McKinley and Bryan: The Second Battle of the Bills: 1900

The rematch election in 1900 between “Bills” – William McKinley and William Jennings Bryan – was not an unusual occurrence.

There have been a few “rematch” Presidential elections. Adams & Jefferson in 1796 and 1800, where the office exchanged hands. In 1836 & 1840, Martin Van Buren and William Henry Harrison exchanged the office. In 1888 and 1892 Benjamin Harrison and Grover Cleveland exchanged offices. (The last one was between Ike and Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and 1956. Ike won both times.)

Growth of the Candidates:


President McKinley won his second term by “being presidential.” Things were looking good for the country, he won easily.

William McKinley, Republican President of the United States, was 57 years old in 1900, still vigorous and in good health. And now, after a marked improvement in the general economy, and a quick and successful war with Spain, the President was looking more and more like a real statesman. He was likable and had proven his competence. He had no opposition winning renomination.


William J. Bryan was a youthful 40. He campaigned vigorously – just as he did four years earlier.

Some of the Democrats toyed with the idea of nominating the conservative 63-year-old Admiral George Dewey, recent hero of the lopsided Battle of Manila Bay, but Dewey had a case of political foot-in-mouth disease and withdrew. Thus William Jennings Bryan, who at 36 years old was the Democratic candidate in 1896, was renominated.

Now 40, Bryan had cemented his influence on the Democrats – and maintained his even stronger influence as a Populist, which by the turn of the century had become a solid third party, mostly representing midwestern farmers and small businessmen. Billy the Kid could crisscross the country making speeches if he wanted. He liked that. William the Elder could sit back and be “presidential.” He liked that.

The VEEP Contest

rough rider

The main attraction was arguably Republican VP candidate Theodore Roosevelt. The 41-year-old was fresh from his Rough Rider derring-do.

It would be a Vice Presidential candidate who caused the stir this time around.

Garret Hobart, the well-respected sitting Vice President, had died in 1899, and the office remained empty. President McKinley, who had been particularly close to Hobart, left the decision to the convention at large. Now the Republicans were proposing 41-year-old Col. Theodore Roosevelt, the heroic Rough Rider and current Governor of New York. He was popular with New Yorkers, but his progressive politics were giving the Republican bosses migraines. In a stroke of genius, they decided to kick him upstairs to the Vice Presidency, where he could do no harm. TR wasn’t thrilled, but he bit the bullet.

Matching Bryan’s youthful energy, he also crisscrossed the country grinning and speaking. McKinley had little to say about it, but his close friend and campaign manager, Senator Marcus Hanna was apoplectic about “that cowboy” and advised McKinley that his most important job would be to stay alive for the next four years.

The Main Issue

In 1896, the main issue had been bimetallism, or the free coinage of silver to help stimulate a depressed economy. Bryan was for it; the Republicans dead set against.


It was the age of color lithography. Posters and buttons and campaign ephemera had become a major communication tool.

But in 1900, the economy had improved substantially, and even most Democrats believed it was a non-issue (except for Bryan, who would always be a “Silverite”). The recent War with Spain in 1898, short, victorious and comparatively bloodless, had left us with three Former Spanish territories: the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico. Like it or not, we were now an Imperial power, and a good many Americans did not like it. Even the ones who supported it were usually half-hearted, since “a free country” is the American way.


McKinley had Mark Hanna’s money, but the Democrats spared no expense getting the words & pictures out themselves!

The problem, as many saw it, was the fractious and wildly factional violence in the Philippines, which only worsened under American control.

Even those who believed the Islands should be given their freedom (like Cuba), believed it was America’s moral obligation to help stabilize their political situation first: a daunting and thankless task.

Third Parties

Third parties are frequently “spoilers” in political contests, and while the Populists were the third largest splinter group and made a good deal of noise, they did not truly affect the outcome.

By 1900, the Populists had been quarreling amongst themselves for four years; they had their own “right”, “left” and “center” wings, some allied with the Democrats, some with the Republicans. Some fielded their own tickets.

In the end, they again chose Bryan as their candidate, although some of their die-hards fielded Wharton Barker on a separate ballot line. The Socialists, on the way to making increased gains, nominated Eugene Debs. But it would be the Prohibition Party’s John Woolley who received nearly a quarter of a million votes.

McKinley would have won just as easily without them.

The Outcome

The outcome was never in doubt. William McKinley received a little more than 51% of the votes; William Jennings Bryan garnered only 45%, and that included the Populists. The balance was split between other splinter groups.

President McKinley looked forward to his second term with confidence. He was always personally popular. Most people liked him. One of the few that didn’t was Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist, who pumped a couple of bullets in him six months after his second inaugural

And “that cowboy” would be in the White House.


