Maria Hester Monroe: The First Daughter Wedding

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James and Elizabeth Monroe: Parents of the Bride

Maria Hester Monroe was the first daughter of a President to be married in the White House.

Maria Hester

Maria (pronounced Mar-IAH) Hester was born in 1803, seventeen years after her only sibling, Eliza. Due to the difference in their ages, the two were never close.

Also, due to the age difference, Maria was never afforded the aristocratic-style European education that her sister received when her father was serving abroad. The Monroes had returned to America shortly after Maria was born. 

Nevertheless, Maria received a fine American education, and was fourteen when her father was elected President. Washington was no novelty to her; Madison cabinet member James Monroe and his family lived in or near the capital for several years, but remained socially remote. 

The only likeness of Maria Hester is a conventional head-and-shoulders portrait, which appears to resemble her father. A contemporary account rather uncharitably describes her as “raw boned.” Similar descriptions were said about Thomas Jefferson’s daughter Martha (Patsy), but it alluded to her height, rather than body-build. James Monroe was a tall fellow; Elizabeth Kortright, her mother, was petite.

At seventeen, a common age for marriage in the early nineteenth century, Maria became engaged to marry her cousin Samuel Gouverneur, whose mother was a sister of Elizabeth Monroe. He was twenty one, and serving as a secretary to his Uncle-the-President.

Mother and Sister

James Monroe held a variety of elected and appointed offices during his pre-presidential career. Two decades earlier, he had served as Minister to France during the French Revolution and its aftermath. He took his wife Elizabeth and his little daughter Eliza with him. Then they served in other diplomatic posts on the continent. They were seminal years.

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Hortense de Beauharnais

When Eliza was school-aged, she attended a girls’ academy, where she received a superb education – and made a dear friend who she maintained for life: Hortense de Beauharnais, daughter of soon-to-be Empress Josephine, and thus step-daughter of Napoleon. Not long afterwards, Hortense married a younger Bonaparte brother and became Queen of Holland. Longer afterwards, she was known as the mother of Napoleon III.

The Monroes traveled in high level diplomatic circles during a time that etched station, rank, behavior, protocol and manners into the psyches of the Monroe women. Despite their elegant pretensions, once back in the US, they maintained rather secluded lives. Elizabeth Monroe had frail health, always an acceptable excuse for ducking society. Some hinted that she was prone to epileptic seizures. Maybe. Her now married daughter Eliza Hay assumed their social duties.

Eliza Monroe Hay

The Hard Act to Follow

Dolley Madison had been at the social epicenter of Washington for sixteen years. As the wife of the Secretary of State, she had served as a de facto hostess for President Thomas Jefferson. The Madisons also picked up the social slack when the President wanted to duck society.

Dolley Madison

Of course, when the Madisons occupied the White House for their own two terms, the Divine Mrs. M., who never ducked, set the standard and the place for Washington’s social scene. Even after the War of 1812, when fire damaged the White House to a point where the Madisons never lived there again, they “borrowed” a suitable house, and within a week, Dolley was hosting.

She was quick to pay the first call on newcomers, to invite all levels of “brow,” and entertain both lavishly and informally, setting the tone for a republican social scene. Everybody loved her.

Maria Hester: Wedding Woes

The popular “republican” style of society that Dolley Madison espoused did not set well with the senior Monroe women. Rebuilding and refurbishing the fire-damaged building took the better part of two years, and it was several months into his first term before James Monroe and family (which now included 14 year old Maria Hester) were able to move in.

Believing that their elevation to the country’s highest office was akin to the monarchs of Europe and beyond, Mrs. Monroe and Eliza Hay put an abrupt end to paying or returning calls. In the 19th century (and even into the 20th) paying and receiving calls was vital to the political-social scene. Needless to say, the Monroe women were unpopular with their countrymen and women, and positively loathed by foreign diplomats, who expected high level receptions and courtesies. President Monroe was either unable or unwilling to change that situation.

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The President
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The bride: Maria Hester Monroe Gouverneur

So when Monroe’s younger daughter’s marriage was announced, all of Washington was agog for the big “do,” after all, the White House does make a nice backdrop for a wedding.

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The groom: Samuel L. Gouverneur

But the imperious thirty-something Eliza Hay let it be known that her sister’s marriage would be strictly a private affair and wedding gifts from non-invitees would not be acknowledged. Not even cabinet members (the “official” family) were invited. In all, only forty invitations were issued. If the distaff side of the Monroe family was unpopular before, by this time they were seriously disliked. Louisa Adams, the wife of Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, commented to her diary, regarding Eliza Hay as “so proud and so mean I scarcely ever met such a compound.”

Making the Best of It

Neither Maria Hester nor her fiance, Samuel Gouverneur were consulted about their wishes. Perhaps because of their youth, they were reluctant to cause trouble and the young couple did pretty much as they were told, but…

President Monroe, perhaps trying to please his daughter and his nephew/secretary, hosted two small receptions during the week following the wedding – but most of “social” Washington (including the diplomats and press) was still not included.

Being young, Maria and Sam naturally wanted to make their wedding a special occasion. Many socially and politically inclined folks in Washington agreed with them, and a series of charming events “in honor of” the new couple were hosted for Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Gouverneur, who were delighted to attend.

Private citizens can invite whoever they like.

Sources:

Allgor, Catherine – Parlor Politics – University of Virginia Press – 2000

Unger, Harlow Giles – The Last Founding Father – DeCapo Press, 2009

Wead, Doug – All The Presidents’ Children: Triumph and Tragedy in the Lives of America’s First Families – Atria – 2003

First Ladies Never Married to Presidents: Eliza Monroe Hay

http://www.whitehouseweddings.com/maria-monroe.html

Posted in A POTUS-FLOTUS Blog, James Monroe, Nifty History People | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Mary Pickersgill and the Star Spangled Banner

Most people today know the story, true or legend or both, of Betsy Ross.

The Original Flag

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The legendary Betsy Ross
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The original design

In 1776 (or thereabouts) it is said that George Washington himself, or a small delegation from Congress, approached seamstress Betsy Ross of Philadelphia to design and make the flag, which she did. That may be debatable, but her house still stands in Philly, and visitors are always welcome.

Fast Forward Nearly 40 years

By 1812, the USA had rooted and grown. As new states were admitted, the flag had been adjusted accordingly: Fifteen stripes and fifteen stars. But the addition made the flag design unwieldy, and while the original thirteen stripes would remain, only new stars would be added. But that had not been in effect by the War of 1812.

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The unwieldy 15 stars and stripes

Also by 1812, Baltimore, MD had become the third largest city in the United States, right after Philadelphia and New York. Its port, at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, employed thousands of sailors, merchant mariners, support crew and of course, the ships themselves.

