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Court Senators & Representatives
During his few weeks as Vice President, Harry S Truman scarcely saw President
Roosevelt, and received no briefing on the development of the atomic bomb or the unfolding
difficulties with Soviet Russia. Suddenly these and a host of other wartime problems
became Truman's to solve when, on April 12, 1945, he became President. He told reporters,
"I felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me."
Truman was born in Lamar, Missouri, in 1884. He grew up in Independence, and for 12 years
prospered as a Missouri farmer. He went to France during World War I as a captain in the
Field Artillery. Returning, he married Elizabeth Virginia Wallace, and opened a
haberdashery in Kansas City. Active in the Democratic Party, Truman was elected a
judge of the Jackson County Court (an administrative position) in 1922. He became a
Senator in 1934. During World War II he headed the Senate war investigating committee,
checking into waste and corruption and saving perhaps as much as 15 billion dollars. As
President, Truman made some of the most crucial decisions in history. Soon after V-E Day,
the war against Japan had reached its final stage. An urgent plea to Japan to surrender
was rejected. Truman, after consultations with his advisers, ordered atomic bombs dropped
on cities devoted to war work. Two were Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japanese surrender quickly
followed. In June 1945 Truman witnessed the signing of the charter of the United
Nations, hopefully established to preserve peace.Thus far, he had followed his
predecessor's policies, but he soon developed his own. He presented to Congress a 21-point
program, proposing the expansion of Social Security, a full-employment program, a
permanent Fair Employment Practices Act, and public housing and slum clearance. The
program, Truman wrote, "symbolizes for me my assumption of the office of President in
my own right." It became known as the Fair Deal. Dangers and crises marked the
foreign scene as Truman campaigned successfully in 1948. In foreign affairs he was already
providing his most effective leadership. In 1947 as the Soviet Union pressured
Turkey and, through guerrillas, threatened to take over Greece, he asked Congress to aid
the two countries, enunciating the program that bears his name--the Truman Doctrine. The
Marshall Plan, named for his Secretary of State, stimulated spectacular economic recovery
in war-torn western Europe. When the Russians blockaded the western sectors of Berlin in
1948, Truman created a massive airlift to supply Berliners until the Russians backed down.
Meanwhile, he was negotiating a military alliance to protect Western nations, the North
Atlantic Treaty Organization, established in 1949. In June 1950, when the Communist
government of North Korea attacked South Korea, Truman conferred promptly with his
military advisers. There was, he wrote, "complete, almost unspoken acceptance on the
part of everyone that whatever had to be done to meet this aggression had to be done.
There was no suggestion from anyone that either the United Nations or the United States
could back away from it." A long, discouraging struggle ensued as U.N. forces held a
line above the old boundary of South Korea. Truman kept the war a limited one, rather than
risk a major conflict with China and perhaps Russia. Deciding not to run again, he
retired to Independence; at age 88, he died December 26, 1972, after a stubborn fight for
Return to Last Page
Often referred to as the first "dark horse" President, James K. Polk was the
last of the Jacksonians to sit in the White House, and the last strong
President until the Civil War.
He was born in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, in 1795. Studious and industrious,
Polk was graduated with honors in 1818 from the University of North Carolina. As a young
lawyer he entered politics, served in the Tennessee legislature, and became a friend of
Andrew Jackson. In the House of Representatives, Polk was a chief lieutenant of
Jackson in his Bank war. He served as Speaker between 1835 and 1839, leaving to become
Governor of Tennessee. Until circumstances raised Polk's ambitions, he was a leading
contender for the Democratic nomination for Vice President in 1844. Both Martin Van Buren,
who had been expected to win the Democratic nomination for President, and Henry Clay, who
was to be the Whig nominee, tried to take the expansionist issue out of the campaign by
declaring themselves opposed to the annexation of Texas. Polk, however, publicly asserted
that Texas should be "re-annexed" and all of Oregon "re-occupied."
The aged Jackson, correctly sensing that the people favored expansion, urged the
choice of a candidate committed to the Nation's "Manifest Destiny." This view
prevailed at the Democratic Convention, where Polk was nominated on the ninth ballot.
"Who is James K. Polk?" Whigs jeered. Democrats replied Polk was the candidate
who stood for expansion. He linked the Texas issue, popular in the South, with the Oregon
question, attractive to the North. Polk also favored acquiring California. Even before he
could take office, Congress passed a joint resolution offering annexation to Texas. In so
doing they bequeathed Polk the possibility of war with Mexico, which soon severed
diplomatic relations. In his stand on Oregon, the President seemed to be risking war with
Great Britain also. The 1844 Democratic platform claimed the entire Oregon area, from the
California boundary northward to a latitude of 54'40', the southern boundary of Russian
Alaska. Extremists proclaimed "Fifty-four forty or fight," but Polk, aware of
diplomatic realities, knew that no course short of war was likely to get all of Oregon.
Happily, neither he nor the British wanted a war. He offered to settle by extending the
Canadian boundary, along the 49th parallel, from the Rockies to the Pacific. When the
British minister declined, Polk reasserted the American claim to the entire area. Finally,
the British settled for the 49th parallel, except for the southern tip of Vancouver
Island. The treaty was signed in 1846. Acquisition of California proved far more
difficult. Polk sent an envoy to offer Mexico up to $20,000,000, plus settlement of damage
claims owed to Americans, in return for California and the New Mexico country. Since no
Mexican leader could cede half his country and still stay in power, Polk's envoy was not
received. To bring pressure, Polk sent Gen. Zachary Taylor to the disputed area on the Rio
Grande. To Mexican troops this was aggression, and they attacked Taylor's forces. Congress
declared war and, despite much Northern opposition, supported the military operations.
American forces won repeated victories and occupied Mexico City. Finally, in 1848, Mexico
ceded New Mexico and California in return for $15,000,000 and American assumption of the
damage claims. President Polk added a vast area to the United States, but its acquisition
precipitated a bitter quarrel between the North and the South over expansion of slavery.
Polk, leaving office with his health undermined from hard work, died in June 1849. Return to Last Page
On New Year's Day, 1825, at the last of his annual White House receptions, President
James Monroe made a pleasing impression upon a Virginia lady who shook his hand:
"He is tall and well formed. His dress plain and in the old style.... His manner
was quiet and dignified. From the frank, honest expression of his eye ... I think he well
deserves the encomium passed upon him by the great Jefferson, who said, 'Monroe was so
honest that if you turned his soul inside out there would not be a spot on it.' "
Born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, in 1758, Monroe attended the College of William and
Mary, fought with distinction in the Continental Army, and practiced law in
As a youthful politician, he joined the anti-Federalists in the Virginia Convention which
ratified the Constitution, and in 1790, an advocate of Jeffersonian policies, was elected
United States Senator. As Minister to France in 1794-1796, he displayed strong sympathies
for the French cause; later, with Robert R. Livingston, he helped negotiate the Louisiana
Purchase. His ambition and energy, together with the backing of President Madison, made
him the Republican choice for the Presidency in 1816. With little Federalist opposition,
he easily won re-election in 1820. Monroe made unusually strong Cabinet choices,
naming a Southerner, John C. Calhoun, as Secretary of War, and a northerner, John Quincy
Adams, as Secretary of State. Only Henry Clay's refusal kept Monroe from adding an
outstanding Westerner. Early in his administration, Monroe undertook a goodwill
tour. At Boston, his visit was hailed as the beginning of an "Era of Good
Feelings." Unfortunately these "good feelings" did not endure, although
Monroe, his popularity undiminished, followed nationalist policies. Across the facade of
nationalism, ugly sectional cracks appeared. A painful economic depression undoubtedly
increased the dismay of the people of the Missouri Territory in 1819 when their
application for admission to the Union as a slave state failed. An amended bill for
gradually eliminating slavery in Missouri precipitated two years of bitter debate in
Congress. The Missouri Compromise bill resolved the struggle, pairing Missouri as a slave
state with Maine, a free state, and barring slavery north and west of Missouri forever.
