Wednesday, September 15, 2010

James A. Garfield

Name: James Garfield

Term: 1881

Party: Republican

Nickname: Canal Boy

Not-as-short-as-it-used-to-be bio:
James Abram Garfield was not a fat orange cat, but a man and beard enthusiast. I think I did Garfield a large disservice by giving him such a short bio originally. On learning about his life, I've gained a new found respect for this often forgotten president. Garfield was a lover of knowledge, learning all he could throughout his life, including Spanish. Garfield's life story would be a popular one at the time of his presidency, due to his coming from basically nothing and working his way up to being a congressman. Garfield came from a very poor family, so he had to work to fund his education. He worked as a carpenter, a janitor, a canal worker, and a preacher to get his higher education. After graduating, Garfield eventually married Lucretia Rudolph and started to serve as an Ohio State Senator. That was until the Civil War started. Garfield joined the Union army, due in part to his strong abolitionist feelings. He rose all the way up to Major General in the Army of Ohio and fought in the battles of Chickamauga, Middle Creek, and Shiloh. Garfield eventually left the war when he was needed in his newly won seat in Congress. He served as a congressman until 1880 when opportunity, instead of knocking, barged in and forced him into something he didn't really want to do.

Garfield was perfectly happy as a congressman. That's why he was completely horrified to learn that he had won the Republican nomination for President of the United States in 1880. Garfield had seen many of his friends in Congress get burned out and lose direction from he called the "presidential fever." He swore that he would never devote his life to gaining the presidency, lest he become a shell of his former self. The Republican Party at the time was split between two warring parties: The Stalwarts and the Half-Breeds. The Stalwarts supported the Spoils System, in which candidates for the presidency would reward those who gave them money by giving them positions in their administration. The Half-Breeds were the moderates and supported Civil Service Reform, which would see only those best qualified to be in administrative positions. Other than that, they agreed on everything. Greeeeeeaaat! Roscoe Conkling(pictured left) was the political strongman of the Stalwarts and his sole purpose at the convention was to get Ulysses S. Grant another term in the White House (he had served two before Hayes won in 1876). Garfield on the other hand was trying to get fellow moderate and brother to William Tecumseh Sherman, John Sherman nominated. Garfield gave his speech, and people were so impressed by it that they began to instead consider Garfield as a good compromise candidate. When it became clear after many ballots were cast but none defined a clear winner, people started to vote for Garfield. This was all to Garfield's horror. He didn't want the presidency and all its burdens. He asked several times that his name be taken out of consideration, but it was continuously ignored. In the end, Garfield was the nominee, much to his chagrin.

Now, don't get me wrong, Garfield eventually warmed up to being the most powerful man in America, it just wasn't something he explicitly wanted. Chester A. Arthur was chosen as his vice-president, not because Garfield and him got along, but because Garfield was a moderate, and Arthur a Stalwart. In fact, Arthur was Conkling's protege. With both a moderate and a Stalwart on the ticket, the Republicans hoped that they could patch things up long enough to get into the White House...again. Seriously, except for Cleveland and whatever the hell Andrew Johnson was, everyone was a Republican from 1860 through 1912. Before Garfield could do anything, he had to do something about Roscoe Conkling. Conkling had driven President Hayes insane and was liable to do the same thing to Garfield. To make matters worse, Conkling and Arthur were in cahoots. Arthur literally badmouthed the president to the press. Can you imagine Joe Biden doing that to President Obama? Or in fact any Vice-President doing that to any President in the last hundred years? NOPE! Garfield was kind of in a pickle, so what did he do? Nothing. Though not one to be walked on, Garfield never went looking for a fight. He knew that Conkling was trying to basically run the show, though he was only a New York congressman, but he also knew that Conkling would do something drastic. After Garfield posted half-breeds in government positions in New York, Conkling threw a hissy-fit and resigned, confident that the New York legislature would vote him back in, as that's how things worked back then. They didn't, and the Stalwarts lost their champion. With Conkling out of the way, Garfield could finally get something done. He knew Civil Service reform needed to be done, so he supported George Pendleton's bill for Civil Service Reform. If the bill passed, people would have to take a test to see if they were experienced enough to hold a government position.

