Archive for the ‘President of the United States’ Tag

Portraits: Zachary Taylor   2 comments

Zachary Taylor, daguerreotype

Zachary Taylor daguerreotype, circa 1843-45

The 12th President of the United States, 1849 – 1850

AKA: Old Rough and Ready

From: Virginia, Kentucky, Louisiana

College: One of 8 US Presidents not to attend college

Married to: Margaret Smith

Children: Margaret Smith, Sarah Knox, Ann Mackall, Octavia Pannell, Mary Elizabeth, Richard

Party: Whig

Previous Jobs: US Army officer

In His Words: “In conclusion I congratulate you, my fellow-citizens, upon the high state of prosperity to which the goodness of Divine Providence has conducted our common country. Let us invoke a continuance of the same protecting care which has led us from small beginnings to the eminence we this day occupy.”

“It would be judicious to act with magnanimity towards a prostate foe.”

“The power given by the Constitution to the Executive to interpose his veto is a high conservative power; but in my opinion it should never be exercised except in cases of clear violation of the Constitution, or manifest haste and want of due consideration by Congress.”

“I have no private purpose to accomplish, no party objectives to build up, no enemies to punish—nothing to serve but my country.””I have always done my duty. I am ready to die. My only regret is for the friends I leave behind me.

Not true: On the 4th of July, 1850, Taylor was diagnosed with cholera morbus.  Ultimately, he died with a diagnosis of gastroenteritis.  Was it a snack of iced milk, cold cherries and pickled cucumbers eaten on July 4th?  We’ll never know, but he was dead 5 days later.

About 25 years ago, Clara Rising (an author with a theory) convinced Taylor’s closed living descendants as well as the coroner of Jefferson County, KY, to exhume Taylor’s body to see if he had been poisoned. Over 140 years later, we had the answer: no poisoning.


Soon after his election, Taylor was drawn into conversation with a fellow passenger aboard a ship. Taylor realized the stranger did not recognize him when he began discussing politics and indicated he had not voted for him. When the stranger asked him if he was a Taylor man, the newly elected president replied, “Not much of one––that is, I did not vote for him––partly because of family reasons and partly because his wife was opposed to sending ‘Old Zack’ to Washington, where she would be obliged to go with him.”

Despite his 40-year military career, Taylor viewed war dismally, having stated, “My life has been devoted to arms, yet I look upon war at all times, and under all circumstances, as a national calamity to be avoided if compatible with national honor.”

Prior to 1848, Taylor had never voted, nor had he revealed his political thoughts publicly.

He was selected as a Presidential candidate because of his bifurcated appeal: northerners would like his long military record, and his ownership of 100 slaves would lure southern votes. Taylor was the last President to own slaves while in office.

His only son Richard was a general in the Confederate army.

The Official Portrait: Kentuckian Joseph Henry Bush painted this portrait of Zachary Taylor in 1848.

Zachary Taylor, official White House Portrait

Zachary Taylor signature


The Taylor File, by Clara Rising

Big Mo

New York Times Letter to the Editor, 1991

Portraits: Herbert Hoover   4 comments

Herbert C. Hoover (1874 – 1964)

The 31st President of the United States, 1929 – 1933

AKA: The Great Engineer, The Great Humanitarian, The Chief

From: Iowa, Oregon

College: Stanford University

Married to: Lou Henry Hoover

Children: Herbert, Jr., Allan

Party: Republican

Previous Jobs: Secretary of Commerce

In His Words: “You convey too great a compliment when you say that I have earned the right to the presidential nomination. No man can establish such an obligation upon any part of the American people. My country owes me no debt. It gave me, as it gives every boy and girl, a chance. It gave me schooling, independence of action, opportunity for service and honor. In no other land could a boy from a country village, without inheritance or influential friends, look forward with unbounded hope. My whole life has taught me what America means. I am indebted to my country beyond any human power to repay.”

“Older men declare war. But it is youth that must fight and die.”

“Let me remind you that credit is the lifeblood of business, the lifeblood of prices and jobs.”

