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Archive for the ‘Late nineteenth century (1865-1900)’ Category

During the course of Barack Obama’s first term as President, much has been made of his group of czars.  I honestly don’t know much about the people involved, but there is much consternation, particularly from his opposition on the Republican side.  It is claimed that these men and women (I’m assuming both men and women are included) are influencing decisions being made by the President without the benefit of being elected by the people or appointed or approved by Congress.

But as Today’s History Lesson uncovers, President Obama isn’t the first Commander-in-Chief to get a little “outside help”.  And while it’s true that our example isn’t nearly as far-reaching or controversial as what we see in the White House today, it had a truly profound effect on the President in question.

The assassination attempt on President James Garfield not only shocked and angered the nation, it terrified Chester Arthur, the Vice President.  As we may recall, Garfield had been elected the previous year (1880) in most unlikely fashion, having been nominated at the Convention without ever being a candidate.  A groundswell of emotion and good will swept him into the White House.

And Chester Arthur?

He was actually a political opponent of Garfield, and was controlled by Roscoe Conkling, the senior Senator from New York who was, until the election, probably the most powerful man in America.  He was also very unpopular, so much so that when the news broke that Garfield had been shot, conspiracy theorists immediately pointed at Conkling and, by extension, Chester Arthur.  In her masterful book Destiny of the Republic, Candice Millard writes, “It was widely assumed that he [Arthur] was in close and constant discussions with the man who had made him, planning for the day when he would be king, and Conkling his Cromwell.  So little respect was there for the vice president and so openly had he aligned himself with the president’s fiercest enemy, that to accuse him now of conspiring with Conkling was simply stating the obvious.

But to the contrary, Arthur was distraught over the President’s plight.  A journalist, finally gaining an audience with the Vice President who had largely disappeared from the public eye, noted that “His whole manner, rather than the words he uttered, showed a depth of feeling. . .which would astonish even many of those who think they know the man well.

Unknown to many, Chester Arthur had a “czar”.  Thirty-two year old Julia Sand was not elected and was not appointed.  And while she may have been an invalid, she knew how to write a letter.  Arthur received his first letter from her shortly after the President was shot, and she didn’t mince words.  “The day he was shot,” she penned, “the thought rose in a thousand minds that you might be the instigator of the the foul act.  Is not that a humiliation which cuts deeper than any bullet can pierce?”  She continued, “Your kindest opponents say: ‘Arthur will try to do right.  He won’t succeed, though – making a man President cannot change him.’ ”  She then worked to encourage the troubled Arthur.  “But making a man President can change him!  Great emergencies awaken generous traits which have lain dormant half a life.  If there is a spark of true nobility in you, now is the occasion to let it shine.  Faith in your better nature forces me to write to you – but not to beg you to resign.  Do what is more difficult and more brave.  Reform!

The letter clearly affected Chester Arthur…he kept it.  The letters from Julia kept coming, urging him Arthur to be strong and courageous, to think for himself, and to free himself from the bonds with which men like Roscoe Conkling would tie him, which is exactly what he did following the death of Garfield and his swearing in as the country’s 21st President.  And while Arthur would only serve out Garfield’s term, he did so as a respected and hard-working President.

On August 20, 1882, President Arthur made a special trip and met Julia Sand for the first time.  She was stretched out on the sofa, and Millard writes, “Arthur would stay for nearly an hour, pleased to finally have a face-to-face discussion with one of his most trusted advisers.

Recommended Reading:  Destiny of the Republic – If you read just one book of history this year, read this one. It’s that good.

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Now that Garfield was dead, Americans’ greatest fear was that Guiteau would get away with murder – not because he was innocent, but because he was insane.  The insanity defense was already widely known and almost uniformly despised.  Even Garfield, ten years before his own murder, had expressed deep skepticism about the plea.

So begins the aftermath of the assassination of President James Garfield from the pen of Candice Millard in her book “Destiny of the Republic.”  Charles Guiteau had shot the President in July of 1881, and the President had succumbed to his wounds two months later.

And just like clock-work and daily sunrises, Guiteau submitted his “not guilty” plea to the judge in October.  “I plead not guilty to the indictment,” Charles would say.  “The Divine pressure on me to remove the president was so enormous that it destroyed my free agency, and therefore I am not legally responsible for my act.”  In other words, Garfield’s assassin blamed God for his actions.

And so the trial, which ran from November to January, centered on Guiteau’s mental state.  The defense brought psychiatrists to the stand that, after studying Charles, found him to be crazy.  The prosecution brought even more of them to the stand to prove him otherwise.  Guiteau himself claimed that his insanity had occurred only at the time of the shooting.  He claimed that he was now sane as any man, and wouldn’t shoot Garfield (were he still alive to be shot) for any amount of money.  He believed Garfield’s doctors were the true assassins of Garfield, as their rudimentary and unsanitary treatment had ultimately killed the President (a point which was pretty sane…and pretty accurate).