In foreign affairs Monroe proclaimed the fundamental policy that bears his name,
responding to the threat that the more conservative governments in Europe might try to aid
Spain in winning back her former Latin American colonies. Monroe did not begin formally to
recognize the young sister republics until 1822, after ascertaining that Congress would
vote appropriations for diplomatic missions. He and Secretary of State John Quincy Adams
wished to avoid trouble with Spain until it had ceded the Floridas, as was done in 1821.
Great Britain, with its powerful navy, also opposed reconquest of Latin America and
suggested that the United States join in proclaiming "hands off." Ex-Presidents
Jefferson and Madison counseled Monroe to accept the offer, but Secretary Adams advised,
"It would be more candid ... to avow our principles explicitly to Russia and France,
than to come in as a cock-boat in the wake of the British man-of-war." Monroe
accepted Adams's advice. Not only must Latin America be left alone, he warned, but also
Russia must not encroach southward on the Pacific coast. ". . . the American
continents," he stated, "by the free and independent condition which they have
assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future
colonization by any European Power." Some 20 years after Monroe died in 1831, this
became known as the Monroe Doctrine. Return
to Last Page
More nearly than any of his predecessors, Andrew Jackson was elected by popular vote;
as President he sought to act as the direct representative of the common man. Born in a
backwoods settlement in the Carolinas in 1767, he received sporadic education. But in his
late teens he read law for about two years, and he became an outstanding young lawyer in
Tennessee. Fiercely jealous of his honor, he engaged in brawls, and in a duel killed a man
who cast an unjustified slur on his wife Rachel.
Jackson prospered sufficiently to buy slaves and to build a mansion, the Hermitage, near
Nashville. He was the first man elected from Tennessee to the House of Representatives,
and he served briefly in the Senate. A major general in the War of 1812, Jackson became a
national hero when he defeated the British at New Orleans.
In 1824 some state political factions rallied around Jackson; by 1828 enough had joined
"Old Hickory" to win numerous state elections and control of the Federal
administration in Washington. In his first Annual Message to Congress, Jackson recommended
eliminating the Electoral College. He also tried to democratize Federal officeholding.
Already state machines were being built on patronage, and a New York Senator openly
proclaimed "that to the victors belong the spoils. . . . " Jackson took a milder
view. Decrying officeholders who seemed to enjoy life tenure, he believed Government
duties could be "so plain and simple" that offices should rotate among deserving
applicants. As national politics polarized around Jackson and his opposition, two parties
grew out of the old Republican Party--the Democratic Republicans, or Democrats, adhering
to Jackson; and the National Republicans, or Whigs, opposing him. Henry Clay, Daniel
Webster, and other Whig leaders proclaimed themselves defenders of popular liberties
against the usurpation of Jackson. Hostile cartoonists portrayed him as King Andrew I.
Behind their accusations lay the fact that Jackson, unlike previous Presidents, did not
defer to Congress in policy-making but used his power of the veto and his party leadership
to assume command. The greatest party battle centered around the Second Bank of the United
States, a private corporation but virtually a Government-sponsored monopoly. When Jackson
appeared hostile toward it, the Bank threw its power against him. Clay and Webster, who
had acted as attorneys for the Bank, led the fight for its recharter in Congress.
"The bank," Jackson told Martin Van Buren, "is trying to kill me, but I
will kill it!" Jackson, in vetoing the recharter bill, charged the Bank with
undue economic privilege. His views won approval from the American electorate; in 1832 he
polled more than 56 percent of the popular vote and almost five times as many electoral
votes as Clay. Jackson met head-on the challenge of John C. Calhoun, leader of forces
trying to rid themselves of a high protective tariff. When South Carolina undertook
to nullify the tariff, Jackson ordered armed forces to Charleston and privately threatened
to hang Calhoun. Violence seemed imminent until Clay negotiated a compromise: tariffs were
lowered and South Carolina dropped nullification. In January of 1832, while the President
was dining with friends at the White House, someone whispered to him that the Senate had
rejected the nomination of Martin Van Buren as Minister to England. Jackson jumped to his
feet and exclaimed, "By the Eternal! I'll smash them!" So he did. His favorite,
Van Buren, became Vice President, and succeeded to the Presidency when "Old
Hickory" retired to the Hermitage, where he died in June 1845. Return to Last Page
At the 1896 Republican Convention, in time of depression, the wealthy
Cleveland businessman Marcus Alonzo Hanna ensured the nomination of his friend William McKinley as
"the advance agent of prosperity." The Democrats, advocating the "free and
unlimited coinage of both silver and gold"--which would have mildly inflated the
currency--nominated William Jennings Bryan.
While Hanna used large contributions from eastern Republicans frightened by Bryan's views
on silver, McKinley met delegations on his front porch in Canton, Ohio. He won by the
largest majority of popular votes since 1872.
Born in Niles, Ohio, in 1843, McKinley briefly attended Allegheny College, and was
teaching in a country school when the Civil War broke out. Enlisting as a private in the
Union Army, he was mustered out at the end of the war as a brevet major of volunteers. He
studied law, opened an office in Canton, Ohio, and married Ida Saxton, daughter of a local
At 34, McKinley won a seat in Congress. His attractive personality, exemplary character,
and quick intelligence enabled him to rise rapidly. He was appointed to the powerful Ways
and Means Committee. Robert M. La Follette, Sr., who served with him, recalled that he
generally "represented the newer view," and "on the great new questions ..
was generally on the side of the public and against private interests."
During his 14 years in the House, he became the leading Republican tariff expert, giving
his name to the measure enacted in 1890. The next year he was elected Governor of Ohio,
serving two terms.
When McKinley became President, the depression of 1893 had almost run its course and with
it the extreme agitation over silver. Deferring action on the money question, he called
Congress into special session to enact the highest tariff in history.
In the friendly atmosphere of the McKinley Administration, industrial combinations
developed at an unprecedented pace. Newspapers caricatured McKinley as a little boy led
around by "Nursie" Hanna, the representative of the trusts. However, McKinley
was not dominated by Hanna; he condemned the trusts as "dangerous conspiracies
against the public good."
Not prosperity, but foreign policy, dominated McKinley's Administration. Reporting the
stalemate between Spanish forces and revolutionaries in Cuba, newspapers screamed that a
quarter of the population was dead and the rest suffering acutely. Public indignation
brought pressure upon the President for war. Unable to restrain Congress or the American
people, McKinley delivered his message of neutral intervention in April 1898. Congress
thereupon voted three resolutions tantamount to a declaration of war for the liberation
and independence of Cuba.
