due to the short duration of his presidency. But at the time of his death, Garfield's assassination was compared to that of Lincoln, less than two decades earlier. Garfield's funeral train left Long Branch, New Jersey on the same special track that brought him there. His body was transported to the Capitol and then continued on to Cleveland for burial and over 70,000 citizens passed by Garfield's coffin as his body lay in state at the United States Capitol rotunda. On September 25, 1881, in Cleveland, over 150,000 people (a number equal to the entire population of that city) came to pay their respects. Memorials to Garfield were erected across the country. In 1884, sculptor Frank Happersberger completed a monument on the grounds of the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers. In 1887, the James A. Garfield Monument was dedicated in Washington. Another monument, in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park, was erected in 1896. In Victoria, Australia, Cannibal Creek was renamed Garfield in his honor.

Garfield's murder by a deranged office-seeker heightened public awareness of the need for civil service reform legislation. Senator George H. Pendleton, a Democrat from Ohio, launched a reform effort that resulted in the Pendleton Act in January 1883. This act sought to end the "spoils system" in which office seekers paid for or gave political service to obtain or keep federally appointed positions. Under the act, appointments were awarded on merit and competitive examination.

In the years following his assassination, Garfield's life story was seen as an example of the American success story that even the poorest boy might someday become President of the United States. In the 1890s, Americans became disillusioned with politicians, and looked elsewhere for their heroes. Garfield's short time as president was forgotten. In the 20th century, author Thomas Wolfe wryly observed that the presidents of the Gilded Age, including Garfield, were "lost Americans whose gravely vacant and bewhiskered faces mixed, melted, swam together." The politicians of the Gilded Age faded into obscurity, lacking a Lincoln, an FDR or some other notable giant whose life had influenced America. This era was remembered as the age of the robber barons, the inventors, those who had sought social reform, and others who had lived as America rapidly changed.

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In more recent times, Garfield has enjoyed a modest resurgence of his legacy. Garfield's biographers, and those who have studied his presidency, tend to think well of him, and conclude that his presidency had a promising start before its untimely end. Historian Justus D. Doenecke wrote of Garfield's presidency that, "by winning a victory over the Stalwarts, he enhanced both the power and prestige of his office. As a man, he was intelligent, sensitive, and alert, and his knowledge of how government worked was unmatched." Ira Rutkow writes, "James Abram Garfield's presidency is reduced to a tantalizing 'what if.'" Garfield's leading biographer Alan Peskin believes Garfield deserves more credit for his political career than he has received. He writes:

"True, his accomplishments were neither bold nor heroic, but his was not an age that called for heroism. His stormy presidency was brief, and in some respects, unfortunate, but he did leave the office stronger than he found it. As a public man he had a hand in almost every issue of national importance for almost two decades, while as a party leader he, along with Blaine, forged the Republican Party into the instrument that would lead the United States into the twentieth century."

These analyses raise a difficult question: how do you rank a presidency on potential alone?

Presidential Legacies: Rutherford B. Hayes

The Presidency of Rutherford Hayes got off to a bad start. Hayes took office after an intensely disputed election, with tensions running so high that outgoing President Ulysses Grant had the army on standby to prevent a possible insurrection. The whole affair earned Hayes such pejorative nicknames as "Rutherfraud" or "His Fraudulency." In order to get Democrats to go along with the findings of the Election Commission, it is believed that Hayes agreed to withdraw the last federal troops from the South, ending the Reconstruction Era. That might have seemed like a good idea at the time, but it had drastic consequences that are still being felt today. Hayes hoped to reconcile the divisions left over from the Civil War and Reconstruction, and its likely that he genuinely wanted to protect the civil rights of African-Americans, but on that last goal he failed. His removal of federal troops emboldened white supremacists in the south. His only probable success was probably in his pursuit of civil service reform. He challenged his own party in the making of appointments. Though he was unsuccessful in enacting long-term reform, he helped to provide a significant impetus for the eventual passage of the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act in 1883.


Born in Ohio in 1822, Hayes became a successful lawyer in Cincinnati. He served as city solicitor of Cincinnati from 1858 to 1861. Part of his law practice was defending escaped slaves who had been arrested under the Fugitive Slave Act. He served with distinction during the Civil War, and was wounded at the Battle of South Mountain. He returned to service after recovering from his injury, and would later suffer another wound, have a horse shot out from under him, get thrown from another horse, and get struck in the head with a spent round. In total he was wounded five times during the war. He left the army with the rank of brigadier general (and brevet major general). In 1864 he was elected to the House of Representatives, but was reluctant to leave the army with the war still ongoing. After the war, he served in the Congress from 1865 to 1867 as a Republican. Hayes left Congress to run for governor of Ohio and was elected to two consecutive terms, from 1868 to 1872. Later he served a third two-year term, from 1876 to 1877.

Hayes was nominated as the Republican candidate for the presidency in 1876. He was selected because of his good reputation, something the Republicans were looking for in the wake of the scandals of the Grant administration. The election of 1876 was the closest in history, with a number of electoral votes in dispute. He lost the popular vote to Democrat Samuel J. Tilden but he won an intensely disputed electoral college vote after a Congressional commission awarded him twenty contested electoral votes. This resulted in the Compromise of 1877, in which the Democrats acquiesced to Hayes's election on the condition that he withdraw remaining U.S. troops protecting Republican office holders in the South, ending the Reconstruction era. Hayes was elected through the Compromise of 1877, a compromise that officially ended the Reconstruction Era by allowing the South to govern itself. In office he ordered the withdrawal of military troops from the South. This ended US Army support for Republican state governments in the South. It removed protection for the efforts of African-American freedmen to establish their families as free citizens. As President, Hayes promoted civil service reform, and attempted to reconcile the divisions left over from the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Hayes ordered federal troops to guard federal buildings to restore order from the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. He implemented modest civil service reforms and vetoed the Bland–Allison Act, a bill that intended to put silver money into circulation. Fearing that the bill would be inflationary, he insisted that maintenance of the gold standard was essential to economic recovery. Hayes kept his promise not to run for re-election, He retired to his home in Ohio, and became an advocate of social and educational reform.

Admirers of Hayes have praised his commitment to civil service reform and defense of civil rights. But for the most part, Hayes is generally ranked as average or slightly below average by historians and scholars. His home at Spiegal Grove was donated to the state of Ohio, becoming Spiegel Grove State Park. Hayes was re-interred there in 1915. The following year the Hayes Commemorative Library and Museum was opened on the site, becoming the first presidential library in the United States. It was funded by contributions from the state of Ohio and Hayes's family.

Hayes is remembered in parts of South America because of an 1878 dispute between Argentina and Paraguay which Hayes had arbitrated and decided in favor of Paraguay. The result of his arbitration gave Paraguay 60 percent of its current territory. In honor of Hayes, a province in the region was named after him: Presidente Hayes province. Its capital is Villa Hayes. The Paraguayans also created an official holiday in Hayes' honor: Laudo Hayes Firm Day, the anniversary of the decision, is celebrated in Presidente Hayes province. A local soccer team: Presidente Hayes soccer club (also known as "Los Yanquis") is also named for him, based in the national capital, Asuncion. A young girl who came out of a coma was granted her fondest wish: a trip to the Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont, Ohio.