Those in the courtroom (and around the country) watched the drama unfold, and most of them just wanted Charles Guiteau dead for his crime, regardless of mental condition.  And to their relief, jury deliberations lasted less than one hour.  The jury found Guiteau sane and guilty.

Even after the verdict, Charles Guiteau hoped he would be set free.  He wrote to the new President, Chester Arthur, on several occasions, desirous of a pardon.  Guiteau believed his death would “make a terrible reckoning for you and this nation.  I made you…and the least you can do is let me go.”  John Guiteau, who had defended his brother at trial, requested a stay of execution in order to gather more evidence of insanity.  All entreaties were denied.

On June 30, 1882, Charles Guiteau climbed the steps of the gallows, read some Scripture from the Bible’s book of Matthew along with a short poem, and was hanged for his crime.

Recommended Reading:  Destiny of the Republic

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The next day, as the delegates made their weary way back to the hall, few of them held out any hope for a quick conclusion.”  These words, from Candice Millard’s terrific book Destiny of the Republic, seem rather obvious after our discussion from yesterday’s version of Today’s History Lesson.  The nomination process at the 1880 Republican National Convention had turned into a nightmare, as the previous day’s twenty eight ballots had failed to determine the party’s Presidential nominee.  Millard continues, “When the first ballot of the day, the twenty-ninth, showed little change from the day before, their fears were only confirmed.” June 9, 1880 was starting out just the way the previous day had ended.

You and I aren’t used to this kind of gridlock.  Well, actually, we are if we’re referring to “traffic with an accident two miles ahead.”  We understand that.  But in our experience, the outcome of nominating conventions is well-known in advance.  And since they are now televised, events need to fall into preset time slots.  Hiccups are anathema to live TV.  And, let’s be honest, in today’s political world, where the press has largely prostituted itself to one party or another, a multi-balloted nomination looks less clean and potentially provides not only the opposition, but a host of media outlets, with one more hand grenade in its arsenal.  Thirty ballots?…no way!!

But this convention had thirty, which became thirty-one, then thirty-two, then thirty-three ballots.  This was beginning to look suspiciously like the Democratic convention twenty years before, which required a remarkable fifty-nine ballots (over two conventions) just to select the candidate (Stephen Douglas) that would lose to the winner (Abraham Lincoln).

Then came the thirty-fourth ballot, and that single vote for James Garfield from the previous day became seventeen, as Wisconsin gave him most of its votes.  Garfield was shocked!  He wasn’t even running and immediately protested.  Addressing the convention president, he said, “The announcement contains votes for me.  No man has a right, without the consent of the person voted for, to announce that person’s name, and vote for him, in this convention.”  The president (who was something of a Garfield supporter himself), told him to sit down and be quiet.  It was about to get crazier.

The thirty-fifth ballot saw votes from Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, and North Carolina given to Garfield, who suddenly had fifty votes and was rapidly becoming a viable candidate, despite his vehement protests.  He urged his own delegation from Ohio to remain true to John Sherman.

Like cracks in a dam, however, the little drips of water that were the thirty-fifth ballot led to a “collapse and gusher” in the thirty-sixth.  The votes for Garfield poured in.  John Sherman saw the proverbial writing on the wall and, writing from his office in the Treasury Department, sent a quick telegram to the Ohio delegation, urging their unity in a vote for Garfield.  He urged other states to do the same.  When Ohio’s turn came, Garfield shouted his vote for Sherman, but it was no use.  His voice was just one in the flood and was swept away.  When the votes were tallied, James Garfield sat with 399 votes.

A fairly popular congressman, an excellent orator, and a man who came to the convention to speak on behalf of another candidate had just been handed the Republican nomination.  When the convention president asked if the nomination be made unanimous, it was Roscoe Conkling – arguably the most powerful man in America at the time and a backer of Ulysses Grant – who stood in stunned defeat and made the motion.  When it was seconded, bedlam erupted.  A roar of elation swept the floor, and Garfield was surrounded by well-wishers.  Garfield’s response to the congratulations was classic…”I am very sorry that this has become necessary.

The momentum continued and carried Garfield to victory in the general election as well.  Of course, we know that the term “President” would be applied to James Garfield for less time than other man except William Henry Harrison, as an assassin’s bullet would end his life just months after taking office.  But to my knowledge, no nominating convention has been so soundly turned on its head as was the 1880 Republican Convention in Chicago.