This was about three months into his presidency. So, Garfield didn't really get anything done for the first three months. A month later, Garfield was gunned down by Stalwart and possible lunatic, Charles Guiteau. Guiteau was convinced he had helped get Garfield elected with a speech he had written and thus wanted a consulship as thanks. When he was denied this and told to never come back to the White House, Guiteau decided that it was God's will that Garfield we killed. Garfield at the time was walking with Secretary of State Blaine, when he was shot in the back twice with the second shot going through back and eventually resting inside his pancreas. Garfield was looked at by doctors, but it ended up being the worst thing for him. The doctors poked and prodded the president with dirty tools and unwashed hands which eventually led to Garfield's death. Alexander Graham Bell even tried to find the bullet with a makeshift metal detector. Too bad the bed springs were made of metal; he may have been able to find it. After Garfield passed away from a heart attack brought on by blood poisoning, the doctors took an autopsy and discovered that the bullet was four inches away from his spine, lodged in a protective cyst. This meant that Garfield would have been fine had it not been for his doctors. Well done! If you want to learn more about his assassin, please check out my post on Charles Guiteau!

Grade: ???
Like William Henry Harrison, it’s not fair to give Garfield a grade. Modern historians disagree and grade them anyway giving them below average marks. Garfield simply didn’t live long enough to do anything or mess anything up. Who knows what could of come from his presidency. Judging by his past accomplishments and his personality, I would think that Garfield would've had a great presidency. Alas, he was gunned down by a delusional man. The only good thing that came from his assassination was a feeling of unity. Garfield was mourned by all, which had brought the country closer together after all the resentment of reconstruction. Also, Arthur, now President, felt the need to get the Pendleton Act passed, seeing as everyone literally hated Stalwarts. I'm not joking, after the assassination, if you claimed to be one, you were liable to get lynched right then and there. Hooray!

All information from Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President.

Rutherford B. Hayes

Term: 1877-1881

Party: Republican

Nickname: Rutherfraud

Short Bio:

Rutherford Birchard Hayes had been elected president by one electoral vote. It sounds fantastic for Hayes, but it came at a price. He had won only because he and his representatives had agreed that they would remove federal troops from the South in exchange for Southern Democrat’s support. People found out how Hayes had won and he was deemed “Rutherfraud”, and “His Fraudulency.” By now your thinking that Hayes is a dishonest jerk. Hayes, however, proved to be an extremely honest man who wasn’t even interested in a second term. He wanted to bring power back to the presidency and clean house after the Grant presidency. He declared that civil servants could not participate directly in any political activity, which clashed with major members of his own party. Congress had also tried to ban immigration from China, but Hayes vetoed it on account of its racism. He spoke out against society’s growing domination by corporations and was one of the first presidents to speak out in favor of protecting the environment. He also supported the Temperance movement, which wanted to get rid of alcohol, by banning it in the White House.

Hayes sought to bring back dignity and respectability to the presidency, something that was lost during the Grant years. Hayes also tried to bring the power of the presidency back, but lost more power when both houses of Congress fell to the Democrats. Though he had ended Reconstruction, it led to a sectional harmony between the north and south. The early end to Reconstruction would have adverse effects on the African Americans though. Without federal support, many blacks were mistreated and kept from voting or doing anything without being harassed. Hayes happily retired and worked on numerous social causes, such as public education, promotion of rights of African Americans, and prison reform.

Grade: B-
I think Hayes did a lot of good for the country and was an honest man, as a president should be. His vetoing of the Chinese Exclusion Act is a big plus in my book, and all his work for social reforms. The only smudge on his record is that stolen election. Supposed election fraud has haunted other presidents such as John Quincy Adams and George W. Bush. Hayes’ election takes the cake, for it was outright stealing. Thanks to that deal, Reconstruction ended with the pulling out of Federal troops in the south. Like I said, though he didn’t mean it, the early end came at a terrible price for African Americans.

