Monday, January 31, 2011

George Mason

"In all our associations; in all our agreements let us never lose sight of this fundamental maxim - that all power was originally lodged in, and consequently is derived from, the people."

George Mason was one of the "Founding Fathers," though is largely forgotten today. He is the force behind many of the words of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.

Born to a wealthy Virginia family near the Potomac River in 1725, Mason lost his father at an early age so he was raised by his mother and uncle. Hamlet alert! His uncle was a prominent lawyer and Mason benefited from his uncle's library of 1,500 volumes that mostly included books on history and law. Though his later works would influence governments around the world, Mason had very little formal teaching and basically taught himself using his uncle's library. This is where he formed some of his stro
ngest opinions-that too strong a central government was dangerous and that there must be protected rights for individuals- as well as his lifelong opposition to slavery (although he was, like Thomas Jefferson, a slave owner).

Known as an intensely private man, Mason believed in public service, but had no desire for the limelight and no interest in the "babblers" of national politics (he was elected to Continental Congress in 1777 but refused the seat). Yet despite his disdain for national politics, his extensive legal knowledge, his strong beliefs in personal freedoms, and his hatred of British tyranny led him to a prominent position in the shaping of the United States.

In 1776 he was asked to write the Virginia's Declaration of Rights (assisted by James Madison). That document is widely considered to be one of the most influential and important papers in the history of modern de
mocratic government. Along with the "pursuit of happiness," the extraordinary declaration also called for a separation of government powers, guaranteed freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and trial by a jury of one's peers. It would soon serve as a model for other state declarations, and eventually for Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, which spurred the American Revolution.

In the summer of 1787, Mason, now an elder statesman, was called out of retirement to attend the Constitutional Convention and to assist in writing the new nation's constitution. He took the job very seriously and delivered more than 136 speeches on the convention floor. But as the work progressed, Mason grew to dislike the direction in which he saw the document headed. He announced "that he would sooner chop off his right hand" than see such a constitution passed. He felt that the working constitution was flawed because it didn't contain a Bill of Rights, the Supreme Court was made too powerful, the president had excessive pardoning powers, slaves were allowed to be imported for another 20 years, and the proposed constitution threatened to "produce a monarchy or a corrupt, tyrannical aristocracy."

The Constitution was signed, and Mason was not one of the ones who did so. After having been so influential in the document's creation, he refused to sign it, and the move is said to have cost him his long friendship with George Washington. As more and more Americans read the Constitution after its initial signing, it became obvious that many people shared Mason's biggest fear: that it contained no bill of rights. In fact, many of the states ratified it only on the promise that such a bill would quickly be added. With pressure mounting from across the new nation, the anti-Bill of Rights contingent finally had to give in. In 1791, Congress made the first change to the U.S. Constitution by ratifying 10 amendments-The Bill of Rights. The First, Second, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Amendments were all largely borrowed from Mason's Virginia declaration, sometimes using his exact wor

George Mason died on October 7, 1792 at his home in Virginia. His refusal to sign the Constitution makes him largely unknown to modern Americans, but his place as the "Father of the Bill of Rights" and one of the most important Founding Fathers is unquestioned.

In 2002 he was finally recognized by the nation he helped found when the George Mason National Memorial was formally dedicated near the Thomas Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Information from Uncle John's Slightly Irregular Bathroom Reader, "America's Forgotten Founding Father," Pg. 211-214.

Friday, January 28, 2011

25th Anniversary: Challenger Disaster

Twenty-five years ago today, the space shuttle Challenger exploded over Cape Canaveral in Florida. This is a one of those where-were-you moments, as that's what people were doing today, looking back at that horrible day. This was actually my first where-were-you moment, since I was alive when this happened, though I was only two months old so I don't remember. I was probably sleeping, crying or loading my diaper. I was aware of the disaster at a very young age though, as my brother was really into space and astronauts and had a big picture of the Challenger crew hanging on the wall in our shared room. I didn't know the significance of the photo for awhile, just thinking it was another item in my brother's poster collection. It didn't take long for someone in my family to explain that those people weren't around anymore-that they had died being astronauts. This was one of those weird moments in my childhood, as I thought that all astronauts and firemen and other heroic people were indestructible. The photo, when I see it today, reminds me of my childhood, but not in a bad way. It was horrible what happened to those people, but the picture was part of my room and I connected it with real heroes, which is what they were.

On January 28th, 1986 it was a chilly day for a launch-going down to the 30's around launch time, which is pretty cold for Florida. The space shuttle Challenger was ready for launch, along with it's crew. This was no ordinary space trip, as it was the first to have a civilian. Along with the six astronauts, elementary school teacher Christa McAuliffe, was taking the trip with them. The crew was also the most diverse, consisting of one African-American, one Japanese-American, and two women, one of which was Jewish. As Challenger blasted off, many were watching the launch, including schoolchildren everywhere who wanted to see the first teacher in space. Seventy-three seconds after launch, Challenger suddenly exploded over Cape Canaveral. The crew compartment shot out of the fireball, intact, and continued upward another three miles before plummeting. The free fall lasted more than two minutes. There was no parachute, no escape system whatsoever. If the crew was still alive after the compartment was shot out, it must of been the longest minutes of their lives.

Stiff O-ring seals were the culprit of the explosion. Something so small caused so much anguish for the group's families and all the people watching on television. The death of a young schoolteacher, combined with NASA's refusal to share information about the accident, added to the nation's collective pain. President Ronald Reagan's poetic tribute soothed raw emotions. Most consider his speech on the Challenger disaster to be his best. Here is an excerpt:

"And I want to say something to the schoolchildren of America who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle's takeoff. I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It's all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It's all part of taking a chance and expanding man's horizons. The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we'll continue to follow them."

The full speech can be viewed on Youtube. I was going to try and post it here, but don't quite have all the capabilities yet.

NASA placed a wreath on the Challenger Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery on Thursday to commemorate the fallen heroes. We have had our share of disasters and where-were-you moments in our lifetimes, such as the similar Columbia disaster a few years back, and will not have any shortage of them in the future, but we know that America will never be pulled into despair. Though tragedy has reared it ugly head many times in our history, America has always persevered and will continue to do so.


" When your time comes to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home." -Tecumseh

Tecumseh is known as one of the greatest fighters for Native Americans. To this day he is still considered one of the most intelligent and greatest warriors in American/Canadian history.

Supposedly born in March 1768, Tecumseh was born at a village on the Scioto River. Tecumseh, meaning "Shooting Star," or "Panther across the Sky" was part of the Shawnee tribes. His family growing up was constantly under attack from settlers and soldiers, since the Shawnee had allied themselves with the British during the Revolutionary War. Eventually, the tribes in Ohio and Illinois decided that they would join together to stave off settler encroachment. Tecumseh had a childhood filled with violence. His family and tribe was constantly attacked, and even his father had met his end in battles. At the age of fifteen, Tecumseh started to become a warrior to help fend off the Americans.

The Americans were too strong where they were settled and Tecumseh had to move west towards what is now Greenville, Ohio. Here he joined his younger brother named Tenskwatawa, who was an extremely religious man. Tenskwatawa eventually earned the name, "The Shawnee Prophet," or just "The Prophet." The Prophet preached that the apocalypse was coming and it would destroy all the settlers who had taken any natives land. The Prophet asked his followers to give up the things of the white man, including firearms, liquor, and European type clothing. His preaching, as one might expect, made things much worse between the settlers and the Prophet's followers. After a split in sentiments between the Shawnee, some wanting to fight off the settlers, and the others trying to remain peaceful and friendly with settlers, Tecumseh and his brother moved further into the wilderness. They decided to move into Miami native territory, in a town they called Prophetstown. This was near the Wabach and Tippecanoe rivers. The Miami feared that the radical Shawnee would hurt their relationship with the Americans and warned them not to settle, but ended up not doing anything when the Shawnee set up the town anyway. The Prophet's message became very popular in the area, and they attracted many other people to their cause, many of them not Shawnee. Tecumseh was considered the leader of this new confederation, though people were drawn in by his brother's religious zeal.

