Ike ’52: The Best known Candidate of All


President Eisenhower

Dwight David Eisenhower was past 60 when he ran for President in 1952.

Ike: Boy to Man


Ike (far left), his parents, and his tight knit family of six fine boys.

There is virtually nothing in the early years of Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) that would point to the glories of his maturity. He was a farm boy, one of six fine, strapping sons born to a Pennsylvania-German family, who had relocated to Abilene, KS.

They weren’t poor, but they were far from rich. Ike went to school, did chores and grew up like  millions of corn-fed boys. He was a middling student, more diligent than brilliant, and more interested in sports or learning to play poker than anything.

His years at West Point were satisfactory, but not brilliant. The good-news, bad-news was that he made the football team and was the star player. Briefly. He injured his knee, and football was out of the picture. Permanently. He had to focus on his academics and soldiering.

The Young Officer


Ike as a West Point cadet. He graduated in 1915, part of the Class “the stars fell on.”

For the next twenty years, he was sent hither and yon.  A year here, a few months there, with glacier-like speed in promotions. Reverting to pre-WWI soldier quotas, the US army was minuscule. Lack of availability meant few promotions and few opportunities for advancement.

Part of a senior officer’s responsibilities however, is to keep a sharp eye out for the up and coming leaders of the future, and to mentor their careers. Wherever Ike was assigned, he impressed his superiors. If they could not promote or pay him per se, they could certainly teach him. One thing they could not teach him, and the one thing that impressed all who knew him, was his innate personal charm, and ability to get on happily with superiors, subordinates and peers. If Ike had any idea that those qualities were political assets, it is unknown. He had no political ambitions.


Ike was among the first officers trained for tanks.

He was sent to a variety of special classes to increase his skills and make the best possible use of his abilities. Ike did not disappoint. He was usually at the head of every class he attended. Nevertheless, by the end of the 1930s, Ike, now in his late 40s, was still a major, and expected to retire no higher than colonel. But he was also in Washington.

General Ike

World War II was beginning to collide once again with the peace of mankind, and despite the country’s best efforts to once again stay out of the fray, wisdom of the ages called for preparation. General George C. Marshall, the Secretary of War, had an opportunity to assess Colonel Eisenhower and liked what he saw, including his personal skills. Ike was no prima donna in a profession that usually reeked with prima donnas.


General Ike

Promotions were quicker, and in fact so quick that Ike was advanced over more than a hundred men with seniority. He was now General Ike.


Army Chief of Staff General George Marshall – one of Ike’s mentors.

Having planned the Africa campaign, he was sent to lead it. Then he was given the task of becoming Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces for the Invasion of Europe in 1944. He worked closely and compatibly with some of the Prima-est Donnas in military history: General Bernard Montgomery of England, General Charles de Gaulle of France, and even General George Patton of the US Army. The success of the mission is well known.  So were his five stars.


General Eisenhower as Supreme Commander of the Allies in 1945.

General Ike came home to a phenomenal hero’s welcome, feted and feasted and gifted and presented with “stuff.”

And there was talk of politics. Ike could be whatever he wanted. He didn’t want anything.

Ike after ’45


Ike was a popular commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) following WWII.

Post-War Europe was in a total mess, with several countries bordering imminent collapse. The United Nations, a pet idea of Franklin D. Roosevelt before his death, was taking concrete shape, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a pact between the USA and member European countries for mutual protection was born.

NATO needed a strong and well respected leader: Ike was a shoo-in. He was already  on a first name basis with heads of state around the world.

He wanted to retire. He was nearly 60, and the thought of having a real home of his own had become a high priority. But politics was still beckoning, and everybody wanted Ike, and nobody knew what his politics were. The likelihood is that he didn’t know either.

Then an offer to become President …of Columbia University in New York presented itself. Ike agreed. It was also a convenient place for the politicians to come and plead with him to run for President. The Republicans wanted him. The Democrats wanted him. President Harry Truman practically promised him the Office on a silver platter if he agreed.