Ulysses S. Grant

Term: 1869-1877

Party: Republican

Nickname: Hero of Appomattox

Short Bio:
Now we start with the Gilded Age, one of my least favorite times in history. Why call it the Gilded Age? This was an age of extreme wealth for the few and not so much wealth for others. Spending was not kept in check and the country went in and out of recessions. This also marked the beginning of robber barons like Carnegie and J.P. Morgan. Monopolies in business’ and trusts became the norm. The age also marked domination by the Senate, and basically Congress over weak Presidents. Almost all served one term save Grant and Cleveland.

Grant was a war hero as many of you know. With his victories at Vicksburg and Chattanooga, he became a household name. It was only logical to elect him president after Johnson was done carrying out Lincoln’s second term. Grant, however, did not have any political experience, much like Taylor and Harrison before him. Grant made his first mistake by surrounding himself with old war buddies and family members on his wife’s side. They quickly delved the administration into multiple scandals that wouldn’t be seen until Grant was reelected.

However, Grant was an honest man, and not the heavy drinker people made him out to be. Grant backed a return to “hard money”, or money back by gold. This meant that the government had to pay its debts in gold. Later that year, the U.S. gold market collapses. Investors Jay Gould and James Fisk had planned to corner the gold market by buying large quantities of gold and selling everything at a greater profit. To thwart them, Grant ordered the immediate sale of $4 million in government gold, causing the value of gold on the market to plunge, ruined thousands of investors. In Grant’s presidency, the Transcontinental Railroad is finished, which greatly cuts the time it takes people to ship goods or travel east and west. All of the states not already readmitted into the Union do so. The fifteenth amendment is passed with Grant’s support. The amendment grants blacks the right to vote. Grant sets up the First Enforcement Act and the Federal Election Law to protect blacks who want to vote in elections by making it illegal to interfere with their right to vote and that large city elections must be federally supervised. Grant also passes the Third Enforcement Act that makes it illegal to wear disguises and intimidate officials. This is of course aimed at the newly created Ku Klux Klan.

Political rights are restored to all southerners but to some former Confederate Leaders, while the income and excise taxes imposed during the Civil War are abolished. Things couldn’t stay great forever for Grant though. His second term was lousy compared to the first. His vice president and several Republican senators are revealed to be part of the Credit Mobilier scandal, where they accepted bribes in exchange for legislation that would favor the newly created railroad construction company of the same name. The Panic of 1873 starts a six year depression caused by industrial and agricultural over expansion, as well as a railroad construction boom that produced massive stock speculation. People also find out about Congress giving itself a raise and demand that they get put back down. The Tompkins Square Riot happens, which had policeman charging into a demonstration of unemployment workers, and promptly clubbing men, women and children.

People are now pretty pissed off and allow Congress to be held mostly by Democrats, which is something that hadn’t happened since 1857. The House overwhelmingly passes a resolution asking Grant not to seek a third term; even though Grant had hinted that he wasn’t really that interested anyway.

Grade: B-

Some people may be shocked by my grade of Grant. Grant is not seen as one of the best presidents, mostly for his lack of power over Congress, and a cabinet that was full of crooks. Seriously though, almost all of them were implicated in scandals. As I pointed out earlier, Grant did a lot of good for the United States, and especially for the freed blacks. The depression was caused by bad speculation and bad spending by business; something that would continue during the Gilded Age. The only thing he is really guilty of is not having more sense in selecting his cabinet members.

Andrew Johnson

Term: 1865-1869

Party: Democrat

Nickname: Tennessee Tailor

Short Bio:
Johnson’s run as presidency was sort of an enigma. Johnson made bad decisions, but so did Congress. First off, as you may have noticed, Johnson is a democrat, while Lincoln was a republican. Johnson was the only southern senator to stay loyal to the union during the Civil War and was rewarded with the vice presidency. He took over for Hannibal Hamlin going into the second term to win border state votes with a southerner on the ballet. Lincoln didn’t really need the help, because his main opposition was the inept General McClellan. Now Johnson is in a pickle. He is a democrat surrounded by republican cabinet members and a mainly radical republican congress. Johnson opposed the radical republicans who were strictly anti-slavery, but also condemned rich plantation owners as traitors. Keep in mind that Johnson was a huge racist. He cared far more about getting the southern states back in the union than the welfare of the freed slaves.