“A good many things go around in the dark besides Santa Claus.”

“Being a politician is a poor profession. Being a public servant is a noble one.”

“Honor is not the exclusive property of any political party.”

“About the time we can make the ends meet, somebody moves the ends.”

“I’m the only person of distinction who’s ever had a depression named for him.”

“More than ten million women march to work every morning side by side with the men. Steadily the importance of women is gaining not only in the routine tasks of industry but in executive responsibility. I include also the woman who stays at home as the guardian of the welfare of the family. She is a partner in the job and wages. Women constitute a part of our industrial achievement.”

Not true: Hoover did not cause the Great Depression. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time, for sure.  Some would say that he did more to end the Depression than his successors … some would say that it was only the economic expansion of WWII that ended the Depression.  Hoover’s policies didn’t cause it, though, he was just caught in a bad economy.

True: Herbert Hoover was orphaned at the age of nine.

Hoover entered Stanford in 1891, in its inaugural year, after failing the entrance exams.

Hoover’s 1928 election slogan was “A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.”

When the Great Depression hit, many of the homeless lived in towns of shacks called “Hoovervilles.”

Hoover was the first millionaire President.

Hoover and Taft are the only two Presidents without electoral experience or military service.

He approved the “Star-Spangled Banner” as our national anthem. It became the national anthem in 1931.

Hoover was a member of the Sons of the American Revolution; he was descended from Jacobus Wynne.

Hoover is the only President not to appear on the cover of Time during his Presidency.

Hoover was one of four Presidents to live to be 90.

The Official Portrait:  Elmer W. Greene painted the official White Hosue portrait of Hoover in 1956.

Herbert Hoover, Official White House Portrait

Herbert Hoover Signature

Portraits: Martin Van Buren   Leave a comment

Martin Van Buren daguerreotypeMartin Van Buren (1782 – 1862)

The 8th President of the United States, 1837 – 1841

AKA:The American Talleyrand, The Careful Dutchman, The Enchanter, The Great Manager, The Master Spirit, Martin Van Ruin, Matty Van, The Mistletoe Politician, Old Kinderhook, The Little Magician

From: New York

College: One of 8 US Presidents that did not attend college

Married to: Hannah Hoes

Children: Abraham, John, Martin, Smith

Party: Democratic-Republican (Before 1825), Democratic (1825 – 1848), Free Soil (1848 – 1854)

Previous Jobs: Lawyer, New York Attorney General, US Senator, Governor of New York, Secretary of State, Minister to the United Kingdom, Vice President

In His Words:  “It is easier to do a job right than to explain why you didn’t.”

“The less government interferes with private pursuits, the better for general prosperity.”

“Those who have wrought great changes in the world never succeeded by gaining over chiefs; but always by exciting the multitude. The first is the resource of intrigue and produces only secondary results, the second is the resort of genius and transforms the universe.”

Not true: Van Buren was a political ally of Aaron Burr, a fellow New Yorker.  A rumor about their relationship — that Van Buren was Burr’s illegitimate son — survived into the 20th century, when Gore Vidal included it in his novel, Burr. There was never any proof of a familial relationship.

True: Van Buren was the first President born a US Citizen.

He was also our first and only ESL President:  the first President not to speak English as his first language. He grew up speaking Dutch.

He was the architect of the Democratic Party; after he organized it around his election, the party was firmly established as a national force.

Twentieth Century etymologist Alan Walker Read has published research asserting the wide usage of the phrase “O.K.” (okay) started during the presidential campaign and subsequent presidency of Martin Van Buren.

The Official Portrait: Chicagoan George P. A. Healy painted the official White House portrait of Van Buren.  He received a Congressional commission in 1857 to paint portraits of several presidents, some of whom had sat for him in the 1840s. The portraits were of John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, James K. Polk, Millard Fillmore and Franklin Pierce. Finished by 1859, the portraits were stored in the White House attic, as no funds had been provided for framing them. After the Civil War President Andrew Johnson obtained funding to frame them and hung the portraits in the Cross Hall.