Hayes County, Nebraska is named after the 19th President. Rutherford B. Hayes High School in Hayes's hometown of Delaware, Ohio was also named in his honor. Hayes Hall, built in 1893, at the Ohio State University is also named in his honor. It is the oldest remaining building on campus, and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on July 16, 1970. Before Hayes died in 1893 he knew that the building would be named in his honor, but never lived to see it completed.

Historian Ari Hoogenboom, Hayes' leading biographer, makes the case that Hayes was a shrewd politician and describes him as a "patient reformer who attempted what was possible." Hoogenboom maintains that Hayes's most serious mistake was choosing not to run for second term, which would have allowed Hayes to more fully implement his agenda. But this is not a universally accepted point of view. Polls of historians and political scientists have generally ranked Hayes as an average or below-average president. A 2018 poll of the American Political Science Association’s Presidents and Executive Politics section ranked Hayes as the 28st best president, while a 2017 C-Span poll of historians ranked Hayes as the 32nd best president.

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Hayes biggest mistake appears to be his abandonment of the principles espoused by Ulysses Grant for the protection of the freedmen and the commitment to equal rights. As presidential rankings continue to place a higher value on the protection of civil rights and the recognition of principles of equality, it is likely that Hayes' standing will continue to decline.

Presidential Legacies: Ulysses Grant

Ulysses Grant's legacy has had a roller-coaster like journey throughout the years. As a General during the Civil War, Grant enjoyed popularity on some fronts for not being afraid to confront the enemy. After a series of Union generals such as George McClellan that were slow to pursue the Confederate Army, Abraham Lincoln famously said of his new general, "I like Grant, he fights." When reports came back to Lincoln that Grant might like his liquor a little too much, Lincoln suggested that they find out what brand of liquor Grant liked to drink and send a case of it to all of the other Union generals. But General Grant was also criticized for the high casualty counts in some of his battles, prompting his enemies to refer to him as "Grant the Butcher". After the war ended, Grant was probably more popular in the Union states than even Lincoln, and many assumed that Grant was a President-in-waiting. When he did become president, many praised Grant for his authoritative approach to enforcing equal rights in the south, while his reputation was injured because of a series of scandals in which his friends and cronies were caught with their hands in the government cookie jar. He was also criticized for considering a third term as President, something that George Washington had declined, but was popular again at the time of his death, in part for his best selling memoirs and for working so hard to finish them so he could leave his family with some financial support. Since his death, the roller-coaster ride has continued.


Born in Point Pleasant, Ohio, Grant was a skilled equestrian who had a talent for taming horses. He graduated from West Point in 1843 near the middle of his class, and served with distinction in the Mexican–American War. Upon his return from war, Grant married Julia Dent, and they had four children together. By all accounts they had a good marriage and Grant was a devoted family man. In 1854, Grant abruptly resigned from the army after having some problems with his drinking. He and his family struggled financially in civilian life for seven years and it looked as if Grant was destined to be a failure. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Grant joined the Union Army and thanks to a series of successes, he rapidly rose in rank to general. Unlike many Union Generals, Grant was persistent in his pursuit of the Confederate enemy, winning major battles and gaining Union control of the Mississippi River. In March 1864, after a series of disappointing commanding Generals, President Abraham Lincoln promoted Grant to Lieutenant General, a rank previously reserved for George Washington. For over a year Grant's Army of the Potomac fought the Army of Northern Virginia led by Robert E. Lee in the Overland Campaign and at Petersburg. On April 9, 1865, Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox, and the war was over.

On April 14, 1865, Lincoln was assassinated. Grant continued his service under Lincoln's successor President Andrew Johnson and was promoted General of the Army in 1866. But Grant disagreed with Johnson's approach to Reconstruction, and he identified more with the "Radical" Republicans. In 1868 at the age of 46 he was elected the youngest president up to that time. As President Grant stabilized the post-war national economy, created the Department of Justice, and prosecuted the Ku Klux Klan. He appointed African-Americans and Jewish-Americans to prominent federal offices and in 1871, Grant created the first Civil Service Commission.

In 1872, Democrats and liberal Republicans united behind Grant's opponent in the presidential election of 1872, but Grant easily won re-election. He adopted a new Peace Policy for Native Americans and his administration successfully resolved the Alabama claims and the Virginius Affair. He suffered a defeat when Congress rejected his plans to annex the Dominican Republic. Grant's presidency was plagued by numerous public scandals, especially during its second term. It was also confronted with the Panic of 1873, as the nation sunk into a severe economic depression.

Grant left office in March 1877 and embarked on a two-and-a-half-year world tour that captured favorable global attention for him and increased the international reputation of both Grant and the United States. When he returned, Grant unsuccessfully sought the Republican presidential nomination for a third term in 1880. His last years were spent facing several investment reversals and he suffered from throat cancer, the product of a lifelong love of cigars. In his dying days, he wrote his memoirs, which proved to be a major critical and financial success. At the time of his death, he was memorialized as a symbol of national unity.

Historical assessments of Grant's legacy have varied considerably over the years. Historians have hailed Grant's abilities as a military commander. His strategies are featured in military history textbooks. But his Presidency has been stigmatized by multiple scandals, causing it to be ranked as among the worst. More recent biographers and scholars have shown greater appreciation for his achievements in the field of civil rights enforcement.

During his presidency, cases of fraud and governmental mismanagement were uncovered, perpetrated by men that Grant had trusted. Grant was never personally implicated in any of these, but his judgement was seriously called into question when he gave favorable character evidence for his former military aide Orville Babcock, at a time when Babcock's dishonesty and criminal activity seemed very clear.

Grant's attempts to reunify the South with the North, while trying to protect Civil Rights for African-Americans during the Reconstruction era were met with both praise and criticism, depending on the source. Grant's popularity declined with congressional investigations into corruption in his administration and after General George Armstrong Custer's defeat at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. In 1877, there was bipartisan approval of Grant's peaceful handling of the electoral crisis following the very close election of 1876.

Grant's reputation soared during his well-publicized world tour. When he died in 1885, Grant was praised as "a symbol of the American national identity and memory". Millions turned out for his funeral procession in Manhattan and millions also attended the 1897 dedication of his tomb.

As time went on, historians and scholars portrayed Grant's administration as the most corrupt in American history. As the popularity of the pro-Confederate Lost Cause movement increased early in the 20th century, a more negative view of Grant became common. Grant's new critics charged that he was a reckless drunk, as well as corrupt. In the 1930s, biographer William B. Hesseltine commented that Grant's reputation deteriorated "because his enemies were better writers than his friends". In 1931, Frederic Paxson and Christian Bach wrote in the Dictionary of American Biography that "personal scandal has not touched Grant in any plausible form, but it struck so close to him and so frequently as to necessitate the vindication of his honor by admitting his bad taste in the choice of associates." These same authors also noted Grant's more positive presidential achievements including settling peace with Great Britain, stabilizing the nation after an attempted Johnson impeachment, and steeing the nation through the Panic of 1873 and the controversial election of 1876.