Tecumseh and the confederation were upset that other tribes were giving in and signing treaties with the Americans, one being the Treaty of Greenville which ceded most of Ohio to the Americans. The last straw came when then Governor of the Indiana Territory, William Henry Harrison had native leaders from the area sign the Treaty of Fort Wayne, which ceded another three million acres to the Americans. The treaty negotiations were questionable due to the fact that the President had not authorized them and involved what some historians compared to bribery, offering large subsidies to the tribes and their chiefs, and the liberal distribution of liquor before the negotiations. Tecumseh and others at Prophetstown became angry when they realized that the other tribes were selling land without their consent. The area that had Prophetstown was part of the agreed lands to cede to the Americans. Tecumseh and the confederation were not ready to take on the Americans head on, so they decided to argue with the natives that sold the land. Tecumseh, being well known as a great orator, traveled to tribes in the area and told them that the Fort Wayne treaty was illegal. Tecumseh is quoted as saying, "No tribe has the right to sell [land], even to each other, much less to strangers.... Sell a country!? Why not sell the air, the great sea, as well as the earth? Didn't the Great Spirit make them all for the use of his children?" And, "....the only way to stop this evil [loss of land] is for the red man to unite in claiming a common and equal right in the land, as it was first, and should be now, for it was never divided."

Tecumseh decided to challenge the man himself and took some of his men to William Henry Harrison's residence. The presence of Tecumseh and his men frightened the townspeople and the situation quickly became dangerous. When Tecumseh asked for Harrison to rescind the treaty, Harrison rejected him. Harrison argued that many tribes in the area like the treaty, and they didn't want Tecumseh around to muck everything up. Tecumseh became agitated and incited his men to kill Harrison. Harrison's men stopped Harrison from being killed and the Potawatomi chief Winnemac arose and argued against Tecumseh and asked that he leave in peace. Before leaving, Tecumseh vowed that if Harrison didn't rescind the treaty, he would ally himself with the British.

In 1811, Tecumseh decided it was time for war, and he needed to get more people. He left Prophetstown and told his brother not to fight with the Americans while he was gone. Tecumseh traveled to the five civilized tribes and made his plea, most deciding to stay with the treaties. One group that did follow him though, were the Creeks. While he was visiting the Creeks, a great comet flew across the sky. Tecumseh told the tribes that it was his namesake and it was a good omen that meant his coming. The Creeks joined the fight, which ultimately led to the Creek War. Back in Prophetstown, the Prophet didn't listen to his brother and decided to fight the Americans. Harrison, having heard that Tecumseh was far away, decided to take one thousand good men and destroy Prophetstown. Seeing that the Americans were camping nearby, the Prophet sent a messager to ask that they hold a council the next day. It was agreed and Harrison waited. The Prophet and his men surpised the Americans and attacked very early in the morning, though the Americans were able to keep their ground. In the end, the Prophet and his men had to leave the area. Harrison and his men then burned the town to the ground and returned home. This was a blow to the confederation, but also to Tecumseh's trust in his younger brother.

The War of 1812 started, and Tecumseh rallied his men to support the British. Tecumseh joined up with British Major-General Sir Isaac Brock, and they laid seige on Detroit. As Brock advanced to a point just out of range of Detroit's guns, Tecumseh had his approximately four hundred warriors parade from a nearby wood and circle around to repeat the maneuver, making it appear that his army was much larger. The fort commander surrendered in fear of a massacre should he refuse. The victory was of a great strategic value to the invaders. A year later, the Americans would take Fort Detroit back led by Commodore Perry and William Henry Harrison. The British burned every public building in Detroit and ran back to Canada, with Tecumseh and his men taking up the rear, slowing the advancing Americans.

The next general that Tecumseh worked with, Major-General Henry Proctor, disagreed with Tecumseh on tactics. Proctor wanted to withdraw into Canada and have the Americans suffer winter, and Tecumseh wanted to hit the Americans head on and finish them for good. They couldn't agree, and Tecumseh ended up taking the offensive with what troops he could muster. At the Battle of Thames, the Americans ran over the Native and British forces and Tecumseh was subsequently killed in battle. Following his death, the native confederacy surrendered to Harrison. With Tecumseh's death, there were no more large native uprisings. The confederacy and hopes to keep the white man off their land was gone.

Tecumseh today is remembered far more in Canada, as he is viewed as a defender of the country during the War of 1812. Though he met his end during the war, Tecumseh's battle to keep native lands is extremely honorable, even though he failed. Native's would keep losing thier land, culminating to the Indian Removal act of 1830 and the Trail of Tears.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

H. H. Holmes

Holmes is known as the first American serial killer, having supposedly killed up to 250 people.

Born Herbert Webster Mudgett in May 1861, he would end up going by Henry Howard Holmes because his real name was extremely dorky. Holmes had a troubled childhood. His father was a violent drunk and his mother did nothing but read the Bible to him. Holmes himself claimed that, as a child, schoolmates forced him to view and touch a human skeleton after discovering his fear of the local doctor. The bullies initially brought him there to scare him, but instead he was utterly fascinated, and he soon became obsessed with death. Way to go bullies.

Holmes graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School in 1884. while he was enrolled there, he stole bodies from the laboratory, disfigured them, and claimed that the people were killed accidentally in order to collect insurance money from policies he took out on each deceased person. After graduating he moved to Chicago to study pharmaceuticals. It was also during this time that he operated shady businesses and real estate offices under the name H.H. Holmes. From 1878 to 1894, Holmes married three different women and took on a mistress, having a child with his second wife. Don't let the mustache fool you, Holmes was considered attractive and was very smooth with women.

So, the guy is pretty crazy already, but it's about to get much worse. While in Chicago during the summer of 1886, Holmes came across Dr. E.S. Holton's drugstore. Holton was suffering from cancer while his wife minded the store. Holmes got a job there and then convinced her to sell him the store. They agreed she could still live in the upstairs apartment even after Holton died. Once Holton died, Mrs. Holton mysteriously disappeared and Holmes told people she was visiting relatives in California. As people started asking questions about her return, he told them she enjoyed California so much that she decided to live there.

Holmes purchased a lot across from the drugstore, where he built his three-story, block-long "Castle"—as it was dubbed by those in the neighborhood. It was opened as a hotel for the World's Colombian Exposition in 1893 (Also known as The White City, picture left), with part of the structure used as commercial space. The ground floor of the Castle contained Holmes's own relocated drugstore and various shops, while the upper two floors contained his personal office and a maze of over one hundred windowless rooms with doorways opening to brick walls, oddly angled hallways, stairways to nowhere, doors openable only from the outside, and a host of other strange and labyrinthine constructions. Holmes repeatedly changed builders during the construction of the Castle so only he fully understood the design of the house, thus decreasing the chance of being reported to the police.

After the completion of the hotel, Holmes selected mostly female victims from among his employees (many of whom were required as a condition of employment to take out life insurance policies for which Holmes would pay the premiums but also be the beneficiary), lovers and hotel guests, torturing and killing them. Why did the women trust him? Like I said, he had a way with women. Some were locked in soundproof bedrooms fitted with gas lines that let him asphyxiate them at any time. Some victims were locked in a huge soundproof bank vault near his office where they were left to suffocate. The victims' bodies were dropped by secret chute to the basement, where some were meticulously dissected, stripped of flesh, crafted into skeleton models, and then sold to medical schools. Holmes also cremated some of the bodies or placed them in lime pits for destruction. Holmes had two giant furnaces as well as pits of acid, bottles of various poisons, and even a stretching rack. Through the connections he had gained in medical school, he sold skeletons and organs with little difficulty.

