March 26th, 2016

2016

Happy 6th Birthday Potus Geeks!

Six years ago today potus_geeks posted its first entry. Today, 2,667 entries later, potus_geeks has posted numerous articles about every Chief Executive, remembered their birthdays, and marked the anniversaries of their passing. We've visited presidential libraries and museums, reviewed hundreds of books, documentaries and movies about presidents and the potus_geeks library has expanded to over six hundred volumes.

Here's a recap of some of the things potus_geeks has done:

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YEAR ONE: In our first year 416 journal entries were posted. Among the reports were visits to the LBJ Library and Museum in Austin, Texas, the Eisenhower Museum and Library in Abilene, Kansas, and Benjamin Harrison's home in Indianapolis, Indiana.

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YEAR TWO: In our second year we looked at the civil rights record of every President, and direcorrector posted biographies of all of the oval office occupants as well. It was also the first year we began our look at Christmas in the White House and as the calendar clicked over to 2012, we began our journey on the road to the 2012 Presidential Election.

YEAR THREE: In year three we followed the first presidential election in this community's history (preceded by primaries and conventions). We also visited the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas, and reviewed two movies about Abraham Lincoln (one award winning, another vampire hunting). In an ambitious undertaking, potus_geeks conducted its own ranking of the Presidents (with a top three of Washington, Lincoln and Roosevelt, but not the Roosevelt some expected). We reviewed more terrific new books, looked at past elections, the potus_geeks library continued to expand, saw the completion of direcorrector's wonderful biographies of the presidents, the first potus_geeks election day poetry slam, another annual reading list, the first presidential inauguration in this community's history, and profiles of the first ladies.

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YEAR FOUR: Our fourth year was a year of many interesting themes, including Presidents portrayed in Movies and TV (April, 2013), Runners-up and Also Rans (May, 2013), Presidential Libraries and Museums (July, 2013), and Vice Presidents (September, 2013). We also marked the 50th Anniversary of the Assassination of John F. Kennedy and his final month in office (November, 2013) with a look at JFK's last days. We continued our look at the Presidents at Christmas (December 2013) and began the New Year with themes of Presidents and their Advisers (January, 2014), First Lovebirds (February, 2014) and Presidents at War (March, 2014). Year Four saw visits to the William Henry Harrison monument in West Bend, Ohio and the William Howard Taft Presidential Historic Site in Cincinnati. (An intended visit to the Nixon Library was foiled by the government shutdown!)

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YEAR FIVE: Year five began with a conclusion to our series on Presidents at War, and this transitioned into a series on Presidents at Peace (April 2014). Other themes for the year included the Civil War Presidents (May 2014), Presidents and the Economy (June 2014), Presidential Places (i.e. good spots for potus_geeks to check out on summer vacation) and potus_geeks summer reruns with repeat posts of some of our best articles of the past, which allowed me to be lazy in August. We also visited the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois in August, and the Hermitage, home of Andrew Jackson and Polk House, the James K. Polk Museum, both in October. While in Nashville, we also looked in on the resting place of James K. Polk. We resumed our look at various themes with Presidents and the Law (September 2014), the Presidential Diarists (October 2014), we completed our series on Presidents and their Advisors (October 2014) and Christmas at the White House (December 2014). The New Year began with a look at each President's road to the White House in our "Paths to the Presidency" series, and the year concluded with the beginning of our series on Abraham Lincoln's Last Days, as we approach the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's Assassination.

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YEAR SIX: Year six began by marking the sesquicentennial of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. We marked Lincoln's last days with a day-by-day account as we traced the 16th President's final steps. Next, in May, we profiled some of the more famous children of Presidents and in June we looked at some of the more notorious presidential controversies. We also dissected the US Supreme Court's majority and minority opinions in the year's leading decision of Obergefell v. Hodges (making same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states).July featured a visit to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum in Atlanta as well as reviews of some terrific new books. We also profiled the places that Presidents went to escape the summer heat, entitled Presidents' Summer White Houses. In August our Presidents in Parody series looked at books, movies, television shows, songs, musicals and other media that portrayed Presidents in fiction or in humor. August was a time of personal sadness, with the passing of my furry four-legged editor and best pal Abby on August 20th. We miss her so much.