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Maj. George Armistead

With Baltimore a vulnerable target, defending Fort McHenry which guarded its harbor was essential. In 1813, all possible steps were being taken to reinforce it, and prepare for the worst. Major George Armistead was the officer in charge. It was he who commissioned a huge garrison flag, ostensibly for the British army and navy to see it at a great distance.

A government commission was given to Mary Young Pickersgill, a Baltimore seamstress, to design and make the flag.

Mary Young Pickersgill (1776-1857)

Born in Philadelphia in 1776, Mary Young Pickersgill became a Baltimore seamstress/flagmaker. Her mother, widowed when Mary was a baby, was a prominent flagmaker who made flags and ensigns for the Continental Army. She moved to Baltimore when Mary was still a child, and taught her daughter the skills of making flags.

At 19, Mary married merchant John Pickersgill, but was widowed ten years later and never remarried. She set up shop as a maker of “silk standards and cavalry and division colors” for the U.S. Army, Navy and various merchant ships.

Mary Pickersgill in her later years.

By the time of the War of 1812, she and her daughter Caroline were well established at their trade. A delegation from the U.S. Army visited Pickersgill to discuss their requirements: a huge “garrison” flag (30’x42’,) plus a smaller “storm” flag (17’x25’). The commission stated that she would be paid the hefty sum of $574.44 (equivalent of well more than $5000 today). This was a mammoth assignment, much more than two women could handle. She recruited two of her nieces, Eliza and Margaret Young, as well as apprentice Grace Wisher, a free woman of color. Other assistants were engaged temporarily to help in the projects, which may have included her elderly mother. The flags were made and delivered in six weeks.

Making the Flag

The project required more than 400 yards of wool fabric for the stripes and the blue field. The stars were made of cotton. Each stripe was 2-feet wide, and each star was 24-inches from tip to tip. When complete, it weighed more than 50 pounds, and took eleven men to hoist it on the flagpole. 

The fifteen stripes themselves may have been relatively simple to piece together. Once cut into their 2’x42’ pieces, the pieces were stitched together. Labor intensive – but low-tech!

Placing the stars on the blue canton was something else. It required mega-space. Decades later, Caroline Pickersgill wrote that her mother obtained permission from a local brewery to lay the flag out in its malt house, and on her hands and knees, she placed and pinned the stars on the blue canton.

The Star Spangled Banner

The two flags were put aside for a full year. But in 1814, only a few weeks after the burning of Washington, the British began their assault on Baltimore. The battle began in the early morning and lasted throughout a day and night of intense rain, thus it was the “storm” flag that flew over the ramparts. The officers believed the huge, heavy garrison flag would be too soaked to “fly.”

After 25 hours, the rains abated, but after their fierce fighting, the British fleet withdrew. To signal American success, the great garrison flag was hoisted about the fort. 

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The original.

It was large enough to be seen eight miles away on a merchant ship carrying a Washington attorney on a business trip to Baltimore. After a sleepless night watching the rockets red glare and bombs bursting in air, Francis Scott Key saw the huge flag waving proudly, and deeply moved, committed his thoughts to paper. Titling his poem “The Defence of Fort McHenry,” with a rhyme and rhythm akin to a popular drinking song called Anachreon in Heaven, he sent the four stanzas to a local newspaper where it was printed and widely circulated.

Within a few weeks, a music publisher printed copies under the title“The Star Spangled Banner.” It became a hit.

The flag itself was displayed throughout the area in an effort to commemorate the successful defense of the fort, and generate continued support for the war. Swatches of the flag were cut away as souvenirs for veterans or other dignitaries. So was one of the fifteen stars. 

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The original SSB a century ago.

Epilogue

Mary Pickersgill lived to be 80 years old. She remained in Baltimore, and became a long-time President of the Impartial Female Humane Society, to help destitute women. Her house in Baltimore has become the Star Spangled Banner Flag House and Museum, designated a National Landmark. You can visit it. 

“The Star Spangled Banner” itself eventually found a home with Lt. Col. George Armistead, and remained in his family for decades. His grandson offered it on permanent loan to the Smithsonian Institution in 1912, where its fragile remains are preserved and protected in honored glory. You can see it.

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The Star Spangled House-Museum

The whereabouts of the Storm flag has never been discovered.

The Star Spangled Banner became the country’s national anthem in 1931.

Sources: 

Lord, Walter – The Dawn’s Early Light – W.W. Norton – 1972

https://amhistory.si.edu/starspangledbanner/making-the-flag.aspx

https://www.nps.gov/places/star-spangled-banner-flag-house.htm

Posted in American Civil War | 2 Comments

William McKinley: The Best Career Move

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Major William McKinley

At the suggestion of General Rutherford B. Hayes, William McKinley decided to study law.

The Hard-Knocks Youth of William McKinley

Born in Niles, raised in the little village of Poland, Ohio, William McKinley, Jr. was the seventh of nine children. His father was a hard working iron monger, and the devout Methodist family struggled financially. Nevertheless, educating their children became uppermost in their minds. As such, after young Billy’s local schooling, the family scraped together enough money to send him to Allegheny College in Pennsylvania. Briefly. Midway through his first semester, he became seriously ill, and had to withdraw, hoping to return at a later date. That never happened.

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Young William McKinley

When he recovered, the Civil War had just begun in earnest, and young McKinley believed it his duty to enlist. He was eighteen. He served for four years, rising from private to brevet major, and aide to General Rutherford B. Hayes.

Despite McKinley’s strong Methodist upbringing, and his sincere aversion to the vices of camaraderie, i.e. drinking, smoking, swearing, gambling, card playing, dancing, theatre-going and chasing women, he was always perceived as manly and not priggish. The soldiers respected him, and liked him. (As a P.S., in his later years, he was known to have an occasional whiskey, play mild card games, and enjoy the theater and his cigars.)

General Hayes, old enough to be McKinley’s father, saw qualities in him that warranted encouragement, and suggested he might read law once he was discharged from the Army. The two men became good friends for life.

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Obviously McKinley recognized a good idea when he heard it, and returned to Poland to study law with Charles Glidden, a local attorney. Realizing that “reading law” might not be sufficient, he borrowed money to go to Albany Law School for a year. He was just as popular with his classmates as he was with his army buddies.

He returned to Poland, and passed the Ohio Bar. His older sister Anna, a school teacher in Canton, suggest that he move there. It was growing rapidly, offering opportunity for a young lawyer just starting out, and a lively social atmosphere. Glidden was encouraging, and suggested he contact a former Judge, George W. Belden, who was considering retirement and sought to partner with a younger attorney.