In the 1960s Civil War histiorians Bruce Catton and T. Harry Williams began the reevaluation of Grant's military career. These authors portrayed Grant as a calculating and skillful strategist and commander. Catton acknowledged that the Union had enormous potential advantages in terms of manpower and industry, but he pointed out that until Grant took over in 1864, it lacked the commander who could successfully exploit that potential. Catton wrote: "Grant, in short, was able to use the immense advantage in numbers, and military resources, and in money which the Federal side possessed from the start. Those advantages had always been there, and what the Northern war effort had always needed was a soldier who, assuming the top command, would see to it that they were applied steadily, remorselessly, and without a break, all across the board."

William S. McFeely won the Pulitzer Prize for his critical biography of Grant in 1981. He credited Grant's initial efforts on civil rights, but concluded of Grant that "he did not rise above limited talents or inspire others to do so in ways that make his administration a credit to American politics."

Historians' positive assessments of Grant have grown more favorable since the 1990s. Grant is praised for his efforts to protect African Americans and his peace policy towards Indians, even when those policies failed. Jean Edward Smith's 2001 biography concluded that the same qualities that made Grant a success as a general carried over to his political life to make him an admirable and principled president. Smith wrote: "the common thread is strength of character—an indomitable will that never flagged in the face of adversity. Sometimes he blundered badly; often he oversimplified; yet he saw his goals clearly and moved toward them relentlessly." H. W. Brands, in his 2012 book, wrote favorably of both Grant's military and political careers. He concluded:

"As commanding general in the Civil War, he had defeated secession and destroyed slavery, secession's cause. As President during Reconstruction he had guided the South back into the Union. By the end of his public life the Union was more secure than at any previous time in the history of the nation. And no one had done more to produce the result than he."

Brands noted Grant's forceful and temporarily successful efforta as president to crush the Ku Klux Klan. Though not apparent at the time, many of Grant's modern biographers see him as being on the right side of history on the subject of civil rights. John F. Marszalek wrote, "You have to go almost to Lyndon Johnson to find a president who tried to do as much to ensure black people found freedom."In 2016, Ronald C. White wrote another in depth biography of Grant, noting Grant's fight to protect the rights of former slaves, both as a general and as president, and presents a compelling testimony to Grant's principled character that has been overlooked by many of his earlier biographers. Historian Edwina Campbell credits's Grant's post-presidential trip around the world with creation of "key aspects of the foreign-policy role of the modern American presidency, and created an image abroad of the United States that endures to this day." Like White's book, Ron Chernow's 2017 biography of Grant continued the positive assessment of Grant's historical reputation.

When Grant assumed the presidency in 1869, more than 250,000 indigenous Americans lived on reservations being governed by 370 treaties. Grant introduced a number of radical reforms and promised in his inaugural address to work toward "the proper treatment of the original occupants of this land—the Indians." As Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Grant appointed Ely S. Parker, a Seneca Indian, a former member of his wartime staff, as the first Native American to serve in this position. Grant's plan was to replace the often corrupt political patronage system of managing Indian affairs with one that relied much less on the military and instead used religious denominations to take charge of managing the reservations. Both Catholic and Protestant churches responded to his request for help; they were active in 70 reservations in the West. The policy was well-intention, though it resulted in several scandals, including one at the Red Cloud Agency. Both the federal government and national media focused heavily on these scandals, adding to the severe damage to Grant's reputation. Criticism of the policy was not limited to Grant's lifetime. The peace policy involved assimilation with the indigenous people required to engage in farming, rather than hunting, even though much of the reservation land was too barren for farming. The policy also led to boarding schools that have come under intense criticism since the late 20th century.

As for the allegations of Grant's drinking that form a large part of his legacy, charges of drinking were used against him in his presidential campaigns of 1868 and 1872. In 1868 The Republican Party chose Schuyler Colfax as his running mate hoping that Colfax's reputation as a temperance reformer would neutralize the attacks. Contemporary stories of Grant's alleged excessive drinking were often reported by newspaper reporters during his military service in the Civil War. Many of these reports are contradicted by eye witness accounts. According to Jean Edward Smith, "the evidence is overwhelming that during the Vicksburg campaign he occasionally fell off the wagon. Grant took to drink, but only in private and when his command was not on the line. In a clinical sense, he may have been an 'alcoholic', but overall he refrained from drink, protected from alcohol by his adjutant, Colonel John Rawlins, and especially by his wife Julia". There are no reported episodes while he was president or on the world tour, even though the media was well aware of the rumors and watched him closely.

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Despite the recent positive evaluation of Grant's presidency, rankings of the Presidents continue to rate Grant closer to the bottom. In an aggregate of twenty different rankings conducted between 1948 and 2018, Grant rates 36th among all 44 Presidents. More recent rankings have elevated his status to above average, finishing 21st in a 2018 APSA ranking, 22nd in a 2017 C-SPAN ranking, and 23rd in a 2009 C-SPAN ranking. Grant's changing legacy offers a valuable lesson about jumping to conclusions and rash judgements when it comes to looking at history in perspective.

Happy Birthday Grover Cleveland

On March 18, 1837 (182 years ago today) Grover Cleveland was born in Caldwell, New Jersey. He is the only President to serve non-consecutive terms, and is counted as both the 22nd and 24th President of the United States. Although Donald Trump is considered to be the 45th President, only 44 men have served as President and our old pal Grover is the reason why the numbering system is out of whack.

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Stephen Grover Cleveland actually ran for president three times—in 1884, 1888, and 1892—and he won the popular vote every time even though Benjamin Harrison and the Republicans captured more of the electoral vote in 1888. Cleveland was also the only Democrat elected to the presidency in the era of Republican political domination that lasted from 1861 to 1913 (between James Buchanan and Woodrow Wilson.) Cleveland was considered to be a fiscal conservative. He is also renowned for his honesty as he fought political corruption, patronage, and the power of the political bosses. There was a reform wing of the Republican Party, called "Mugwumps"that supported Cleveland in 1884 (they were the Reagan Democrats of their day.)

Disaster hit the nation in Cleveland's second term began when the Panic of 1893 produced a severe national depression that Cleveland was unable to reverse. It ruined his Democratic party, opening the way for a Republican landslide in 1894. Cleveland took strong positions and was heavily criticized. His intervention in the Pullman Strike of 1894 to keep the railroads moving angered labor unions. His support of the gold standard alienated many of his fellow Democrats.

One other thing that Cleveland is remembered for is allegations that he fathered a child out of wedlock. Cleveland was accused of being the father of an illegitimate child while he was a lawyer in Buffalo. Cleveland never admitted doing the deed, but he supported the child financially. Some believe he did so to protect the reputation of the real baby daddy, his law partner and best friend Oscar Folsom. During the election of 1884, his Republican opponents chanted "Ma, Ma, where's my Pa?" (After Cleveland won the election, there was a second line to this rhyme which went "gone to the White House, ha ha ha!") When confronted with the scandal, Cleveland's instructions to his campaign staff were: "Tell the truth."Cleveland admitted to paying child support in 1874 to Maria Crofts Halpin, the woman who claimed he fathered her child, which coincidentally she had named Oscar Folsom Cleveland.

