May 8th Ought to Be a National Holiday

Harry Truman was born on May 8th, 130 years ago today (1884).

The Truman Library has the Truman diary online. The diary, which was just discovered in 2003, was kept intermittently by the President during 1947. It is fascinating reading.

The entry for January 3:

Byrnes & I discussed General Marshall’s last letter and decided to ask him to come home. Byrnes is going to quit on the tenth and I shall make Marshall Sec[retary] of State. Some of the crackpots will in all probability yell their heads off-but let ’em yell! Marshall is the ablest man in the whole gallery.

Mrs. Roosevelt came in at 3 P.M. to assure me that Jimmy & Elliott had nothing against me and intended no disparagement of me in their recent non-edited remarks. Said she was for me. Said she didn’t like Byrnes and was sure he was not reporting Elliott correctly. Said Byrnes was always for Byrnes and no one else. I wonder! He’s been loyal to me[.] In the Senate he gave me my first small appropriation, which started the Special Committee to investigate the National Defense Program on its way. He’d probably have done me a favor if he’d refused to give it.

Maybe there was something on both sides in this situation. It is a pity a great man has to have progeny! Look at Churchill’s. Remember Lincoln’s and Grant’s. Even in collateral branches Washington’s wasn’t so good-and Teddy Roosevelt’s are terrible.

The entry for January 8:

The Senate took Marshall lock, stock and barrell [sic]. Confirmed him by unanimous consent and did not even refer his nomination to a committee. A grand start for him.

I am very happy over that proceedure [sic]. Marshall is, I think[,] the greatest man of the World War II. He managed to get along with Roosevelt, the Congress, Churchill, the Navy and the Joint Chief of Staff and he made a grand record in China.

When I asked him to take the extrovert Pat Hurley[‘]s place as my special envoy to China, he merely said “Yes, Mr. President I’ll go.” No argument only patriotic action. And if any man was entitled to balk and ask for a rest, he was. We’ll have a real State Dep[artmen]t now.

The entry for July 6:

Drove an open car from Charlottesville to Washington-starting at 9:15 Washington time.

Had a V[irgini]a Highway Policeman in a car ahead making the pace at exactly the speed allowed by V[irgini]a law. He forced all the trucks to one side as I always wanted to do. Made the drive in 3 hours. Had Sec[retary] of Treas[ury] Snyder, Adm[iral] Leahy, and Doctor Brig[adier] Gen[eral] Graham as passengers. All said they enjoyed the ride and felt they needed no extra accident coverage!

David McCullough’s Truman is superb.

U.S. Grant

Hiram Ulysses Grant was born on this date in 1822.

In 1839, his Ohio congressman nominated him for the U.S. Military Academy, but mistakenly as Ulysses S. Grant. The cadet simply adopted the name. Because his new initials were U.S., the same as those of Uncle Sam, Grant was nicknamed Sam in the Army.

The name U.S. Grant took on a whole new meaning in 1862 however.

HEADQUARTERS ARMY IN THE FIELD
Camp near Fort Donelson
February 16, 1862.
 
General S. B. BUCKNER,
Confederate Army.

     SIR: Yours of this date, proposing armistice and appointment of commissioners to settle terms of capitulation, is just received. No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
U.S. GRANT,
Brigadier-General, Commanding.
 

From then the U.S. in U.S. Grant stood for Unconditional Surrender.

Good Friday 1865

Abraham Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth on this date in 1865. Lincoln died the next morning.

As Atzerodt and Paine fanned out to seek their targets, Booth, a celebrated actor, familiar to everybody who worked at Ford’s Theatre, had no trouble in slipping upstairs during the performance of Our American Cousin. Moving quietly down the aisle behind the dress circle, he stood for a few moments near the President’s box. A member of the audience, seeing him there, thought him “the handsomest man I had ever seen.” John Parker, the Metropolitan policeman assigned to protect the President, had left his post in the passageway, and the box was guarded only by Charles Forbes, a White House footman. When Booth showed Forbes his calling card, he was admitted to the presidential box. Barring the door behind him, so as not to be disturbed, he noiselessly moved behind Lincoln, who was leaning forward, with his chin in his right hand and his arm on the balustrade. At a distance of about two feet, the actor pointed his derringer at the back of the President’s head on the left side and pulled the trigger. It was about 10:13 P.M.

When Major Rathbone tried to seize the intruder, Booth lunged at him with his razor-sharp hunting knife, which had a 7¼-inch blade. “The Knife,” Clara Harris reported, “went from the elbow nearly to the shoulder, inside, — cutting an artery, nerves and veins — he bled so profusely as to make him very weak.” Shoving his victim aside, Booth placed his hands on the balustrade and vaulted toward the stage. It was an easy leap for the gymnastic actor, but the spur on his heel caught in the flags decorating the box and he fell heavily on one foot, breaking the bone just above the ankle. Waving his dagger, he shouted in a loud, melodramatic voice: “Sic semper tyrannis” (“Thus always to tyrants” — the motto of the state of Virginia). Some in the audience thought he added, “The South is avenged.” Quickly he limped across the stage, with what one witness called “a motion…like the hopping of a bull frog,” and made his escape through the rear of the theater.