Canton, OH

McKinley visited his sister in Canton, the seat of Stark County, and liked what he saw. It was a good sized town, poised to grow even larger. Since it was much bigger than Poland, there would be opportunities. He was by nature, a joiner, and in Canton, there would be a wide range of organizations a young man of 23 would find of interest. There was an established Masonic lodge in Canton, and McKinley had already been inducted during the war, albeit in Winchester, VA. There were the usual civic-fraternal organizations: Elks, Moose, Oddfellows, Knights of Pythias. Then, of course, there was the Grand Army of the Republic, veterans all, who would welcome the young “Major.” And of course, his beloved Methodist Church. And the Republican club. All of these groups offered dozens of opportunities, both professionally, socially, and perhaps best of all, a place for a young man.

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Images of Canton after the Civil War

Thus armed with a respectable letter of introduction, William McKinley went to Judge Belden and offered his availability. At least a decade younger than what the aging jurist had sought, he asked McK. for information about himself.

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Civil war veterans were abundant in Canton.

The Challenge

Happy to oblige, McKinley offered his meager formal education (which to him was not at all meager), his very commendable military service, and his exemplary moral character and willingness to work hard and learn. He was also well acquainted with Congressman Rutherford B. Hayes, likely to become Ohio’s next Governor. That was all well and good, but it was singularly lacking in any legal experience. Perhaps there was something about the young man that appealed to Judge Belden, and he suggested that McKinley take a look at a pending (the next day) case to be tried. It was one of those headache cases that all attorneys have from time to time: complicated, confusing and certain to be lost.

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Young attorney McKinley

Overjoyed at the “opportunity”, the story goes that McKinley accepted the challenge, along with an armful of files, and went back to his rooms. He stayed up all night poring over the case files, familiarizing himself with every detail. The next day (so the story continues), McKinley tried the case in court, and to everyone’s surprise, including the Judge and perhaps himself, he won.

Judge Belden was impressed enough to form a partnership with the young attorney with such limited experience, but so much eagerness and promise.

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Word of McKinley’s diligence and effort leaving no stone unturned quickly made the rounds of Canton’s legal community.

And Later…

No doubt Judge Belden was a fine mentor for the young attorney, but the partnership did not last very long. Only a year later, the Judge died, leaving McKinley the sole practice. He continued alone for a short time, took on fellow-attorney, and eventually partnered with his brother Abner. But it was Canton itself that made him what he became.

The practice was successful. McKinley-the-joiner, became an active member of all the civic and fraternal organizations, which gained him acquaintances high, low and in-between. Just about everyone liked and admired him.

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The Major and his Missus.

His sister had been right. Canton was a fine town – and within a short time the McKinley parents and other family members moved there.

When WMcK met the woman he was to marry a few years later, he was already a known quantity. Her parents, one of the richest families in town, were delighted at the match, positioning “The Major” for even more legal – and nascent political success.

Sources:

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

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

Philips, Kevin – William McKinley – Times Books, 2003

https://millercenter.org/president/mckinley/life-before-the-presidency

https://www.rbhayes.org/hayes/the-good-colonel-r.b.h.-remembers-the-civil-war/

Posted in A POTUS-FLOTUS Blog, William McKinley | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Third Act of Millard Fillmore

The First Act being his youth and political rise, the Second Act being his Presidency…

Millard Fillmore: Lame Duck

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President Millard Fillmore

Millard Fillmore (1800-74) had been elected Vice President on the Whig Ticket led by General Zachary Taylor in 1848. He did not actively seek the election, but when it was offered, he was honored. Then Zachary Taylor died a year and a half later.

Fillmore was a strapping fellow, boy-to-man, and worked very hard for his education and his admission to the New York Bar. But once an attorney, he preferred elected (or appointed) office to the actual practice of law.

But as President, he made efforts to walk the fine line between “leadership” and gravitating to “popular” politics. Unfortunately for the 1850s, popular politics were so badly divided that actual leadership was perceived as a drawback. Millard Fillmore, being a child of his time and upbringing, was a man of simple principles. He did not like slavery, but…. he believed it was protected by the Constitution, i.e. he couldn’t/wouldn’t do anything about it, hoping it would go away on its own. He believed in the expansion of the country (sea-to-shining-sea), and believed America should be for Americans, i.e. not immigrants, not Catholics, not foreigners…

He was not alone in these sentiments rightly or wrongly. But it did not bode well for his election to a term of his own in 1852. He wanted the Whig nomination, but the fractious party and convention chose General Winfield Scott, who lost.

Third Act, Scene 1

Democrat Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire was elected President. Following the inauguration ceremonies, Abigail Fillmore, the now-ex-President’s wife of more than 25 years, caught cold, which worsened into pneumonia, and she died at the Willard Hotel a week or so later. Whatever plans they made were now cancelled.

Abigail Powers FIllmore died shortly after leaving the White House.

Fillmore returned to their home in Buffalo, NY alone. He was the first POTUS who left office with a limited income, no real property and no pension.

A year later, his daughter Mary Abigail, who had helped host White House functions, died of cholera.

Third Act, Scene 2

With vague thoughts of helping rally a crumbling Whig party and possibly becoming its presidential candidate in 1856, he began speaking at locations across the country. He had a fair number of supporters, particularly among nativist organizations, who feared the huge influx of Irish Catholics. While some ex-Whigs (which was never a cohesive political party in the first place) organized the embryonic Republican party, many others formed another party – the American party, specifically in support of their xenophobic attitudes.

Fillmore the Politician
Mary Abigail Fillmore died a year after her mother.

Fillmore joined that party (nicknamed the Know-Nothings), but on the advice of political friends, decided to travel abroad for a while, and weigh his options. He spent the better part of fifteen months overseas, and even met Pope Pius IX, once he learned he could avoid kneeling and kissing the Pope’s ring.  

In absentia, the American party nominated Fillmore as its Presidential candidate in 1856. The Whigs had dissolved by then. The Republicans fielded their first candidate, John C. Fremont, and the Democrats nominated aging James Buchanan, who had also spent several years abroad. Fillmore campaigned actively, made a decent showing, but lost. His active political days were over.

Act Three, Scene 3

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Caroline McIntosh Fillmore

Still plagued with financial instability, he planned to revitalize his law practice, but fate intervened in the form of Mrs. Caroline Carmichael McIntosh (1813-1881), whose first husband had been a railroad owner and businessman. They were childless, and she became a very wealthy widow. They married in 1858, having first agreed to a pre-nuptial contract. This removed his financial strain, and they promptly built a large mansion in Buffalo, NY. It is said that she relished the prestige of being married to a former POTUS.

Unfortunately, within a few years of their marriage, the Second Mrs. Fillmore’s health began to decline, and she showed signs of early dementia. Most sources said she became temperamental and erratic. She changed her will numerous times.

The early Fillmore home in Aurora.

During the Civil War, Fillmore was not a huge fan of President Lincoln (although the Lincolns paid a courtesy call at his mansion en route to Washington). Nevertheless, he supported the Union cause, and became the Commander of the Union Continentals, a militia corps of older men (over 45) formed to guard Upstate New York, in case of Confederate attack. That unit was tasked to guard the Lincoln funeral train en route to Springfield, IL. He remained active in the corps till his death.