As you probably guessed, Johnson didn’t get much done during his term. Congress simply wouldn’t let him do anything. Johnson sought to carry out most of what Lincoln had planned for the South. In that respect, Johnson granted amnesty and pardon, including restoration of property rights except to slaves, to all Confederates who pledged loyalty to the Union and support for the 13th Amendment. This was excluding all wealthy land owners and Confederate officials, though they could apply individually for presidential pardons. Johnson went on to pardon roughly 90 percent of those who applied. The funny thing is that this was all done while Congress was not in session. Oh, Johnson, you rascal. By late 1865, almost all of the southern states claimed to be in compliance with Johnson's plan. Johnson went in front of Congress and declared the restoration of the Union to be virtually complete. Congress, however, was not going to let some southern Democrat take the reigns in the reconstruction of the United States.

Johnson's "restoration plan" had a few good points. It went easy on the South, which was necessary to the cohesiveness of the Union, and it sought to get it done quickly. Southern states were allowed to elect their own representatives and senators again under Johnson's provisional state governments, and they tried to take their seats in December 1865, but were barred by the majority Republicans. Congress had a different idea for Reconstruction. The Southern states could be readmitted, but they first had to draft a new state constitution, have 50% of the voting population from 1860 swear loyalty to the Union, guarantee African American voting rights, ratify the Fourteenth Amendment making everyone born in America a citizen (except Native Americans), and letting the North basically decide who was allowed to represent the Southern states. Harsher towards white southerners, but way better for freed slaves. Again, Johnson didn't care about the freed slaves. When Congress brought up the Civil Rights bill of 1866 and another bill that enlarged the scope of the Freedman's Bureau, empowering it to build schools and pay teachers, and also to establish courts to prosecute those charged with depriving African Americans of their civil rights, Johnson vetoed both. Johnson claimed that the civil rights act was a "stride toward centralization, and the concentration of all legislative powers in the national Government." So he kind of viewed it more as a power play by the Radical Republicans than anything else. Congress overturned the vetoes and Johnson's bullheadedness only brought the Radical and Moderate Republicans together to take a large majority in Congress. With the majority in 1866, the Republicans fully took over the reigns of Reconstruction and made Johnson's life a living hell.

Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War, was the only radical republican in Johnson’s cabinet, and was basically in charge of the Radical Republican's reconstruction. This didn't bode well with Johnson, so when Congress wasn't in session he suspended Stanton from the position and replaced him with Ulysses S. Grant. Congress came back into session and they weren't happy. Congressional pressure made Grant leave and Stanton took back his position. Johnson tried to replace Stanton again with General Lorenzo Thomas, but Stanton barricaded himself in his office for two months, keeping himself from being thrown out. Finally with a reason to get rid of Johnson, Congress moved to impeach the president. The impeachment passes in the House, thus Johnson becomes the first president, but not the last to be impeached. However, like a future president, the Senate saves him. Senator James Grimes had the deciding vote and sided with the president saving him from conviction. What saved Johnson? Well, behind the scenes, Moderate Republicans realized that the checks and balances in the government would be thrown out of whack if Congress could get rid of a president just because he disagreed politically with them. It would set a costly precedent that would in the end probably would have spelled disaster for our young republic. And that's what it was all about the whole time; Johnson's hard-nosed opposition to the Radical Republicans. The Tenure Act was just a smokescreen for the impeachment. Unfortunately for Johnson, though the law would be deemed unconstitutional twenty years later, it was in effect and he blatantly broke it. Along with the realization by moderate Republicans about the effect the removal would have, Johnson also agreed to follow along with the Republican's Reconstruction plan. Johnson left the presidency shortly after and stayed in politics, becoming the only president to serve as a senator after their presidential term.