Up to this point the audience was not sure what had happened. Perhaps most thought the whole disturbance was part of the play. But as the blue-white smoke from the pistol drifted out of the presidential box, Mary Lincoln gave a heart-rending shriek and screamed, “They have shot the President! They have shot the President!”

From David Herbert Donald’s outstanding biography of Lincoln.

Read The New York Times story from the day after the assassination, headlined Awful Event.

Click for larger version.
Click for larger version.

On April 26, Booth and co-conspirator David Herold were surrounded while hiding in a tobacco shed in Port Royal, Virginia. Herold surrendered to Union troops, but Booth held out and was shot while the shed burned down around him.

Photo at top is from a Library of Congress exhibit showing the content of Lincoln’s pockets that evening plus a newspaper report of the assassination. Click image for larger version.

 

 

Actually April 13th Really Should Be a Holiday

It seems to NewMexiKen that the country could use a federal holiday during that long spell from Washington’s Birthday to Memorial Day — for shopping and sales and stuff. I propose that April 13th, Jefferson’s birthday, would be ideal.

Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale, 1800

Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13th in 1743. [It was April 2nd on the calendar when he was born, but it’s that old Julian-Gregorian thing again.]

Eighty-three years later, at the end of his remarkable life, he wished to be remembered foremost for those actions that appear as his epitaph:

Author of the
Declaration
of
American Independence
of the
Statute of Virginia
for
Religious Freedom
and Father of the
University of Virginia.

Thomas Jefferson


At a White House dinner honoring 49 Nobel laureates in 1962, President Kennedy remarked, “I think this is the most extraordinary talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”


The Essentials: Five Books on Thomas Jefferson

Top 10: Misconceptions about Jefferson

How Thomas Jefferson Created His Own Bible


Jefferson's draft, with a little help from his friends.
Jefferson’s draft, with a little help from his friends.

NewMexiKen photos, October 2012. Click for larger versions.

 

 

FDR

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, War President of the United States and the only Chief Executive in history who was chosen for more than two terms, died suddenly and unexpectedly at 4:35 P. M. today at Warm Springs, Ga., and the White House announced his death at 5:48 o’clock. He was 63.

The President, stricken by a cerebral hemorrhage, passed from unconsciousness to death on the eighty-third day of his fourth term and in an hour of high-triumph. The armies and fleets under his direction as Commander in Chief were at the gates of Berlin and the shores of Japan’s home islands as Mr. Roosevelt died, and the cause he represented and led was nearing the conclusive phase of success.

From The New York Times obituary, April 12, 1945, written by Arthur Krock.

There is an interesting and prescient remark in the article concerning Truman: “He is conscious of limitations greater than he has.”

When called at the Capitol and told he should rush to the White House, Truman is reported to have exclaimed, “Jesus Christ and General Jackson.” Once at the White House, Truman was told of FDR’s death by Mrs. Roosevelt.

The following day, Friday the 13th, is when Truman told several reporters: “Boys, if you ever pray, pray for me now. I don’t know whether you fellows ever had a load of hay fall on you, but when you told me yesterday what had happened, I felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me.”

Information and quotations from David McCullough’s outstanding biography of Truman. Photo from the National Archives via the White House web site.

Earl Warren

… was born in Los Angeles on this date in 1891.

Among the decisions the Supreme Court made under Warren as Chief Justice were those that:

  • Outlawed school segregation.
  • Enunciated the one-man, one-vote doctrine.
  • Made most of the Bill of Rights binding on the states.
  • Curbed wiretapping.
  • Upheld the right to be secure against “unreasonable” searches and seizures.
  • Buttressed the right to counsel.
  • Underscored the right to a jury trial.
  • Barred racial discrimination in voting, in marriage laws, in the use of public parks, airports and bus terminals and in housing sales and rentals.
  • Extended the boundaries of free speech.
  • Ruled out compulsory religious exercises in public schools.
  • Restored freedom of foreign travel.
  • Knocked out the application of both the Smith and the McCarran Acts–both designed to curb “subversive” activities.
  • Held that Federal prisoners could sue the Government for injuries sustained in jail.
  • Said that wages could not be garnished without a hearing.
  • Liberalized residency requirements for welfare recipients.
  • Sustained the right to disseminate and receive birth control information.

(Source: The New York Times)

Warren’s parents were born in Norway (father) and Sweden (mother). Elected governor of California three times (1942, 1946, 1950), Warren was so popular he won both the Democratic and Republican primaries in 1946. The darkest mark against Warren’s public service was the wartime internment of Japanese Americans.