Leech, Margaret, In the Days of McKinley – Harper & Brothers, 1959

Morgan, H. Wayne – McKinley and His America – Syracuse University Press, 1964



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The Horrible Health of Andrew Jackson

How Andrew Jackson managed to live to be seventy-eight is a wonderment, considering his dreadful health.

AJ: The Young Frontier Boy

Young AJ

Said to be a portrait of young Andrew Jackson.

Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) was a posthumous boy; his father died only weeks before Andy was born. Raised in the remote Waxhaw area betweeun North and South Carolina (both states are still battling for claiming rights), he was brought up by his mother, two older brothers and a few assorted relatives. Always an indifferent student, he much preferred hunting and games to schoolwork.

In 1779, as the American Revolution came to southern shores, the three Jackson brothers “enlisted” in the American army. At only twelve, Andrew was used as a messenger, since he was a superb rider, knew the trails and paths, and possessed a daredevil spirit. He was caught.

When a British officer told him to “clean his boots,” the arrogant Andrew refused, and the officer slashed him with his sword, scarring his face, his hand and mostly his soul. Then they threw him in jail, where fetid and unsanitary conditions spawned immediate disease. Andrew contracted smallpox, which may have weakened his system.

AJ: The Duelist

No question about it, Andrew Jackson was a hothead (“born for the storm, and calm does not suit me”) and the young lawyer-plus-planter-plus-speculator-plus-business owner had married (gasp, horrors!) a divorcee, a rare occurrence in 18th century Tennessee. The circumstances and details of Rachel Donelson Robard’s divorce and remarriage then and now, are murky.

From the start, Jackson would have as many enemies as supporters, and those enemies soon learned that the quickest way to Jackson’s spleen was to comment on Mrs. Jackson.   Insults were traded, challenges demanded, and duels fought. Some were averted, but Jax would carry two bullets in his body for decades – from said duels.


One of the few likenesses ever made of Rachel Jackson, the love of the General’s life.

One bullet was in the arm, where it festered regularly and gave him chronic pain. In those days before x-rays, anesthesia and basic antisepsis, removal of a deep bullet wound could often be worse than the wound itself. This bullet would not be removed until Jackson was in the White House, a quarter century later.

A second bullet, which he took to his grave, was considered inoperable. It lodged in his chest, near his lung and his heart. It suppurated frequently, causing serious pulmonary problems including a bloody sputum that could take weeks to subside.

Then, of course, there was lead poisoning. But they didn’t know anything about that.

AJ: The Warrior General


When Andrew Jackson became General of the Tennessee Militia, he found his true calling and never practiced law again.

Andrew Jackson was “elected” politically as General of the Tennessee militia – a circumstance that changed his life forever.  It was his true calling, and from that time forward, he never practiced law again.

During the War of 1812, the Indian tribes in “the West” (meaning west of the original thirteen colonies) were allied for and against the Americans. The Creek Indians in particular, were fearsome warriors, but they met their match in a fearsome Jackson.

Indian fighting in the eighteen-teens, was harsh and rugged, qualities that earned Jax the “Old Hickory” nickname. The malarial fevers and dysentery associated with swampy woods and outdoor survival found a home in Jackson’s skinny-as-a-rail body. His digestive tract was permanently damaged. In New Orleans, when a huge banquet had been prepared in his honor, he barely ate a bite.  Even in the White House, the aging President (now in his sixties) ate only sparingly and blandly.

Malaria, typhoid, typhus and dysentery are notoriously recurring diseases, and they flared up regularly with Jackson. There were times when more dead than alive, he limped his way back to Nashville, where Rachel Jackson would tenderly nurse him back to health.

Andrew Jackson’s Medical Care

Frontier doctors did their best of course, but they had little formal training, and absolutely no knowledge of sanitation. The most common treatments for any number of ailments were poultices, plasters and “bleeding.” Jackson’s vein would be opened and a considerable amount of blood would be released. This was supposed to balance the “humours” (whatever that meant), but it likely did more harm than good, further weakening the scrawny man.

Jackson was a firm believer in bleeding, so much so that he bled himself periodically. He opened a vein with his penknife (unsterilized, of course), and expected a cure. More likely his own warm bed, nourishing food and Rachel’s devoted care helped more.

The common treatment for the malarial fevers and agues, was calomel – a potion containing huge amounts of mercury.   They didn’t know anything about that either, and Jackson took large doses of it for years

AJ: More Health Issues

Old Man Jackson

One of the last portraits Andrew Jackson ever sat for.

If Jackson’s chronic fevers, infections from old wounds, turbulent tummy problems and abysmal medical treatment weren’t bad enough, he was plagued by badly rotted teeth.