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It was on to more serious subjects in September as we profiled 21 candidates for president seeking the nomination for the two major political parties. We also remembered the 14th anniversary of 911 and began a series on major health issues faced by past presidents. In October we looked at the President's Veto Power and a series of historic uses of the veto by Presidents. The theme for November was Presidents and Faith, as we looked at the religious beliefs of many of the Presidents, and we ended off 2015 with a look at how some of the Presidents celebrated Christmas in our Presidents and Christmas series. We also looked at some great Christmas gifts for potus_geeks. 2016 is an election year, so we began it with a profile of all previous presidential elections without an incumbent. In February we profiled eleven "obscure" presidents in detail and in March our theme is "Presidents Behaving Badly."

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As we begin our seventh year, we plan to monitor the upcoming election (from the perspective of history, not politics. It is the goal of this community to make it a welcoming place for geeks of all political stripes, with a solid foundation of civility and respect. It still hasn't been decided which Presidential Library we will visit this year, but stay tuned. The next year will also provide more interesting new Presidential biographies to review.

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Thank you for reading the dorky offerings of this magnificent obsession. Here's to another happy year of Potus Geekery!
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Presidents Behaving Badly: George Washington and Sally Fairfax

On January 6, 1759, a young George Washington married the recently widowed Martha Dandridge Custis, who at the time was the richest woman in Virginia. Their courtship had lasted less than a year. With the passage of time it is difficult to calculate how much their marriage was based on love and how much was based on mutual practical advantage, though many reputable Washington scholars believe that there was a genuine affection in the relationship. However, according to surviving letters that have since come to light, it seems that Washington may secretly been in love with a woman named Sally Fairfax. In 1877, a letter was discovered that Washington had written to Ms. Fairfax and it was printed on the front page of the New York Herald.



The letter, written in 1758 when George and Martha were formally engaged, but not yer married, begins with the following statement by the future president: “I profess myself a votary of love. I acknowledge that a lady is in the case and further I confess that this lady is known to you.” From the context of the letter, it soon becomes clear that the lady Washington is referring to is Ms. Fairfax. He writes: “misconstrue not my meaning; doubt it not nor expose it. The world has no business to know the object of my love declared in this manner to you when I want to conceal it. One thing above all things in this world I wish to know, and only one person of your acquaintance can solve me that.”

But at the time that Washington sent this letter, Sally Fairfax was already married and her husband was a close friend of Washington's, George William Fairfax. He was a planter and member of the landed gentry in colonial Virginia. Fairfax was a good friend of and mentor to George Washington, and he created opportunities for the younger Washington through his powerful family. When the Fairfaxes returned to England in 1773, Washington managed the sale of their property in Virginia.

Sally Fairfax replied to Washington's letter, but her reply was deliberately non-committal. If she and Washington discussed the matter again, there doesn't seem to be any record of it. There is no credible evidence of an actual affair between the two.
When Washington married the wealthy Martha Dandridge Custis, this heightened his social status, and their marriage appears to have been a strong one. George William and Sally Fairfax were the most frequent visitors to Mount Vernon, so if the spouses had any notion of previous indiscretions between George and Sally, it was likely ignored.

In 1773 when the Fairfaxes returned to England. George William was a Loyalist, and the success of the Revolution prevented his return to Virginia. He died in 1787 and Sally then lived alone in Bath until her death in 1811. Washington later confessed to Sally in a letter that she was the passion of his youth and told her that he had "never been able to eradicate from my mind those happy moments, the happiest in my life, which I have enjoyed in your company."



This appears to be the only suggestion of infidelity on Washington's part, though in 1775, the British made an attempt to discredit Washington with a forged letter revealing his affair with “Kate the washerwoman’s daughter.” This was false wartime propaganda and there is no convincing evidence that he was unfaithful to Martha after their marriage.