People also questioned his choice of bride. Cleveland entered the White House as a bachelor. His friend Oscar Folsom had a young daughter named Frances, and when Oscar Folsom died, Cleveland was the executor of Oscar Folsom's estate. He was responsible for supervising Frances' upbringing. Frances was only 11 when her father died. She later became a student at Wells College and when she returned to school, Cleveland received her mother's permission to correspond with her. They were soon engaged to be married and on June 2, 1886, Cleveland married Frances Folsom in the Blue Room at the White House. At 21 years of age, Frances Folsom Cleveland remains the youngest First Lady. Her groom was 49.


During the 1892 election campaign, Caroline Harrison, the wife of Cleveland's opponent Benjamin Harrison, died after a lengthy illness. Her grief-stricken husband ceased campaigning. Out of respect, and in a very classy move, Cleveland did likewise.

In 1893, Cleveland sought medical advice about soreness on the roof of his mouth. A growth was discovered and Cleveland decided to have surgery secretly, to avoid further panic that might worsen the financial depression. The surgery occurred on the yacht Oneida as it sailed off Long Island. The surgeons successfully removed parts of his upper left jaw and palate. The operation left Cleveland's mouth disfigured. Cleveland was fitted with a hard rubber dental prosthesis that corrected his speech and restored his appearance. A press release about the removal of two bad teeth kept the press placated. Even when a newspaper story appeared giving details of the actual operation, the participating surgeons discounted the severity of what transpired during Cleveland's vacation.

After leaving the White House on March 4, 1897, Cleveland lived in retirement at his estate, Westland Mansion, in Princeton, New Jersey. He still ventured opinions on issues of the day, such as when, in a 1905 article in The Ladies Home Journal, Cleveland wrote that "sensible and responsible women do not want to vote. The relative positions to be assumed by men and women in the working out of our civilization were assigned long ago by a higher intelligence."

Cleveland's health had been declining for several years, and in the fall of 1907 he fell seriously ill. In 1908, he suffered a heart attack and died on June 24, 1908 at the age of 71. His last words were said to be "I have tried so hard to do right."

The high-rollers who read this will recognize Cleveland from one other place. His mug is on the $1000 bill.

Presidential Legacies: Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson is another of those presidents who dwells close to the bottom when it comes to rankings of the presidents. He was selected as Abraham Lincoln's running mate in the 1864 election when Lincoln thought it was a good idea to run on a ticket of national unity as opposed to party loyalty. Johnson was a Democrat, Lincoln was a Republican. Johnson was a southerner, Lincoln was from the north. But both believed that it was paramount that the Union be preserved at all cost, so when the 1864 election neared, Lincoln convinced his party to drop Vice-President Hannibal Hamlin from the ticket, change its name from Republican to Nation Union, and add Johnson to the ticket. Little did Lincoln know that six weeks into his term, Johnson would become President.

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Andrew Johnson was born in Raleigh, North Carolina. His family was very poor and his father died when Andrew was three years old. When his mother remarried, it was to another poor farmer. Andrew never attended school. He was apprenticed as a tailor, but ran away from his apprenticeship. He worked in several frontier towns before settling in Greeneville, Tennessee.

From his humble origins, Johnson rose through the political ranks. He served as alderman and mayor of Greeneville before being elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives in 1835. After brief service in the Tennessee Senate, Johnson was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1843, where he served five two-year terms. He became Governor of Tennessee for four years beginning in 1853, and was elected by the legislature to the U.S. Senate in 1857. While in Congress, he pressed for passage of the Homestead Bill, which was enacted soon after he left his Senate seat in 1862.

Tennessee was a southern slave states, and it seceded to join the Confederate States of America in 1861. This was something that Johnson had campaigned against. He remained firmly with the Union even after his state seceded. Johnson was the only sitting senator from a Confederate state who did not resign his seat upon learning of his state's secession. In 1862, Abraham Lincoln appointed him as military governor of Tennessee after most of it had been recaptured by Union forces.

In 1864, Lincoln picked Johnson as his running mate in the election. Johnson was a War Democrat and a southern Unionist, and Lincoln wanted to send a message of national unity in his reelection campaign. After some initial concern that he might not be re-elected, Lincoln was assisted by some wartime successes. The National Union ticket easily won the election, defeating the petulant former Union General George McClellan.

When Johnson was sworn in as vice president in March 1865, he appeared to be very drunk and gave a rambling speech, after which he secluded himself out of embarrassment. But six weeks later, the assassination of Lincoln made him President of the United States.

With the war ended, Johnson implemented his own form of reconstruction, one that drew the ire of the Radical Republicans. He issued a series of proclamations directing the seceded states to hold conventions and elections to reform their civil governments. When Southern states returned many of their old leaders, they passed Black Codes to deprive the freed former slaves of many civil liberties. Congressional Republicans refused to seat legislators from those states and advanced legislation to overrule the Southern actions, but Johnson vetoed their bills, and Congressional Republicans overrode his vetoes. This would become a pattern for the remainder of his presidency.

Johnson opposed the Fourteenth Amendment, which gave citizenship to former slaves. But he couldn't stop the tide of history. In 1866, Johnson thought he would take his case to the people. He went on a national tour promoting his executive policies and attacking his Republican opponents. His "swing around the circle" tour was a disaster.

The conflict between the branches of government grew even more. Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act, restricting Johnson's ability to fire Cabinet officials. When he persisted in trying to dismiss Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, he was impeached by the House of Representatives. Johnson narrowly avoided conviction in the Senate and removal from office. He tried and failed to win the 1868 Democratic presidential nomination and left office in 1869.

Johnson returned to Tennessee after his presidency was over. He looked for political vindication, and achieved a measure of success as he was elected to the Senate again in 1875, making Johnson the only former president to serve in the Senate. By now he was in poor health and he died months into his term.

There are some who praised Johnson for being a strict constitutionalist. But his strong opposition to federally guaranteed rights for African Americans has caused history to look back on his presidency very critically. He is regarded by many historians as one of the worst presidents in American history. In the first few decades after Johnson left office, memoirs from northerners such as former vice president Henry Wilson and Maine Senator James G. Blaine, portrayed Johnson as an obstinate boor whose Reconstruction policies favored the South. At the turn of the 20th century, his reputation was rehabilitated somewhat. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James Ford Rhodes ascribed Johnson's faults to his personal weaknesses, and blamed him for the problems of the postbellum South. But other early 20th-century historians, such as John Burgess, Woodrow Wilson, and William Dunning, all southerners gave Johnson for trying to carry out Lincoln's plans for the South in good faith. Wilson, a future president, wrote about Reconstruction as being a vindictive program that hurt all southerners, helped northern opportunists (pejoratively called "Carpetbaggers"), and allowed cynical white southerners (called "Scalawags") to exploit alliances with African-Americans for political gain.