Realizing that creditors were closing in on him, Holmes decided to leave Chicago. He reappeared in Fort Worth, Texas, where he had inherited property from two railroad heiress sisters, one of whom he had promised marriage to and both of whom he murdered. There he sought to construct another castle along the lines of his Chicago operation. However, he soon abandoned this project, finding the law enforcement climate in Texas inhospitable. He continued to move about the United States and Canada, and while it seems likely that he continued to kill, the only bodies discovered that date from this period are those of his close business associate and three of the associate's children.

Holmes was caught and incarcerated, not for murder, but for a horse swindle. He quickly made bail, but in the time he was there he hatched a plan with an inmate to fake his own death and collect from the insurance company on his own policy. The plan failed when the insurance company became suspicious and wouldn't pay out. Holmes tried the plan again, this time with an associate named Benjamin Pitezel. Pitezel would fake his own death, making it look like a laboratory explosion and having his wife get $10,000 from the policy, which would then be split among Pitezel, Holmes, and their shady lawyer. Holmes then killed Pitezel, using his real dead body for insurance fraud. Holmes then convinced Pitezel's wife to let him have custody of three of her five children. Holmes traveled across America with the children, and escorted Mrs. Pitezel too, but along a parallel route, never telling her where her children were, though they were sometimes blocks away from each other. Law enforcement on his trail eventually found the remains of the two girls in Toronto, and then the little boy in Indianapolis. Holmes had killed the boy, chopped him into pieces and threw him into the fireplace, as police found the boys teeth and parts of his bones there.

In 1894, the Pinkertons had caught up with Holmes, being tipped off by Holmes' former cellmate whom Holmes never paid for part of the suicide deal, and was held for his outstanding horse swindling charge. The custodian for the Castle came forward and claimed that Holmes never let him clean in the upper level, leading to the police finding out about all the murders that happened in the Castle. The Castle then mysteriously burned down in August, 1895, a site that is now occupied by a U.S. Post Office building. Police estimated that Holmes had at least killed 20 people, but might have killed up to 250, as evidenced from missing person reports and testimonies from neighbors who claimed that many women that went in to the castle never came out again. Also, since this was during the World's Fair, there were many people around the area, and some didn't show up back home for one reason or another. Holmes was charged with only 27, though police admit that while going through the basement, some bodies were so badly dismembered and decomposed that it was difficult to tell how many bodies there actually were.

Holmes was put on trial for the murder of Pitezel and confessed, following his conviction, to 27 murders in Chicago, Indianapolis and Toronto, and six attempted murders. Holmes was paid $7,500 ($197,340 in today's dollars) by the Hearst Newspapers in exchange for this confession. He gave various contradictory accounts of his life, claiming initially innocence and later that he was possessed by Satan.

On May 7, 1896, Holmes was hanged at the Philadelphia County Prison. Until the moment of his death, Holmes remained calm and amiable, showing very few signs of fear, anxiety or depression. Holmes's neck did not snap immediately; he instead died slowly, twitching over 15 minutes before being pronounced dead 20 minutes after the trap had been sprung. He requested that he be buried in concrete so that no one could ever dig him up and dissect his body, as he had dissected so many others. This request was granted.

On New Year's Eve, 1910, Marion Hedgepeth, who had been pardoned for informing on Holmes, was shot and killed by a police officer during a holdup at a Chicago saloon. Then, on March 7, 1914, the Chicago Tribune reported that, with the death of the former caretaker of the Murder Castle, Pat Quinlan, "the mysteries of Holmes' Castle" would remain unexplained. Quinlan had committed suicide by taking strychnine. Quinlan's surviving relatives claimed Quinlan had been "haunted" for several months before his death and could not sleep.

Holmes today remains to be one of the lesser known serial killers, though he may be one of the deadliest. Though the story was popular at the time, being covered extensively by Hearst's newspapers, Holmes' story faded until Eric Larson's The Devil in the White City, which was about the building of the World's Fair and Holmes' Murder Castle. Leonardo DiCaprio is even slated as portraying the killer in the movie adaption of the book. Holmes is a complex character, and one seemingly without conscience from a very early age. Many still wonder what drove him to kill and swindle so many.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart is most known for being the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean solo.

Amelia Earhart was born on July 24th, 1897 in Atchison, Kansas to Samuel "Edwin" Stanton Earhart and Amelia "Amy" Otis Earhart. The father's nickname being a tribute to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton who served under Abraham Lincoln. Amelia, or Millie to her family, grew up in a well to do household with her sister Muriel, AKA Pidge, thanks to the wealth of Amy Earhart's parents. Both girls attended private school and lived quite comfortably. The family lived in Kansas til Amelia was nine, then relocated to Des Moines, Iowa due to a change in jobs for Edwin Stanton Earhart. Amelia saw her first airplane at the Iowa State Fair, though she had little to no interest in it. She found that "it was a thing of rusty wire and wood and not at all interesting." It would be more than a decade before Amelia would actually find planes to be more than a thing of rusty wire and wood.

Things were not well in the Earhart family though. Edwin had turned to drinking and Amelia had noticed at an early age that her father was basically the local drunkard. In 1914, the family disbanded and left Edwin after he lost his job at the local railroad. Amy and the girls decided to live with friends in Chicago and Amy used a trust fund to put the girl's through the rest of school, as the money from her parents was now gone. After visiting her sister in 1917 at a college preparatory school in Canada, Amelia decided to train as a nurses aid in Toronto and served as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse at a military hospital until the Armistice in November 1918. After the war, Amelia decided to enroll as a pre-med student at Columbia University, but left when news that her mother and father had gotten back together and moved to California.

Several months after her arrival in California Amelia and her father went to an "aerial meet" at Daugherty Field in Long Beach. She had become very interested in flying. The next day, given a helmet and goggles, she boarded the open-cockpit biplane for a 10 minute flight over Los Angeles. Amelia know from that moment that she wanted to be a pilot. She felt that she belonged in the sky. Amelia then sought out a female pilot instructor and started lessons with pioneer aviatrix Anita "Neta" Snook. Amelia bought her first plane, calling it "The Canary" and used it in her early years. These years yielded many accidents, though this can be attributed to the lack of reliability that came with early planes. Neta Snook still had reservations about Amelia's ability as a pilot though. By October 1922, Amelia began participating in record breaking attempts and set a women's altitude record of 14,000 feet...broken a few weeks later by Ruth Nichols.

To make ends meet, Amelia took work as a social worker after moving to Boston. In her spare time, she flew to break records and wrote to encourage other women to become pilots. All the attention on Amelia led to the Boston Globe proclaiming her "one of the best women pilots in the United States." Many seasoned pilots were offended by this and remarked on Amelia's novice flying ability and called her a intelligent and competent pilot, but not a brilliant aviator.

After Charles Lindbergh's solo Atlantic flight in 1927, Amy Guest decided she wanted to be the first woman to do so. Guest later changed her mind deciding it was too dangerous, but offered to sponsor another girl who "had the rig ht image."While at work one afternoon in April 1928, Earhart got a phone call from Capt. Hilton H. Railey, who asked her, "Would you like to fly the Atlantic?" Amelia would not end up flying the plane going across the Atlantic, as she was just asked to accompany pilot Wilmer Stultz and co-pilot Louis Gordon. Amelia would be a guest but keep the flight log. It ended up that Amelia couldn't of flown the plane if she wanted to. It was a plane flow n by "instruments," and Amelia had no training using those sort of planes. When they landed in England and people asked for her to comment, she said "Stultz did all the flying—had to. I was just baggage, like a sack of potatoes." She did claim however that she would try it solo in the future.