In the 100-day war, the United States destroyed the Spanish fleet outside Santiago harbor
in Cuba, seized Manila in the Philippines, and occupied Puerto Rico.
"Uncle Joe" Cannon, later Speaker of the House, once said that McKinley kept his
ear so close to the ground that it was full of grasshoppers. When McKinley was undecided
what to do about Spanish possessions other than Cuba, he toured the country and detected
an imperialist sentiment. Thus the United States annexed the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto
In 1900, McKinley again campaigned against Bryan. While Bryan inveighed against
imperialism, McKinley quietly stood for "the full dinner pail."
His second term, which had begun auspiciously, came to a tragic end in September 1901. He
was standing in a receiving line at the Buffalo Pan-American Exposition when a deranged
anarchist shot him twice. He died eight days later.
Return to Last Page
born on Dec. 29, 1808, in Raleigh, N. C., the younger of two sons. His father was a porter
who died in 1811 after saving a man from drowning. His mother supported the family by
spinning and weaving cloth in their Raleigh cottage. At the age of 14, Johnson was
apprenticed to a tailor.
Already showing signs of the ambition that drove him all his life, Johnson learned the
basics of reading and writing from the foreman of his shop and trained himself as a public
speaker. By the time he was 16, Johnson was restless and dissatisfied with the limits his
apprenticeship placed on his life. In 1827 he moved with his family, finally settling in
Greeneville, in the eastern Tennessee hill country, where he opened his own tailor shop.
In the same year he married Eliza McCardle, who furthered his education and helped him
prosper in his business. In Greeneville, Johnson's personal magnetism, native ability, and
powerful will made him a leader of the town's younger skilled artisans. In the social
ferment of the late 1820's and early 1830's, when Andrew Jackson and his advisers both
capitalized on and promoted a new spirit of egalitarianism, Johnson and his friends were
inspired to try to replace the town's traditional political leaders. In 1829, Johnson and
several other artisans were elected to the Greeneville town council, and in 1831 he was
elected mayor. Attracted by the anti-aristocratic rhetoric of Jackson and his political
intimates, Johnson and his friends allied with hundreds of likeminded budding political
organizations to form the new Democratic Party.
The spirit of democracy meshed well with Johnson's own resentments and ambitions. Poor in
his youth and still a tailor without pretensions of social rank, he stressed the
egalitarian, anti-aristocratic strain of Jacksonian democracy, as well as its distrust of
government at all levels. An active, powerful government, insisted Johnson and other
radical Jacksonians, was subject to manipulationby the rich and powerful. He maintained
that the Constitution should be construed strictly and opposed national government
encroachments on "states' rights." But unlike many Democrats, he urged that
similar principles be applied to the state governments. This led him into conflict with
the western Tennessee Democratic leaders--slaveholders who dominated the party.
Johnson was elected to the state legislature in 1835, 1839, and 1841, and to the U.S.
Congress in 1843. He expressed his constitutional principles by voting consistently
against the tariff, internal improvements, higher salaries for government employees, or
any other "extravagance." Gerrymandered out of Congress in 1852 by a Whig
legislature, he won the Democratic nomination for governor in 1853, finally gaining
control of the party from his Tennessee opponents. He barely defeated the Whig candidate
and served two terms from 1853 to 1857, when he was elected to the U.S. Senate.
Although Johnson himself owned a few slaves and loyally defended slavery and "states'
rights," his relations with proslavery Democratic leaders were strained. Within the
framework of Tennessee state politics, Johnson was the spokesman of the nonslaveholding
interests of the state. In the Senate his most treasured proposal was the Homestead Bill,
a measure that would have given 160 acres (65 ha) of western land to anyone who would
settle on and cultivate it for five years. Such a program would have precluded the large
plantations associated with slavery. Southern congressmen opposed it bitterly, while the
new, antislavery Republican party of the North favored it.
These tensions were exacerbated in 1860, when Johnson cooperated with Tennessee Democrats
who favored Stephen A. Douglas for the presidency. Douglas had alienated most Southern
Democrats by refusing to endorse their right to take slaves anywhere in the western
territories. But Johnson himself had slight commitment to the expansion of slavery there,
and he hoped that he would get Douglas's support as a compromise presidential candidate if
he and his enemies fought to a stalemate. When the struggle led to the division of the
Democratic party, Johnson supported the pro-Southern nominee, John C. Breckinridge. His
dalliance with Douglas, however, had already injured him with most Southern Democrats.
Johnson's association with the Democrats ended completely when he worked to prevent
Tennessee from joining the secession movement after Lincoln's election in 1860. Allying
with pro-Union Whigs, for several months he fought old Democratic enemies to a standstill.
But when war came, western and central Tennessee voted overwhelmingly to join the South.
Only eastern Tennessee held out, and Johnson with it--the only Southern senator to refuse
to go with his state. Johnson's position, which forced him and his family to flee
Tennessee, made him a hero in the North. In Congress he came into close contact with
Republicans and prowar Democrats, now cooperating in the so-called Union party. When Union
forces gained control of central Tennessee in 1862, Lincoln appointed Johnson military
Lincoln hoped that Johnson would be able to create a new civilian government loyal to the
Union, but the attempt met with scant success. The few Unionists were badly divided
between those who hoped to retain slavery and conciliate pro-Confederates and those who
wished to abolish slavery and punish traitors. Johnson took a position in between. While
he urged bold steps to restore civil government, both groups held back, convinced that
most Tennesseans would not cooperate until Confederate troops still in the state were
crushed, which did not occur until December 1864. Within three months Tennesseans held a
convention, framed a new state constitution, and elected a new governor and congressman.
As Lincoln's running mate on the Union party ticket, Johnson was elected in November 1864.
Ill at the time of the inauguration in March 1865, Johnson made the mistake of fortifying
himself with whiskey before the ceremonies. His inaugural address was rambling and almost
incoherent. The humiliating experience--made doubly painful by his chronic
insecurity--lent apparent substance to rumors of alcoholism that plagued him for the rest
of his life. The wound was just beginning to heal when, on April 15, 1865, Johnson became
president after Lincoln's assassination.
As soon as he became president, Johnson faced the knottiest problem
of the post-Civil War era--formulating a policy for restoring the Union. Difficult for
Lincoln, this task was even harder for Johnson. Lincoln was a Northerner with an intimate
knowledge of Northern attitudes toward slavery, race, and the South, as well as with the
sentiments and necessities of the Union party. He shared the mixed feelings of racism and
humanitarian concern for ex-slaves that characterized most Northerners, as well as their
conflicting desires for a quick return to normality and for fundamental changes that would
guarantee the security of the Union. Johnson, on the other hand, was a Southerner. Toward
blacks he displayed alternately a sympathetic paternalism and a contemptuous hostility. He
understood the politics of the South better than any Northern Republican, but he had no
real feeling for the North, and he was especially ignorant of the balance of forces in the
A strict constructionist who believed in limited government, Johnson found federal
domination of the people of the South extremely distasteful. Determined to reestablish
state governments in the South as quickly as possible, he decided to follow a modified
version of the program that Lincoln had developed during the war. This provided for the
speedy framing of new state constitutions abolishing slavery and the election of new state
officers. He also added requirements that the new states ratify the 13th Amendment,
repudiate Confederate debts, and nullify secession ordinances. All this was to be done
under the temporary wartime authority of the president as commander in chief of the armed
forces. When the states met his conditions, he would recognize their restoration to the
Union, and the war would be officially over. Southerners met his conditions quickly. When
Congress met in December 1865, he thought the job was almost complete.
To a Southern Unionist the plan seemed excellent, but it revealed Johnson's ignorance of
the sentiments of most Northerners. Johnson's program left the decision of how to cope
with emancipation completely in the hands of white Southerners. Northerners justifiably
feared that freedmen's basic rights of citizenship would not be recognized, and considered
it unsafe to restore the Union until that discrimination was ended. Therefore the
Republican majorities in Congress refused to agree that the Southern states were ready to
assume their rights and did not seat the Southern congressional representatives. This
strained Johnson's relations with his party and convinced him that the entire federal
system, with its strict limits on national power, was in danger. When Congress passed laws
to protect the rights of the ex-slaves in 1866, he vetoed them as unconstitutional and
broke with the Republican Party completely rather than endorse a new amendment to the
Constitution granting blacks the rights of citizenship. From this point forward Johnson's
relations with the congressional majority deteriorated. He questioned Congress's right to
legislate without the presence of Southern representatives, and he tacitly encouraged
Southern opposition to congressional laws.
Finally, in 1867, Congress set aside the governments Johnson had created in the South and
put Southerners under military supervision until new governments based on equal civil and
political rights were established. To Johnson this marked the total subversion of the
federal system, and he resisted--cooperating with Democrats to encourage Southern
resistance, promoting a political reaction in the North, and hindering the Army's
enforcement of the laws in the South through his power as commander in chief. When Johnson
tried to gain control of the Army in February 1868, removing the secretary of war in
apparent violation of law, he was Impeached by the House of Representatives and tried
before the Senate. The excellence of Johnson's lawyers, the ambiguity of the law, the
cessation of his interference in the South, the establishment of new governments there and
the admission of their representatives to Congress, and divisions among Republicans all
led to a verdict of "not guilty" by one vote. Johnson served out theremainder of
his term quietly.
Johnson's administration was ably served by its secretary of state, William Henry Seward,
who was instrumental in the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867. Seward was also
vigorous, during the Civil War period under Lincoln and later under Johnson, in protesting
the French military intervention in Mexico as a violation of the Monroe Doctrine. American
diplomatic pressure increased, and the French withdrew in 1866.
Returning to Tennessee, Johnson began rebuilding his eastern Tennessee political base,
seeking various Democratic nominations from 1869 to 1872. His old enemies in the Tennessee
Democratic party, however, frustrated his ambitions. In 1874 he finally achieved the
vindication he wanted so desperately, winning election to the U.S. Senate by a coalition
of Republicans and dissident Democrats. On March 5, 1875, he once again took his seat in
the Senate. He died a few months later, on July 31.Return to Last Page
Warren Harding was born in Corsica, Ohio, on November 2, 1865, He attended Ohio Central
law, and became editor and publisher of the Marion Star, a country newspaper in Marion,
Ohio. He married Florence Kling DeWolfe in 1891, who was considered a major force in his
rise to national prominence. Harding entered politics as a dependent of Republican Senator
Joseph Foraker and served in the Ohio Senate and as lieutenant governor of the state. He
was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1914 but resigned from it in 1920 after winning a
landslide election over Woodrow Wilson as the Republican candidate for president. At the
time of his nomination, and for years afterward, he was widely regarded as having been the
choice of the party machine bosses, but a more recent study has shown that Harding simply
was the party's most logical and available nominee.
Harding turned away from the powerful executive leadership styles of Theodore Roosevelt
and Woodrow Wilson. As president, he delegated much authority to his cabinet chiefs, whom
he chose for their national or regional constituencies or their weight in party councils.
Among the outstanding members of his cabinet were Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover,
Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes, and Secretary of Agriculture Henry C. Wallace.
Harding's first task as president was to move the government away from wartime emergency
conditions, and in this his administration was successful. In certain areas it was
innovative, stepping up federal hiring during an employment slump, proposing agricultural
legislation, and creating a Bureau of the Budget. In 1922 Secretary of State Hughes, with
Harding's active support, scored a diplomatic triumph at the Washington Conference on
naval disarmament, when the great international powers had agreed to limit their capital
ship tonnage in fixed ratios. Harding also acted forcefully in the movement to limit the
long hours of labour that were existent in the American steel industry.
On August 2, 1923, as rumors began to circulate about corruption in his administration,
Harding died in San Francisco. He was succeeded by vice president Calvin Coolidge. Charges
of misconduct in the Interior and Navy departments, the Veterans' Bureau, the Justice
Department, and the Office of the Alien Property Custodian were disclosed in a series of
investigations and trials. The scandals implicated both high officials and personal
friends of Harding. Discovery of bribery, influence peddling, and outright theft
overshadowed the positive achievements of the Harding administration. The president had
spoken all too truly when he remarked that he could take care of his enemies but that he
did not know how to cope with his friends.Return
to Last Page
James Buchanan, the 15th PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (1857-1861), served during the
of the secession crisis that led to the Civil War. Of Scottish-Irish descent, he was born
on Apr. 23, 1791, in Cove Gap, near Mercersburg, Pa., the son of James Buchanan, a
prosperous storekeeper, and his wife, Elizabeth Speer.
Young James received an academy education and attended Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pa.,
graduating in 1809. He then studied law in Lancaster, where he began practice in 1813.
Although a FEDERALIST in political sympathies, he supported the prosecution of the War of
1812 and participated as a volunteer in the defense of Baltimore.
After serving in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives (1814-16), Buchanan devoted
attention to his law practice, which soon prospered. In 1819 he became engaged to Ann
Coleman, daughter of a wealthy Lancaster iron manufacturer, but as a result of a
misunderstanding the engagement was ended. Her sudden death shortly thereafter left
Buchanan desolate. He never married.
In 1820, Buchanan was elected to the U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES. With the collapse of
the Federalist party, he supported Andrew JACKSON for the presidency. In the late 1820s he
emerged as the leader of the Amalgamation party, the dominant faction of Pennsylvania
Buchanan retired from CONGRESS in 1831 but later that year accepted Jackson's offer of the
ministry to Russia. He remained at St. Petersburg from 1832 to 1834, where he concluded a
commercial treaty. Shortly after his return he was elected to the U.S. SENATE, where he
served from 1834 to 1845.
Mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 1844, Buchanan became (1845) secretary
of state in the cabinet of President James K. POLK. Although Polk personally directed the
formulation of foreign policy, Buchanan worked diligently in matters relating to the
consummation of the annexation (1845) of Texas, the settlement of theOregon Question, and
the Mexican War. He retired from office at the end of the Polk administration in 1849.
Buchanan was a serious contender for the DEMOCRATIC nomination in 1852 but lost to
Franklin PIERCE, who named him minister to Great Britain. His mission in London (1853-56)
accomplished little but benefited him politically, for he remained aloof from the
controversy over the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854).
At the Democratic convention in 1856, Buchanan won the presidential nomination on the 17th
ballot. In the fall he won an ELECTORAL victory, although he failed to get a popular
majority over John C.Fremont, the Republican, and Millard FILLMORE, the KNOW-NOTHING
Two days after Buchanan's inauguration, the Supreme Court declared in the Dred Scott case
that Congress had no power over slavery in the territories. He welcomed this ruling as the
final word on that issue, but the REPUBLICANS and many Northern Democrats refused to
accept the Court's opinion. Like Pierce, Buchanan met difficulties in organizing Kansas
Territory. He urged Congress to accept the territory's proslavery LeCompton Constitution,
even though it had been drawn up by an unrepresentative convention that had refused to
submit it to the people. Stephen A. Douglas, Democratic senator of Illinois, broke with
Buchanan, arguing that the president's stand made a mockery of the doctrine of Popular
Sovereignty. Ultimately the constitution was referred to the Kansas electorate, which
overwhelmingly rejected it.
With his long experience in diplomacy, Buchanan expected his administration to conduct a
vigorous foreign policy. He sought to extend American influence in the Caribbean, but
congressional opposition forced him to give up efforts to purchase Cuba from Spain.
Inevitably, domestic matters intruded upon his attention. The panic of 1857 added to the
unpopularity of his administration and contributed to heavy Democratic losses in the
congressional elections of 1858.
The sectional controversy grew steadily more serious during the last two years of
Buchanan's presidency. The raid by John Brown at Harpers Ferry and Brown's execution by
Virginia authorities in 1859 intensified public feeling in both the South and the North.
In the presidential campaign of 1860 the Democratic party split, and Buchanan endorsed
Vice-President John C. BRECKINRIDGE of Kentucky, whom he considered the regular nominee,
instead of Douglas, the candidate of the Northern Democrats.
The election of Abraham LINCOLN, the Republican candidate, prompted the secession of seven
Southern states and the creation of the Confederate States of America during Buchanan's
last months in office. The president was criticized by secessionists because he denied the
legality of their action and by Northern advocates of a more vigorous policy because he
believed that the executive lacked the power to coerce a state. He based his hopes for the
survival of the Union on last-minute compromise efforts, which failed. As the more
pro-Southern cabinet members resigned during the crisis, he took a stronger pro-Union
stand, refusing to turn over Fort Pickens in Florida and Fort Summer in South Carolina to
the authorities in those secessionist states.
During the Civil War Buchanan generally supported Lincoln's war policies while preparing a
defense of his own administration, which he published in 1866. He died at his estate,
Wheatland, near Lancaster, on June 1, 1868.
Buchanan's reputation is judged mainly by his conduct during the last months of his
presidency, and he is therefore generally regarded as an ineffective executive. In his
defense it can be said that he was a lame-duck president caught in a vicious crossfire
between secessionists and Republicans. But at the same time his adherence to a
conservative legalism led him to interpret narrowly his powers to deal with an
unprecedented constitutional crisis. Return
to Last Page
Distinguished jurist, effective administrator, but poor politician, William Howard Taft
spent four uncomfortable years in the White House. Large, jovial, conscientious,
he was caught in the intense battles between Progressives and conservatives, and got scant
credit for the achievements of his administration.
Born in 1857, the son of a distinguished judge, he was graduated from Yale, and returned
to Cincinnati to study and practice law. He rose in politics through Republican judiciary
appointments, through his own competence and availability, and because, as he once wrote
facetiously, he always had his "plate the right side up when offices were
But Taft much preferred law to politics. He was appointed a Federal circuit judge at 34.
He aspired to be a member of the Supreme Court, but his wife, Helen Herron Taft, held
other ambitions for him.
His route to the White House was via administrative posts. President McKinley sent him to
the Philippines in 1900 as chief civil administrator. Sympathetic toward the Filipinos, he
improved the economy, built roads and schools, and gave the people at least some
participation in government.
President Roosevelt made him Secretary of War, and by 1907 had decided that Taft should be
his successor. The Republican Convention nominated him the next year.
Taft disliked the campaign--"one of the most uncomfortable four months of my
life." But he pledged his loyalty to the Roosevelt program, popular in the West,
while his brother Charles reassured eastern Republicans. William Jennings Bryan, running
on the Democratic ticket for a third time, complained that he was having to oppose two
candidates, a western progressive Taft and an eastern conservative Taft.
Progressives were pleased with Taft's election. "Roosevelt has cut enough hay,"
they said; "Taft is the man to put it into the barn." Conservatives were
delighted to be rid of Roosevelt--the "mad messiah."
Taft recognized that his techniques would differ from those of his prede
cessor. Unlike Roosevelt, Taft did not believe in the stretching of Presidential powers.
He once commented that Roosevelt "ought more often to have admitted the legal way of
reaching the same ends." Taft alienated many liberal Republicans who later formed the
Progressive Party, by defending the Payne-Aldrich Act which unexpectedly continued high
tariff rates. A trade agreement with Canada, which Taft pushed through Congress, would
have pleased eastern advocates of a low tariff, but the Canadians rejected it. He further
antagonized Progressives by upholding his Secretary of the Interior, accused of failing to
carry out Roosevelt's conservation policies.
In the angry Progressive onslaught against him, little attention was paid to the fact that
his administration initiated 80 antitrust suits and that Congress submitted to the states
amendments for a Federal income tax and the direct election of Senators. A postal savings
system was established, and the Interstate Commerce Commission was directed to set
In 1912, when the Republicans renominated Taft, Roosevelt bolted the party to lead the
Progressives, thus guaranteeing the election of Woodrow Wilson.
Taft, free of the Presidency, served as Professor of Law at Yale until President Harding
made him Chief Justice of the United States, a position he held until just before his
death in 1930. To Taft, the appointment was his greatest honor; he wrote: "I don't
remember that I ever was President." Return to Last Page
Gerald Rudolph Ford, the 38th President of the United States, was born Leslie Lynch
King, Jr., the son of Leslie Lynch King and Dorothy Ayer Gardner
King, on July 14, 1913, in Omaha, Nebraska. His parents separated two weeks after his
birth and his mother took him to Grand Rapids, Michigan to live with her parents. On
February 1, 1916, approximately two years after her divorce was final, Dorothy King
married Gerald R. Ford, a Grand Rapids paint salesman. The Fords began calling her son
Gerald R. Ford, Jr., although his name was not legally changed until December 3, 1935. He
did not know until 1930 that Gerald Ford, Sr., was not his biological father. The future
president grew up in a close- knit family which included three younger half-brothers,
Thomas, Richard, and James.
Ford attended South High School in Grand Rapids, where he excelled scholastically and
athletically, being named to the honor society and the "All-City" and
"All-State" football teams. He was also active in scouting, achieving the rank
of Eagle Scout in November 1927. He earned spending money by working in the family paint
business and at a local restaurant.
From 1931 to 1935 Ford attended The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where he majored
in economics and political science. He held various part-time jobs to supplement his
scholarship. A gifted athlete, Ford played on the University's national championship
football teams in 1932 and 1933. He was voted the Wolverine's most valuable player in 1934
and was chosen for the East team in the annual East-West Shrine Game in San Francisco. He
graduated with a B.A. degree in June 1935. In August 1935 he played in the College
All-Star football game against the Chicago Bears.
He received offers from two professional football teams, the Detroit Lions and the Green
Bay Packers, but chose instead to take a position as boxing coach and assistant varsity
football coach at Yale hoping to attend law school there. Yale officials denied him
admission, because of his full-time coaching responsibilities, until the spring of 1938
when he did enter law school. Among those he coached were Robert Taft, Jr. and William
Proxmire. Ford earned his LL.B. degree in 1941, graduating in the top 25 percent of his
class in spite of the time he had to devote to his coaching duties. His introduction to
politics came in the summer of 1940 when he worked in Wendell Willkie's presidential
After returning to Michigan and passing his bar exam, Ford and a U of M fraternity
brother, Philip A. Buchen (who later served on Ford's White House staff as Counsel to the
President), set up a law partnership in Grand Rapids. He also taught a course in business
law at the University of Grand Rapids and served as line coach for the school's football
team. He had just become active in a group of reform-minded Republicans in Grand Rapids,
calling themselves the Home Front, who were interested in challenging the hold of local
political boss Frank McKay, when the United States entered World War II.
In April 1942 Ford joined the U.S. Naval Reserve receiving a commission as an ensign.
After an orientation program at Annapolis, he became a physical fitness instructor at a
pre- flight school in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In the spring of 1943 he began service
in the light aircraft carrier USS MONTEREY. He was first assigned as athletic director and
gunnery division officer, then as assistant navigator, with the MONTEREY which took part
in most of the major operations in the South Pacific, including Truk, Saipan, and the
Philippines. His closest call with death came not as a result of enemy fire, however, but
during a vicious typhoon in the Philippine Sea in December 1944. He came within inches of
being swept overboard while the storm raged. The ship, which was severely damaged by the
storm and the resulting fire, had to be taken out of service. Ford spent the remainder of
the war ashore and was discharged as a lieutenant commander in February 1946.
When he returned to Grand Rapids Ford became a partner in the locally prestigious law firm
of Butterfield, Keeney, and Amberg. A self-proclaimed compulsive "joiner," Ford
was well-known throughout the community. Ford has stated that his experiences in World War
II caused him to reject his previous isolationist leanings and adopt an internationalist
outlook. With the encouragement of his stepfather, who was county Republican chairman, the
Home Front, and Senator Arthur Vandenberg, Ford decided to challenge the isolationist
incumbent Bartel Jonkman for the Republican nomination for the U.S. House of
Representatives in the 1948 election. He won the nomination by a wide margin and was
elected to Congress on November 2, receiving 61 percent of the vote in the general
During the height of the campaign Gerald Ford married Elizabeth Ann Bloomer Warren, a
divorced department store fashion consultant. They were to have four children: Michael
Gerald, born March 14, 1950; John Gardner, born March 16, 1952; Steven Meigs, born May 19,
1956; and Susan Elizabeth, born July 6, 1957.
Gerald Ford served in the House of Representatives from January 3, 1949 to December 6,
1973, being reelected twelve times, each time with more than 60% of the vote. He became a
member of the House Appropriations Committee in 1951, and rose to prominence on the
Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, becoming its ranking minority member in 1961. He once
described himself as "a moderate in domestic affairs, an internationalist in foreign
affairs, and a conservative in fiscal policy."
As his reputation as a legislator grew, Ford declined offers to run for both the Senate
and the Michigan governorship in the early 1950s. His ambition was to become Speaker of
the House. In 1960 he was mentioned as a possible running mate for Richard Nixon in the
presidential election. In 1961, in a revolt of the "Young Turks," a group of
younger, more progressive House Republicans who felt that the older leadership was
stagnating, Ford defeated sixty-seven year old Charles Hoeven of Iowa for Chairman of the
House Republican Conference, the number three leadership position in the party.
In 1963 President Johnson appointed Ford to the Warren Commission investigating the
Assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In 1965 Ford co-authored, with John R. Stiles,
a book about the findings of the Commission, Portrait of the Assassin.
The battle for the 1964 Republican nomination for president was drawn on ideological
lines, but Ford avoided having to choose between Rockefeller and Goldwater by standing
behind Michigan favorite son George Romney.
In 1965 Ford was chosen by the Young Turks as their best hope to challenge Charles Halleck
for the position of minority leader of the House. He won by a small margin and took over
the position early in 1965, holding it for eight years.
Ford led Republican opposition to many of President Johnson's programs, favoring more
conservative alternatives to his social welfare legislation and opposing Johnson's policy
of gradual escalation in Vietnam. As minority leader Ford made more than 200 speeches a
year all across the country, a circumstance which made him nationally known.
In both the 1968 and 1972 elections Ford was a loyal supporter of Richard Nixon, who had
been a friend for many years. In 1968 Ford was again considered as a vice presidential
candidate. Ford backed the President's economic and foreign policies and remained on good
terms with both the conservative and liberal wings of the Republican party.
Because the Republicans did not attain a majority in the House, Ford was unable to reach
his ultimate political goal--to be Speaker of the House. Ironically, he did become
president of the Senate. When Spiro Agnew resigned the office of Vice President of the
United States late in 1973, after pleading no contest to a charge of income tax evasion,
President Nixon was empowered by the 25th Amendment to appoint a new vice president.
Presumably, he needed someone who could work with Congress, survive close scrutiny of his
political career and private life, and be confirmed quickly. He chose Gerald R. Ford.
Following the most thorough background investigation in the history of the FBI, Ford was
confirmed and sworn in on December 6, 1973.
The specter of the Watergate scandal, the break-in at Democratic headquarters during the
1972 campaign and the ensuing cover-up by Nixon administration officials, hung over Ford's
nine-month tenure as vice president. When it became apparent that evidence, public
opinion, and the mood in Congress were all pointing toward impeachment, Nixon became the
first president in U.S. history to resign from that office.
Gerald R. Ford took the oath of office as President of the United States on August 9,
1974, stating that "the long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution
Within the month Ford nominated Nelson Rockefeller for vice president. On December 19,
1974, Rockefeller was confirmed by Congress, over the opposition of many conservatives,
and the country had a full complement of leaders again.
One of the most difficult decisions of Ford's presidency was made just a month after he
took office. Believing that protracted impeachment proceedings would keep the country
mired in Watergate and unable to address the other problems facing it, Ford decided to
grant a pardon to Richard Nixon prior to the filing of any formal criminal charges. Public
reaction was mostly negative; Ford was even suspected of having made a "deal"
with the former president to pardon him if he would resign. The decision may have cost him
the election in 1976, but President Ford always maintained that it was the right thing to
do for the good of the country.
President Ford inherited an administration plagued by a divisive war in Southeast Asia,
rising inflation, and fears of energy shortages. He faced many difficult decisions
including replacing Nixon's staff with his own, restoring the credibility of the
presidency, and dealing with a Congress increasingly assertive of its rights and powers.
In domestic policy, President Ford felt that through modest tax and spending cuts,
deregulating industries, and decontrolling energy prices to stimulate production, he could
contain both inflation and unemployment. This would also reduce the size and role of the
federal government and help overcome the energy shortage. His philosophy is best
summarized by one of his favorite speech lines, "A government big enough to give us
everything we want is a government big enough to take from us everything we have."
The heavily Democratic Congress often disagreed with Ford, leading to numerous
confrontations and his frequent use of the veto to control government spending. Through
compromise, bills involving energy decontrol, tax cuts, deregulation of the railroad and
securities industries, and antitrust law reform were approved.
On two separate trips to California in September 1975, Ford was the target of
assassination attempts. Both of the assailants were women.
In foreign policy, Ford and Secretary of State Kissinger continued the policy of détente
with the Soviet Union and "shuttle diplomacy" in the Middle East. U.S.-Soviet
relations were marked by on-going arms negotiations, the Helsinki agreements on human
rights principles and East European national boundaries, trade negotiations, and the
symbolic Apollo-Soyuz joint manned space flight. Ford's personal diplomacy was highlighted
by trips to Japan and China, a 10-day European tour, and co-sponsorship of the first
international economic summit meeting, as well as the reception of numerous foreign heads
of state, many of whom came in observance of the U.S. Bicentennial in 1976.
With the fall of South Vietnam in 1975 as background, Congress and the President struggled
repeatedly over presidential war powers, oversight of the CIA and covert operations,
military aid appropriations, and the stationing of military personnel.
On May 14, 1975, in a dramatic move, Ford ordered U.S. forces to retake the S.S. MAYAGUEZ,
an American merchant ship seized by Cambodian gunboats two days earlier in international
waters. The vessel was recovered and all 39 crewmen saved. In the preparation and
execution of the rescue, however, 41 Americans lost their lives.
During the 1976 campaign, Ford fought off a strong challenge by Ronald Reagan to gain the
Republican nomination. He chose Senator Robert Dole of Kansas as his running mate and
succeeded in narrowing Democrat Jimmy Carter's large lead in the polls, but finally lost
one of the closest elections in history. Three televised candidate debates were focal
points of the campaign.
On January 20, 1977, President and Mrs. Ford moved to California where they built a new
house in Rancho Mirage. They continue to vacation at their home outside Vail, Colorado,
where Ford enjoys skiing and golf. President Ford's memoirs, A Time to Heal: The
Autobiography of Gerald R. Ford, were published in 1979. President Ford is active on
behalf of Republican Party and charitable causes, serves on corporate boards, and speaks
frequently before a variety of audiences. He is supportive of the Library and Museum that
bear his name, taking part in symposia, conferences, and other special events.
Return to Last Page
James A. Garfield
As the last of the log cabin Presidents, James A. Garfield attacked political
corruption and won back for the Presidency a measure of
prestige it had lost during the Reconstruction period.
He was born in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, in 1831. Fatherless at two, he later drove canal
boat teams, somehow earning enough money for an education. He was graduated from Williams
College in Massachusetts in 1856, and he returned to the Western Reserve Eclectic
Institute (later Hiram College) in Ohio as a classics professor. Within a year he was made
Garfield was elected to the Ohio Senate in 1859 as a Republican. During the secession
crisis, he advocated coercing the seceding states back into the Union.
In 1862, when Union military victories had been few, he successfully led a brigade at
Middle Creek, Kentucky, against Confederate troops. At 31, Garfield became a brigadier
general, two years later a major general of volunteers.
Meanwhile, in 1862, Ohioans elected him to Congress. President Lincoln persuaded him to
resign his commission: It was easier to find major generals than to obtain effective
Republicans for Congress. Garfield repeatedly won re-election for 18 years, and became the
leading Republican in the House.
At the 1880 Republican Convention, Garfield failed to win the Presidential nomination for
his friend John Sherman. Finally, on the 36th ballot, Garfield himself became the
"dark horse" nominee.
By a margin of only 10,000 popular votes, Garfield defeated the Democratic nominee, Gen.
Winfield Scott Hancock.
As President, Garfield strengthened Federal authority over the New York Customs House,
stronghold of Senator Roscoe Conkling, who was leader of the Stalwart Republicans and
dispenser of patronage in New York. When Garfield submitted to the Senate a list of
appointments including many of Conkling's friends, he named Conkling's arch-rival William
H. Robertson to run the Customs House. Conkling contested the nomination, tried to
persuade the Senate to block it, and appealed to the Republican caucus to compel its
But Garfield would not submit: "This...will settle the question whether the President
is registering clerk of the Senate or the Executive of the United States.... shall the
principal port of entry ... be under the control of the administration or under the local
control of a factional senator."
Conkling maneuvered to have the Senate confirm Garfield's uncontested nominations and
adjourn without acting on Robertson. Garfield countered by withdrawing all nominations
except Robertson's; the Senators would have to confirm him or sacrifice all the
appointments of Conkling's friends.
In a final desperate move, Conkling and his fellow-Senator from New York resigned,
confident that their legislature would vindicate their stand and re-elect them. Instead,
the legislature elected two other men; the Senate confirmed Robertson. Garfield's victory
In foreign affairs, Garfield's Secretary of State invited all American republics to a
conference to meet in Washington in 1882. But the conference never took place. On July 2,
1881, in a Washington railroad station, an embittered attorney who had sought a consular
post shot the President.
Mortally wounded, Garfield lay in the White House for weeks. Alexander Graham Bell,
inventor of the telephone, tried unsuccessfully to find the bullet with an
induction-balance electrical device which he had designed. On September 6, Garfield was
taken to the New Jersey seaside. For a few days he seemed to be recuperating, but on
September 19, 1881, he died from an infection and internal hemorrhage. Return to Last Page
With the assassination of President McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, not quite 43, became
the youngest President in the
Nation's history. He brought new excitement and power to the Presidency, as he vigorously
led Congress and the American public toward progressive reforms and a strong foreign
He took the view that the President as a "steward of the people" should take
whatever action necessary for the public good unless expressly forbidden by law or the
Constitution." I did not usurp power," he wrote, "but I did greatly broaden
the use of executive power."
Roosevelt's youth differed sharply from that of the log cabin Presidents. He was born in
New York City in 1858 into a wealthy family, but he too struggled--against ill health--and
in his triumph became an advocate of the strenuous life.
In 1884 his first wife, Alice Lee Roosevelt, and his mother died on the same day.
Roosevelt spent much of the next two years on his ranch in the Badlands of Dakota
Territory. There he mastered his sorrow as he lived in the saddle, driving cattle, hunting
big game--he even captured an outlaw. On a visit to London, he married Edith Carow in
During the Spanish-American War, Roosevelt was lieutenant colonel of the Rough Rider
Regiment, which he led on a charge at the battle of San Juan. He was one of the most
conspicuous heroes of the war.
Boss Tom Platt, needing a hero to draw attention away from scandals in New York State,
accepted Roosevelt as the Republican candidate for Governor in 1898. Roosevelt won and
served with distinction.
As President, Roosevelt held the ideal that the Government should be the great arbiter of
the conflicting economic forces in the Nation, especially between capital and labor,
guaranteeing justice to each and dispensing favors to none.