Another group of historians were more generous to Johnson, using Johnson's papers to support their arguments. David Miller DeWitt's The Impeachment and Trial of President Andrew Johnson, written in 1903, presented Johnson far more favorably than other contemporary historians. James Schouler's 1913 work "History of the Reconstruction Period" described Johnson's Reconstruction policies as fundamentally correct. There were a series of highly favorable biographies in the late 1920s and early 1930s that glorified Johnson and criticized his enemies. In 1948, a poll of historians conducted by Arthur M. Schlesinger deemed Johnson among the average presidents, and one conducted in 1956 by Clinton L. Rossiter assessed Johnson as one of the near-great presidents. Rossiter and others at the time saw the Reconstruction era as a time of corruption and misgovernment caused and their contemporary racist viewpoint blamed this on granting former slaves the right to vote.


A 1942 movie called Tennessee Johnson portrays the 17th President as as a visionary who heals the rift between north and south despite the efforts of his shortsighted foes. In a climactic scene, Johnson, portrayed by Van Heflin, delivers an impassioned speech to the senators sitting in judgment of him, and warns them that failure to readmit the former Confederate states will leave America defenseless before its overseas foes. The scene is pure fiction. Johnson never appeared in person at his trial.

In the 1950s, this point of view changed as historians began to consider the African-American experience during Reconstruction. They rejected previous claims that former slaves were somehow inferior, a point of view that had been a premise of many earlier historical works. The developing Civil Rights Movement was ushering history into a new age of enlightenment. These historians concurred with the Radical Republicans and with their desire to help African Americans. They saw Johnson as callous towards the freedman. In a number of works from 1956 onwards by such historians as Fawn Brodie, Johnson was depicted as a successful saboteur of efforts to better the freedman's lives.

In the early 21st century, Johnson is now among those commonly mentioned as the worst presidents, because of his complete mishandling of Reconstruction policy, his abrasive personality, and his misplaced ego. Johnson is blamed for having resisted Radical Republican policies aimed at securing the rights and well-being of the newly emancipated African-Americans. Johnson's biographer Annette Gordon-Reed notes that Johnson, along with his contemporaries Pierce and Buchanan, are generally listed among the five worst presidents, but concedes that, in her words, "there have never been more difficult times in the life of this nation. The problems these men had to confront were enormous. It would have taken a succession of Lincolns to do them justice." Another biographer, Hans Trefousse, describes Johnson's legacy as being rooted in "the maintenance of white supremacy." He adds, "His boost to Southern conservatives by undermining Reconstruction was his legacy to the nation, one that would trouble the country for generations to come."

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A 2018 poll of the American Political Science Association's Presidents and Executive Politics section ranked Johnson as the seventh-worst president, while a 2017 C-Span poll of historians ranked Johnson as the second-worst president. A 2006 poll of historians ranked Johnson's decision to oppose greater equality for African Americans in the aftermath of the Civil War as the second-worst mistake ever made by a sitting president. Johnson was likely the worst possible person to become President at the end of the Civil War. In the words of historian Elizabeth Varon, Johnson is remembered as "a rigid, dictatorial racist who was unable to compromise or to accept a political reality at odds with his own ideas. Most importantly, Johnson's strong commitment to obstructing political and civil rights for blacks is principally responsible for the failure of Reconstruction to solve the race problem in the South and perhaps in America as well."

Potus Geeks: St. Patrick's Day Edition

Happy St. Patrick's Day to all of you who have some Irish ancestry. Apparently there were 22 Presidents who had some Irish ancestry, some of whom will surprise you. For three of these (Taft, Harding and Truman), I have been unable to locate which ancestor of theirs lived in Ireland. Here is the list:


1. Andrew Jackson: He was born in the predominantly Ulster-Scots Waxhaws area of South Carolina two years after his parents left Boneybefore, near Carrickfergus in County Antrim. A heritage centre in the village pays tribute to the legacy of 'Old Hickory', the People's President.

2. James K. Polk: His ancestors were among the first Ulster-Scots settlers, emigrating from Coleraine in 1680 to become a powerful political family in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.

3. James Buchanan: Born in Cove Gap, Pennsylvania, Buchanan once said "My Ulster blood is a priceless heritage". The Buchanans were originally from Deroran, near Omagh in County Tyrone where the ancestral home still stands.

4. Andrew Johnson: His grandfather left Mounthill, near Larne in County Antrim around 1750 and settled in North Carolina.

5. Ulysses S. Grant: The home of his maternal great-grandfather, John Simpson, at Dergenagh, County Tyrone, is the location for an exhibition on the eventful life of the victorious Civil War commander who served two terms as President. Grant visited his ancestral homeland in 1878.

6. Chester Alan Arthur: His becoming president was the start of a quarter-century in which the White House was occupied by men of Ulster-Scots origins. His family left Dreen, near Cullybackey, County Antrim, in 1815. There is now an interpretive centre, alongside the Arthur Ancestral Home, devoted to his life and times.

7. Grover Cleveland: Born in New Jersey, he was the maternal grandson of merchant Abner Neal, who emigrated from County Antrim in the 1790s.

8. Benjamin Harrison: His mother, Elizabeth Irwin, had Ulster-Scots roots through her two great-grandfathers, James Irwin and William McDowell.

9. William McKinley: Born in Ohio, the descendant of a farmer from Conagher, near Ballymoney, County Antrim, he was proud of his ancestry and addressed one of the national Scotch-Irish Irish congresses held in the late 19th century.

10. Theodore Roosevelt: His mother, Mittie Bulloch, had Ulster Scots ancestors who emigrated from Glenoe, County Antrim, in May 1729. Roosevelt praised "Irish Presbyterians" as "a bold and hardy race." But he is also the man who said: "But a hyphenated American is not an American at all. This is just as true of the man who puts "native" before the hyphen as of the man who puts German or Irish or English or French before the hyphen."

11. William Howard Taft: Taft is included in many lists of Presidents of Irish heritage, though I have been unable to find precisely which ancestor lived in Ireland.

12. Woodrow Wilson: Of Ulster-Scot descent on both sides of the family, his roots were very strong and dear to him. He was grandson of a printer from Dergalt, near Strabane, County Tyrone, whose former home is open to visitors.

13. Warren G. Harding: Like Taft, Harding is included in many lists of Presidents of Irish heritage, though I have been unable to find precisely which ancestor lived in Ireland.

14. Harry S. Truman: Like Taft and Harding, Truman is also included in many lists of Presidents of Irish heritage, though I have been unable to find precisely which ancestor lived in Ireland.

15. John F. Kennedy: All four of his grandparents were the children of immigrants from Ireland. His paternal grandparents came from County Wexford, and he visited his ancestral home for four days in June of 1963.

16. Richard Nixon: The Nixon ancestors left Ulster in the mid-18th century; the Quaker Milhous family ties were with County Antrim and County Kildare.

17. Jimmy Carter: Carter has Scots-Irish and English ancestry. One of his paternal ancestors arrived in the American Colonies in 1635. His Irish ancestors came from County Antrim.