Grade: D+

Johnson is another president that goes down as one of the worst, mostly for working against blacks and other parts reconstruction, though he was doing a few things right. Johnson did try to carry out Lincoln's plans of a easy transition for the southern states, but Congress simply would not have it. Because of all the bickering, and the fact that the Radical Republicans gained majority in all the northern states in 1866, Johnson could not get anything done. This is a prime example of what can happen when a president and Congress are at odds with each other. As you've seen, it's not good. Was the Radical Reconstruction perfect? No, it bolstered southerners to hate the north and the freed slaves more than probably would have. Out of that hate came the KKK and the Jim Crow Laws. Johson's plan wasn't much better as it would have further disenfranchised a whole race of people. I can't imagine what would have happened if nothing was done to protect the newly freed slaves.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Abraham Lincoln


Party: Republican

Nickname: Honest Abe

Lincoln had the harrowing task of tackling the seceding states. The southern states started to fall like dominoes, joining the confederacy. The men who were stationed at Fort Sumter, a fort off the coast of North Carolina, were starting to run out of supplies and realized they were no longer on friendly ground. North Carolina told the men to surrender and abandon the fort, but the men couldn't just give up a government fort to the rebels. Lincoln decided to send rations and ammunition to the men, which to the south was a declaration of war on them. The rebels soon attacked the fort and watched the men later surrender with no one injured. Thus started the U.S. Civil War. Lincoln surrounded himself with his republican nominee adversaries. Most of the men couldn't stand Lincoln, but took the cabinet jobs anyhow. Lincoln, like most of the public hoped the war would be short. Only one man foresaw that the war would be a long a bloody war. The man, General Sherman, was considered crazy for his views and was scoffed at by the higher ups. He would later help win the war for the North.
Lincoln was not considered very popular during his first term until the very end of it. The south saw him as a despotic tyrant, and his own peers considered him backwoods and too afraid to attack the slavery issue head on. Lincoln was nominated for the Republicans for his moderate views on slavery. He wanted to stop the expansion of slavery, but not get rid of it altogether. He had to keep the south happy somehow. When it came to the election, he was considered an extremist compared to Stephen A. Douglas and John Bell, who were both moderates, wanting to compromise and use more popular sovereignty. The other extremist on the ticket was John Breckinridge, who was the southern democratic candidate. Lincoln even said when he was elected that he was not going to get rid of slavery in the south. This would be a lie, but he probably didn't know it at the time.
Even though the North had more men, technology, and food, the south had more experienced generals, most of whom had served in the Mexican-American War. The only experienced general the north had was Winfield Scott, who at over 300 lbs was too fat to get onto his horse. The south, literally in some cases, ran circles around the union troops for the first two years of the war. It wasn't until Grant captured the many forts on the Mississippi and Vicksburg and Union victories at Antietam and Gettysburg that Lincoln decided it was time to give another blow to the south. He would free all the slaves that lived in the southern states. Called the Emancipation Proclamation, it didn't free slaves in the border states. The move, while noble, was most likely for political reasons. If Lincoln showed England and France that this was a war about slavery, then they would surely not support the south. It worked and the foreign countries stayed out of the war.
Public opinion towards Lincoln in the north increased greatly at that point. The turning points of the war helped Lincoln win a second term in 1864. After dealing with inept generals like McClellan, Burnside, and Hooker, Lincoln found the right men in Generals Meade, Grant, and Sherman. Meade and Grant chased Lee all the way back to Richmond and beyond (slowly), while Sherman stormed through Georgia, resorting to Total War. Total War is where you burn down houses, ruin train tracks and make sure that no one can get any resources from where you were just at. Confederate General Lee, though a brilliant strategist, had to surrender to General Grant when he realized they would not be able to continue the fight much longer. The south basically ran out of men and supplies. The north won key battles and wore the Confederacy out.
The war had taken a heavy toll on the Lincoln's though. Lincoln had aged terribly in the little over four years he was president. The stress of the job made him look much older than he did before he started. His wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, was certified crazy. She had lost a son, Edward, at the age of four and lost another son, Willie, while Lincoln was in office. This drove her over the edge in grief and routinely shut herself off from others. This probably also helped the aging process for Lincoln.
It was only five days after Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia that Lincoln was assassinated. John Wilkes Booth, a famous actor and southern sympathizer, decided that he had to do something to keep the war going. At first, he and his friends were going to kidnap the president, but when the war suddenly came to a screeching halt, he decided to do something more drastic.
He decided to kill the president, along with Secretary of State William Seward, and the Vice President Andrew Johnson. On the night that Lincoln and Mary attended the British comedy, "My American Cousin", at Ford's Theater, Booth made his move. Booth was able to move around without suspicion due to his reputation at the theater. Booth snuck past the lone security person before the Lincoln's box and locked himself in with a wooden board he had left in the room. After sealing the door, he crept into the back of the box and slowly took out his derringer, which was a one shot pistol. He only had one chance, and if he missed, he would have to finish the job with a camping knife. I'm not talking a puny swiss army knife, this was a huge knife. Lincoln had been looking at someone in the crowd at the point in the show and was leaning over a little bit. Being in almost darkness, Booth aimed the gun for Lincoln's head and fired. If Lincoln had his head down just an inch, the bullet would have just missed him. However, the bullet went through his brain and lodged in the back of one of his eyes. The president slumped over in his seat, appearing as though he was bored with the play. The shot had been fired exactly when a thunder of applause had happened and nobody had heard the shot. But the three others in the box heard and saw a tall slender man standing over the slumped over president. Having used his one bullet, Booth took out his knife and swung wildly at Major Rathbone, who, along with Clara Harris, went to the show with the Lincoln's since the Grant's had declined (Mrs. Grant didn't like Mrs. Lincoln). After a short struggle, Rathbone was stabbed and Booth made for his escape. He jumped out of the box, catching his foot on the flag that was draped below the box and fell awkwardly on to the stage. He knew something was wrong as soon as he landed, but stood up as straight as he could and yelled "Sic Semper Tyrannus", which is Latin for "Thus Always to Tyrants", which happened to be the Virginia state motto. Booth then ran passed the bewildered actors and was able to escape to the horse that was waiting for him. Booth shortly realized that he had badly injured his leg and wouldn't be able to travel as far as he would like to.