Old AJ

Photography had just been invented shortly before Andrew Jackson’s death in 1845. This is the only known photograph of the old man.

Dentistry in the early 19th century was not its own profession. Barbers still yanked teeth; doctors sometimes yanked teeth. Most of the time, the crumbling tooth fell out on its own. Jackson’s decaying teeth, unsurprisingly, caused him severe headaches, which in turn further irritated his delicate stomach.

Add to all his physical woes, was the fact that his presidential and post-presidential years were sorrowful ones. His beloved Rachel had died only weeks before his inauguration in 1829. He was lonely for her, and despite dozens of Donelson nieces and nephews, some wards, foster children and an adopted son, he had no blood relatives. Every one of his kin was gone when he was still in his teens.

Toothless, wrinkled, plagued by years of physical punishment to his body, and suspected incremental lead and/or mercury poisoning, the man “made for a storm” finally expired.

He was seventy-eight.


Burstein, Andrew – The Passions of Andrew Jackson – Borzoi/Knopf, 2003

Marx, Rudolph, M.D. – The Health of the Presidents – 1960 – G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Meacham, Jon – America Lion: Jackson in the White House – Random House, 2008


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VP John Nance Garner: “Cactus Jack”

The longest lived Vice President was FDR’s first VEEP, John Nance Garner. He lived to be just shy of his 99th birthday.

JNG: Rural Texan

John Nance Garner (1867-1965) lived between Johnsons: born during VP-turned-POTUS Andrew Johnson’s administration, and died during the term of VP-turned-POTUS Lyndon Johnson.

cactusjack garner

The young John Nance Garner. between state and national office, he would spend more than forty years in office.

He came from rural Texas, and lived in rural Texas all his life. The small-in-stature poor farm boy briefly attended Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, but withdrew because of ill health (although some say he was not academically prepared for higher learning).

The “health” part was true, and Garner consulted a physician who suggested a warm climate, further intimating that he should not expect a long life. Garner moved to Uvalde, Texas, a hot desert town near the Mexican border, adjusted his attitude on living, and proved his doctor wrong.

Garner duly “read law” and was admitted to the Texas bar. He immediately gravitated to politics, and was elected as a “solid South” Democrat to the state legislature in 1898.

“Cactus Jack” is Born

Most people surmised that his famous “Cactus Jack” nickname came from his prickly personality (which he had), or even from his sharp way with words, also one of his natural gifts. But the nickname came elsewhere.

At the turn of the 20th century, the Texas legislature decided to choose a “state flower.” John Nance Garner, firmly entrenched in Uvalde with its hot, dry climate, nominated the “prickly pear cactus,” and true to his bantam rooster posturing, promoted his cause aggressively, thus earning his nickname.

He lost to the bluebonnet, which still remains the Texas state flower.

JNG: Congressional Jack

Garner was elected to Congress in 1902, and was devoted to his district, took care of its needs and was re-elected regularly with very little opposition. He served his constituents well and they were appreciative.

john nance garner

Garner was a popular Congressman on both sides of the aisle.

His politics were conservative and “rural” and even narrow-minded in philosophy, but Garner still made friends easily, notably on both sides of the aisle.

He was also a hard drinker, decidedly opposed to Prohibition, whose laws were easily circumvented in Congress, and a “private” office became nicknamed the “Board of Education.” The less prim and proper legislators who liked their whiskey gravitated after hours, or, as Cactus Jack called it, “Striking a blow for liberty.” Much was and could be accomplished in this “spirit” of camaraderie.

JNG: Speaker at Last

The political party demographics, hugely Republican for a quarter of a century, changed in the 1930s, as the Great Depression began to erode the country’s economy. Congress turned Democratic, and with his years of seniority-cum-personal-relationships, Cactus Jack had a new title and a new persona: Speaker of the House of Representatives. It was the second-highest political post in the country.

Garner had his eye on the top spot however. It was a long shot to be sure, but 1932 would be a Democratic year. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a man with a famous name and a winsome charm, had been NY Governor for two terms. His nomination was practically assured, but wheeling and dealing was still required and a vice president was needed. A geo-political balance was important and the deal was struck.

Cactus Jack was not enthusiastic about being VP. No one of importance or political standing had run for vice president since Thomas Jefferson. It was a throwaway job. Honorable and respectable, but according Garner’s colorful prose, “not worth a bucket of warm piss.” Why would he give up the second-most powerful position for something so insignificant?

JNG: Vice President


FDR and Cactus Jack got on well at first, but the relationship frayed noticeably. Garner was very conservative and grew unhappy with the New Deal.