18. Ronald Reagan: He was the great-grandson, on his father's side, of Irish migrants from Ballyporeen, County Tipperary who came to United States via Canada and England in the 1940s. His mother was of Scottish and English ancestry. Once on a visit to Canada, he and Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney sang a duet of "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling".

19. George H. W. Bush: County Wexford His ancestry has been traced to, Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke (known as Strongbow) and to Dermot MacMurrough, the Gaelic king of Leinster.

20. Bill Clinton: President Clinton claims Irish ancestry despite there being no documentation of any of his ancestors coming from Ireland, but I'm sure he would never lie about something like that.

21. George W. Bush: One of his five times great-grandfathers, William Holliday, was born in Rathfriland, County Down, about 1755, and died in Kentucky about 1811-12. One of the President's seven times great-grandfathers, William Shannon, was born somewhere in County Cork about 1730, and died in Pennsylvania in 1784.

22. Barack Obama: Surprised? His mother's ancestry was predominantly English, but a few of his maternal ancestors hailed from Moneygall, County Offaly.

Happy St. Patrick's Day from potus_geeks.

Presidential Legacies: Abraham Lincolm

In rankings of presidents conducted since the 1940s, Abraham Lincoln is consistently ranked as one of the top three greatest presidents, often as number one. For example in a 2004 study, history scholars ranked Lincoln number one, while legal scholars placed him second after George Washington. Generally, in presidential ranking polls conducted after the end of the Second World War, Lincoln has been rated in first place in the majority of polls. He is almost always among the top three presidents, along with Washington and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

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Following Lincoln's assassination, he was seen by abolitionists as a champion for human liberty. Republicans attached Lincoln as symbolic of their party. This wasn't an immediate reaction. Lincoln's American reputation grew slowly from the late 19th century until the Progressive Era, a time when he was considered to be one of America's most venerated heroes. Even Southerners began to admire him. In 1922, admiration for him grew with the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. How his admirers viewed Lincoln changed with the times. In the New Deal era, liberals honored Lincoln as the champion of the common man. They claimed that Lincoln would have supported FDR's welfare state. In the Cold War years, Lincoln was seen as a symbol of freedom who brought hope to those oppressed by Communist regimes. In the 1970s Lincoln was portrayed as a hero to political conservatives for his intense nationalism, and his insistence on stopping the enslavement of others.

Not everyone was an admirer of the 16th President. By the late 1960s, some African American intellectuals rejected the notion that Lincoln was "the Great Emancipator". In fact Lerone Bennett Jr. attracted considerable attention when he called Lincoln a white supremacist in 1968, referring to times when Lincoln used ethnic slurs or told jokes that ridiculed blacks. Bennett pointed out to Lincoln wanting to send freed slaves to another country. But in 2008, President Barack Obama named Lincoln his favorite president and insisted on using Lincoln's Bible for his inaugural ceremonies.

Lincoln's image has been preserved on two denominations of United States currency, the penny and the $5 bill. His likeness also appears on many postage stamps and he has been memorialized in many town, city, and county names, including the capital city of Nebraska.He is almost always portrayed with a beard, even though he did not grow his beard until 1860 at the suggestion of 11-year-old Grace Bedell. The most famous memorials are Lincoln's sculpture on Mount Rushmore, the Lincoln Memorial, Ford's Theatre, Petersen House (where he died), the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, not far from Lincoln's home, as well as his tomb. The United States Navy Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) is named after Lincoln, the second Navy ship to bear his name.

Lincoln was born in Kentucky and grew up on the frontier in a poor family. He was largely self-educated, and became a lawyer, earning a reputation as very capable and able. He became a leader in the Whig Party, a state legislator and a one-term Congressman. He left government to resume his law practice, but returned to politics in 1854, after becoming upset by the success of Democrats in opening the prairie lands to slavery. He became a leader in the new Republican Party and gained national attention in 1858 for a series of debates he had with Democrat Stephen A. Douglas. Although Lincoln lost his Senate campaign to Douglas, he elevated his national profile to the point where he was a viable candidate for President in 1860. He won his party's nomination and won the election on the strength of a sweep of the northern states.

Southern pro-slavery factions saw Lincoln's victory as proof that the North was rejecting the Constitutional rights of Southern states to practice slavery. The new Confederate States of America were formed and with an attack on Fort Sumter, one of the few U.S. forts in the South, the Civil War was on. Lincoln called up volunteers and militia to suppress the rebellion and restore the Union.

As the leader of the moderate faction of the Republican Party, Lincoln challenged the Radical Republicans, who demanded harsher treatment of the South. War Democrats supported his presidency, while anti-war Democrats (called Copperheads) despised him. Lincoln kept his coalition together by carefully distributing political patronage, and by appealing directly to the people. His Gettysburg Address is remembered as one of the greatest political orations in history, an iconic call for nationalism, equal rights, liberty, and democracy. He suspended habeas corpus (the right to judicial review of arrest and detention), and he prevented British intervention by defusing the Trent Affair.

Lincoln closely supervised the war effort, including the selection of generals, as well as the naval blockade that shut down the South's trade. As the war progressed, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, something he is most remembered for, even if his motives for doing so are often misunderstood. He ordered the Army to protect escaped slaves, encouraged the border states to outlaw slavery, and pushed the the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution through Congress, which outlawed slavery across the country. Even more important than the actions themselves, was their timing. If Lincoln had moved too quickly, he would have alienated the border states and they would have joined the confederacy. If he had waited too long, nothing would have changed.


Lincoln managed his own re-election campaign. He sought to reconcile his damaged nation by avoiding retribution against the secessionists. He approved generous terms of surrender and imagined a charitable reconstruction of the nation. But a few days after the end of the war at the Battle of Appomattox Court House, Lincoln was shot and killed by John Wilkes Booth, an actor and Confederate sympathizer, on April 14, 1865. He died the following day, forever cementing Lincoln as his nation's greatest martyr.

Lincoln emphasized the Declaration of Independence as the foundation of American political values. Its emphasis on freedom and equality for all, in contrast to the Constitution's tolerance of slavery, was significant to Lincoln. In his highly influential Cooper Union speech of early 1860, Lincoln presented Americans a theory of history that stressed these values. He offered a moral basis of republicanism, as opposed to a legal one. But he also justified the war by calling the Constitution a contract, and reminded southerners that for one party to get out of a contract all the other parties had to agree.

American Presidents have died in office in 1841, 1865, 1881, 1901, 1923, 1944 and 1963. Four of these have been assassinated and two died in wartime. Lincoln remains the most beloved. Today Lincoln's legacy is claimed by conservatives and liberals alike. The former stake a claim in Lincoln's strong principled determination to preserve the Union in the face of a timidity that brought the nation as close as it has ever come to dissolution. The latter embrace Lincoln's championing of minority rights, and his charity shown towards those he defeated. It is Lincoln's embodiment of all of those principles that makes his memory endure and makes his example so important and so relevant today.