Lewis Powell had the job of assassinating Secretary of State, William Seward. Booth knew that Seward would just continue what Lincoln started and had to be eliminated. Seward had just been in a carriage accident and was in bed with a neck brace on. Powell pretended to be a delivery boy that was delivering medicine from Seward's doctor. He was able to get all the way to the stairs before Seward's son stopped him and told him that he would give the medicine to his father. Powell protested, saying that he had to give Seward the medicine personally. This went back and forth for awhile, until Powell, who was a beast by the way, pushed the son aside and stormed upstairs to the room. Not knowing what was going on outside the door, Seward's daughter, who was in the room with him, opened the door up and told her brother that Seward was awake now. This gave away where Seward was. Powell made for the door, but was stopped by Fredrick, Seward's son. Powell pulled out his revolver, aimed it at Fredrick's forehead, and watched as the gun misfired. Instead of trying to fire it again, he proceeded to beat Fredrick over the head with the gun repeatedly until the gun was useless. Powell pushed his way into the room and pulled out his knife. Seeing her brother on the floor, Fanny let out a terrible scream that woke up her other brother Augustus. Sergeant Robinson was with Fanny in the room and for the moment was confused on what was transpiring. In the dim lit room, Powell couldn't quite see where Seward was on the bed and began to throw down huge thrust of his knife. His first and second strike missed Seward. Finally on his third try, he cut open Seward's cheek. Seward was saved by his brace it turns out. If he didn't have it on, the knife would of went through his jugular. Powell proceeded to wrestle Augustus and Robinson for a few minutes until he was able to escape into the city streets.
David Atzerodt was the final assassin, or should I say would be assassin. Atzerodt went drinking to get the courage to kill Johnson, but the more he drank the worse he felt, and finally decided to leave without killing the Vice President.