Candidate Ike


Ike and Mamie hit the campaign trail. She loved it!

Dwight Eisenhower was a soldier, and had never given much thought to party politics. He answered to the Country and the Commander-in-Chief, whoever he was. He declined sincerely.

But when push came to shove, he admitted that he was Republican – a party that had not held office for twenty years. But he was a different kind of Republican. Conservative without being too conservative; progressive without being radical. It didn’t matter to the electorate. Everybody knew who he was.  They loved him.  So did everybody else in the world, even in places he had never been.


Snappy and memorable.

He had one of the catchiest, shortest and to-the-point slogans ever: I Like Ike.  They trusted him in war, they could trust him in the White House. He did not need campaign biographies; he did not need to be introduced to the American people. They had known him for years. He won in a walk.


The young Queen Elizabeth visits the White House. Ike knew her when she was a teenager!

And when foreign dignitaries came to social events at the White House (which they did in droves), they did not need to be introduced to the President of the United States. They came to see Ike, their old friend.


Childs, Marquis – Eisenhower: Captive Hero – Harcourt Brace, 1956

Eisenhower, David & Eisenhower, Julie Nixon – Going Home to Glory – Simon and Schuster, 2010

Irwin F. Gellman – The President and the Apprentice: Eisenhower and Nixon, 1952-1961 – Yale University Press, 2015




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Unusual For Their TIme: On the Road With America’s First Ladies, Vol 1: A Book Review


Unusual For Their Time, by Andrew Ochs, is a one-of-a-kind book, and a must-read for all FLOTUS aficionados!

Andy Ochs has written an extremely unique book. It is part historical-ish, part biographical-ish, part memoir-ish, part travelogue-ish – and completely delightful!

Contracted to film C-SPAN’s First Ladies series in 2014-15, the author-cum-camera toured the country visiting the homes, birthplaces and other sites connected with America’s First Ladies, plus a few Presidential “hostesses,” a title given by historians to daughters, nieces, sisters and in-laws who substituted for widowed or bachelored Presidents. By his own admission, the author was given not only a warm welcome wherever he went, but access to dozens of rooms of memorabilia usually tucked away in vaults or behind the velvet ropes. And also, by his own admission, he had the special experiences of holding what they held and walking in precious footsteps.

If Andy Ochs was not born with the history gene, after this journey, he has had one helluva transplant!

Starting with Martha Washington and ending Volume 1 with Ida McKinley, he takes the reader on the grand tour of nifty places like Mt. Vernon, not-so-nifty but essential like the Adams birthplaces, and even some completely obscure sites (and equally obscure First Ladies) like Abigail Fillmore’s house or the property that once belonged to John and Letitia Tyler (his first wife, and the first FLOTUS who died in the White House). Who knew? In the latter case, even the present property owner hadn’t a clue. And of course we are treated to Julia Grant’s St. Louis birthplace and supposed-to-be retirement home, painted in bilious green, which supposedly was the color of the Gilded Age.

The biographical and historical part is fairly obvious and easy to understand: The old gals lived wherever they lived, and here are their furnishings or personal possessions. Anybody can go to those historic places and see their chairs or tables or piano. You can see (usually in locked cabinets), their vases or special china plates or jewelry, or even gifts they received from important visitors when they were First Ladies.

But it is the memoir-able part that makes Unusual For Their Time unique. It is the story of the filming. The personal part about filming the episode in his socks, or holding rare articles in gloved hands. Or assembling and disassembling camera equipment two or three or more times to accommodate yet another incoming tour group.

Then there are the “finding the sites” stories – some of which are not on a must-see historical site map. And he brings a smile to the readers’ faces, when he inserts a “cheap eats” paragraph citing some local oasis, particularly noted for Caesar salad and grilled cheese. Hopefully, all those local beaneries will take advantage of their moment of glory, and offer a few books for sale!

Author Ochs does more than merely entertain or educate. He makes these assorted women come alive. Some of them knew each other; most did not. But nevertheless, they shared the common bonds of girlhood, wifehood, motherhood as well as White House-hood.