Lincoln was no saint. He was not a mindless idealist; on the contrary, a study of the man and his actions make it clear that he was first and foremost a pragmatist. He was a man of principle, to be sure, but he was practical and politically shrewd when it came to achieving those principles. For example, be believed in the rights enshrined in the Constitution, but he was not above restricting those rights when he felt doing so was necessary to achieve the greater good. He disallowed a free press when he believed that doing so would impede those seeking to break up the union. He removed the right of habeas corpus (judicial review for some of those arrested and detained) when he felt it necessary. When it looked as if he might lose a close election in 1864, he allowed leave to union soldiers in swing states so they could come home and vote for him. For Abraham Lincoln, lesser principles gave way in favor of the greater.

Political leaders have always felt the need to be practical and to make sacrifices of principle when they believe doing so to be justified. Lincoln was no different in this regard. At his core however, Lincoln held fast to certain principles. He had a hierarchy of fundamental beliefs. First among these was his belief that the Union had to be preserved. In his farewell address in the previous century, President George Washington expressed his concern that abandonment of a strong central government in favor of diverse regional interests would turn the nation into a collection of warring fiefdoms like the nations of Europe. Lincoln also held this belief. Unlike his predecessor James Buchanan, Lincoln did not believe that nothing could or should be done about secession. It was his strong belief in the core value of preserving the union, his decisiveness to take action, whether popular or not, and it is having the courage of his conviction that makes Lincoln as relevant today as he was in his time.

Throughout the destruction and carnage, Lincoln maintained his compassion, his humanity and his love of the common man. He was not vindictive and approved generous terms of peace when the defeat of the Army of Northern Virginia was imminent. It is Lincoln's magnanimity, his compassion and his empathy that are very relevant today and sorely needed. These qualities also make Lincoln relevant today.

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Finally, throughout what was likely the worst period in his nation's history, Lincoln maintained his humor and his his kindness. He took his job very seriously, but he did not take himself seriously. These are qualities that are crucial to strong leadership because they put the people ahead of ego and personal prosperity. They are needed now perhaps more than ever. It is Lincoln's humility and his his humanity that make his legacy a lasting one.

Happy Birthday James Madison

On March 16, 1751 (268 years ago today) James Madison, Jr., the fourth President of the United States, was born at Belle Grove Plantation near Port Conway, Virginia. He was actually born on March 5th, but at the time the colonies were using the Old Style, Julian calendar, and smarter minds than mine tell me that this converts to March 16th on the modern day Gregorian calendar.

Madison is considered to be one of the greatest American statesman and political theorists. He is called the "Father of the Constitution" for being instrumental in the drafting of the United States Constitution and as the key champion and author of the United States Bill of Rights. He served as a politician much of his adult life.

After the constitution had been drafted, Madison became one of the leaders in the movement to ratify it. He collaborated with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay to produce the Federalist Papers in 1788, and they are still relied on as a tool for construction of the Constitution today. He was also a delegate to the Virginia constitutional ratifying convention, and was the key player in the successful ratification in Virginia.

Madison changed his political views during his life. During the drafting and ratification of the constitution, he favored a strong national government, though later he grew to favor stronger state governments. Still later in life he settled somewhere between the two extremes.

In 1789, Madison became a leader in the new House of Representatives. He showed skill as the draftsman of many laws and he is notable for drafting the first ten amendments to the Constitution. Madison worked closely with President George Washington to organize the new federal government. In 1791 he broke with Alexander Hamilton and the faction that became the Federalist Party, when Madison and Thomas Jefferson organized what they called the Republican Party (later renamed the Democratic-Republican Party).

Madison served as Thomas Jefferson's Secretary of State from 1801 to 1809, during which time he supervised the Louisiana Purchase, which doubled the nation's size. He was elected to succeed Jefferson as President in 1809 and he presided over renewed prosperity for several years. After the failure of diplomatic protests and a trade embargo against Great Britain, he led the nation into the War of 1812 in response to British encroachments on American honor and rights. He also hoped to end the influence of the British with a number of Indian tribes whose resistance blocked United States settlement in the Great Lakes region. Madison found the war to be very difficult, because as the United States had neither a strong army nor support in all regions for war with England. As a result, he supported a stronger national government and a strong military, as well as the national bank, which he had previously opposed.

Like other Virginia politicians of his time, Madison was a slaveholder who inherited his plantation known as Montpelier, and owned hundreds of slaves during his lifetime. On his plantation tobacco and other crops were grown. Madison supported the compromise that allowed three-fifths of the enumerated population of slaves to be counted for representation.

When Madison left office in 1817, he retired to Montpelier. He was 65 years old. Dolley was 49. Madison left the presidency a poorer man than when he entered. Some historians believe that Madison's financial problems was the reason why he refused to allow his notes on the Constitutional Convention, or its official records to be published in his lifetime. Instead he wanted them to bring money to his estate for Dolley's use. In his later years, Madison became extremely concerned about his historic legacy. He took to modifying letters and other documents in his possession: changing days and dates, adding and deleting words and editing sentences.

Between 1834 and 1835, Madison sold 25% of his slaves to make up for financial losses on his plantation. He died at Montpelier on June 28, 1836 at the age of 85 and was buried in the Madison Family Cemetery at Montpelier.

Madison has recently been the subject of a number of thorough biographies, including Madison's Gift: Five Partnerships That Built America by David O. Stewart, 2014's James Madison: A Life Reconsidered by Lynne Cheney, reviewed here and The Three Lives of James Madison: Genius, Partisan, Patriot by Noah Feldman.

Presidential Legacies: James Buchanan

In almost all rankings of Presidents, James Buchanan comes in dead last and wins the title of "worst president ever." Partisans of whatever party the president of the day doesn't belong to might argue that whoever the current incumbent happens to be is worse than Buchanan, but it's hard to imagine anyone being a worse president than one who ended his term with fewer states than he began with, and who did nothing to prevent that from happening. It's ironic that when Buchanan began his presidency, many people believed that Buchanan had the perfect resumé to be president. Buchanan himself predicted that his presidency would rival that of George Washington. At the end of Buchanan's presidency, such a bold claim was laughable. Not surprisingly, the phrase "Worst President" is the part of the title of two recent biographies about Buchanan. Over a century after his death, his reputation has not rehabilitated itself. It only seems to have gotten worse.


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Buchanan was born in Cove Gap, Pennsylvania> His parents were of Ulster Scots descent. He became a prominent lawyer in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and in 1814 he was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives as a Federalist. In 1820, with the Federalist Party in shambles, Buchanan won election to the United States House of Representatives as a "Republican-Federalist". He joined Andrew Jackson's Democratic Party and in 1832 he was appointed as Jackson's Minister to Russia. Buchanan won election as a senator from Pennsylvania in 1834, and he continued to serve in the Senate until 1845, when he accepted appointment as President James K. Polk's Secretary of State. Buchanan was a leading candidate for his party's presidential nomination throughout the 1840s and 1850s, but never managed to catch the brass ring until 1856 when he finally won his party's nomination, defeating incumbent President Franklin Pierce and Senator Stephen A. Douglas at the 1856 Democratic National Convention. Buchanan and his running mate, John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky, defeated Republican John C. Frémont and Know-Nothing Party candidate Millard Fillmore to win the presidency.