Nevertheless, whatever bait was offered, Garner bit. Perhaps he believed that at nearly seventy, he better make his move if he ever wanted the top spot.

FDR was elected handily, and set in motion a whirlwind of activity. FDR needed Garner, whose legislative experience was something FDR lacked. Dozens of bills were introduced to Congress during Roosevelt’s “hundred days,” all of them requiring aggressive, yet careful shepherding through the House, where all money legislation originates.

Garner was superb through that first term. His skills, his knowledge, his experience and his energy were used to the fullest, but Garner was a product of the legislative (as opposed to the executive) branch of government, and FDR’s liberal New Deal policies were beginning to clash with the conservative Texan. The relationship began to cool, and Garner began making his own plans for 1940.

FDR’s Third Term

In 1940, JNG was past seventy. It was now or never, and he was vehemently opposed to a third term for the still-popular FDR.


Garner truly believer he had a chance for the 1940 Presidential nomination, but that was before FDR decided on a third term.

The ties that had been continually fraying between the two men was now at a breaking point. With a World War lapping on US shores, their differences grew even wider. Garner, the isolationist and “traditional” Democrat, found himself at serious odds with the internationalist and liberal FDR.

Anti-third term sentiment was strong enough for Garner to make a concerted effort to challenge Roosevelt, but when the President “allowed himself to be drafted” he won easily.

Garner was now out of political office for the first time in nearly fifty years. He went back to Uvalde, where he lived for another quarter-century, surprising everyone, including himself.

The Garner Legacy

JNG is a forgotten name now, but his TEXAS legacy had long legs. Cactus Jack was without doubt, an extremely effective legislator. While in Congress, he began “grooming” another Texan for leadership: Sam Rayburn.   “Mr. Sam,” as he was nicknamed, earned his own reputation as a potent Speaker of the House. He in turn, cultivated another Texan destined to be the Majority Leader of the Senate, a Vice President himself, and finally President: Lyndon B. Johnson.

On November 22, 1963, Garner’s 95th birthday, President John F. Kennedy called to congratulate him – and even made a special trip to the Garner ranch in Uvalde to film a brief interview with the elderly Texan. Then Kennedy flew to Dallas.


Barzman, Sol – Madmen & Geniuses: The Vice-Presidents of the United States – Follett Publishing, 1974

Purcell, L. Edward, (Editor) Vice Presidents: A Biographical Dictionary – 2005, Facts on File Publishing


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Passionate Crusaders: A Book Review

All Presidents, no matter how great, wise or popular, will have some black marks on the escutcheon. Sometimes the exigencies of politics lead to decisions that later generations will decry.

Such a decision, and such a political exigency is the case of Passionate Crusaders: How Members of the U.S. War Refugee Board Saved Jews and Altered American Foreign Policy during World War II.

How Much Did FDR Know?

There are fair questions for later generations to ask: How much did President Franklin D. Roosevelt know about the ongoing “holocaust” and when did he know it? And why did he wait so long to take measures, no matter how small?

On the subject of “how much did he know” it is a reasonable assumption that he knew some of the details, but not all. Stories of atrocities began emerging in the late 1930s, but they came through private (and undocumented) channels: family members and a handful of Jewish organizations. “Wholesale deportations” were the issue then, not mass and systematic murder. It was inconceivable to most Americans that such atrocities could take place; there must be some exaggeration. It was also nearly impossible to ascertain and verify the extent of these “rumors.”

It is not that there was only a handful of truly “passionate crusaders” that troubles  the modern conscience: it was such a complete lack of American awareness-outrage-support while Hitler’s henchmen were methodically decimating millions of European Jews (and others). It was not until mid-1944 that active efforts for Jewish relief were underway.

The Art of the Possible

Roosevelt, one of the shrewdest politicians to ever occupy the White House, once remarked that “politics is the art of the possible.”  In a way, this was FDR’s situation. World War II was a war about nationalistic aggression, not a war about Jews. Winning the war would be the optimum way to help the Jews.

Anti-Semitism has been, and probably always will be a fact of life all over the world. In the 1940s, the U.S. State Department was overwhelmingly anti-Semitic, actively blocking or subverting all efforts at rescue, intervention, and accepting some of the “huddled masses.” They had plenty of company. No other country wanted them either.

Perhaps more pervasive was “non-Semitism.” Most American citizens might never consider themselves anti-Semitic, but they were content to be oblivious and unconcerned. They would not harm, but neither would they help.

The War Refuge Board

By early 1944, it was apparent at high levels that action was needed to help the incomprehensible numbers of Jews who were the victims of Hitler’s “final solution.” (It was still inconceivable as to the horrific genocide being committed.)   Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau was not only Jewish, but he was a neighbor and personal friend of FDR. Nevertheless he believed he needed to act as an American, rather than an American Jew, if he was to be taken seriously.