Fillmore supported George McClellan in 1864 however, believing him to be best at bringing the country together. He was branded a “copperhead.” He became unpopular again.

But perhaps with time to fill and no monetary worries, he began what could arguably be the best of his efforts: a local legacy of serious value, even today.

He had been one of the founders and a chancellor of the University Buffalo beginning in 1846, and continued the association until his death. He raised funds for its medical school.

He was a founder and large contributor to the Buffalo General Hospital.

He became a founding member and vice president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals and a generous supporter of the Orphans Asylum.

He was a founder of the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy.

He was a founding member and president of the Buffalo Historical Society, and spearheaded the fundraising campaign for Buffalo’s Society of the Natural Sciences.

And perhaps, in memory of his first wife, Abigail Powers Fillmore, who founded their local library a half-century earlier, (and began the White House library as well) Millard Fillmore lay the groundwork for the Grosvenor Library, serving as president of its board of trustees.

He left an estate upward of $250,000 in 1874 money. Likely a couple of million, today. He made several substantial charitable donations. They liked him a lot better again in Buffalo.

Sources:

Collins, Herbert R. and Weaver, David B. – Wills of the U.S. Presidents – Communication Channels, Inc. – 1976

Rayback, Robert J. – Millard Fillmore, Biography of a President – Easton Press (reprint) – 1986

https://buffaloah.com/h/mf/grande/

http://www.thepresidentshalloffame.com/13-millard-fillmore-1850-1853

Posted in A POTUS-FLOTUS Blog, Millard Fillmore, Nifty History People | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Emergence of Candidate Warren G. Harding

Yes, Warren Harding was a dark horse, and yes, it did happen in a smoke filled room…  BUT…

Leading Up To 1920

There was an odd assortment of coincidences that created the “perfect storm” of enthusiasm for Harding.

Two years prior to the election of 1920, both major parties were in either flux or disarray or confusion.

Woodrow Wilson

On the Democratic side, President Woodrow Wilson, the man who kept us out of war in 1916, finally brought us into the Great War only weeks after his second inauguration. Eventually the once-reasonably-popular President became very un-popular, had a couple of serious strokes, and was a mere shell of himself. None of the “available” Democrats rose to the level needed, and even the “B” or “C” team generated little enthusiasm. Wilson did not take part at all.

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Theodore Roosevelt

On the Republican side, in 1918 most Republicans were willing to forgive ex-President Theodore Roosevelt for his Progressive (Bull Moose) schism in 1912. He was still viable; he was still popular, and he was only sixty. But unbeknownst to most, TR was a sick man, having lived three lives at a time for most of those sixty years. He died in January, 1919.

He had not groomed anyone for the Presidency, nor did the few likely contenders generate much enthusiasm either – and indeed were more apt to fight amongst themselves than to harness a team.

Senator Warren G. Harding

Warren Harding (1865-1923), as human as they came, was an amalgam of virtues and failings. On the virtue side, he was a helluva nice guy. He had an easy smile, a strong and warm handshake, and his “nice to see ya” greetings were sincere. Very few people could say they didn’t like him. On the failing side, it wasn’t that he was lazy so much as he was lethargic. He preferred the easy way – doing what came naturally to him.

Warren Harding at work.

As the editor/publisher of the local newspaper in Marion, OH, he was one of the best known men in town. Everybody knew him; most men called him by his first name, and he returned that camaraderie. As a popular guest speaker (“bloviating”, as he called it) at the civic and fraternal organizations in the area, it was short hop to political office.

By 1900, he was elected to the State Legislature, and then for a term as Lt. Governor, one of his best jobs! No heavy lifting, and the ceremonial duties fit like a glove. Now he began bloviating all over the state, and all the Republican politicos knew him. In 1914 he was elected to the Senate. Now he was invited to bloviate across the country.

He liked that job too. He fit in well with the Old Boys Club, never introduced substantive legislation, voted according to GOP trends, and answered his mail. Piece of cake.

Suffice it to say that in 1920, when he was up for re-election to the Senate, he was a shoo-in, and was looking forward to it.

Harry Daugherty et al

Harry Daugherty was an Ohio fellow, more sleaze than stellar, but he and his cohorts had been promoting WGH as “a man who looked like a President” for years, and now he put his heart and soul into achieving that goal.

Harry Daughtery, Campaign Mgr.

By 1920, between Daugherty’s efforts, WGH’s affability and bloviate-ability, Harding was becoming everyone’s 2nd, 3rd or 4th choice. He knew everybody. Some people considered him “the best of the second-raters.” Certainly the most affable, and disinclined to fight with anyone. Daugherty predicted that Harding would be nominated by party bigwigs at 2 AM in a smoke-filled hotel room.

But the big fly in that ointment was Harding himself. He was never wildly enthusiastic about the Presidency, and always considered himself “unqualified for the job.” He preferred to remain in the Senate where it was a) easier,

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He looked like a President, but never felt comfortable in the office.

b) pleasanter, c) a better fit for himself, and d) the ol’ bird-in-the-hand.

When they got to Chicago for the convention, WGH waffled throughout. Ohio law prevented a candidate to run for simultaneous office. It was one or the other. He had already filled out paperwork for the Senate spot, waiting until the last day of eligibility. Daugherty and Mrs. Harding pulled out all the stops to keep him from mailing it.

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The formidable Florence Harding

Chicago…and Memories of 1880

There were still several politicians who recalled the Republican convention of 1880, when deadlocks occurred and it took 36 ballots to put forward the relatively unknown James A. Garfield. Nobody wanted a re-run of that misery. Everybody wanted the convention over and done with.

Alas, this was not looking good. General Leonard Wood, IL Governor Frank Lowden and CA Sen. Hiram Johnson were the front runners, and could not got along at all, either amongst themselves or with party leaders.

In 1920, as in 1880, there was another heat wave, and air conditioning was still not available. And hotel prices in Chicago were much higher than they had been in 1880. This was a deal-breaker.

It had become imperative to many delegates that the nomination be over and done on Saturday, June 12. Six ballots had already been taken, and there was little movement among the leaders. Sunday, being the Sabbath, the delegates would not convene.

This entailed yet another day or possibly more of expense for the delegates – who had to pay their own way! Hotels, transportation, meals, drinks, entertainment, etc.

That included Harding, a man of average means, who was picking up the tab for himself and his missus, a few underlings – plus all the expense of the usual hospitality centers.

Thus the smoke filled room in the wee hours of Saturday, June 12, 1920.

Sources:

Stoddard, Henry L. – As I Knew Them – Harper & Brothers, 1927

Russell, Francis – The Shadow of Blooming Grove – McGraw Hill, 1965

Sinclair, Andrew – The Available Man – Macmillan Co., 1968

http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/3217.html

Posted in A POTUS-FLOTUS Blog, Nifty History People, Warren G. Harding | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

John Quincy Adams and Mary Frazier

At eighteen, John Quincy Adams returned to Massachusetts after eight years in Europe.