Amelia became an official celebrity back home, gaining the nickname "Queen of the Air." Amelia then turned to lecturing after her flight but was then asked by several companies to endorse their products. Companies used Amelia's image for luggage, Lucky Strike Cigarettes, and a clothing line . She did not just endorse some of the products, but was an active involved in the promotions. She actually made her own clothing line that had her insignia on it and everything. Amelia Earhart was now a household name.

The celebrity endorsements helped her immensely, as they gave her money to fly. She also took on the job of associate editor at Cosmopolitan magazine where she further spread word about opportunities for female pilots. During her time at the magazine, Lindbergh and her became some of the first aviators to promote commercial air travel. Amelia sought to truly make a name for herself in flying by herself and decided to make her first big solo run. In August, 1928 she became the first woman to fly solo across the North American continent and back. It was also during this time that she started flying in races and gained notoriety for her racing feats and selflessness. In 1928 , having been asked six times, Amelia agreed to marry George P. Putnam, the promoter who made Amelia a household name. Their marriage was a strange one for that time, as they both insisted on being breadwinners and Amelia had refused to take Putnam's name.

At the age of 34, Amelia attempted to be the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. She set off on May 20th, 1932 in Newfoundland, planning to land in Paris. Facing strong winds and mechanic troubles, Amelia flew the plane almost fifteen hours and landed in a pasture in Derry, Northern Ireland. When a farm hand asked, "Have you flown far?" Amelia replied, "From America."s the first woman to fly solo non-stop across the Atlantic, Amelia received the Distinguished Flying Cross from Congress, the Cross of Knight of the Legion of Honor from the French Government and the Gold Medal of the National Geographic Society from President Herbert Hoover. That wasn't enough for Amelia, as she became the first person to fly from Hawaii to California in 1935 and also took a non-stop flight from Mexico City to New York City. Between 1930-1935, Amelia had set seven women's speed and distance aviation records in a variety of aircrafts.

After joining the faculty of Purdue to be a lecturer on women careers and aviation, Amelia planned to fly solo around the world with Purdue's help. After a failed attempt to do the world flight on St. Patrick's Day, 1937, Amelia was able to get going on June 1st. Leaving Miami, she stopped in South America, Africa, the Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia before landing in Lae, New Guinea on June 29th. She left Lae with the intended next stop being Howland Island. The United States Coast Guard cutter Itasca, which was stationed at Howland, was to be the ship that communicated with Amelia. This is when the confusion started. With the Itasca's and Amelia's communication time schedules off by a half an hour due to Amelia using Greenwich Civil Time and the Itasca under a Naval time zone designation, and Amelia's unfamiliarity with some of the navigation system parts, things weren't going well.

As Amelia got into the area she kept communicating to the Itasca that she couldn't hear them. With the Itasca unable to communicate with her by voice, they used Morse code, though Amelia reported that she didn't know what direction it was coming from. One of her many calls to the Itasca reported that, "We must be on you, but cannot see you—but gas is running low. Have been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet." This message made it painfully clear that things were going terribly wrong and they had to try and help her find her way to the island. Amelia reported that she thought she was there, but the Itasca saw that she was over five nautical miles away. The Itasca then used their oil-fired burners to generate smoke to catch the attention of the pilots, as Amelia was flying with Fred Noonan, her navigator. The many clouds in the area are thought to have made it hard to decipher for Amelia and Noonan, as they never saw the smoke. From that point, there were no more communications from Amelia.

A search and rescue around the island was put forth, but due to search and rescues techniques being rudimentary and fueled by usually false assumptions at that time in history, the search was eventually called off. Putnam put forth his own search party but also found nothing. There are many theories of what happened to Amelia and Noonan, some claiming they just ran out of gas and crashed into the ocean, and some claiming they landed on a nearby deserted island and lived out their days there.

Amelia today is remembered as a trail-blazer for women pilots and a has generally been regarded as a feminist icon. Her story captivates many, as she had such an inspirational life, but died in mystery.

Fun Fact!
You almost never see a picture of Amelia Earhart smiling with her teeth as she had a large gap between her two front teeth. Many photographers and companies asked her to keep her mouth shut when smiling for pictures.

Update: Researchers now believe that Earhart landed on a nearby island and survived for a few days there. It's just a theory, and apparently they haven't found anything concrete:

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Clara Barton

Clara Barton is best known as the founder of the Red Cross and a nurse during the American Civil War.
Born on Christmas in 1821, in Oxford, Massachussetts to Stephen and Sarah Barton, Clara was the youngest of five children. Her experience with nursing came at an early age of eleven, as she tended to her older brother who fell from the rafter of an unfinished barn. In his three years of recovery, Clara stayed by his side and administered all his medicine, which included leeches. Clara continued to show a growing interest in nursing and drew inspiration from her aunt, Martha Ballard, who served as a midwife for over three decades.
At the start of the Civil War, Clara tended to wounded Massachussets soldiers who were quartered in the U.S. Senate Chamber in Washington. Then, as soon as the First Battle of Bull Run, Clara established the main agency to obtain and distribute supplies to wounded soldiers. She eventually was allowed to ride in ambulances, bring her own medical instruments to the battlefield, and go to the front lines. Most notably, she served on the front lines for the Siege of Petersburg and Richmond. Union General Benjamin Butler declared her to be the "lady in charge" of the hospitals for the Army of the James.

In 1865, President Lincoln gave her the task of finding missing Union soldiers. An Andersonville POW, Dorence Atwater sought her out and produced a list of over 13,000 dead soldiers that died inside the infamous Confederate POW camp. They traveled to Andersonville after the war and used the list to make an official report and publish the names of the dead. Without Clara and Atwater's work, thousands of soldiers would not have been identified. Her work with identifying missing bodies and on the field made her a well known figure and made nursing be seen as a skilled profession.

After the war, Clara went around the country delivering speeches on her experiences and eventually ran into Susan B. Anthony. After meeting Anthony and later Fredrick Douglass, Clara became a supporter of the Woman's Suffrage Movement and black civil rights. After her work in the Civil War, she was tired out, and her doctors recommended that she take a vacation to Europe. In her time there she saw the work of the International Red Cross during the Franco-Prussian War and decided she wanted to bring the organization to America. When she came home and lobbied for the creation of the American Red Cross, people didn't think it was necessary for they felt that there was no way that America would ever go through something as devastating as the Civil War again. She was finally able to convince Chester A. Arthur that the Red Cross could serve in other ways than in war. Clara, naturally became the leader of the Red Cross, which started on May 21, 1881. Clara and others claimed that the group would help in any instance of natural disasters and would act as good Samaritans.

Clara led one of the first relief efforts for the group to help those effected by the Thumb Fire, other wise known as the Great Fire of 1881, which occurred in the thumb area of Michigan where over five thousand were left homeless. The second major disaster that involved the Red Cross and Clara was at the Johnstown Flood in Johnstown, Pennsylvania in 1889, which ended up killing over two thousand people.

Things went back to war with the war against Spain in which Clara and the Red Cross aided the wounded and prisoners of war. In 1896, responding to the humanitarian crisis in the Ottoman Empire in the aftermath of the Hamidian Massacre, Clara sailed to Istanbul and after long negotiations with Abdul Hamid II, opened the first American International Red Cross headquarters in Beijing, China. Clara traveled along with five other Red Cross expeditions to the Armenian provinces in the spring of 1896. Clara also worked in hospitals in Cuba in 1898 at the age of seventy-seven. Barton's last field operation as President of the American Red Cross was the relief effort for the victims of the Galveston hurricane of September 1900. The operation established an orphanage for children of the 6,000 dead, helped to acquire lumber for rebuilding houses, and teamed with the New York World newspaper to accept contributions for the relief effort. As criticism arose of her management of the American Red Cross, plus her advancing age, Barton resigned as president in 1904, at the age of 83. On April 12, 1912 at the age of 90 she died in Glen Echo, Maryland with all her friends by her side.