Some were poor. Most were not. All had some education, and many were better educated, or from financial backgrounds that surpassed their husbands. Sometimes by a lot. All of them experienced the sorrows of life and death. Some lost parents at an early age. Some lost siblings at an early age. A huge percentage lost children – a devastating event that bonds them all.  None of this, however, was “unusual for their times.”

Author Ochs selected a publisher devoted to providing an outlet and funding for veterans’ memoirs and related projects, and has generously assigned his royalties to that cause. This is certainly a bonus reason to buy the book. But in doing so, he has consigned his book to only cursory technical talents and skills. He would truly benefit from a good editor. “Formatting” is not really editing, and a knowledgeable professional to check for redundancies, basic fact-checking vs. typos, copy-tightening and even a little better writing talent might be helpful.

The author titled his book Unusual for Their Time, and perhaps a few of them were, but it is a stretch as a whole. What was usual? Were they really unusual? With very few exceptions, their pre-First Ladydom lives were as common to their times, locations and stations in life as a proverbial head cold. Ochs tries hard to give each one of those fine women a quality or experience to substantiate the unusual-ness, but it is a stretch.  All women, regardless of their generation, their century and their age are individual in some way. But these gals were visible; their names were generally known during their lifetimes and are even today noted in the history books. Modern First Ladies rate books of their own.  Some of those old gals rate chapters; others merely footnotes.  But the crux of it all, is that we of a later generation did not have the opportunity to know them. And the truly sad part is that these lovely ladies had few opportunities to “be known.”

Andy Ochs has given us this very special chance to get to know them. Like Harry Truman, a pretty fair historian himself once said, “There is nothing new under the sun except the history we don’t know.”

Now we know them a little better.

Can’t wait for Volume II!

UNUSUAL FOR THEIR TIME: On The Road With America’s First Ladies

Author: Andrew Ochs,

Publisher: Tactical 16, April 2106

ISBN-13: 978-1943226122



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James Madison’s Romantic Lesson


James Madison, looking much more imposing than the small-in-stature man he was in real life.

James Madison, a bachelor of 43, had a history of romantic disappointment.

The Non-Imposing Jemmy Madison

James Madison (1751-1836) was a man of small physical stature, anywhere between 5′ and 5’6″ tall, depending on which sources you espouse. But no source indicates him at more than 125 pounds, thus making him slight, as well as short. Obviously aware of his lack of physical presence, he nevertheless pursued a few romantic opportunities early in his life. Unsurprisingly, he was turned down.


Said to be a portrait of the young James Madison. Maybe. There is a resemblance.

Madison came from a well-respected and wealthy central Virginia planter family, the eldest of many siblings. His father sent him to the College of New Jersey (Princeton) for his education. He was a remarkably astute student, and eventually awarded today’s Masters’ degree in political science. Even though he was a qualified lawyer, he preferred political theory rather than mundane practice, much like Woodrow Wilson a century later.

Perhaps assuming that bachelorhood was to be his lot, Madison poured his energies and passions into politics, and by his thirties, was playing an essential role in helping form a new government for a new country: The United States of America.


Thomas Jefferson was a lifelong friend and political intimate of James Madison.


Prior to his marriage, Madison usually dressed in black.

When he was still in his twenties, he formed his most important relationship: a lifelong friendship with Thomas Jefferson, another central Virginian, eight years older, just as brilliant and nearly a foot taller.

Despite his dour black-clad appearance (some claiming that he looked like a little man on the way to a funeral), Madison was said to have had an outgoing personality among friends and a good raconteur, with a repertoire of ribald stories.

Mr. Madison’s Middle-Aged Romance

By the time James Madison was forty, he had been nicknamed “The Great Little Madison,” and was a Congressman in the new country he helped create. He moved to Philadelphia, and he became a close advisor to President George Washington and his cabinet.


The building just below the steeple is said to be the Payne Boarding house, where the widow Dolley Payne Todd served as hostess.


Philadelphia, circa 1790s, when it was the capital of the United States.