Angered at evidence of overt anti-Semitism and outright deceit in the State Department in suppressing growing evidence of such crime against humanity, Morganthau and a handful of other concerned citizens prepared their documents, and brought their case to FDR. The meeting lasted only twenty minutes, but the scathing indictment of the State Department could be detrimental to the reputation of the country itself. Author Voight voices her suspicions that FDR was more interested in his popularity than in the plight of the Jews in Europe, and notes that American Jews (90%) were so firmly identified with the New Deal camp, that there would be minimal “loss of votes.” But in 1944, with the threat of the State Department’s deliberate obstruction becoming a national scandal, FDR was ready to take action.

The War Refugee Board

Congress approved a special committee, removing refugee issues from the State Department’s direct oversight. The War Refugee Board was created, to include “plans, programs and measures for the rescue, transportation, maintenance and relief of the victims of oppression, and to include the establishment of havens of temporary refuge for such victims.”

The Board included the Secretaries of the Treasury, State and War and a million-dollar budget, but it was generally toothless and clawless. A case of too little-too late, it still made some substantive contributions to Jewish rescue and to the welfare of some Jews who remained ghettoed in Eastern Europe. It still managed to connect with the International Red Cross and various European underground movements, to funnel money, supplies, and hope where it could. It still isolated “bribeable” Nazis, who might turn a blind eye in return for hard cash.   And it still brought a few hundred Jews to safety in the United States.

The Most Important Contribution

By late 1944, the tide had turned, the Allies knew the war would be won and many Nazis knew they would lose. They also knew their heinous crimes against humanity would be discovered – and uncovered – with the harsh light of victory.

The WRB had undertaken a powerful “public relations” effort to make its strongest weapon the inevitability of “justice being done.” It was not an idle threat. It was a promise kept at Nuremberg.

Author Heather Voight has written a disturbing book, but it is one that should be read by all students of US government, of Judaism – and of the Holocaust. It is basically how a small group of dedicated activists (most of whom were not Jewish) managed to provide whatever assistance they could in faraway lands, over insurmountable difficulties, and with little recognition, limited resources and limited results.

It is not an easy read; Ms. Voight does not seek to entertain. It is not a book for everyone. If there is a flaw, it is that while the book is titled “Passionate Crusaders,” it is not written with passion. It is a careful documentation of the efforts of those involved, but they come across as well-meaning but bloodless. The only truly compelling chapters concern the handful of Jews who were brought to the US, and the one about Raoul Wallenberg.  It is always the personal aspects that draw the reader.

But Heather Voight has written an important book for those who seek to know more on the subject and the thoughtful and caring reader will be rewarded.

Passionate Crusaders

Heather Voight

ISBN: 0990305201

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President Garfield’s Train

 James A. Garfield, President for barely six months, was dying from an assassin’s bullet.

Garfield: The Long Hot Summer

president garfield

The 20th President, James A. Garfield.

The summer of 1881 had been one of the hottest ever remembered by Washingtonians. The temperatures soared over 90 degrees practically every day. Charles Julius Guiteau, a “disgruntled office seeker,” better classified as a bona fide lunatic, had pumped two bullets into James Garfield (1831-1881) on July 2nd. He never rose from his bed again.

Despite a primitive air-conditioning system rigged by the Navy Corps of Engineers, lowering the White House sick-room to a more comfortable 75 degrees, the poor President was suffering and miserable.

His “team of doctors” must have been trained at the “Keystone Kops School of Medicine.” Blocked by their own medico-political infighting, plus a united distrust of any form of antisepsis (as had been practiced for several years in Europe), they ran in circles making things worse probing for a bullet they could not find. Modern historians and physicians believe that had they done nothing at all, Garfield would have survived.


An artistic rendering of the President’s sickroom. Very few visitors were admitted.

As it was, infection set in.   The doctors were “ept” enough to recognize infection when they saw it, but antibiotics were a half-century in the future. They could do nothing except drain the abscesses as they arose, and pompously keep the “bad news” from the President, his family, and the general public.

By late August, President Garfield, who had been conscious throughout, and who displayed remarkably good spirits and common sense, now knew he was dying. He wanted to go back home to Ohio and die in his own bed. He also wanted to “see the old folks again.”

The doctors were united on this point. It was a 500 mile journey over the Appalachian Mountains. It would be excruciating for the sick man, and they feared he would not survive the trip.

Mrs. Garfield’s Suggestion

Lucretia Rudolph Garfield

Lucretia Garfield had spent a month in Log Branch, NJ recuperating from malaria. It was she who suggested the location, still hoping that her husband would recover.

Only a few weeks after Garfield’s inauguration on March 4, First Lady Lucretia Garfield (1832-1918) had fallen ill with a severe case of malaria. By early June, the frail woman had begun to recover. Faced with the likelihood that the summer climate would cause a relapse, she was taken to Long Branch, a seaside town in New Jersey, where they believed the “ocean breezes” would have therapeutic value.

It was beneficial. Mrs. Garfield gained strength during the month she spent at the shore. Convinced that her husband might still recover, it was she who suggested that Long Branch might be restorative. It was only 250 miles. It would take only a few hours on the train. There were no mountains to cross.

Garfield’s Journey Begins

francklyn cot1

A postcard depicting the Charles Francklyn “cottage” in Long Branch, which the industrialist put at the President’s disposal. The building burned in the 1920s.

The consensus was that the First Lady’s suggestion was a good one, and if nothing else, the poor man would be more comfortable in the cooler climate. Charles G. Francklyn, a wealthy industrialist with a luxurious “cottage” near the ocean, was happy to put the residence at the President’s disposal. The Pennsylvania Railroad was equally happy to provide the train, which included refitting the private car of the railroad’s president. Three cars were attached to the engine: the “president’s car,” a car for the Garfield family, the doctors, and key staff, and a car for baggage.

A special rubber mattress-bed was fashioned by the Navy Corps of Engineers, filled with water and suspended on long poles that could be supported by six burly men. This way, the patient could be carefully carried down the White House stairs and into a waiting wagon that would take him to the railroad station. The mattress-with-poles was suspended over a platform-like structure inside the train. Since it would not rest against a solid object, the jostling would be kept to a minimum, cushioning the suffering President from the jolting of the train.

Garfield’s Journey: The Last Mile

The one hitch in the plan was the fact that the train station nearest the Francklyn cottage was a sub-station in Elberon, a tiny borough of Long Branch. Nevertheless, it was still nearly a mile from the cottage. It would necessitate another lift from the train and onto a horse-wagon, a slow and painful walk down an unpaved stony road, and yet another lift from the wagon and into the house itself.

garfield's train track

A stereoscopic view of the Francklyn cottage, the Long Branch bluff, and the spur track that was built from the station to the door.

This time it was the railroad personnel who used ingenuity. The Pennsylvania Railroad brought in a unit of trackmen with all their tools to lay a spur track down Lincoln Avenue, right up to the cottage. And the entire town turned out to help.

Temporary right-of-way paperwork had to be completed, and signed. The road had to be leveled and graded, and carts of rubble had to be cleared away even before any track could be laid.

The workers were not ready to begin until very late in the afternoon, perhaps a good thing, since the temperature was still well into the nineties. They worked right through the night, with residents setting up refreshment tables, the Elberon Hotel sending in wagons of sandwiches, and volunteers pouring gallons of lemonade for the sweating workers. Residents with a horses and wagons volunteered to cart away the rubble. Boys who were too young for hard labor but too big to remain idle were recruited as “torch boys,” working in fifteen or twenty minute shifts holding flaming torches in the still oppressive heat to provide light for the workers.

But the effort worked. Garfield’s “train” pulled up to the Francklyn cottage. But another hitch! There was a slight incline at the very end and the train couldn’t make it.   A dozen or so of the biggest men available volunteered and physically pushed the train the last few yards to the door.

garfield marker

There is a small marker at the location where the Francklyn house used to stand.

The President died two weeks later, his funeral train retracing that last mile. Then the spur track was torn up.



  • Kenneth D. Ackerman. The Dark Horse: The Surprise Election and Political Murder of President James A. Garfield. Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2003
  • Brown, E.E. The Life and Public Services of James A. Garfield, D. Lothrop & Company , 1881
  • Peskin, Allan. Garfield, The Kent State University Press, 1978
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Eleanor Roosevelt Looks In The Pot

Eleanor Roosevelt had a decade of social and political activity when her husband became New York Governor in 1928. But she still had lessons to learn.


Eleanor Roosevelt, about the time she was First Lady of New York.

Eleanor Roosevelt: The Wilderness Years

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962), born to an aristocratic New York family (Theodore Roosevelt was her father’s brother), was orphaned by the time she was ten, and raised by her maternal Grandmother Hall and an assortment of live-in aunts and uncles, all of whom were a little “dotty.”