Right from the start, Buchanan made some bad moves. Shortly after his election, he lobbied the Supreme Court to influence their decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford, something highly unethical both for a lawyer and for a president. When the decision was handed down as he had expected, he fully endorsed it as president. He also sided with slave owners in the South in attempting to gain the admission of Kansas to the Union as a slave state under the fraudulent Lecompton Constitution. In the process, he alienated both Republican abolitionists (who would have never voted for him anyhow) and northern Democrats (most of whom supported the concept of popular sovereignty in determining a new state's status). Buchanan was what was pejoratively called a "doughface", that is a northerner with southern sympathies. He fought with Stephen Douglas, the leader of the popular sovereignty faction, for control of the Democratic Party.

To add to Buchanan's woes, Buchanan took office just as the Panic of 1857 struck the nation. Buchanan had indicated at the time of his 1857 inaugural address, that he would not seek a second term, and he kept his word, likely realizing that he would never win re-election in any event. In the waning days of his Presidency, with news of Abraham Lincoln's victory as president, plans for secession by a number of slave states reached a boiling point. In his final message to Congress, everyone expected that Buchanan would show some leadership and deal with the question. He dithered instead. In his message, Buchanan said that states had no legal right to secede. But he also said that the federal government do do nothing to stop them. He blamed the crisis on "intemperate interference of the Northern people with the question of slavery in the Southern States". His only suggestion to solve the crisis was "an explanatory amendment" reaffirming the constitutionality of slavery in the states, the fugitive slave laws, and popular sovereignty in the territories. Like Fillmore and Pierce, Buchanan failed to see slavery as a moral issue.

South Carolina, the most radical southern state, seceded from the union on December 20, 1860. He refused to fire Secretary of War John B. Floyd and before resigning, Floyd sent numerous firearms to southern states, where they would eventually fall into the hands of the Confederate soldiers to be used against the Union. Efforts were made by eminent statesmen such as Sen. John J. Crittenden, Rep. Thomas Corwin, and former president John Tyler to negotiate a solution to stop secession all failed.

By the end of January, 1861, six more slave states had seceded. Buchanan considered surrendering Fort Sumter, but his new cabinet members threatened to resign. On January 5, Buchanan finally decided to reinforce Fort Sumter, sending the Star of the West with 250 men and supplies. However, the ship was fired upon, and it was forced to return North without delivering troops or supplies. Buchanan chose not to respond to this act of war. But on March 4, Buchanan was succeeded by Lincoln, who was left to deal with the emerging sectional crisis that eventually became the Civil War. He reportedly told Lincoln on the ride back from Lincoln's inauguration, "Sir, if you are as happy in entering the White House as I shall feel on returning to Wheatland, you are a happy man indeed."

Buchanan supported the North during the Civil War and called on his fellow Pennsylvanians to enlist. Buchanan spent most of his remaining years defending himself from public blame for the war, which some referred to as "Buchanan's War". He received angry and threatening letters daily, and stores were displaying Buchanan's likeness with the eyes inked red, a noose drawn around his neck and the word "TRAITOR" written across his forehead. Newspapers accused him of colluding with the Confederacy. He published his memoir "Mr. Buchanan's Administration on the Eve of Rebellion" in 1866 in which he made a feeble attempt to defend his actions. He died on June 1, 1868, from respiratory failure at the age of 77 at his home at Wheatland and was interred in Woodward Hill Cemetery in Lancaster. He was the last president to be born in the eighteenth century. He is the only president to remain a lifelong bachelor.

Part of Buchanan's legacy is the speculation that he may have been gay. Buchanan had a close and intimate relationship with William Rufus King, an Alabama politician who briefly served as vice president under Franklin Pierce. Buchanan and King lived together in a Washington boardinghouse for many years, from 1834 until King left to become Ambassador to France in 1844. King referred to the relationship as a "communion". The two men attended social functions together. Andrew Jackson called King "Miss Nancy" and Tennessee Democrat Aaron V. Brown referred to King as Buchanan's "better half", his "wife" and "Aunt Fancy" (the last term being a 19th-century euphemism for an effeminate man). Buchanan wrote a letter acknowledging that he might marry a woman who could accept his "lack of ardent or romantic affection". Catherine Thompson, the wife of cabinet member Jacob Thompson, wrote that "there was something unhealthy in the president's attitude". The nieces of the two men may destroyed some correspondence between them, and it is likely that the best evidence to aid in deciding this question has been destroyed.

On May 31, 1868, the day before he died, James Buchanan predicted that "history would vindicate my memory". He was wrong about that. Historians criticize Buchanan for his unwillingness or inability to act in the face of secession. Historians fault Buchanan for his failure to address the issue of slavery and the secession of the southern states. His dithering on the issue sharply divided pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions. Historians who participated in a 2006 survey voted his failure to deal with secession as the worst presidential mistake ever made.Historical rankings of United States Presidents, considering presidential achievements, leadership qualities, failures and faults, consistently place Buchanan among the least successful presidents. In many of these polls, Buchanan is ranked as the worst president in U.S. history.

Buchanan's most charitable biographer, Philip Klein, notes the challenges Buchanan faced, writing that "Buchanan assumed leadership when an unprecedented wave of angry passion was sweeping over the nation. That he held the hostile sections in check during these revolutionary times was in itself a remarkable achievement. His weaknesses in the stormy years of his presidency were magnified by enraged partisans of the North and South. His many talents, which in a quieter era might have gained for him a place among the great presidents, were quickly overshadowed by the cataclysmic events of civil war and by the towering Abraham Lincoln."

Biographer Jean Baker is more blunt. "Buchanan's failing during the crisis over the Union was not inactivity, but rather his partiality for the South, a favoritism that bordered on disloyalty in an officer pledged to defend all the United States. He was that most dangerous of chief executives, a stubborn, mistaken ideologue whose principles held no room for compromise. His experience in government had only rendered him too self-confident to consider other views. In his betrayal of the national trust, Buchanan came closer to committing treason than any other president in American history."

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Today a bronze and granite memorial to Buchanan can be found near the southeast corner of Washington, D.C.'s Meridian Hill Park. It was designed by architect William Gorden Beecher and sculpted by Maryland artist Hans Schuler. Commissioned in 1916 it was unveiled on June 26, 1930. The memorial features a statue of Buchanan bookended by male and female classical figures representing law and diplomacy, with the engraved text reading: "The incorruptible statesman whose walk was upon the mountain ranges of the law." An earlier monument to Buchanan was dedicated in 1911, on the site of Buchanan's birthplace in Stony Batter, Pennsylvania.

Three counties are named in his honor: Buchanan County, Iowa, Buchanan County, Missouri, and Buchanan County, Virginia. Another in Texas was christened in 1858 but renamed Stephens County, after the newly elected Vice President of the Confederate States of America, Alexander Stephens, in 1861. The city of Buchanan, Michigan, was also named after him. Several other communities are named after him: the unincorporated community of Buchanan, Indiana, the city of Buchanan, Georgia, the town of Buchanan, Wisconsin, and the townships of Buchanan Township, Michigan, and Buchanan, Missouri.


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