Martin Van Buren, Official White House Portrait

Martin Van Buren Signature


Big Mo

Portraits: Benjamin Harrison   Leave a comment

Benjamin Harrison was 7 years old at the time of his Grandfather William Henry Harrison's inauguration as President, but he did not attend the ceremony.

Benjamin Harrison was 7 years old at the time of his Grandfather William Henry Harrison’s inauguration as President, but he did not attend the ceremony.

Benjamin Harrison (1833 – 1901)

The 23rd President of the United States, 1889 – 1893

AKA: The Front Porch Campaigner, The Human Iceberg

From: Indiana

College: Miami University (of Ohio)

Married to: Caroline Lavinia Scott

Children: Russell Benjamin and Mary “Mamie” Scott Harrison

Party: Republican

Previous Jobs: Lawyer, City Attorney, Reporter for the Supreme Court of Indiana, Brigadier General, US Senator

In His Words: “”Come on, boys! We’ve never been licked yet, and we won’t begin now.”  – at the battle of Peach Tree Creek.

“We Americans have no commission from God to police the world.”

“I knew that my staying up would not change the election result if I were defeated, while if elected I had a hard day ahead of me. So I thought a night’s rest was best in any event.”

“I pity the man who wants a coat so cheap that the man or woman who produces the cloth will starve in the process.”

Not true: His Great Grandfather was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and his Grandfather was President … but Benjamin Harrison was not born into a life of privilege.  He grew up on a farm in Ohio with his father.  His first school was a small log cabin, where he sat on seats made of planks with no backs, and so high that his feet did not touch the floor.  He only attended school in the winter, as in the summer he had to work on the farm.

True: Although he could warmly engage a crowd with his speeches, he was cold and detached when speaking with people on an individual basis.

Benjamin Harrison had the White House wired for electricity, but he and his wife would not touch the switches for fear of electrocution.  The frequently slept with the lights on.

Six new states were admitted to the Union during Harrison’s tenure: North Dakota (1889), South Dakota (1889), Montana (1889), Washington(1889), Idaho (1890) and Wyoming (1890).

Theodore Roosevelt called Harrison “a cold-blooded, narrow-minded, prejudiced, obstinate, timid old psalm-singing Indianapolis politician.”

Harrison was, regretfully, America’s last bearded president.

Sketch of Benjamin HarrisonThe Official Portrait: Eastman Johnson painted the official White House portrait of Benjamin Harrison in 1895. He also painted the official portrait of Grover Cleveland, who both preceded and succeeded Benjamin Harrison as President of the United States.

Johnson was a co-founder of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and is best known for his portrayals of everyday people.

This charcoal and chalk sketch on paper is owned by the National Portrait Gallery, and is thought to be an early working drawing for the painting that now hangs in the White House.

Benjamin Harrison, Official White House Portrait



Big Mo: Benjamin Harrison

You Don’t Know How Voting Works   1 comment

Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth, center, carries a ballot box containing the 12 Massachusetts electoral votes for Vice President Al Gore during the Electoral College voting at the Statehouse Dec. 18, 2000, in Boston. Is the Electoral College system outdated? Pool Photo/Getty Images

Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth, center, carries a ballot box containing the 12 Massachusetts electoral votes for Vice President Al Gore during the Electoral College voting at the Statehouse Dec. 18, 2000, in Boston. Pool Photo/Getty Images

Americans don’t really vote for President or Vice President.  We vote for a secret group of “Electors” that participate in a process called the Electoral College.  That’s how it’s mandated in the Constitution, and then revised by the 12th Amendment.  Your vote matters, but you don’t know who you voted for.

You didn’t vote for Obama or Romney.  You did vote for a slate of state electors that you probably have never even heard of — electors that hold the fate of our nation in the palms of their hands.  Here’s how we really elect our President.  And believe me, in our litigious society, it is all about the details.

A 1976 Elector casts her ballot.  New York delivered 41 votes to Jimmy Carter.

A 1976 Elector casts her ballot. New York delivered 41 votes to Jimmy Carter.