The Red Cross continues to help and aid those in America and in other countries that are hit by terrible natural disasters. The Red Cross has also continued and has helped serve in America's wars to help the injured and POW's. This is all thanks to Clara Barton and her unwavering service to America and it's people.

Barack Obama

Term: 2009-???

Party: Democrat

Nickname: None

Short Bio:
Obama, our current president, won against Republican John McCain in the 2008 election on the platform of hope and change. The election was a landmark one, due to the fact that Obama is obviously the first African-American president. Obama made several promises after being elected, including that he would close Guantanamo Bay by January 2010, and would start pulling out troops from Afghanistan and Iraq and end American involvement in the near future. To start of his presidency, Obama passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which aimed at helping the struggling economy. The act included increased federal spending for health care, infrastructure, education, various tax breaks and incentives, and direct assistance to individuals, which is being distributed over the course of several years. He also started the Cash for Clunkers program which gave money to those who traded in their old junky cars for newer cars that had better mileage. This garnered mixed results as has the stimulus package. Obama then intervened in the Auto crisis, causing some car companies to restructure, be made public, or sold to foreign car companies.
Obama also made a point to get Health Care Reform passed, though it was a failure in Clinton's terms. Obama presented several versions of Health Care reform before it was passed by Congress. Currently, Republicans, having taken part of Congress back, are trying to get "Obama Care" repealed.
Two years into Obama's presidency, Guantanamo Bay is still open, the war in Afghanistan is still going, the economy hasn't quite bounced back, and though Obama officially announced that the war in Iraq is finished, there are still soldiers in the country. Many at the mid-term elections were dissatisfied with Obama, feeling that not enough change had happened and feelings that Obama was a d0 nothing president were rampant. Due to a new lack of popularity, the Democrats lost the House. But just as Clinton did his best after losing a majority in Congress, Obama was able to pass many bills in the lame duck session before the Republicans took over the House. Don't Ask Don't Tell was officially repealed, a tax deal was made to protect the unemployed, a new law regarding food safety, a nuclear weapons treaty with Russia, and the passing of the Zydroga bill, otherwise known as the 9/11 first responders act. Also in the time of the lame duck period, Tax cuts were extended for the rich, as it was the only way to get the Zydroga bill passed.
Obama has had his ups and downs so far. His popularity seems to come and go, so we'll see if he will be reelected, which seems like a sure thing unless Republicans are able to find a really great candidate. Obama has not been without controversy, as many were upset that he received a Nobel Peace Prize for not really doing anything. Others have called into question his religion and place of birth, though Obama has publicly claimed to be a Christian, coming into the religion during his 20's, and his birth certificate is openly available to view from the Department of Health in Hawaii.
I cannot give him a grade at this time, since he hasn't even finished one term yet. Is he a perfect president? Not even close, but hopefully in the next couple years we will see a fulfillment of some of the changes and promises he made on the campaign trail and hope that he isn't just business as usual. *NOTE*: Since Obama is our current president and there is so much news on him and bills passed, I probably forgot like a million things to write about, but will try to keep this article as current as possible. History tends to show us what is the most important in a person's presidency, and I don't have the luxury of seeing this from a distance, as I don't with Bush's presidency.

George W. Bush

Term: 2001-2009


Nickname: W, Dubya, Schrub

Short Bio:
With Clinton's Vice President, Al Gore, unable to distance himself from Clinton and his affair, Bush and the Republicans claimed the moral high ground and sought to prove that they could have a scandal free president. Bush won, though he lost the popular vote, and many still argue today that shady dealings lead to his election as president. Bush had become the second president to be a son of a president, the other being John Quincey Adams.
Upon taking office, Bush persuaded Congress to approve the greatest tax cut since the Reagan administration, since the Clinton presidency had given the nation a surplus. Two years later, faced with a lagging economic recession, he pushed through an even larger cut. He shaped education reform by imposing annual standardized tests for students, which involved No Child Left Behind. NCLB, while encouraging standardized testing, made teachers around America take new tests to teach subjects, since the law deemed that teachers were not qualified to teach a subject unless they have a major in it. In foreign affairs, Bush shifted policy away from the direction that Clinton had followed. Generally distrustful of international treaties that he viewed as counter to U.S. self-interest, Bush rejected a long-sought agreement on global warming known as the Kyoto Protocol. Despite lacking American support, the Kyoto Protocol Treaty was ratified in November of 2004. Bush also took a greater stance against partial birth abortions.
The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. shifted the focus of the administration. In the weeks after the attacks, most Americans rallied to the president's side, as he vowed to wage a war on worldwide terrorism. That fall, American forces moved into Afghanistan and crushed the Taliban government that had supported the al-Quaeda terrorist forces. Charging that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein held weapons of mass destruction and was an imminent threat to the United States, Bush then convinced Congress to authorize an invasion of Iraq. In the spring of 2003, despite global opposition, Bush launched arguably the first preemptive war in American history. Although the Iraqi government collapsed, Americans still have not totally left the country, though current President Obama has officially ended the U.S. involvement in the Iraq War.
Widespread job loss throughout his first term and seemingly endless occupation of Iraq threatened Bush's chances for reelection. Bush, with a platform of not switching leaders during a war and the luck of the Democrats picking the worst possible candidate, won, though it was still a close election. Bush's popularity continued to take a fall, as unemployment rose, the deficit increased, gas prices rose to stupid amounts, and the two wars continued. To make matters worse, Hurricane Katrina basically destroyed most of New Orleans and other parts of the Gulf Coast. A delayed response from FEMA caused blame to come to the Bush administration as many found that the government should of taken more on top of things. Near the end of Bush's second term, the housing market collapsed, causing an economic crisis. The crisis quickly turned into a recession which we currently are still in. Many people lost tens of thousands of dollars to the crisis and it has led to a spike in unemployment which has hit some states more than others, namely my home state of Michigan.

Grade: D+
Bush, to say the least, made a few questionable decisions throughout his administration. The choice to provide massive tax cuts gave us mixed results, as has NCLB. Many find that basing everything on standardized tests is not a fair representation of student intelligence, and many teachers who were teaching for over 20 years were upset that they all of a sudden couldn't teach certain subjects without taking a test to prove they knew the subject. I can see why NCLB was passed, as it attempts to provide students with optimum learning from teachers who have great knowledge of what they are teaching, and not ones who have taken less classes. I admit that I have a personal bias in this category but I'm not basing Bush's overall grade on it. Bush led us into two wars, the first time in history that we have been in two wars at the same time, and both appear to be never ending. Bush however much people disliked him, was a proactive president that didn't shy away from conflicts. We will see what effect the two wars have on the world, though most would agree that not having Saddam Hussein in power is probably a good thing. Though Bush is consistently put near the bottom of the greatest president polls, many president's legacies have changed over time. Only time will tell how future historians and writers will view his presidency.

William Clinton

Term: 1993-2001

Party: Democrat

Nickname: Bill, Slick Willy

Short Bio:
Clinton had an up and down presidency to say the least. He started off focusing on corporate responsibility by promoting and signing the Family and Medical Leave Act, which guaranteed employees the right to take unpaid leave from work to care for a sick relative without losing their jobs. Then things got weird. Clinton decided that Heath Care reform was the most important thing to tackle and had his wife, Hilary Clinton, lead the reform effort. This became a huge disaster, as Republican's laid the smack down on Clinton's Heath Care ideas and the effort died. To make matters worse, a 1993 peacekeeping expedition to Somalia and a federal assault on a Waco, Texas, religious cult both ended in a fiasco. By late 1994, Clinton's popularity had plummeted, and the Democrats had lost control over Congress for the first time since the Truman administration.