While Philadelphia was the largest city in the country in 1794, it was still a small town, compared to cities today. The population was perhaps 40,000, having just withstood a yellow fever epidemic that claimed an estimated 5,000 souls.

Dolley by James Peale

The Widow Todd, a.k.a. Dolley Madison.

One of those survivors was the young widow of Quaker lawyer John Payne Todd and her two-year-old son. The Widow Todd had returned to help manage her mother’s boarding house, temporary home to several Congressmen, one Senator and the Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson. She graced its dinner table, the most popular venue in town. She was seen frequently among the shops and stalls of Philadelphia in her Quaker mourning garb, but mourning or not, her pleasant good looks and infectious charm turned heads, including that of Congressman James Madison. He wanted to meet her, despite the fact that she was taller than he was, as well as being seventeen years his junior. And good looking, to boot.

It has never been documented why Madison didn’t ask his good friend Jefferson to facilitate the introduction, but he didn’t. Instead he asked Senator Aaron Burr of New York to arrange a meeting with the most charming hostess in Philadelphia.

The Widow Todd, overwhelmed when she was told that Mr. Madison wanted to meet her, wrote to her lifelong friend Eliza Lee, “Thee must fly to me at once! The Great Little Madison wishes to meet me tonight.”

Congressman Madison indeed met the Widow Todd, and was enchanted. He visited the boarding house frequently and began to invite the pretty widow on carriage rides, or to concerts or lectures or to friends’ homes for small gatherings. And he did the one thing certain to win her heart: he brought toys or treats for her little boy.

James Madison’s Lesson

Not long into his courtship, Madison asked the Widow Todd to marry him. Fairly prompt remarriage was customary in colonial times, especially when there were small children involved. The Widow gently told her suitor “it was too soon.” Her first husband had only died six months earlier.


After his marriage, it is said the James Madison dressed much spiffier!

James Madison was devastated. He had truly fallen in love with Mistress Todd, and had allowed himself to be vulnerable. It was another rejection. He spent a horrible day believing he would never find marital happiness.

But Madison was a cerebral man, and when he mentally reviewed the events of the previous day, he realized that the Widow had not said “no.” She merely said that it was too soon. It was not a rejection per se. Maybe it was the timing. It wasn’t “no.” Maybe it was “not yet“.

Risking all, he continued to woo. He continued to invite. She continued to accept. The whole town was likely aware of the ensuing courtship.

A Little Help from Their Friends

george and martha

George and Martha Washington, a marital “connexion” to Dolley and a good friend to Congressman Madison.

Mistress Todd’s sister had married one of George Washington’s nephews, thus making her a family connexion with family access to Lady Washington’s  levees in Philadelphia. Both Washingtons knew her – and liked her enormously.

The President took the opportunity at one of those levees to maneuver himself and a companion in reasonably proximity to his niece-in-law’s sister. Then he filled his companion with fulsome praise for Congressman Madison, noting that “whoever marries him will be a fortunate woman indeed.” The Widow Todd always referred to that incident as “President Washington’s Private Address to Mistress Todd.”

In September, 1794, eleven months after John Payne Todd had died, his widow became Dolley Madison, and her life truly began.

The couple would have more than forty years together as one of the happiest and most devoted Presidential couples in history. James Madison would indeed have marital contentment – in no small part because he was patient, and understood that “not yet” does not mean “not ever.”


Allgor, Catherine, – Parlor Politics: In Which the Ladies of Washington Help Build a City and a Government, 2000, University of Virginia Press

Allgor, Catherine – A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation – 2006 Henry Holt and Company

Moore, Virginia – The Madisons: A Biography, 1979, McGraw Hill



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George Washington’s Two Revolutionary Sons

young GW

George Washington, General of the Continental Army

George Washington had no children of his own, although he raised two step-children, and was considered a responsible and affectionate parent.

GW: The Revolutionary War

When the Revolutionary War began in 1775, George Washington was 43 years old. Having served in the Virginia Militia in his youth, rising to the rank of Colonel, he was considered the highest ranking “American” officer. He was appointed General, and sent to take command of a ragtag army forming in Massachusetts.