Recommended Reading:  Destiny of the Republic

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Every four years, I am treated to thousands of Presidential commercials on TV.  I get numerous fliers and brochures in the mail, created in a such a way as to convince me of a particular candidate’s viability.  I get dozens of phone calls (which I almost never answer) reminding me of the importance of voting.

From all possible paths, thirty-second soundbites are driven into my consciousness.  It’s become a rather painful experience.  Since this year is one of those “every four years” (and we’re only in June), I’ve got about five more months to endure.  And because this promises to be one of the most expensive elections – I recall Newt Gingrich saying that President Obama would likely raise close to $1 billion and, in all likelihood, Mitt Romney won’t be far behind – I expect that my senses of sight and hearing will be assaulted like never before.

This summer, we’ll be invited to watch each party’s national convention on television.  As of now, we don’t know who’s going to speak or what will be said, but we can expect hours of endless banter about the silliness of the opposing party’s platform, the inability of the opposing party’s candidate to lead, and the disasters that await our country should the opposing party win.  And we pretty much know the outcome of each convention:  President Obama will be the Democratic nominee and Mitt Romney will stand for the Republican Party.

There won’t be any 1880 surprises.  Remember that one?

The 1880 Republican Convention opened on Tuesday, June 2nd in Chicago with not one front-runner, but three viable candidates.  Two-term President Ulysses Grant was running for a third term.  James Blaine, the Senator from Maine, was also running, as was Treasury Secretary John Sherman.  Throughout the week, there was jockeying between the candidates and their supporters.  On Saturday evening, each of the candidates was presented to the floor by a speaker.

The speaker for Sherman was James Garfield, who had originally supported Blaine, but switched when Sherman entered the race.  Taking the stage after Roscoe Conkling had whipped up the crowd in support of Grant, Garfield was nervous.  He had no prepared speech, and didn’t have the political power of Conkling, a Republican strongman.  But he was an excellent extemporaneous speaker, and did an admirable job.

On June 8, 1880, the convention moved to the voting phase.  The delegates knew that no single candidate had a majority of the votes required to secure the nomination, so it would require at least two votes.  But no one could have guessed how crazy this process would become, nor how it would end.  Beginning at 10:00am, the first ballot (as expected) didn’t produce a nominee.  Neither did the second ballot, but it did produce a small surprise.  One vote, from a Pennsylvania delegate, was cast for James Garfield.  And vote after vote, the gridlock continued…along with one little vote for Garfield.  Eighteen ballots were cast before dinner and ten after, yet no one candidate could garner the necessary 379 votes.

It was late, nerves were frayed, and it was time for bed.  The convention adjourned for the night.  The next day would see an incredible turn of events…but that’s for tomorrow.

Recommended Reading:  Destiny of the Republic – An excellent read!

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So…it’s Valentine’s Day.  Card companies and flower companies and candy companies love this day for obvious reasons.  People that work at places that sell cards and flowers and candy probably love it a little less, just because of the manic shopping that takes place in the days leading up to (and especially the day of) the holiday.

In general, it’s a fun day with some treats and time spent with those we love.

But it’s not that way for everybody.  For some, Valentine’s Day conjures up pains or hurts that they’d rather not remember.  That was certainly the case for a young Theodore Roosevelt.

On February 14, 1884, the young man who would be President suffered the most grievous of losses.  It may not be the best source for this type of incident, but since I read about it in Timothy Egan’s The Big Burn, it’s the source I’m using.

“The blow of a lifetime came early, on Valentine’s Day 1884, perhaps the best-known single day of trauma in the formative period of a future president.  In the morning, Teddy’s mother died of typhoid fever at the family house on Fifty-seventh Street; she was forty-six.  A few hours later, the suddenly orphaned Roosevelt lost his bride in the same house, to Bright’s disease, a kidney ailment, which had been masked by her pregnancy.  He scrawled a big, shaky X on a diary page and wrote a single sentence: ‘The light has gone out of my life.'”

The young man, in his mid-twenties and a budding politician, chucked it all and headed west, where friends and family and politics wouldn’t be around, and where the Badlands and open country could maybe concoct an elixir to clear the head of a man crushed by loss.  It would be two years before he returned to Manhattan.

Recommended Reading: The Big Burn

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It’s a Friday night, it’s hot like a furnace, and it’s a 4th of July weekend.  I highly doubt many of you are sitting by your computer wondering what Joel is going to write on July’s first day.  And that’s fine, because I’m not wondering, either.  I know what I’m going to write, and I know it’s going to be pretty quick.

Back in May, I visited the dentist…oh, yay, I’m writing about the dentist on a holiday weekend.  You’re probably thrilled if you’re not reading.

Normally the visit involves 45 minutes of torture, where I get to watch TV with my mouth ajar.  The assistant, who came in earlier and put her broom and pointy hat in the corner, is now mumbling things like, “My husband never makes the bed…my kids never pick up their toys…my husband…”.  The worst thing is she has those really sharp things in her hands and she punctuates each “never” and each “always” with a scrape across my teeth.  Nurse Ratchet then finishes with a smile and says, “You should floss more.”  I want to say, “You should take an anger management course”, but that slight smell of sulfur and brimstone in the air tells me it’s probably best to keep my mouth shut.  Besides, it’s not like I’ll be in any condition to speak for at least another hour.

But this time, I got Nurse Relief instead.  She was awesome.  My appointment wasn’t all that bad, though I’ll never say I enjoyed it.  It was tolerable.  Maybe it had something to do with flossing, that new hobby I picked up and began doing religiously in January.  But I think it was also because Ms. Relief didn’t have a devil-spawn above her manipulating the strings.

Going good so far?…yeah, I didn’t think so.

So way back in 1893, President Grover Cleveland went to the dentist.  I’m pretty sure he hated it, too, because they found cancer in his mouth.  Three weeks later, on July 1, 1893, the President “went on vacation”.  CNN and FoxNews (or whoever ran the show back then) probably showed pictures of the yacht right there off Long Island.  Of course, the vacation was just a ploy to keep people from worrying too much.  Even his wife (who was pregnant at the time) didn’t know.

The President was on the boat…but so was a surgeon.  And on this day in history, the surgeon removed the cancer from the President’s mouth.  Of course, the operation (done through his mouth to avoid all the cutting) involved removing some of his jaw and palate, which left his face somewhat disfigured.  So the news folks were fed a line about the President having a couple of rotten teeth removed, which they apparently bought.  Eventually, the President was fitted with an insert-thingy (I’m a computer guy, not a doctor) that made him look normal.

Now had I been a news reporter, I would have been suspicious right away.  Oral surgery is a delicate procedure…at least it better be when it’s done on my mouth.  So who does tricky dentistry-type things on a boat that’s rocking in the water?  I guess Nurse Ratchet was his surgeon, too.

I bet this is the where the phrase “Don’t rock the boat” got it’s start.  And it’s probably why we see the right side of President Cleveland’s face on the $1000 bill.

Recommended Reading:  The President is a Sick Man – Hot off the presses!

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It’s our last evening in Estes Park, and the cloudless sunshine has given way to clouds and scattered sprinkles.  But who cares?!?  The weather’s been gorgeous, with lovely temperatures, light breezes, and skies as blue as blue can be.  And this morning, the warm temps and lack of snow meant that we were able to drive up the Fall River Road for the first time, where the bright sunshine permitted some breathtaking views.  Coming up Trail Ridge Road is impressive in its own right, but Fall River Road is even better.

I suppose it’s fitting that we finish our stay in Colorado with an historical event that’s indigenous to the state.  And even if it isn’t fitting, I’m doing it anyways.

The population of Creede, Colorado is (as of a 2007 count) 422.  Exactly half the population is male, with the better half making up the other half.  It’s not very big, but then again, all of Mineral County (of which Creede is the county seat) is home to just 830 people.  Located in southwestern Colorado, this small town of just six-tenths of a square mile is near the headwaters of the Rio Grande.

But it wasn’t always small.  Creede wasn’t always home to just 400 people.  In fact, at one time, it was a bustling late 19th-century city of more than 10,000.  And all of those people had Nicholas Creede to thank.

Nicholas Creede was born in Indiana as William Harvey in 1843.  His family was dirt-poor and, desirous of fewer mouths to feed, pushed William from the nest at just 18 years old.  Harvey headed west, making his way as a lumberjack and scout.  Eventually he found himself in Colorado’s mining camps.

Harvey changed his name to Creede after a “Billy Harvey” committed a murder in Denver.  I’m not sure it was ever determined whether “Billy” and our “William” were one and the same, or if he just wanted to avoid confusion, but regardless, fame came to the new name.  He enjoyed success as a prospector in places such as Del Norte and Leadville.  But his greatest success occurred on this day.

On October 2, 1889, Creede discovered a large vein of silver that came to be known as the Amethyst Vein.  It’s told that when Creede made his discovery, he exclaimed, “Holy Moses!”  And that would become the name of the mine.  The mining camp that sprouted up around Holy Moses would bear Nicholas’ name, and Creede was born.  Actually, it exploded onto the map as the last major “silver rush” of the west brought thousands of treasure seekers to Creede.  The first baby born was named Creede Amethyst.

Nicholas Creede would make a fortune, but like many before and since, his wealth would ultimately be his undoing, leading to all kinds of problems and eventual suicide.  But on this day, Creede had struck it rich.

Recommended Reading:  Nicholas Creede and the Amethyst Vein

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