Young Man JQ:

His Harvard education suited him well. Classes were small and elite. Only the best and brightest. John Quincy Adams, who had hobnobbed with the crème de la crème in the great capitals, made new friends and colleagues with his peers and professors.

When he read law with Theophilus Parsons, a Newburyport attorney, he continued those friendships, and periodically joined his pals at the local taverns for wine, brandy, and even a few songs. By twenty-two or -three, he was coming out of his solitary and somewhat cranky persona and began attending the usual parties, card games and local social events.

Perhaps hard to believe, considering 250 years of the acerbic JQA personality known today, he was generally personable and popular. In an Adams fashion.

Mary Frazier, Young Maiden

Mary Frazier was somewhere around fourteen or fifteen when she met young Mr. Adams, considered one of the most cosmopolitan, sophisticated and promising young men of his generation. His father had just been elected Vice President of the brand new USA. In the eighteenth century, fourteen was still too young, even in an age when girls matured early. Fifteen was definitely “courtable,” and sixteen was marriageable.

Early in their acquaintance, there was a gathering. JQ noted in his journal that “Miss Mary Frazier from Boston was of the party: she appears sensible and agreeable.” She was also a fine looking young woman, possessed of a pleasant disposition. Her father, Moses Frazier was a shipbuilder and Newburyport office holder. JQ began calling at the Frazier house. There is some confusion as to Mary’s receptiveness to young Adams’ attentions, but then again, no matter how “courtable” fifteen may be, fifteen is fifteen, and still very young. He, on the other hand, at twenty-two or -three, was not only interested, but “in love.” Or so he said. Or so he always said, even many years later.

The Courtship and Disillusion/Dissolution

In the eighteenth century, courtship was taken very seriously. Casual “dating” or “playing the field” is generally 20th century culture. If a young man regularly called on a young woman, or chose her as his frequent walking or dancing companion, the young man’s “intentions” came into question, usually by the parents. This approach was well within the cultural and historical framework of their time.

The cosmopolitan Mrs. Louisa Catherine Adams

JQ was definitely interested; perhaps interested enough to consider marriage. In a letter to a college chum he admitted, “all my hopes of future happiness in this life center on that girl.” Mary (and again, this can be a little murky and second-hand) was likely flattered, but reserved. All sources however, indicate that she was less ardent than her suitor, who was around eight or nine years her senior. Nevertheless she seemed willing to agree to an engagement.

The Frazier parents were cool, despite JQ’s education and notable parentage. He had barely started a legal practice. He had no reliable income, and was likely to remain that way for several years.

Abigail Adams, the formidable mother

When JQ’s mother Abigail Adams learned of a possible “engagement,” she was just as cool as Moses Frazier, and perhaps more direct, noting that he was still dependent on his parents for financial support. Abigail was concerned about his ability to provide for a new family before he established his law practice and advised him to “never form connections until you see a prospect of supporting a family.” Her discouragements were enough for John Quincy to delay a public engagement, something Mary did not want to put off.

The romance ended, and some historians suspect that the coldness of JQA’s personality began to morph into permafrost when his emotional attachment to Mary Frazier ended, possibly irritated by the fact that at twenty-two or -three he was still financially dependent on his parents. He renewed his commitments to career.

Later

But Mary Frazier nevertheless found her way into a secret compartment of John Quincy Adams’ heart, small as it may have been. He was nearly thirty when he finally married Louisa Catherine Johnson, who never quite compared. While he undoubtedly cared for his wife – and they were married for a half century – the romance was cooler, and devoid of the pangs of his once and dearly remembered love.

He never forgot Mary Frazier, and in some ways, her halo glowed shinier with each passing year, and his fond remembrance became more dream than memory. He knew members of her family, and ran into them from time to time. Mary married – after JQ did, had a daughter, and died of consumption at thirty. Likely Mr. Adams grieved in his own way.

The older John Quincy Adams

Very late in life, he was walking in Mt. Auburn cemetery in Cambridge, and came to her daughter’s grave. He shed tears. Even then. So late in his life he recalled Mary as “the most beautiful and beloved of her sex.”

A Thought

One of the dear loves of JQA’s life was poetry. He loved it throughout his entire life. He wrote commendable poetry himself, and it is one of the few pleasures/pastimes he shared with his wife and children.

Sophisticated and cultured, JQ likely knew of the immensely talented and short-lived John Keats (1795-1821), a man young enough to be his son. One of Keats’ most famous works was Ode On A Grecian Urn, wherein the images depict a young man chasing his ladylove around the vase for eternity.

One could wonder if the Ode was nearer to his heart than even his beloved Cicero.

Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,

Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;

She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,

For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Sources:

Kaplan, Fred – John Quincy Adams: American Visionary – Harper, 2014

Nagel, Paul C. – John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life – Alfred A. Knopf, 1997

Unger, Harlow Giles – John Quincy Adams – DeCapo Press, 2012

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44477/ode-on-a-grecian-urn

https://millercenter.org/president/jqadams

Posted in American Civil War | 2 Comments

New York: Mother of VEEPS

New York can boast being home to ELEVEN Vice Presidents!

The Old Guys…

 In the early days of our country, a geopolitical balance between the President and Vice President was considered important – at least in vote-getting accommodation. With only a handful of states, long distances between them, and only rudimentary communication and transportation, it is easy to understand “regional” balance.

Our first two VPs, (John Adams and Thomas Jefferson) were unquestionably political heavyweights, and the Vice Presidency was considered a stepping stone to the top job. Then came the first New Yorker.

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Aaron Burr

Aaron Burr (Jefferson 1) … a New York fellow and Princeton graduate of genuine talents and questionable character. His main contribution was the need for the 12th amendment (voting separately for POTUS and VP) and the demotion of an already insignificant position to one totally marginalized.

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George Clinton

George Clinton (Jefferson 2/Madison 1) a mid-state New Yorker and 7-times Governor and old pal of George Washington. But by the time he was elected VP, he was nearly seventy and well past his prime. Some said he was senile. Maybe. Nobody really cared – but they still elected him twice!!

Daniel Tompkins (Monroe 1&2) – Arguably one of the most obscure of the old gents, mid-state New Yorker Dan was a man of great promise and energy, who performed capably as NY’s Governor during the War of 1812. When he was nominated, everybody was pleased. But he fought an ongoing battle with the bottle, and lost. Conspicuously. He barely showed up for his minimal duties, and nobody really noticed. Too bad. He could-a been a contender!

Daniel Tompkins (1774-1825)

Martin Van Buren (Jackson 2) – was a mid-state fellow and arguably our first “professional” politician. He was good enough for Jax to “groom him” for a Presidential term on his own – and the last VP to immediately move on up for a hundred and fifty years (until GHW Bush).