Forty-three was considered well into middle-age at that time. A new generation was now approaching adulthood – and enlisting as soldiers. Washington’s aides would become his military “family.”

Lafayette: The Favorite Son


The Marquis de Lafayette “joined” the American army when he was nineteen. And at his own expense.

When the shot fired at Lexington was “heard round the world,” it was a clarion call to a young French nobleman, the Marquis (with a string of first and middle names) de Lafayette (1757-1834). Fatherless at two years old and trained at France’s finest academies, he was commissioned as a military officer by his early teens. He saw in the American Revolution a cause he believed in, as well as a chance for glory, something vitally important in the 18th century.  Other Frenchmen had enlisted and had been sent to America, but Lafayette was of the highest nobility and outranked them all.

At his own expense, which was huge since it included purchasing his own ship and soldiers, he parted from his young wife and sailed for America, arriving in the summer of 1777. After offering to serve without pay, Congress made him a Major General. He was not yet twenty.


Many illustrations were made (in retrospect) of George Washington meeting Lafayette.

They sent him to George Washington, and the two men of different generations, bonded quickly. It did not hurt that Lafayette was a Freemason, as was Washington. Nevertheless, Washington did not know exactly what to do with the young French officer of high nobility. Congress had awarded the Marquis his rank, believing it to be “honorary.” Lafayette believed himself to be experienced and able. In time, George Washington would learn that the young Frenchman was indeed intelligent, capable and a fine commander. He was given increasing responsibilities.


George Washington and Lafayette

The Marquis de Lafayette was also charming and effusive (in contrast to Washington’s reputed “cool”) and grew to love and admire General Washington with his whole Gallic heart. His filial devotion was sincere, and contagious. The austere Washington grew to love the French aristocrat like a son. And always would.

In 1781, after Cornwallis’ defeat at Yorktown, where Lafayette was a key commander, the Marquis had a tearful farewell with his beloved “father.”


Lafayette and the French Army were instrumental at the Siege and Battle of Yorktown. Alexander Hamilton was instrumental as well.

They would never see each other again, although they corresponded and exchanged gifts. Washington is known to have sent a barrel of Mt. Vernon hams to his French “son.” He was understandably proud when the Marquis emerged as a notable French general and advocate of the Rights of Man.

As events in France morphed into the French Revolution and Reign of Terror, Washington was deeply concerned for the safety of his dear young friend, but as the President of a small country just beginning to get underway, he needed to steer a neutral course.

Nevertheless, Lafayette had named his first son George Washington Lafayette, and when events became dangerous, he sent the young boy and his tutor to safety, in care of his godfather, the President of the United States.

Alexander Hamilton: The Ambitious Prodigal


Alexander Hamilton. His greatest regret may have been his birth in the West Indies. It made him “ineligible” to be President.

Alexander Hamilton (c. 1755-1804) was close in age to Lafayette and also “fatherless” – but Hamilton was an illegitimate child born in the West Indies. At an early age, his exceptional intelligence and aptitude was recognized by the townsmen, who arranged to have him study at Kings College, now Columbia University, in New York.

When the American Revolution began, he volunteered early on, mostly for the glory part.

General Washington, dismayed by the motley and undisciplined militiamen that were cobbled together, would come to rely heavily on a cadre of young staff officers to help with the endless paperwork, sans carbon paper, let alone copiers.


Hamilton was a multi-talented and very smart fellow. He was also incredibly ambitious.

Hamilton was invited to be on Washington’s staff, and his superior intelligence, education and business genius was quickly noticed. The General, an astute businessman himself, discovered a worthy young officer and financial wizard in Hamilton.

Youth is always attracted to danger and glory, and a superbly intelligent youth is also easily bored and in need of challenges. Lt. Col. Hamilton wanted a battlefield command; Washington was not inclined to grant it. Whether it was a lack of confidence in Hamilton’s military abilities, or his desire to keep the brilliant aide on staff is subject to conjecture. Some believe that Washington was concerned that the militiamen would not respond well to a “staff” officer whose rank was perceived as honorary.

The ambitious Hamilton grew impatient, and the two men had a rocky on-again-off-again relationship. Washington was uncharacteristically forgiving of the young-man-in-a-hurry, perhaps recognizing the same qualities of his own youth. By the end of the War, Hamilton was finally allowed to prove his military mettle at Yorktown.  He did a commendable job.


Hamilton, along with James Madison and John Jay, was instrumental in drafting the Constitution of the new United States.

George Washington and Alexander Hamilton maintained a cordial correspondence and reunited some years later in Philadelphia, where the now-thirty-year-old NY attorney and politician had been sent to help draft a Constitution to replace the inadequate and ineffectual Articles of Confederation.

Washington, now in his mid-fifties, had been coerced from retirement to preside over the Constitutional Convention. Scrupulously attentive to his position as “presider,” he made few comments during the proceedings, but is said to have been an active participant behind the scenes in informal discussions. Like Hamilton, he saw the absolute necessity of a strong, centralized federal government to unite the diverse States which were only superficially United.

When Washington was re-recruited away from his beloved Mt. Vernon to assume to Presidency of the (hopefully) United States, he insisted that Alexander Hamilton again be part of his “official” family. The President truly loved the brilliant young man with the massive talents and massive ego.

Their relationship would always be rocky, but forgiving.  Just like so many other fathers and sons.


Knott, Stephen F. and Williams, Tony –Washington and Hamilton: The Alliance That Forged America – Sourcebooks, 2016




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Calvin Coolidge Jr.: A Life Cut Short

young coolidges2

The Coolidge Family

The death of any child before his time is a devastating blow to the parents.


Even into the 20th century, infant and child mortality were extremely high. With primitive pre-natal, obstetric or pediatric care and little attention to basic sanitation, one in four babies died before their fifth birthday. Another 10% would die before they reached puberty. In harsh wilderness environments, the incidence of early death was even higher.

Large families were common, however. Many women bore eight, ten or more children. With such physical strain coupled with normal aging, later children were frequently born weaker and more likely to succumb early.

Families were accustomed to small coffins.

The Typical Coolidge Gang

Calvin and Grace Coolidge were exceptions. Grace Goodhue (1879-1957) was an only child. Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933) had only one sister, and she died young. “Only” children tend not to want “only” children. The Coolidges therefore had two sons, John and Calvin, Junior.


Calvin and Grace Coolidge with their sons, John (l) and Cal Jr. (r)

The Coolidges were as typical a New England family as one could find during the first quarter of the 20th Century. They lived in half-a-two-family-house in Northampton – in the western part of Massachusetts.

Calvin Coolidge was a middling attorney, who augmented his middling salary by holding middling public office. He was the long time Mayor of Northampton, a concurrent state legislator, and later Lt. Governor and finally Governor, much to his surprise and the dismay of the eastern Harvard crowd.

Mrs. Coolidge was a housewife and mother. She did most of her own housework, all of the cooking (never great), and sewed, knitted and crocheted with some skill.


Who but a Coolidge would cut the grass in a suit and tie???

She was also an affectionate and engaged mother. Calvin, while regularly in Boston on business, was pater familias. Once the boys approached their teens, they were expected to do family chores, and hire themselves out for the common jobs of childhood: shoveling snow, raking leaves and delivering newspapers.

Both Coolidge sons were athletically inclined and joined baseball teams. Grace liked baseball, and always would. It was she who played catch or pitched the ball for John and Cal Junior to hit. She also learned the mechanics and rules of baseball, and became a knowledgeable and ardent Boston Red Sox fan.


Cal Sr and Jr build a soap-box car. Shirt and tie – but no jackets!

When Coolidge was around, he was an affectionate supervising parent. There is an old photograph that tells it all nicely: A 40-some-year-old Coolidge, wearing a tie, helping Cal Junior (also in tie) build a soapbox car.