It has been said that Bill Clinton possessed the sharpest political skills of his era. He outmaneuvered the new Republican-led Congress when they threatened to shut down the government unless he cut Medicaid and Medicare programs. When he refused, the Republicans made good on their threat, and found the public blaming them instead of Clinton for the impasse. Clinton had regained his momentum as he promoted increasing the minimum wage and providing student loans in exchange for community service. He also approved a major overhaul of the federal welfare system. In 1996, he became the first democrat since FDR to be reelected.
Clinton's turnaround didn't last long, as allegations soon surfaced that Clinton had an inappropriate relationship with a young White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. Clinton denied the allegations, and when more evidence turned up, the House began impeachment hearings against him. *NOTE*: Clinton could not have been impeached if he had just had the affair with Lewinsky. Many presidents had affairs before Clinton, and they will continue to do so in the future. The problem was that Clinton lied under oath, which is perjury, a impeachable offense. Clinton was eventually acquitted, but his reputation had been seriously damaged.

Clinton had many more bright spots in his administration, as evident by having the highest approval rating in history, even after the affair. Clinton presided over the signing of the first peace accord between Israel and Palestine. Clinton signed into law the Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act, which made it mandatory for a five day waiting period for handguns and established a national criminal background check system to be used by firearm dealers. Clinton's presidency also ushered in a time of economic stability and peace.

Clinton had flaws just as many other presidents did. He made the mistake of perjury, which sullied his presidency along with the affair. Clinton's attempt to reform health care turned into a disaster and had an basically uneventful first term. Surprisingly, with a Republican Congress, Clinton was able to get a lot done, and come out of the presidency with a high approval rating. Clinton helped social groups, raised minimum wage, and helped the economy be it's best since Reagan's early years. These things are often overlooked, and much focus is on his personal flaws.

George H.W. Bush

Term: 1989-1993



Short Bio:
Bush was able to get elected, like Nixon had tried to do, by riding coattails. Reagan was still seen as a popular president when he left office, and since Bush was his vice-president, it was common sense that America should have him continue where Reagan left off. In his presidency, many foreign issues took the president's time. During Bush's tenure, the Cold War ended withe collapse of the Soviet Union, relations with China became strained following the suppression of a student protest in Beijing, American troops overthrew Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, and the U.S. led an international coalition to victory in the Persian Gulf War against Iraq.
In domestic affairs, however, the president and Congress failed to arrive at a consensus on many issues. Bush inherited a large burden of debt and had to face the Democratic-controlled Congress throughout his four years. Nevertheless, Bush was able to get Congress to pass the Disabilities Act and the Clean Air Act. Bush's presidency was plagued by economic budget issues and had to raise taxes, even though when he campaigned, he asked the American public to read his lips, "No New Taxes!"

Bush seemed to have too many things going on with foreign issues, and that took away from domestic issues. He couldn't seem to get the economy going again, and his broken promise to not raise taxes caused the American public to not reelect Bush to a second term, even though he had won the Persian Gulf War.

Ronald Reagan

Term: 1981-1989

Party: Republican

Nickname: The Great Communicator, Dutch, Ronnie Raygun, The Gipper.

Short Bio:
Ronald Reagan was like Arnold sort of. Like Ahhnold, Reagan had a career as an actor before getting into politics, and both were governor of California. Unlike Arnold, Reagan was born in this country, and therefore was able to become president. Reagan run on the platform of basically saying everything that Carter did was wrong. Reagan ran away with the election.
Upon assuming the presidency, Reagan proposed strong measures to curtail the severe recession and the ailing economy with his three-pronged policy dubbed "Reaganomics," which included the reduction of federal spending through cuts in social programs, a dramatic cut in taxes, and a reduction in federal regulation. By the end of his first term, inflation was brought under control, interest rates were lower, and employment had risen.

Reagan's administration saw the largest peacetime military expansion in world history. He adopted both covert and overt support to anti-Communist insurgencies in Third World countries, including El Salvador. He also sent troops to Lebanon to help defend its Christian government against uprising Muslim groups. Reagan viewed various international problems as Cold War conflicts with moral significance and serious consequences. He referred to the Soviet Union as an "evil empire" and Soviet Communism as "the focus of evil in the modern world."

By reelection time, Reagan was at the peak of his popularity and mopped the floor with Walter Mondale. His popularity didn't last long, as Reagan's meddling in other countries affairs had come back to bite him. The Iran-Contra Affair, which may or may not have actually involved Reagan in some parts, caused a scandal. It turned out that Reagan had allowed for the selling of weapons to Iran in return for hostages and money. The money then went towards Contras, or revolutionary anti-Communist forces in Nicaragua. After it was revealed what was going on, the President took full responsibility, though he claimed he was not fully informed and admitted that he thought there was nothing wrong with what was going on. Many criticized the Reagan administration for trading guns for hostages. In 1987, the economy built on "Reaganomics" takes a tumble when the stock market crashes on what is now known as "Black Monday," October, 19th. Stocks fell over 500 points in a few hours registering the most catastrophic one-day fall in the history of Wall Street. Though fear of a second Great Depression were entertained, the stocks eventually recovered, but didn't return to the high of earlier in Reagan's term until the mid 90's. Reagan's second term was also plagued by budget deficits, which led to cutbacks in money to places that depended on government funding, which included mental hospitals. Many had to close down and people that were seen as non-violent were put onto the streets. In his second term though, Reagan had continued to develop a relationship with Soviet leader Gorbachev, which paved the way for the end of the Cold War and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall.

Grade: B-
Reagan was a breath of fresh air for many Americans, as he was a reliable public figure, and knew how to comfort the American public like FDR had. Reagan is so far the oldest president to serve and is part of the exclusive club of presidents who have been shot and survived, it's only members being him and Theodore Roosevelt. Reagan introduced "Reaganomics", which gave tax breaks to the wealthy and depended on the rich to pass the savings onto the rest of us. The "Trickle Down" theory has met mixed results, as evidence by the economy throughout the 80's. The Iran-Contra Affair is sort of a gray area, due the fact that the U.S. government was aiding anti-Communist forces, but was still giving weapons to Iran, who we aren't exactly on good terms with today. Reagan, today, has become the modern Republican hero, the former being Abraham Lincoln. Reagan, though had a good and bad economy throughout his terms, identified with the American public, brought back respect to the Presidency, and helped end the Cold War.

Jimmy Carter

Term: 1977-1981

Party: Democrat

Nickname: Jimmy, Peanut.

Short Bio:
Carter perhaps was the most "outsider" president to enter the White House in the 20th century. By outsider, I mean that he was not like all the politicians in Washington, he was an average joe. With people having less and less faith in the government, Carter seemed like a perfect fit. He wasn't business as usual. Carter sought to have a people friendly White House. He also sought to open the government to the underrepresented groups through appointments of African Americans in high posts. Congress, under Carter, created the Department of Education, deregulated the airline, trucking, and railroad industries, and a billion-dollar super fund was established to clean up abandoned chemical waste sites. Carter's own achievements came in the form of foreign policy initiatives, such as the Panama Canal treaty, the Camp David Accords, and the human rights policies abroad. However, he could not handle the increasingly sour relations with the Soviet Union when it invaded Afghanistan in December, 1979, and the hostage crisis in Iran, which dragged on for 444 days.
Carter's presidency is rated as one of the ten worst in U.S. history, and he is often described as an ineffective and miserable president, who alienated many Washington insiders and members of Congress. During his term, inflation and interest rates were at record highs, and the president was seen as ineffectual in domestic affairs and weak in foreign affairs. On the other hand though, Carter gave the country and administration that was marked by integrity and high-mindedness, despite severe constraints.