Roosevelt emerged spectacularly as a "trust buster" by forcing the dissolution
of a great railroad combination in the Northwest. Other antitrust suits under the Sherman
Roosevelt steered the United States more actively into world politics. He liked to quote a
favorite proverb, "Speak softly and carry a big stick. . . . "
Aware of the strategic need for a shortcut between the Atlantic and Pacific, Roosevelt
ensured the construction of the Panama Canal. His corollary to the Monroe Doctrine
prevented the establishment of foreign bases in the Caribbean and arrogated the sole right
of intervention in Latin America to the United States.
He won the Nobel Peace Prize for mediating the Russo-Japanese War, reached a Gentleman's
Agreement on immigration with Japan, and sent the Great White Fleet on a goodwill tour of
Some of Theodore Roosevelt's most effective achievements were in conservation. He added
enormously to the national forests in the West, reserved lands for public use, and
fostered great irrigation projects.
He crusaded endlessly on matters big and small, exciting audiences with his high-pitched
voice, jutting jaw, and pounding fist. "The life of strenuous endeavor" was a
must for those around him, as he romped with his five younger children and led ambassadors
on hikes through Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C.
Leaving the Presidency in 1909, Roosevelt went on an African safari, then jumped back into
politics. In 1912 he ran for President on a Progressive ticket. To reporters he once
remarked that he felt as fit as a bull moose, the name of his new party.
While campaigning in Milwaukee, he was shot in the chest by a fanatic. Roosevelt soon
recovered, but his words at that time would have been applicable at the time of his death
in 1919: "No man has had a happier life than I have led; a happier life in every
way." Return to Last
Assuming the Presidency at the depth of the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt
helped the American people regain faith in themselves. He brought hope as he
promised prompt, vigorous action, and asserted in his Inaugural Address, "the only
thing we have to fear is fear itself."
Born in 1882 at Hyde Park, New York--now a national historic site--he attended Harvard
University and Columbia Law School. On St. Patrick's Day, 1905, he married Eleanor
Following the example of his fifth cousin, President Theodore Roosevelt, whom he greatly
admired, Franklin D. Roosevelt entered public service through politics, but as a Democrat.
He won election to the New York Senate in 1910. President Wilson appointed him Assistant
Secretary of the Navy, and he was the Democratic nominee for Vice President in 1920.
In the summer of 1921, when he was 39, disaster hit-h-e was stricken with poliomyelitis.
Demonstrating indomitable courage, he fought to regain the use of his legs, particularly
through swimming. At the 1924 Democratic Convention he dramatically appeared on crutches
to nominate Alfred E. Smith as "the Happy Warrior." In 1928 Roosevelt became
Governor of New York.
He was elected President in November 1932, to the first of four terms. By March there were
13,000,000 unemployed, and almost every bank was closed. In his first "hundred
days," he proposed, and Congress enacted, a sweeping program to bring recovery to
business and agriculture, relief to the unemployed and to those in danger of losing farms
and homes, and reform, especially through the establishment of the Tennessee Valley
By 1935 the Nation had achieved some measure of recovery, but businessmen and bankers were
turning more and more against Roosevelt's New Deal program. They feared his experiments,
were appalled because he had taken the Nation off the gold standard and allowed deficits
in the budget, and disliked the concessions to labor. Roosevelt responded with a new
program of reform: Social Security, heavier taxes on the wealthy, new controls over banks
and public utilities, and an enormous work relief program for the unemployed.
In 1936 he was re-elected by a top-heavy margin. Feeling he was armed with a popular
mandate, he sought legislation to enlarge the Supreme Court, which had been invalidating
key New Deal measures. Roosevelt lost the Supreme Court battle, but a revolution in
constitutional law took place. Thereafter the Government could legally regulate the
Roosevelt had pledged the United States to the "good neighbor" policy,
transforming the Monroe Doctrine from a unilateral American manifesto into arrangements
for mutual action against aggressors. He also sought through neutrality legislation to
keep the United States out of the war in Europe, yet at the same time to strengthen
nations threatened or attacked. When France fell and England came under siege in 1940, he
began to send Great Britain all possible aid short of actual military involvement.
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Roosevelt directed
organization of the Nation's manpower and resources for global war.
Feeling that the future peace of the world would depend upon relations between the United
States and Russia, he devoted much thought to the planning of a United Nations, in which,
he hoped, international difficulties could be settled.
As the war drew to a close, Roosevelt's health deteriorated, and on April 12, 1945, while
at Warm Springs, Georgia, he died of a cerebral hemorrhage. Return to Last Page
On April 30, 1789, George Washington, standing on the balcony of Federal Hall on Wall
Street in New York, took his oath of office as the first President of the United
States. "As the first of every thing, in our situation will serve to establish
a Precedent," he wrote James Madison, "it is devoutly wished on my part, that
these precedents may be fixed on true principles."
Born in 1732 into a Virginia planter family, he learned the morals, manners, and body of
knowledge requisite for an 18th century Virginia gentleman.
He pursued two intertwined interests: military arts and western expansion. At 16 he helped
survey Shenandoah lands for Thomas, Lord Fairfax. Commissioned a lieutenant colonel in
1754, he fought the first skirmishes of what grew into the French and Indian War. The next
year, as an aide to Gen. Edward Braddock, he escaped injury although four bullets ripped
his coat and two horses were shot from under him.
From 1759 to the outbreak of the American Revolution, Washington managed his lands around
Mount Vernon and served in the Virginia House of Burgesses. Married to a widow, Martha
Dandridge Custis, he devoted himself to a busy and happy life. But like his fellow
planters, Washington felt himself exploited by British merchants and hampered by British
regulations. As the quarrel with the mother country grew acute, he moderately but firmly
voiced his resistance to the restrictions.
When the Second Continental Congress assembled in Philadelphia in May 1775, Washington,
one of the Virginia delegates, was elected Commander in Chief of the Continental Army. On
July 3, 1775, at Cambridge, Massachusetts, he took command of his ill-trained troops and
embarked upon a war that was to last six grueling years.
He realized early that the best strategy was to harass the British. He reported to
Congress, "we should on all Occasions avoid a general Action, or put anything to the
Risque, unless compelled by a necessity, into which we ought never to be drawn."
Ensuing battles saw him fall back slowly, then strike unexpectedly. Finally in 1781 with
the aid of French allies--he forced the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown.
Washington longed to retire to his fields at Mount Vernon. But he soon realized that the
Nation under its Articles of Confederation was not functioning well, so he became a prime
mover in the steps leading to the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia in 1787. When
the new Constitution was ratified, the Electoral College unanimously elected Washington
He did not infringe upon the policy making powers that he felt the Constitution gave
Congress. But the determination of foreign policy became preponderantly a Presidential
concern. When the French Revolution led to a major war between France and England,
Washington refused to accept entirely the recommendations of either his Secretary of State
Thomas Jefferson, who was pro-French, or his Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton,
who was pro-British. Rather, he insisted upon a neutral course until the United States
could grow stronger.
To his disappointment, two parties were developing by the end of his first term. Wearied
of politics, feeling old, he retired at the end of his second. In his Farewell Address, he
urged his countrymen to forswear excessive party spirit and geographical distinctions. In
foreign affairs, he warned against long-term alliances.
Washington enjoyed less than three years of retirement at Mount Vernon, for he died of a
throat infection December 14, 1799. For months the Nation mourned him. Return to Last Page
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