Calvin Junior


The Coolidge half-a-house in Northampton, MA

Both sons were good students, but neither exceptional nor particularly bookish. They had joined the Boy Scouts. They were nice looking, sociable and popular with their peers.

Calvin Coolidge Junior (1908-1924) inherited his mother’s broad smile and outgoing nature – along with his father’s sahara-dry wit and deadpanned expression. But since both Coolidge parents were blessed with a sense of humor, it stood to reason.

Calvin the father became a surprise Republican Vice Presidential candidate in 1920. As a nationally unknown Governor of Massachusetts, he had burst into the limelight some months earlier during a Police strike in Boston, declaring There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time. 

Senator Warren Harding of Ohio was the surprise candidate for President, having said little other than wanting to “return to normalcy.” Both quotes resonated well with the electorate however, and they won in a walk!


Cal Jr. on his summer job in 1923 – working on a tobacco farm in Connecticut. No suit. No tie. Normal kid.

The one often-repeated story about Cal Junior occurred shortly after President Harding’s sudden death in August, 1923, which elevated VP Calvin Coolidge into the top spot.

As expected, the fifteen-year-old boy had a summer job that year – as a farm hand on a tobacco farm in Connecticut, a labor-intensive and physically demanding job. The news had just come over the radio that Calvin Coolidge was now the President of the United States.

One of the other boys working on the farm commented to young Cal, “Boy, if my old man were President I wouldn’t been working here.” Cal retorted, “If your old man were my old man you would.”

The Tragic Death of Calvin Junior


The Coolidge family, about the time Coolidge was Vice President.

Presidential son Cal Junior attended the Washington schools and blended happily into the capital scene, making friends, doing his schoolwork and enjoying sports. Very sixteen-ish. One of those sports was tennis, and the White House had a tennis court on the property.

In July, 1924 Cal was playing tennis. He wore his tennis shoes without socks, and rubbed up a blister. A common enough occurrence. Not worth bothering about. Certainly not worth complaining about.

But this blister was a blood blister, and it became infected. Penicillin and other antibiotics were still a few years in the future. The poison of the infection entered Cal’s bloodstream, and the boy declined rapidly. He was in pain, and delirious with fever that did not respond to the treatment of the day.

calvin coolidge

President Coolidge. He could do many things, but he could not save his son’s life.

Doctors had been summoned immediately, but every effort they made failed. They could do nothing. The President and First Lady sat with their sick son, but they could do nothing. Cal Junior begged his father to “help him,” after all, he was the President. But the President was helpless. He could do nothing. Within the week, Cal died.

His body lay in state in the East Room of the White House, with an honor guard of Marines and sailors. There were contingents of Boy Scouts participating in the simple service. Flowers and wreaths poured in from across the country. Then his body was taken back to Plymouth Notch, VT for burial in the Coolidge family plot.

President Coolidge was never the same after his young son’s death. Silent Cal became even more silent.  He remarked simply, “When he went, the power and glory of the presidency went with him.”


Coolidge, Calvin – The Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge – University Press of the Pacific, 2004

Wikander, Lawrence & Ferrell, Robert (eds) – Grace Coolidge, An Autobiography, 1992, High Plains



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William Tecumseh Sherman: Grant’s Perfect Lieutenant

William Tecumseh Sherman, frequently considered the first “modern” general, was above all, the indispensable lieutenant to Ulysses S. Grant.


Sherman Meets Lincoln

William T. Sherman (1820-1891), Ohio born and bred, was orphaned as a child and foster-raised by the politically powerful Ewing family. A West Point graduate, he fulfilled his obligations, entered the private sector, and by 1861, was content as the head of the Louisiana Military Academy.

When the Civil War began, he returned North. His brother John was now a United States Senator – a Republican Senator, with Lincoln’s ear.  “Cump,” as his intimates called him, was brought to meet the President, and requested reinstatement in the U.S. Army.  It was William T. Sherman himself who requested a “second-in-command” assignment. He did not want full responsibility. Lincoln likely figured that Sherman knew best, and reinstated him as a Colonel, but soon after promoted him to Brigadier General.