1. You don’t vote for the Presidential candidate of your  choice.  Ever.  You do vote for a slate of Electors.

2. The number of Electors for each state is the same number as their Congressional delegation … 1 for each Senator and US Representative.  Washington DC also has 3 electors.

3. Those Electors are selected by a process unique to each state.  In California, the process is different for each party.

4. The Electors cannot be a member of Congress or an employee of the federal government.

5. The Electors are under no federal obligation to vote for the candidate that they are pledged to, though 25 states and Washington, DC do require them to do so.  The other 25 states … electors can vote for anyone they choose, becoming “faithless electors.”

6. The Electors are selected on the Tuesday following the first Monday in November in years divisible by 4 (yes, that’s our election day).  The Electors, in turn, vote on the December Monday following the 2nd Wednesday in each State Capitol (December 17 this year).  They must vote for a President and a Vice President separately, and one of those must not be from their state.  The votes are then sealed.

Note that most states have a “winner take all” structure for awarding their electoral votes, but that is a state decision.  In Maine and Nebraska, the electors are awarded individually to the winner of each congressional district’s votes, with the two extra votes going to the over-all state winner.

The President of the Senate opens each state's votes in front of a joint session of Congress on January 6.

The President of the Senate opens each state’s votes in front of a joint session of Congress on January 6.

7. The President of the Senate then opens and counts the votes in front of both houses of Congress on January 6.

8. If no one receives a majority of votes (270), then the US House of Representatives chooses the President from the Top 3 candidates with each state casting one vote.  If no Vice Presidential candidate receives a majority, then the Senate chooses the Vice President from the Top 2 candidates.

Oddities in the history of the Electoral College:

  • 1800 – an electoral tie, decided amicably in the House
  • 1824 – debatable if the popular vote winner won, especially since not all states even used a popular vote
  • 1876 – amid vote tampering and political machinations, the result seems to not reflect the popular vote
  • 1888 – the clearest 19th century example of the popular vote winner (Democrat Samuel J Tilden) not being the electoral winner (Republican Rutherford B Hayes)
  • 2000 – Gore won a plurality (but not a majority) of the national popular vote by over 540,000.  For the electoral college, however, Florida was a mess with hotly contested recounts over ballots that were allowed, or not allowed, in the official count.  Ultimately, the US Supreme Court ruled that the official count submitted by Florida was in fact their official result, and Bush won the electoral college 271-266 with one faithless elector abstaining.

None of these incidents degraded the legitimacy of the popular vote, nor the electoral college.  Is this because of a better informed populace?  A great election system first implemented in 1804, but still working in spite of World War, economic turmoil and societal upheaval?  Or are we just staying lucky?

The reality is that only swing states are active sites for modern campaigns.

The reality is that only swing states are active sites for modern campaigns.  Here’s how the 2012 election looked in late October.

You’ll see pro and con viewpoints over the next few days, I’m sure.  Here are three key points to remember:

1. The only way the system changes substantially is by constitutional amendment.  That is not an easy thing to do … 3/4 of the states must approve it.  Typically, 2/3 majorities in both the House & Senate are required just to propose it.  That sounds like Washington these days, right?

2. States can change the way they allocate their Electoral votes, but there is currently no groundswell of public opinion for that to happen.  48 states and the District of Columbia all do it the same way: winner take all.

3. It’s worked over 50 times since the 12th amendment passed, through all kinds of societal turmoil.

I believe the bigger issue today is why we continue to have so many varieties of registration, voter identification at the polls and the actual ballots themselves.  I think fixing those issues is much more important than changing the wacky electoral college procedures that we’ve had for over 200 years.

We vote.  The Electors vote.  The President is peacefully inaugurated on January 20.  It has been the American way.

Whatever the alternative systems are that you’re going to read about … there is no proof they will work any better.   So why should we change, exactly?


The Electoral College by William C Kimberling, FEC Office of Election Administration, rev. May 1992

Legal requirements to vote as pledged, by state

The Truly Strange Election of 1836

California electoral law summary

Electoral votes by person in 2012

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