Grade: D+
Cater was a nice guy, but America doesn't necessarily need a nice guy to run the country. He ended up being too much of an outsider, who alienated important people in Washington. The Iran Hostage Crisis was mishandled and the hostages were let go as soon as Reagan was voted in, which just shows that Iran really didn't like Carter. There was an energy crisis and inflation was through the roof, all of which made Carter look like a bad president. Carter, though he wasn't successful in office, has gained much popularity since then. He works extensively with Habitat for Humanity and helps with other humanitarian organizations.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

As we all celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, hopefully all of us will remember King and all he did for the Civil Rights Movement, and not just enjoy their day off from work/school. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is celebrating it's 27th anniversary, becoming a national holiday in 1986. King stands today as a national icon, a beacon of hope for racial equality, and one of the greatest orators in American history. Here is a little bit about his life.

Born January 15th, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia, King was born Michael King, as was his father. This all changed when the family visited Germany among other European countries in 1934 and the family decided to change both of the names to Martin Luther to honor the German Protestant leader. His father was a preacher, so King was subject to religion from the onset, but didn't believe in many parts of Christianity until later in college. King first attended college and earned a Bachelor's in Sociology before enrolling in seminary school and earning a Bachelor's in Divinity in 1951. Then in 1955, he received his Doctorate in Philosophy from Boston College with the dissertation: "A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman.

King became interested in the Civil Rights Movement, and drew on many men for inspiration, notably Howard Thurman, a Civil Rights leader and theologian, and Gandhi, whose birthplace King visited in 1959. This visit helped King realize the power of non-violent resistance, and how it could help those fighting for equality in America. Closest influence on King was Bayard Rustin, who further taught King about non-violent resistance, and the ways of Gandhi. Rustin mentored King in his early years, though since Rustin was openly homosexual, supported democratic socialism, and had former ties with the American Communist Party, many African American leaders wanted King to distance himself from Rustin.

King stepped into the scene of Civil Rights with his help in orchestrating the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In 1955, Claudette Colvin, a 15 year old student, refused to give up her seat to a white man in compliance with Jim Crow laws, which caused her to be arrested. King was serving on a Birmingham African-American Committee at the time and looked into the case. The case was a hard one to take up, they felt, because Colvin was pregnant and unmarried. King and the committee decided to wait for something else to happen. Nine months later, Rosa Parks refused to move for a white man, and was also arrested. E.D. Nixon, a Civil Rights leader and part of the Birmingham committee decided that Parks was the person to take up in their cause and began planning a bus boycott. There was much discussion on who would lead the boycott, with some wanting Reverend Ralph Abernathy to lead, and some wanting King. King ultimately was chosen, due to not being from around the area. Many were afraid that Abernathy would have past things brought up against him to discredit the movement, and decided that a person with no known history in the area was better. The Montgomery Bus Boycott started and hit the Montgomery
Bus company hard. Most of it's riders were African American's going to and from work. At first the boycott members only asked that they not be told to move out of their seats. They were not asking that buses be desegregated, but as the boycott dragged on and the city wouldn't allow any sort of compromise, the boycott members eventually decided to fight for desegregation. To get to work, many carpooled or got discounted rides from taxi drivers. The city tried to foil this by fining any taxi driver who charged less than 45 cents. This went largely unenforced. Things grew extremely tense as the city and the boycott members were basically in an all out war. The city tried to make the boycott members look bad by saying they were violent towards those African-Americans who still rode the buses. This wasn't exactly true, as violence towards riders was few and far between and were not endorsed by the NAACP, who was an integral part of the boycott, or the Birmingham committee. Things got so heated that King's and Abernathy's houses were both firebombed, as well as several Baptist churches in the area. King and others were eventually arrested for "hindering" a bus and ordered to pay $500 dollars or serve 386 days in jail. King ended up serving just two weeks in jail and was released. This was a major mistake by the city, as it brought the issue to national attention. The bus boycott lasted 381 days, and ended after a federal district court found that the segregation laws were in fact unconstitutional. This was appealed, but later held up by the Supreme Court. The Civil Rights Movement had it's first official victory, and King was catapulted into the spotlight of the Civil Rights Movement.

In 1957, Ralph Abernathy, King, and other Civil Rights leaders formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The group was created to harness the moral authority and organizing power of black churches to conduct non-violent protests in the service of civil rights reform. King led the SCLC until his death. King had his second brush with death when he was stabbed by Izola Curry, a deranged African-American woman, with a letter opener while he was signing books at a department store in 1958. Curry was subdued and deemed unfit for trial and was committed. King was rushed to the hospital and had the letter opener taken out of his chest. Doctors claimed that if King had so much as sneezed in the hours between the assassination attempt and the end of surgery, his aorta would have ruptured and he would of choked on his own blood. King recovered and led the SCLC on many different protests and marches, most notably in Albany, Birmingham, and St. Augustine, Florida. King again used his method of non-violence to fight for desegregation , right to vote without being harassed, and labor rights. Albany proved to be the harder of the three, as he was arrested, but let out in a few days. Divisions among African-Americans and little to no response from local government prompted King and others to leave with the moral high ground. Birmingham garnered positive results for King, as his fight against segregation in the workplace was successful. King and the SCLC ran low on adult protesters during this time though, and many students and younger adults began protesting. This was known as King's "Children's Crusade." Though the sit-ins and protests were successful, many complained that King was putting the younger men and women in harm's way.

About this time in 1963, the FBI and Attorney General Robert Kennedy became convinced that the SCLC were being overrun by Communists. This led to the wiretapping of King and other SCLC member's phones. Kennedy himself even asked King to distance himself from SCLC members who had previous Communist affiliations. King and others were officially being watched for fear that they were Communists, or harbored Communists. Kennedy had good intentions, as he didn't want word out that there were Communists in the party, as it would hurt the Civil Rights Movement. J. Edgar Hoover on the other hand, the FBI director, had bad intentions. When he couldn't prove that there were any Communists in the SCLC, he went on trying to discredit King, to make him step down as a Civil Rights leader, even going as far as to reveal King's supposed extra-marital affairs.

In August, 1963, along with the other five organizations of the "Big Six" Civil Rights organizations, King and the SCLC put together the famous March on Washington. Made up a quarter of a million people, the march was a resounding success. Originally meant to be a straight up challenge to the American government to make change in Civil Rights legislation, the event had to be toned down because President Kennedy feared that many legislators would find it to be too extremist and it would ultimately hurt the Civil Rights Movement. The marchers still asked for desegregation in the workplace, a $2 minimum wage, desegregation in public schools, and reasonable Civil Rights legislation. With the crowd surrounding the reflecting pool and going all the way to the Washington Monument from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. The speech spoke perfectly what King and the SCLC wanted for all men and women of the United States, and has been regarded as being one of the greatest speeches of all time in America, along with Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, and FDR's Infamy speech. This event truly brought Civil Rights to the forefront of the political agenda for Congress and caused the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to be passed.

King and Abernathy then decided to take the movement to the North, namely the slums of Chicago. They moved into the slums, for educational purposes, as to show their empathy for the poor in the area. The situation grew violent, as Chicago did not receive the Civil Rights movement like the South had. Every time they tried to get a march going, people would basically start a riot, so King made an agreement with the Chicago mayor that he would halt any marches, as he feared for people's safety. King in the last couple years before his death focused his attention on economic injustices against African-Americans and the Vietnam War. King, like many others in the U.S. had become tired of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam and openly stated that he opposed the war for many reasons including that it took money away from social welfare.

On March 29th, 1968, King went to Memphis, Tennessee to support black sanitary works employees who had been on strike for better wages and treatment. In the time in Memphis, he also gave his "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech to a rally at the Mason Temple. On April 4th, while standing on the balcony of his second story motel room, King was shot through the cheek, with the bullet lodging itself into his shoulder. King was rushed to the hospital but was pronounced DOA. When word of King's assassination got out, terrible riots started in Washington, DC, Baltimore, Chicago, and dozens of other cities around the U.S. President Johnson's vice president, Hubert Humphrey attended the funeral in the president's place, as Johnson felt that his presence may cause a riot. Remember, Johnson was not terribly popular at the time. Two months after King's death, escaped convict James Earl Ray was arrested in a London airport as he was trying to fly to Rhodesia with a fake Canadian passport. He was quickly extradited to Tennessee and was charged with King's murder. He plead guilty initially, then three days later claimed that he was innocent and he was part of a large conspiracy. Ray was given a 99 year prison sentence and died there in 1998. Ray tried to get his guilty plea taken off his whole life, unsuccessfully, and claimed several times that he did not shoot King. King's son has even supported Ray, believing that he was not the man who shot his father. Numerous conspiracy theories exist about the assassination. Many think that Hoover and the FBI made Ray a scapegoat and had someone else kill King. Loyd Jowers, a restaurant owner in the area where King was shot came forward and claimed that the Mafia and the U.S. Government had Memphis Police Department Officer, Lt. Earl Clark kill King and used Ray as a patsy. Though it wasn't proven, the King family has sided with Ray and believed that King was murdered by someone else.
King was a expert orator, a inspirational figure and the perfect leader for the Civil Rights Movement. This is not to say that he was perfect however. Findings in 1980 showed that King had plagiarized parts of his dissertation for his doctorate. Boston college, upon finding out the information, decided not to rescind King's Doctorate, as they felt it still "makes an intelligent contribution to scholarship." Many of King's closest friends said that he tended to borrow others words for use in his speeches as to help his point. King, allegedly, also had a weakness for women. Abernathy and other friends testified to this, knowing that King had extramarital affairs, something that the FBI stumbled upon while wiretapping King's phone. The FBI attempted to use this against King, even going so far as to send threatening letters to him about exposing these facts to the public. King was also said to have Communist affiliations, but that is from the paranoid allegations of the FBI. Like the claims of Communist connections, the infidelity has not been proven and is only rumored. If true, this puts King alongside of just about every American president, and many American's throughout history. His plagiarism and possible infidelity just proved that King was in fact just a man, and able to make mistakes like any other person. These do not take away from the countless ways he helped African Americans and the Civil Rights movement with his motivational and moving speeches and sermons. There is a reason that we have a whole day dedicated to him, though it's not quite enough to honor this great American man. By showing love and compassion towards one another, no matter what race, religion, or creed, we can keep King's dream alive.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Gerald Rudolph Ford


Party: Republican

Nickname: Jerry

Short Bio:
Ford has the distinction of being the only president to not be elected. Also, being the shortest serving president not cut short by death. This was not for lack of trying, as Ford also has the distinction of being the president with the most near assassinations. One was from a Charles Manson follower who went to shoot Ford but found their gun without a bullet in the immediate cartridge. The second assassination attempt was foiled by a bystander, who knocked the assailant's arm so they would miss the president. Ford is probably the second luckiest president when it comes to dodging death, the first being Jackson, who had two pistols shot at him point blank, with both misfiring though they were in perfect working order.

Ford is the only president from Michigan, which makes him awesome in that respect, and was a prodigy for the U of M Wolverines football team. His ascent to the Presidency is a note to all Speakers of the House that the presidency isn't necessarily out of reach. You just have to have to be picked for Vice-President by a President that you are sure is on his way out. As a note of clarification, the Speaker of the House is not in the line for President. Ford was picked by Nixon to replace Spiro Agnew as Vice-President.

Ford was in a bad situation. There was no transition time for him. He was literally stuck with Nixon's cabinet, who he could not effectively command. He made the unwise decision to pardon Nixon for everything he did regarding Watergate, which angered the American public. Ford also wasn't able to generate media appeal. The economy was still bad, and Ford wasn't able to help it with his plan to balance the budget any way possible.

Ford did however pull us out of Vietnam completely, something the U.S. had waited a very long time for. Ford, in the end, couldn't distance himself from Nixon and Watergate, and found himself beaten by Jimmy Carter in the 1976 election, though not by much.

Grade: C+

Ford wasn't as clumsy as people made him out to be. Nor was he as bad as some make him out to be. He was put into an unfortunate position, when the country didn't believe in the office of the President anymore. He was surrounded by Nixon's cabinet, and couldn't help the economy or unemployment. Had he not pardoned Nixon, many would probably of liked him more.

Richard Milhous Nixon

Term: 1969-1974

Party: Republican

Nickname: Tricky Dick

Short Bio:
Nixon's presidency has been, probably more than any other presidents, overshadowed by controversy. Most remember his staggering paranoia and handling of the Watergate scandal that led to his resignation. Before this time though, Nixon was a fairly good president. After serving under Eisenhower for two terms and losing the bid for president in 1960 to Kennedy, Nixon refined his campaigning skills and ran away with the 1968 election. Nixon sought to continue work on domestic issues such as an increase in social security benefits, the reorganization of the post office department, tax reforms, and anti-crime measures. In the late 60's and early 70's, crime had reached a high point due to drugs and a rise of gangs. This rise of crime would not go down until the early 90's.

Nixon also sought to pull the U.S. forces out of Vietnam, seeing that things were not going well. With this, Nixon's popularity soared, though anti-war protests like at Kent State and Jackson State College were still rampant and led to several deaths of students. This period in time was extremely turbulent, as riots were now commonplace and assassinations happening every few years. Right before Nixon was elected MLK Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were shot, at different times, and during Nixon's first term, Southern Democratic candidate George Wallace was shot five times leading to his paralysis. Things were not going well all of a sudden. Though Nixon promised he was pulling people out of Vietnam, the war was still going strong into 1972. On top of that, inflation and unemployment were rising, which ultimately led to low approval ratings for Nixon. This may of been where Nixon's paranoia really came into play, as he probably thought that the Democrats had a good chance of beating him in 1972. Though, in that same year, Nixon ended the draft and visited China, which opened up trade with the normally isolated country. The Republicans still weren't sure of their victory, so they had five men break into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington D.C. and try and find out valuable information. They were caught, and an investigation was launched.

For all the fears of losing the 1972 election, the Republicans actually had nothing to worry about. Nixon obliterated George McGovern, with the largest popular victory in American history, with 18 million more popular votes. Though McGovern only got 17 electoral votes, this isn't the greatest electoral win. That distinction still goes to Washington, who was unanimously voted in, and Monroe, who only had one electoral vote against him. Nixon celebrated his victory, as some of his aides were found guilty of burglary, conspiracy, and wiretapping.

Then things started to unravel for Nixon. An oil crisis had just started, the economy wasn't getting any better, and prosecutors were getting closer to connecting him with the Watergate Scandal. His vice president, Spiro Agnew, resigns after allegations of his taking bribes during his whole political career. Enter Gerald Ford, the old Speaker of the House as the new Vice President. Eventually, the prosecutors found out about the White House tapes, which recorded Nixon trying to cover up the Watergate fiasco. Nixon was eventually forced to hand the tapes over. Knowing that the end was near, and the whole country basically calling for his impeachment, Nixon resigned on August 9th, 1974. He remains the only president to resign from office. Gerald Ford takes the Presidency.

Grade: C-
While Nixon may of helped on a few domestic issues, stopped the draft, and opened trade with China, he severely damaged the office of the president with his shady dealings. The public found out for the first time how much corruption was really going on in the White House. Nixon had even asked the FBI to stop the investigation on the Watergate break-in. Nixon was overtly paranoid and relentless, which eventually led to his downfall. His administration, along with Grant's and Harding's, stand as one of the most corrupt. Like I said, he did do good for America, but his behavior in office effectively eclipsed his accomplishments.