She spent the only happy three years of her youth at a finishing school in England. Once graduated at eighteen, she returned to New York, and made her obligatory “social debut.” After that”ordeal” was over, she found her true calling by volunteering (via the socially acceptable Junior League) in a settlement house on New York’s Lower East Side. She loved it!  And they loved her.

young couple

Eleanor Roosevelt was twenty when she married her 5th cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

But at twenty, when she married her fifth cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt, she returned to the “accepted way of life” of New York’s upper crust. She bore six children within the first ten years of her marriage. One died. She was not particularly happy. Socializing was not her forte; she wanted to be useful.

Then, when World War I finally came to American shores, she began finding some outlet for her enormous energies by volunteering at Red Cross canteens. She was happy to pour coffee and make sandwiches. She could do better, of course, but. it was a start

Eleanor Roosevelt: Politics 101

full family

Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt would have five children, but “home and family” activities were never fulfilling enough for Mrs. R.

Women were finally given the constitutional right to vote in 1920, and thirty-five-year-old Eleanor Roosevelt was encouraged to join the League of Women Voters. She had never been a “suffragist” per se; never marched, never chained herself to fences, never expressed anything other than mild, or non-committal support. But now, she felt obliged to understand the essence of what she would be voting for – or against.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt had been involved in politics since the early days of their marriage, so of course Eleanor was familiar with its elements, and of course, her politics and his coincided. Perhaps his coincided with hers, since it would always be Eleanor who was the more “liberal” in her social and political attitudes.

But in 1922, Franklin Delano Roosevelt contracted polio, and would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair, or wearing heavy braces. His formidable mother hoped his “condition” would rescue him from the disreputable elements of politics, and he would become the “country squire.” Eleanor disagreed. So did Louis Howe, FDR’s oldest, closest, and perhaps wisest political advisor (and one of the “disreputable elements” that Sara Delano Roosevelt loathed). It would be Eleanor and Louis Howe who encouraged FDR to keep one finger on the public pulse and another in the political pie.

As part of a concerted campaign to help her husband, Eleanor began serious involvement in social organizations in New York.  She visited factories, championed labor unions, immigrant needs, educational efforts and state politics.  All this activity brought her into close relationship with Governor Alfred E. Smith, an uncultured Irishman from the Lower East Side, who was making a national name for himself.

By the time FDR ran for, and was elected Governor of New York in 1928, Eleanor Roosevelt had a long resume of her own accomplishments, and an even longer contact list of social and political resources.

Eleanor Roosevelt: The “Pot” Lesson

The new First Lady of New York was not entirely happy at the turn of events, at least as they pertained to her. She did not want to be relegated to the “social” background like other Governors’ wives, hosting tea parties and accepting bouquets from school children. She wanted substantive assignments.

The new governor agreed. He needed her to be his “eyes and ears” since he could not get out and about very much himself.

Very early in his administration, he asked “his missus” to make an inspection tour of several of the state prisons that came under his jurisdiction. They were his responsibility, and he wanted to make sure that the inmates were treated humanely, and fairly.


Eleanor Roosevelt visited hundreds of factories, mines, prisons, founderies and related places of occupation in order to get a true “feel” for what we needed.

Eleanor duly spent several days making rounds, and returned with armloads of paperwork and reports for the Governor. When they discussed her “travels,” FDR did not want to see the paperwork. He wanted her observations and “impressions.” What she saw and what she thought.

He asked her about the food. “Did you inspect the kitchens? Were they clean?   Were the prisoners getting enough to eat? Was the food nourishing? Was it reasonably tasty?” Eleanor was complimentary, and assured her husband that she toured all the kitchens. Then she produced the weekly menus that she had received from the wardens.

“But did you look in the pot, Eleanor? Did you taste the food?” he asked.  She had not, and thereby learned valuable lessons: just because the menu says “beef stew” does not mean that it is properly prepared.  She needed to look in the pot and taste it to make sure it wasn’t just cornstarch gravy and a few stray potatoes and peas.

Eleanor Roosevelt would learn to push harder to get to the essence. She would not put her trust merely in what someone told her; she would need to see for herself and draw her own conclusions. Then too, there is the lesson that even the smallest details provide great insights.

Those were lessons she never forgot, and extraordinary woman that she was, instinctively knew how to apply them in dozens of other situations.


Roosevelt, Eleanor – Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt – Harper & Bros. 1961

Cook, Blanche Wiesen – Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume One 1884-1933 – Viking Press, 1992

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Hillary Rodham Clinton: On the Couch

A book review.

Dr. Alma Bond has done it agai, penning another psychological (sort of) look at a prominent woman. This time, it is Hillary Clinton, a living person, and as such, treated with kid gloves.

The Device

Dr. Bond is a literate author and psychoanalyst with a score of published books to her credit.  In this one, she has employed the same literary “device” she used with a previous book, Marilyn Monroe: On the Couch.  She uses an alter-ego in the guise of Dr. Darcy Dale, a psychoanalyst who shares her session notes with the reader. In Marilyn’s case, the device worked well. Marilyn needed a shrink to finish breakfast.