The Middle Victorians

If geopolitical accommodation was important prior to the Civil War, it became essential afterwards. Before the War, the executive office was delicately balanced North-South. After the War, it was North – and Midwest.

Millard Fillmore (Taylor) – was from upstate, near Buffalo, a farm boy turned so-so attorney and Congressman. As the country neared the cataclysmic differences of the 1850s, the slave owning Taylor needed a Northern (but non-abolitionist) running mate. Nobody really knew/cared much about Fillmore. Besides, Congress was considered the “important” branch of government. Then Taylor died, and the country learned enough about Fillmore not to elect him on his own.

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William Wheeler (1819-87)

When William Wheeler (1819-87/Hayes) was elected VP, he was a non-important upstate NY Congressman from a little village nobody ever heard of. Nobody ever heard of Wheeler either, and that included Hayes, who famously remarked, “I am ashamed to say this, but who is Wheeler?” He was a lonely fellow, widowed with no children or close family. When he retired as VPOTUS, he went back to his village, and the country by and large said, “who was Wheeler?”

Chester Alan Arthur (Garfield) was one of the most unlikely VPs. He never held elected office and was considered a political hack and minion of the boss system. An “adopted” New Yorker from childhood (born in Vermont), as a young man and competent attorney, he gravitated to the Big Apple and thrived in the political boss system. As an accommodation to the NY political boss, dark horse James Garfield tapped dark horse Chet Arthur (perhaps #4 or #5 on his list) as VP. When Garfield was assassinated, Chet became POTUS, and did a fair job of it – better than expected.

Levi P. Morton (1824-1920/B. Harrison) was another New England born but adopted New Yorker, self-made after the Civil War, when there were great fortunes to be had. He made a sizeable one. Almost as a pastime, he became involved in politics, mostly the ceremonial part (as opposed to substantive). He served ably as the Ambassador to France under both Garfield and Arthur. In 1888, he was nominated and elected VP under Benjamin Harrison, a position that suited him. He lived to be 96, one of our longest living Veeps.

Levi P. Morton (1824-1920)

And Into the 20th Century

The huge strides in transportation and communication made the country much smaller at the turn of the 20th century. Geopolitical needs became more of a tradition than a necessity for a good fifty years into the century. Then the VP position became substantive.

Theodore Roosevelt (McKinley 2) was well on his way to superstardom (war hero and Governor of NY) by the time of McKinley’s second election. The Vice Presidency was never on his bucket list. Two unrelated and undervalued reasons: 1. McKinley’s VP Garret Hobart, a close friend, well-respected by Congress, was a shoo-in for McKinley’s second nomination. But he died, and death is always an acceptable “excuse.” 2. Gov. TR’s huge appetite for action and accomplishment was giving the NY political bosses agita. They did not wish to harm him – but they wanted him out of NY. TR bit the bullet “for the party’s sake” and the rest became history.

James Sherman (1855-1912)

James S. Sherman (Taft) was another upstate New York attorney of middling repute, but primarily of the “old guard” rather than “progressive” ilk. No relation to the General, he nevertheless served competently in Congress, and was nominated to run with Taft in ’08, since nobody really cared about the second spot. They even coerced him to run again with Taft in ’12, but he was dying and knew it. In fact, he died shortly before election day – and they couldn’t reprint the ballots, so some 3.5 million Americans voted for a dead guy to be VP!

More than 60 years later, another New Yorker was nominated and confirmed, but not actually elected. It was more of a valedictory Lifetime Achievement award for Nelson Rockefeller (Ford), whose forty years of public service included 4 terms as NY Governor. He of famous name and mighty pockets served ably, and elected or not, we are glad to have had him in our country’s history.

Nelson Rockefeller (1908-1979)

Sources:

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/The-Vice-Presidents-That-History-Forgot-160281765.html

http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/briefing/Vice_President.ht

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

Young, Donald – The History & Dilemma of the Vice Presidency: American Roulette – Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1972

Posted in Chester Arthur, Martin Van Buren, Millard Fillmore, Nifty History People, Theodore Roosevelt | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Personal Memoirs of Julia Dent Grant

Unknown until the 1970s, Julia Grant wrote her memoirs.

The Iconic General Grant

By the time Julia Dent Grant decided to put pen to paper, she was an old lady – at least by 1890 standards. She was in her 70s. Nevertheless, she was a very famous person: the widow of Union General and later President of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant.

The iconic General Grant

When he was not-quite-so-old, but very seriously ill, Grant began composing The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant. It was not his idea. He was deeply in debt from an unfortunate business effort, and vowed to repay all his creditors – which included hundreds of Civil War veterans who had once entrusted him with their lives, and later, their life-savings.

Many Civil War veterans, both North and South, privates and generals, wrote memoirs of their experiences. They were wildly popular, and dozens of old soldiers made small fortunes. Grant had been approached on several occasions. Publishers believed any memoir by the great General-President would be a best seller. But Grant never fancied himself a writer and usually declined.

Nevertheless, his dire need for money to provide for his beloved wife and family (whose personal fortunes were also wrecked in the business fiasco) changed his mind for him. He was also in a race with the clock. He was dying and he knew it.

His last photo, working on the final edits.

Under the auspices of Mark Twain, a pretty fair writer himself, the General put pen to paper, and proved to be a remarkably good writer, once he got the hang of what was expected. The final galleys were completed only days before he expired.

The book was indeed a best seller. It made a large fortune for the Grant estate, and provided Julia Grant with a comfortable widowhood.

The Iconic Mrs. Grant

Grant and his “plain little wife.”

Little was known about Julia Dent Grant prior to the Civil War, other than she was from St. Louis (a slave state), was plain in looks, and had an eye condition that, at the time, could not be repaired.

But the Civil War changed a lot of that. She was one of the Mrs.-Generals who traveled with her husband pretty much throughout. In reality, she had no permanent home of her own between 1861-65. Their children were either with them (often), or boarded in schools or with family. As Grant became “the” General, the role of Mrs. Grant was elevated, since (among other virtues) it was believed that when she was in camp, Ulysses Grant forswore any intoxicating beverages.

All the soldiers liked and respected her. By nature, she was a nice lady.

Even before the war ended, Mrs. General Grant was courted by the influential Congressional wives who had been disenchanted early on by the imperious First Lady Mary Lincoln. When they offered to help Mrs. Grant over the shoals of political Washington, she was happy to accept the assistance. Since Julia was plain and neither fashionable nor intellectually inclined – and most important, very happily married to a man who adored her – she was no threat.

The First Lady

The eight years the Grants spent in the White House, were arguably Julia’s happiest, despite some nasty scandals that rocked their reputation. She learned how to put on the expected “airs” of position without it tainting the essential nice-lady Julia. Then the “retired” Grants traveled the world for two years, and returned even more popular than ever.

