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The Presidents

 

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1881

James A. Garfield

1857-61 James Buchanan 1829-37 Andrew Jackson
1974-77

Gerald R. Ford

1921-23 Warren Harding 1817-25 James Monroe
1901-09

Theodore Roosevelt

1865-69 Andrew Johnson 1845-49 James Polk
1909-13 William Taft 1897-1901 William McKinley 1945-53 Harry Truman
1933-45 Franklin Roosevelt     1789-97 George Washington

Supreme Court          Senators & Representatives       Other Politicians

 

Harry Truman

 

During his few weeks as Vice President, Harry S Truman scarcely saw President Roosevelt, and received noPicture of Harry S Truman 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 life.
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James Polk

 

Often referred to as the first "dark horse" President, James K. Polk was the last of the Jacksonians to sit in the White House,Picture of James Polk 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

 

 

James Monroe

 

On New Year's Day, 1825, at the last of his annual White House receptions, President James Monroe made a pleasingPicture of James Monroe 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 Fredericksburg, Virginia.
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

 

 

Andrew Jackson

 

More nearly than any of his predecessors, Andrew Jackson was elected by popular vote; as President he sought to act as thePicture of Andrew Jackson 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

 

 

William McKinley

At the 1896 Republican Convention, in time of depression, the wealthy Cleveland businessman Marcus Alonzo Hanna ensured the nominationmckinley_w.gif (5766 bytes) 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 banker.
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 Rico.
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.
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Andrew Johnson

johnsona.gif (6560 bytes)Johnson was 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 governor.
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 Union party.
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.
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Warren Harding

Warren Harding was born in Corsica, Ohio, on November 2, 1865, He attended Ohio Central College, studiedhardingwg.gif (6117 bytes) 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

James Buchanan, the 15th PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (1857-1861), served during the beginning 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 Jacksonians.
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 candidate.
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

 

 

William Howard Taft

Distinguished jurist, effective administrator, but poor politician, William Howard Taft spent four uncomfortable yearsPicture of William Howard Taft 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 falling."
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 railroad rates.
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 R. Ford

Gerald Rudolph Ford, the 38th President of the United States, was born Leslie Lynch King, Jr., the son of Leslie Lynch KingPortrait, Gerald Rudolph Ford 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 campaign.
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 election.
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 works."
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.
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James A. Garfield

As the last of the log cabin Presidents, James A. Garfield attacked political corruption and won back for the Presidency aPicture of James Garfield 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 its president.
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 withdrawal.
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 was complete.
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

 

 

Theodore Roosevelt

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 policy.
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 December 1886.
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 Act followed.
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 the world.
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 Page

 

 

Franklin Roosevelt

Assuming the Presidency at the depth of the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt helped the American people regainPicture of Franklin D. Roosevelt 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 Roosevelt.
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 Authority.
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 economy.
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

 

 

George Washington

On April 30, 1789, George Washington, standing on the balcony of Federal Hall on Wall Street in New York, took his oathPicture of George Washington 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 President.
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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