In Hillary Clinton’s case, the device is somewhat thin. Hillary Clinton, like her or not, is a very “together” woman, not to mention an intensely private one.  She doesn’t really need a shrink, particularly since as a “head person,” she doesn’t share and she doesn’t whine.

The ruse is even thinner. Hillary Clinton, “troubled” by yet another one of her husband’s liaisons, makes an appointment with Dr. Dale. This gets her in the door and on the couch, but it is never discussed again. But after forty years, Hillary is probably bored and immune to Bill’s lady friends.

The Basic Hillary

Mrs. Clinton has been on the political stage for a quarter century.  There is little to the story that the public doesn’t know. A sweet, occasionally wise mother, exhausted by her overbearing and critical husband. A common enough scenario.

And a common enough Hillary Rodham. A plain-jane-with-a-brain, anxious to please, and defiant in proclaiming her indifference to “plain.” It was, after all, the 60s. A time for bra-burning, strident and loud insistence for a woman’s right to be whoever she wanted to be.  Plain was a plus.

Hillary goes to college, opts for Yale Law School, and is bowled over by the attentions of hunky Bill Clinton, with his “aw shucks” charm and Rhodes scholar paperwork. She falls madly in love; he not so much, but then again, he was a man with a libidinous tapeworm.

Bill Clinton was the one with the political agenda, the goal and the ambition: Governor of Arkansas. Hillary, a more sophisticated Chicago girl, sort-of wanted the big law firm career and the big bucks. Clinton was her vehicle. She wanted Bill.

She follows him to Arkansas, marries him, to the dismay of her flashy-trashy mother-in-law, and becomes the family breadwinner. Arkansas pays a pittance to governors, and not everyone is Winthrop Rockefeller.

They have their ups and downs, and finally a mega-up. He is elected President of the United States, and she is now First Lady. A Public Figure. For goodly or badly. It would be another up and down eight years, and one can only guess whether or not Hillary enjoyed the White House.  Then.

The Rest of the Story

Despite author Bond’s best efforts and “Darcy Dale’s” undisguised gushy admiration, Hillary Rodham Clinton: On the Couch becomes a resume recital, most of which is well known to everyone. She also includes at least a dozen pages of bragging-on-Chelsea. That Hillary is a devoted mom who loves her daughter dearly is never in question. Chelsea Clinton has always been a nice, sensible young lady. The country wishes her well.

Hillary Clinton (the Rodham part got dropped after her First Ladydom), is, of course, a major league player in American politics, and has been for decades.  She is dissected in the media on a daily basis.  Political pundits write about her.  She has written her own books and gets big bucks for speaking about them.  The millions who love her and ballyhoo everything, know that few can hold a candle to her impressive credentials, her diligence and her work ethic. Those who don’t like her and nitpick everything (an equal number), never deny her credentials, diligence and work ethic.

But alas for Dr. Bond, whose own impressive credentials, diligence and work ethic rival Mrs. Clinton, we never really get into Hillary’s head, let alone her heart, which is really what this book purports to do.

Putting up with Bill Clinton’s extra-curricular activities as well as her own privacy vs. presidential ambition ambivalence (either one more than sufficient reason to “have her head examined”) are glossed over lightly. If she had/has any close friends, we know nothing. Early pals are shrugged off, and we suspect her “friendships” are more alliances than personal, anyway. So despite her public persona and fish bowl existence, Mrs. C. remains elusive and private, even to Dr. Dale. Good for her!

One would have liked to know if Hillary misses driving her own car. Or goofing off for a day in an old bathrobe and bunny slippers, and to hell with her hairdo. Or escaping her retinue to go window shopping at the mall or stopping for a Big Mac.  We remain clueless, but suspect that figures highly in her ambivalence.

Hillary Clinton: On the Couch serves nicely, and Hillary lovers will love the book.  Hillary bashers, if they bother to read it at all, won’t.  So what else is new?  But the fact that she is still living presents its considerable problems to an author. Perhaps Dr. Bond will choose a subject with a little time-lapse in between for her next effort.  Like Mary Lincoln or the Empress Josephine. Interesting subjects, so much easier, and Dr. Bond is a wonderful writer, with a good ear. It would give her a chance to develop her own speech patterns.  And did I mention work ethic?!  Rock on, Dr. Bond!

Hillary Clinton: On the Couch: Inside the Life and Mind of Hillary Clinton

Dr. Alma H. Bond

Bancroft Press, 2015

ISBN-13: 978-1610881647

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