But they were also financially strapped. Out of uniform or office, Grant never seemed to be good at making money. Thus his business venture that had turned very sour.

Julia’s Book

Julia was not quite sixty when she became a widow. Her children were grown, married with lives and children of their own. Her own health was excellent. Grant’s Memoirs, published coincidental to his death, made anywhere between $300-450,000 in advance sales alone, depending on who you asked. She was financially set for life. She also had dozens of friends, and always would.

Middle aged Julia. She took very few photos.

But she was understandably lonely, and began telling some of her stories to her eldest son Fred, who took some notes for her. In time, she began writing them down herself. It started as an outlet for her loneliness, but then she developed some actual ambition. Several Civil War “wives” had written their own books. Elizabeth (Mrs. George Armstrong) Custer, Almira (Mrs. Winfield Scott) Hancock, and Julia’s own late-in-life friend Varina (Mrs. Jefferson) Davis, to name a few.

Even though she was the first First Lady to pen her own memoirs, perhaps her expectations were too high. Several publishers showed respectfully mild interest, but were unprepared to pay the advance she requested, which was very steep. The writing style was predictably flowery Victorian fluff, although some of the stories were delicious. The bottom line, was that they were never published by the time Julia died in 1901. They eventually wound up in a granddaughter (or great-granddaughter’s) trunk.

Much Later

Fast forward seventy-five years when they were re-discovered, and given to the capable Grant historian John Y. Simon to edit and annotate. They were published in 1975 to solid success, and are considered a mainstay for all Grant scholars. According to Simon, there are many minor inconsistencies in time, dates, persons – but Julia was writing from more than 35 years of memory. We can forgive her.

Yes, it is treacly Victorian fluff-writing, unremarkable save for the subject herself in reflected glory. However…. They fling open the doors of Ulysses S. Grant the person and the family man. Not so much the General or the President. There are an easy dozen or more wonderful stories that lay their characters and personalities open for the reader to know and like them as people. Their marriage was one of great romance and deep, lifelong love. They were truly each others’ one-and-onlies, going through thick, and some decidedly thin times.

We are grateful that she penned her memoirs, fluffy or not. Grant would have been lost without his Julia.

Sources:

Flood, Charles Bracelen – Grant’s Final Victory:  Ulysses S. Grant’s Heroic Last Year – 2012, DaCapo Press

Grant, Julia Dent – The Personal Memoirs of Julia Dent Grant: (Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant) – 1975, G.P. Putnam’s Sons

http://www.firstladies.org/biographies/firstladies.aspx?biography=19

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/feb/20/100-best-nonfiction-books-personal-memoirs-ulysses-grant

 

 

Posted in A POTUS-FLOTUS Blog, American Civil War, Nifty History People, Ulysses S. Grant | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

President Theodore Roosevelt and “The Sargent”

 

It is a long standing tradition for Presidents to have an official portrait painted.

Theodore Roosevelt, President

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) was a prism of a man, many sided depending on his mood or current interests. He had arguably dozens of interests, and was knowledgeable on dozens, perhaps hundreds of other subjects. The arts however, other than literature and poetry, were not high on his list. His tastes in music, theater, ballet, and the visual arts were by and large respectful, but pedestrian.

Only 42 when he became POTUS, he was at the height of his physical and mental energy. A natural scientist, a cowboy, a prolific writer with a knack for turning a memorable phrase, a strong advocate of name-a-few-causes, and an astute politician, with an additional knack for judging the characters of the people he dealt with quickly and pretty much on target. And not pedestrian.

He was also a devoted family man, close brother, loving husband, engaged father, and loyal friend to those privileged to earn his friendship. And even more rare, those friendships were not predicated on “agreeing with him.” You could disagree on a wide range of subjects without harming the friendship in any way.

All said, TR was a complex man.

John Singer Sargent, Artist

Portrait of Fanny Watts, painted by 21-year-old J.S. Sargent

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) was less than three years older than Roosevelt. An American by parentage, he was born, raised and widely traveled in Europe. His formal education was spotty, but his artistic abilities came to the fore at a remarkably early age. By 21, he was already winning prizes at the prestigious Paris Salon. While his idol and inspiration was Diego Velasquez, the 16th century Spanish artist, one of his closest friends would be Claude Monet, the 19th century Impressionist.

As a young man, Sargent painted whatever he liked, but very early in his career, he discovered that portraiture was far more profitable for obtaining commissions. He was also very good at it. By the time he was 25, he was earning some $5000 per portrait.

Suffice it to say he was never a starving artist.

But he was an American, and by the time he was 30, his reputation abroad had hopped the pond. He received commissions and projects in his native land.

The Painter, The Portrait and the President

John Singer Sargent in 1903 – about the time he painted TR.

In 1902, President Roosevelt personally invited  John Singer Sargent to paint his portrait, writing, “It seems to me eminently fitting that an American President should have you paint his picture.” It was a coup for the painter. Both of them were famous, and at the top of their respective careers.

Sargent was dee-lighted to come to the White House in early 1903 and spend a few days, making his sketches, and determining the varied characteristics that he wished to portray of his very complex subject. TR, of course, knowing that he likely had the best of the best for the job, was dee-lighted to give him every courtesy… except time.

When it came to the actual painting part, Sargent required little. He worked quickly. But he was very picky about the pose: where and in what surroundings. He spent a good part of two full days with TR in tow, poking through every inch of the White House trying to find the perfect location and the perfect pose.

Not unsurprisingly, the impatient Roosevelt became antsy. And prickly. He was busy. He had other things to do, and besides, the portrait wasn’t really his idea anyway.

Finally, as they were descending the great staircase, the visibly annoyed President complained that Sargent didn’t know what he wanted.

The artist, snapped back that “TR didn’t know how to pose.”

The President rested his right hand on the newel post at the foot of the stairs tucking his left hand into his pocket and firmly declared that he knew very well how to pose. Sargent turned and exclaimed excitedly, “Don’t move, Mr. President, that is perfect!”

They were both right. Theodore Roosevelt knew very well how to pose. John Singer Sargent knew how to recognize it immediately. It was perfect.

TR was a busy fellow who found it hard to sit or stand still.

The only downside, was that TR didn’t like posing, renowned artist notwithstanding. He agreed to pose for only two sessions and they were short, and grudging. All in all, it was not a pleasant experience for the artist or the subject.

Capturing the Subject

All portrait artists strive to capture the “inner” soul, persona, character, pick-a-word, of the subject, not merely the physical features. The ability to evoke beneath-the-surface qualities is what separates the fine from the genius. Sargent wanted to capture the ruggedness, the determination, the vision and the leadership plus the very charming and personable side of TR.

That in itself was a challenge, given the multi-sides of the subject.