Booth was eventually caught while in a barn. After troops surrounded the barn, they set it on fire and waited for Booth to come out. One soldier, seeing inside the barn that Booth was raising a gun, feared that he was about to shoot another soldier and tried to shoot him in the arm or hand. Instead he shot him near the same spot that Lincoln was shot. How's that for ironic? Booth died a little while later, his last words being "Useless...useless..." while looking at his hands. Booth, by reading newspapers from various sources found that instead of causing a revolution or an uprising in the south again, had made a martyr of Lincoln and Booth was denounced in newspapers even in the South. Southerners had realized that Lincoln was going to be lenient on them and his way of Reconstruction was going to be the best route for the U.S. Atzerodt and Powell were caught inside the city of Washington D.C. and were hung a short time later. Lincoln stayed alive for under a day eventually died of his wounds at a house across from the theater. Seward was badly wounded, but lived due to his neck brace. He served in the same position under President Johnson and acquired Alaska from Russia. People thought it was dumb at the time and labeled it Seward's Folly.

Lincoln's death rocked the United States like nothing before. Just when things were starting to get better, the president was gone. The odd thing was Lincoln knew his death was coming. He had vivid dreams throughout his presidency that told of victories, and one a couple days before his assassination of his own death. Mary Todd Lincoln was so engulfed with grief that she didn't go to his funeral.

Grade: A+
Lincoln is by far the best president we have ever had in our existence as a country. Was he perfect? No, of course not. But, with the help of his best generals won the Civil War and started the U.S. on the road to Reconstruction before his tragic death. Did he free the slaves? Sort of. He freed some slaves. He didn't live long enough to see the 13th amendment passed, but was a chief constructor of it. Lincoln's perception of the slave issue changed during the war, and some think that the Emancipation Proclamation was not just a political move. Lincoln has given one of the most well known and short and sweet speeches of all time, The Gettysburg Address. If it weren't for a man like Lincoln, we wouldn't of come out of the war like we did. We could of ended up with another Pierce or Buchanan.

-I realize I went a lot into the assassination of Lincoln. I just finished reading "Manhunt" and really enjoyed the book. I would urge any that are interested to pick up the book, or the audio book like I did and learn a little about the assassination and the attempted getaway.

James Buchanan

Term: 1857-1861

Party: Democrat

Nickname: Ten Cent Jimmy

Short Bio:

James Buchanan had an illustrious career and especially one that kept him overseas often. This meant that he had little to no knowledge or opinion on the slavery issue. He was a northerner that didn't really like slavery, but didn't want the south to secede, so he went with whatever they wanted. Buchanan even went as far as saying in his inauguration speech that the slavery issue in the west was of little importance. Buchanan meant well, but shied away from making any big decisions, and I mean any. When South Carolina found that Lincoln had been elected, they seceded from the union. Buchanan decried them, but felt that the government had no place saying that they had no right to secede. He gladly gave up his position to Lincoln in 1861.

Grade: E

The first E! Buchanan is arguably the worst president of all time for doing absolutely nothing to stop the Civil War from happening. Plain and simple, he was awful. I'm sure he was a nice guy, but he needed to man up and tell South Carolina what was up.

Franklin Pierce

Term: 1853-1857

Party: Democrat

Nickname: Handsome Frank

Short Bio:
Pierce's presidency started with tragedy. A train that was carrying the president elect, his wife, and young son Bennie, derailed and killed Bennie before the couple's eyes. Pierce's wife, Jane, having lost their other two sons, decided that this was an omen that she not interfere with her husbands presidency at all, and retreated from public view. This dark cloud hovered over Pierce for his entire presidency.
Pierce was a pro-southern democrat who was in favor of compromise. It seemed that at the time, this was the best decision for the U.S. Everyone still wanted to compromise over the slavery issue and not hit it head on. Pierce himself considered the slavery issue solved due to the compromise of 1850. But, Stephen A. Douglas reopened the issue when he declared that Kansas and Nebraska should decide for themselves if they are free or slave. Douglas lobbied for the Kansas-Nebraska act, which would have all territories and states that have not been determined free or slave to put it to popular sovereignty, or vote on the issue. Feeling the pressure from pro-slavery forces, Pierce went along with it and basically caused a mini Civil War in the Kansas territory. Pro-slavery forces flooded into the territory to try and offset the vote towards slavery and vice versa. Both sides even went as far as murdering each other. The famous case of this was extreme abolitionist John Brown and his sons snuck into a pro-slavery house and hacked the inhabitants to pieces with broadswords.
Pierce had become very unpopular for siding mainly with the south and was the first president not touted as a nominee for their party in the next election. The democrats chose James Buchanan.