President Eisenhower appointed Warren chief justice in 1953; he retired from the Court in 1969. NewMexiKen considers Warren the most significant historical figure I’ve ever seen in person (briefly at the 1964 New York World’s Fair) — and I’ve seen five presidents.

Best Lines Ever on March 4th

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Abraham Lincoln, March 4, 1865

“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt, March 4, 1933

Cooper Union

Abraham Lincoln, a one-term former congressman, spoke at the Cooper Union in New York City on this date in 1860. Many think Lincoln’s “Cooper Union Address” propelled him to the presidency.

American Rhetoric has the speech text, and the audio of a reading in 2004 by Sam Waterston.

Lincoln concluded:

Wrong as we think slavery is, we can yet afford to let it alone where it is, because that much is due to the necessity arising from its actual presence in the nation; but can we, while our votes will prevent it, allow it to spread into the National Territories, and to overrun us here in these Free States? If our sense of duty forbids this, then let us stand by our duty, fearlessly and effectively. Let us be diverted by none of those sophistical contrivances wherewith we are so industriously plied and belabored – contrivances such as groping for some middle ground between the right and the wrong, vain as the search for a man who should be neither a living man nor a dead man – such as a policy of “don’t care” on a question about which all true men do care – such as Union appeals beseeching true Union men to yield to Disunionists, reversing the divine rule, and calling, not the sinners, but the righteous to repentance – such as invocations to Washington, imploring men to unsay what Washington said, and undo what Washington did.

Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves. Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.

Today We Celebrate Washington’s Birthday

No matter what the stores call their sales, the federal holiday today — the reason there is no mail delivery — is Washington’s Birthday. There is no such federal holiday as Presidents’ Day.

If there had been a calendar on the wall the day George Washington was born, it would have read February 11, 1731. In 1752 however, Britain and her colonies converted from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, the calendar we use today. The change added 11 days and designated January rather than March as the beginning of the year. Accordingly, Washington’s birthday became February 22, 1732.

A federal holiday was celebrated on February 22 from its approval in 18791 until legislation in 1968 designated the third Monday of February the official day to celebrate Washington’s birthday.

The states are not obliged to adopt federal holidays, which only affect federal offices and agencies. While most states have adopted Washington’s Birthday, a dozen of them officially celebrate Presidents’ Day. A number of the states that celebrate Washington’s Birthday also recognize Lincoln’s Birthday as a separate legal holiday.2

14 weeks until the next holiday.

___________

1 Washington’s Birthday was the fifth federal legal holiday. Only New Year’s Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas Day preceded it. There are 10 now, but Labor Day will be eliminated soon.

2 There is no state holiday today in New Mexico. The state chooses to celebrate Presidents’ Day the day after Thanksgiving.

Great Man, Great Words

Our greatest president was born 205 years ago today. It seems a good reason to read, once again, some of his most meaningful words — read them slowly and meticulously, perhaps almost saying them aloud as he did.

The Address at Gettysburg (November 19, 1863):

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met here on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But in a larger sense we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled, here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

And, from his Second Inaugural Address (March 4, 1865):

Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Farewell to Springfield

Farewell to Springfield

Abraham Lincoln made these remarks in Springfield before boarding the train for Washington 153 years ago today. He transcribed them on the train — it’s Lincoln’s handwriting at first, then his secretary John Nicolay’s. The movement of the train is seen in the scrawl. Click image for a larger version. The text is below.

My friends—No one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe every thing. Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now [2] leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of that Divine Being, who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him, who can go with me, and remain with you and be every where for good, [3] let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell

Lincoln never saw Springfield again.

Information and idea from Farewell to Springfield.

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass, ca. 1860s

… was born on this date in 1817.

With the headline Death Of Fred Douglass, The New York Times reported his death in 1895. It’s a fascinating contemporary article. An excerpt:

Frederick Douglass has been often spoken of as the foremost man of the African race in America. Though born and reared in slavery, he managed, through his own perseverance and energy, to win for himself a place that not only made him beloved by all members of his own race in America, but also won for himself the esteem and reverence of all fair-minded persons, both in this country and in Europe.

Mr. Douglass had been for many years a prominent figure in public life. He was of inestimable service to the members of his own race, and rendered distinguished service to his country from time to time in various important offices that he held under the Government.

He became well known, early in his career, as an orator upon subjects relating to slavery. He won renown by his oratorical powers both in the northern part of the United States and in England. He had become known before the civil war also as a journalist. So highly were his opinions valued that he was often consulted by President Lincoln, after the civil war began, upon questions relating to the colored race. He held important offices almost constantly from 1871 until 1891.

Mr. Douglass, perhaps more than any other man of his race, was instrumental in advancing the work of banishing the color line.