According the New York Times, when the portrait was available for “review,” the critics said that the portrait does not quite capture the “genial side of the President,” but rather his alertness and distinct energy, his attitude when in “the mood of fierce discussion, his lips still quivering with speech, his eyes narrowed behind the glasses in a watchful gaze.”

Happily for all, Theodore Roosevelt was dee-lighted with the portrait. To him, it captured him as a man of power, with a commanding presence and resolute disposition. Exactly what he believed an American President should be. In a letter to his son Kermit, he said, “I like his picture immensely.” When other artists contacted him to suggest another portrait, he adamantly refused, remarking “Upon my word… After Sargent painted his portrait I registered a vow that I was through with sitting for any more portraits.”

It really was a perfect portrait.

P.S. To capture the gentler side of TR, the loving, the caring, the warm and genial facet of his prism, one needed the instantaneous moment of photography. The well known photo of Grandpa TR and his little granddaughter Edith Roosevelt Derby says it better than anything!

Sources:

Brands, H.W. – TR: The Last Romantic – 1997 Basic Books

Dalton,, Kathlen – Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life – 2004, Vintage

Stoddard, Henry L. – As I Knew Them – Harper & Brothers, 1927

http://www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org/

https://www.nga.gov/collection/artist-info.1858.html

https://boundarystones.weta.org/2019/06/21/tale-two-painters-theodore-roosevelts-portraits

Posted in A POTUS-FLOTUS Blog, Nifty History People, Theodore Roosevelt | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Andrew Jackson’s Magnificent Truxton

Andrew Jackson loved horses since early boyhood

AJ: Rider and Racer

The story of 12-year-old Andrew Jackson serving as messenger in the Continental Army and later captured and imprisoned is true, told in every history book. Besides his daring and rash personality and general knowledge of the woods and trails in the Carolinas, it was his superb riding skill that got him the messenger job.

He had a good way with horses from the start. By 15, he was considered an excellent judge of horseflesh, and a savvy trader. He also discovered the spirit of the speculator within himself. It cost him his modest inheritance. Nevertheless, the Sport of Kings would always be a passion with Old Hickory.

He came to Nashville, TN when he was twenty, having read law sufficiently to pass the South Carolina bar. In pre-statehood Tennessee, lawyers were a welcome commodity. There was land to purchase, debts to claim, business to buy and sell and above all, money to be made. Jackson would make and lose a few fortunes within the next decade. Horses however, were always part of his inventory of wealth.

AL: The Fortuitous Purchase

By 1804, Tennessee had become the 16th state, it’s population growing by leaps and bounds. Its also-growing social scene was enhanced by actual formalized racetracks. (Previously, if a horse race was to be run, it was marked out by the participants on an open field.) If horse racing was popular, it could arguably be outstripped by the thrill of gambling.

Jax was already strapped for cash, but he owned Indian Queen, a fine horse, which he arranged to race with the unbeaten Greyhound, a gelding owned by a neighbor, Lazarus Cotton. In a heavy blow to Jackson’s pride and purse, a triumphant Greyhound won all three heats.

“The Hermitage” in its early days.

Greyhound had also won a race against a splendid Virginia import named Truxton, whose reputation preceded him into Tennessee. That loss practically bankrupted his owner, one John Verrell, and the big bay was his last asset, about to be seized to pay his debts. At six-years-old, Truxton was a handsome stallion, more than fifteen hands high, well-formed with white hind feet. His pedigree was impeccable, sired by a champion British horse, Diomed, out of Nancy Coleman, from a Chesterfield County Virginia stable. Jackson wanted him – badly. He was nearly bankrupt himself, but staked practically everything on his own knowledge of horseflesh, and smelled a winner!

He offered Verell $1500 for Truxton, plus three geldings and a promise of two more, should Truxton “win a purse” next fall. In return, Jackson would pay off Verell’s debts of $1170.

Once Truxton was his, Andrew Jackson entered him in a return match with Greyhound – for a side bet of $5000. According to Marquis James, a Jackson biographer of nearly a hundred years ago, “how Jackson raised five thousand dollars at this critical juncture is a point the present reviewer is unable to clarify.” Other biographers have inferred that debts and gambling never seemed to interfere with Jackson’s forward thrusts.

And…..They’re Off!

General “Old Hickory”

Jackson and Verell worked together to train Truxton to his purpose. It is said that Jax was a hard trainer, (easy to believe) pushing the horse to the limit of endurance, but somehow instilling in the animal a will to win – not unlike the character of Andrew Jackson himself.

The match race between Truxton and Greyhound was the last race of the 1805 season – and nearly everyone from miles around was in attendance, including the ladies. Greyhound was the favorite, based on his previous wins, plus the ongoing gossip that Jax had exhausted Truxton in training. Betting was heavy. Not only cash was wagered, but according to Congressman Balie Peyton who had heard the story from Jackson himself, numerous 640 acre tracts were staked. Plus several wagers in “wearing apparel.”

Patton Anderson, Jackson’s 125-pound jockey, bet all his worth on Truxton – plus, it is said, he wagered a few other horses that he didn’t even own, including a few with “ladies’ saddles on them.”

The Hermitage – later.

The race was a very big deal in Nashville.

Truxton’s eye-of-the-tiger training came through, whipping Greyhound soundly. The jockey treated his co-winners with a barrel of cider and a basket of ginger cakes. The winnings paid off all Verell’s debts, made a small fortune for Andrew Jackson, and the hats and belts helped replenish his wardrobe.

After beating Greyhound, Jackson bought him immediately, and added to his stable at the new Clover Bottom Racetrack, of which he was a part-owner.

Truxton was also coincidentally responsible for one of Jackson’s most famous duels – but that is another story to be told at another time!

The Future of Truxton

For five years Jackson did not lose a major race that had not been immediately offset by a major victory. Truxton alone won more than twenty thousand dollars in early 1800’s prize money!

Meanwhile, like all fine racehorses, Truxton was put to service, and went on to sire some excellent foals, earning Jackson a considerable amount in stud fees. Truxton offspring were considered some of the finest racehorses in Tennessee.

Andrew Jackson – later.

By the time Andrew Jackson became President in 1829, Truxton was an old horse, but Jackson was still an avid horse owner-racer. He brought a string of fine horses to an already crowded White House stable, and convinced Congress to cough up another $3500 for additional renovations. Legend has it, his beloved Truxton lived there, although he would have been past thirty – very old for a horse. Even Andrew Jackson’s horse.

Sources:

Brands, H.W. – Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times – Doubleday, 2005

James, Marquis – The Life of Andrew Jackson: The Border Captain; Portrait of a President – Bobbs Merrill, 1937

https://vault.si.com/vault/1956/07/16/tennessee-turfman

https://www.loc.gov/resource/maj.01006_0086_0087/?st=text

Andrew Jackson

Posted in A POTUS-FLOTUS Blog, Andrew Jackson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments