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

The 50 years that span 1860-1910 were especially tough ones for U.S. Presidents.  The Civil War was catastrophic.  Reconstruction was painful and expensive.  The mending of a fractured Union was difficult.  The end of slavery represented (at least for the South) a real paradigm shift in labor laws.  And the beginning of an entirely new Industrial Revolution presented vast new challenges.  But on top of that, Presidents kept getting assassinated, which probably made the job even less desirable.  Lincoln in 1865.  McKinley in 1901.  And the subject of Today’s (rather brief) History Lesson:  President James Garfield.

President Garfield took the oath of office in March of 1881, but barely got his feet wet as Commander-in-Chief before calamity struck.  On July 2nd, while on his way to deliver a speech at his alma mater (Williams College), he was gunned down by Charles Guiteau at the Washington, D.C. railroad station.  And unlike the killers of Lincoln and McKinley, who carried out their deeds for ideological reasons, Guiteau’s actions were much less noble (as if shooting any President could be considered “noble”).  He was upset because he had been denied a government position as U.S. consul in Paris, a job he had asked for numerous times and had no qualification to hold.

Like McKinley’s assassination, two bullets hit Garfield, and one did most of the damage.  Like McKinley, doctors could not find the 2nd bullet, which (almost like McKinley) had lodged in his spine.  Like McKinley, it would be the rudimentary (compared to today) medical conditions that would lead to the infections that took the President’s life.  But unlike McKinley (who lived just 8 days following his shooting), President Garfield would suffer from his wounds for 80 days before succumbing on September 19, 1881.

In a rather strange turn of events, part of Charles Guiteau’s trial defense contended that the doctors were Garfield’s real killers, and the President’s death was on their heads due to poor medical care.  Fortunately, the jury didn’t buy it, and Guiteau was executed by hanging (probably with an unsanitary rope) the following June.

President James Garfield tenure, at just over 6 months, was the 2nd shortest (to date) in U.S. history.  Only William Henry Harrison, who got sick on Inaguration Day and died a month later, served a shorter term.

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Ok, this is a little off the beaten path, but it’s May Day, so that’s reason to celebrate.  I don’t know all the traditions surrounding it, but here’s what I do know.  You’re supposed to make May Baskets and fill them with treats, candies, and non-mousetrap surprises.  Then go to the homes of friends, family, boyfriends, and girlfriends.  Set a Basket on the front step, ring the doorbell (or knock if the recipient still lives in the 70’s), and run like crazy.  The person getting the basket is supposed to try to catch you and, doing so, give you a kiss.

Yeah, it was probably less fun when you were 6 years old and mom made you give one to little Susie down the street.  But when you were 16 and Susie was now a babe, you suddenly seemed to run a little slower than in your “younger” days.

I didn’t really know how May Day got started, so I did a wee bit of research.  According to some sites, it began on May 1, 1884, when the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions stipulated that a legal work day comprised 8 hours.  It may be true, it may not be, but it sounds good.  And who cares anyways, because it’s all about the candy.  My favorites are Butterfingers, Heath Bars, and Cadbury Cream Eggs, so if I’m getting a May Day Basket from you…

Recommended Activity: Make a May Basket for someone (or somefew) and hand them out, but be sure you have your sneakers on.  Or just give them to yourself…it’s more delicious that way, plus that whole kissing thing…

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I write mostly about World War II but, on occasion, I simply have to take detours.  Today is one of those days.  March 22nd marks the birthday of Leonard Marx, better known as Chico, one of the Marx Brothers.  Chico (shown on the far right in the photo) was born in 1887 and, along with his brothers, formed what is probably the most famous comedic family in history.

Beginning as vaudeville actors, they eventually became fixtures in movies.  Chico was an extremely talented piano player and was known for his unorthodox playing style, including “shooting” the keys pistol-style.  His characters were typically Italian and featured an overdone Italian accent.  As a group, they drove directors crazy, rarely rehearsing their lines and simply ad-libbing most of their material.  They were true comic geniuses. 

I love Marx Brothers movies and have watched nearly all of them, but my favorite is probably “Animal Crackers”.  In it, Chico plays Signor Emmanuel Ravelli.  He plays the piano (it’s a couple minutes into this clip), he helps Captain Spaulding solve the “stolen oil painting mystery“, and he is a total hoot.

Happy Birthday, Chico Marx!!

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March 2, 1877 – U.S. Congress decides the presidential election between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel Tilden

 And we thought Bush v. Gore was contentious.  In the election of 1876, Democrat  Samuel Tilden racked up the most popular votes and was the presumptive nominee when he awoke the day after the voting.  But “irregularities” in Florida (!), South Carolina and Louisiana kept him one electoral vote short of the required 185. 

Things were especially rough in South Carolina, as riots erupted leading up to Election Day causing outgoing President Ulysses Grant to send in federal troops to maintain order at voting centers.

It was March 2, two days before Inauguration Day, when a congressional committee made up of congressmen and Supreme Court justices decided by a vote of 8-7 (along party lines, of course) that Hayes was the recipient of the remaining 19 votes and the winner of the election by a count of 185-184. 

Back-room deals supposedly gave the presidency to Hayes in exchange for promise to end the period of Reconstruction and military rule in the South. 

Tilden’s supporters were understandably unhappy, and there was a fear that they would try and stop the inauguration from happening.  So Hayes was actually sworn in a day before the public ceremony – at midnight and in the White House.  And when no violence erupted, he became the only one-term President to take the oath of office twice.

All in all, it was a fitting end to what’s been called the dirtiest political campaign in U.S. history.

Recommended reading: Fraud of the Century: Rutherford B. Hayes, Samuel Tilden, and the Stolen Election of 1876, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 and Grant: A Biography

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