He gets a few pity points for the bad luck with his kids, but he is widely considered one of the worst presidents of all time. He basically worked with the south even though he was brought in for compromise. By accepting the Kansas-Nebraska act, he had done away with the Missouri Compromise, and caused the whole western part of the country to be tossed into chaos and uncertainty. Popular sovereignty unfortunately didn't work in this instance, due to people's strong feelings on the subject and apparent blood lust.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Millard Fillmore

Term: 1850-1853

Party: Whig

Nickname: The American Louis Philippe

Short Bio:
Consider this more of a Compromise of 1850 lesson. Because Fillmore's whole presidency is the Compromise of 1850. After Taylor refused to negotiate about slavery til his death, Fillmore went a different route and quickly said yes to the Compromise of 1850. Here is how the compromise breaks down:

1. California becomes a free state.
2. The territories are open to slavery.
3. The fugitive slave act is instated.
4. No more slave trade in D.C.

This compromise has two things favoring the north and two favoring the south. But one could argue that the south did get the better deal, getting all the territories and forcing slaves back into the south, while only giving up California and the internal slave trade in one city. Well, that's how the anti-slavery northern Whigs felt. They didn't give Fillmore the nomination for the 1854 election, going with Winfield Scott instead. Have you heard of President Scott? No? Exactly. The Whigs basically disbanded after this time.

Many called Fillmore a hero for the compromise, saying that the country was saved from war. And in a way, they were correct. Taylor had brought the country to the brink of war, and the compromise kept the country together for another 11 years. The compromise was just a temporary fix, but one could argue that the north wasn't ready to fight a war at the time, and I would agree. In all truthfulness, we needed the temporary fix of the compromise, even if it did give a little more to the south.

Grade: C+
He accepts the compromise and keeps the country out of war for 11 years. That's good, but he doesn't do anything else. He was incredibly complacent. He does have a funny name though. And there's a comic strip sort of named after him.

Zachary Taylor

Term: 1849-1850


Nickname: Old Rough and Ready

Short Bio:
Zachary Taylor was another president who gained prominence from being a famous general. He had participated in the Mexican war along with Winfield Scott. Taylor had never held any political office before becoming president, nor had he ever voted in his life. Using the same tactics as William Henry Harrison did, as in avoiding the issues altogether, Taylor narrowly beat out Michigan governor Lewis Cass.

The slavery issue hit Taylor hard. Everyone wanted to know what to do with California and the territories gained from Mexico. Taylor infuriated the Whigs and the Democrats by declaring that the people living in the areas should decide for themselves and keep the government out of it. Taylor himself was one of the largest slave owners in the south but was a strong nationalist, declaring that he would lead an army into the south if anyone threatened to secede. He was also not one to compromise. He refused to do anything with the issue of slavery in his short term as president.

Taylor became the second president to die in office, succumbing to gastroenteritis, and inflammation of the stomach and intestines. A quick note on terms of presidents in case you were wondering. Millard Fillmore took office after Taylor died and served three years. If he had been elected in the next election, he would officially have served two terms. If Taylor had died after the official halfway mark in his presidency, then Fillmore would only been counted as serving one term. So if a future president (being after the two term limit given after FDR) dies after two and a half years, his vice president could technically serve a total of 9 1/2 years. That is about the only way anyone could be president longer than two terms. Hasn't happened yet.

Taylor was another mediocre president. He didn't know anything about politics, and his rash decisions didn't work out as well in the presidency as they did on the battlefield. He had a noble cause of keeping the nation together, but didn't have any answers to the slavery issue itself. Also, he didn't live long enough to make any big things happen, though that isn't really his fault.