It was disastrous. Always considered moody but outspoken, Sherman came to an early conclusion that the War would be long, hard, and cost tens of thousands in casualties. This was diametrically contrary to the conventional wisdom and considered opinions of his military higher-ups. They declared that Sherman was “deranged,” and in dire need of a rest. They packed him off to Ohio to recuperate.  Once determined that “Cump” was sufficiently recovered, (perhaps because the Union Army was in dire need of experienced leadership), he was declared fit for service.

Sherman’s Crucible: Shiloh


William T. Sherman, considered by many to be the first “modern” general.

At a little town in Tennessee called Pittsburg Landing, immortalized by its tiny Shiloh Church, Sherman’s seeds of greatness were sown. It did not begin well. Believing that the rebels were nowhere in sight, he was completely surprised the morning of April 7, 1862, when forest critters came running out of the woods, followed by the Confederate cavalry yipping their distinctive whoops.

Sherman sprang into action, rallying his division, riding between his lines, shoring up the ranks as needed. Ulysses S. Grant, senior commander at Shiloh, was doing the same, on a higher level. He rode all day, back and forth between his divisions, checking on his subordinates and their armies.


Ulysses as a young Lieutenant. He was two years younger than Sherman, but outranked him during the Civil War. Sherman never objected.

Grant and Sherman had been casually acquainted since West Point, where Sherman, an upper-classman had only superficial contact with Cadet Grant. Subsequent meetings during the next fifteen years were similarly casual. This time would be different. When Grant came to assess Sherman’s position and options, he realized quickly that his subordinate was doing precisely what he himself was doing: covering and adjusting his responsibilities as needed – back and forth and continually. Satisfied that Sherman was in control of his situation, he moved on to another part of the bloody field. They thought alike.

Later that night, in a driving rainstorm, Sherman went to find Grant, who had taken shelter under a huge tree. “It’s been a devil of day, Grant,” Sherman is quoted to have said. Grant nodded and replied, “Yup. Whip ‘em tomorrow, though.” Then the two men were silent, puffing on their cigars under a tree in the rain, on the bloodiest battlefield the world had ever known.

They had become friends.

Sherman’s Maturity: Vicksburg

Capturing Vicksburg, an impregnable fortress in an unassailable position on the Mississippi River, was arguably Grant’s most daunting assignment, and would be his finest victory, albeit excruciatingly difficult.


General Grant and General Sherman were said to be “together,” the best general ever!

Ulysses S. Grant was not a general of the war-council. While he was always accessible to his commanders’ suggestions, he preferred to work alone. He designed six or more “feints” or proposed plans of attack – including digging miles of canals – while he waited for the mud soaked terrain to improve. Sherman was involved in these ancillary efforts, performing dutifully and capably. He was beginning to understand his somewhat enigmatic commanding officer.

What he did not understand was Grant’s proposed objective to bring the Army below Vicksburg and attack the fortress from the rear. Like most of Grant’s staff, he thought the strategy was dangerous and doomed to fail. Adding to the insanity was the presumption that Grant was detaching his army from its supply line – a classic verboten in military manuals. No food. Limited medical supplies. No communications.

Sherman, Grant’s ablest and most loyal subordinate general, had grave reservations. He drafted a well-conceived, well-worded memorandum of opposition and sent it for Grant’s review. Grant concurred with all of Sherman’s reservations and comments. It was very risky, Grant agreed, but he believed it was worth the risk, and Vicksburg could be taken.

Sherman, the loyal lieutenant, followed his captain. Grant was right. The risks were worth taking, and the victory at Vicksburg would crown Grant with glory, and plant new strategic concepts in Sherman’s head.

William T. Sherman: Lessons Learned


Sherman was always a soldier – never a politician. He called it “true.”

Sherman, in his “derangement” had been correct all along. Three years after Fort Sumter, the war was still raging, and the casualties were in the hundreds of thousands. By mid-1864, Grant had been sent to command the entire Army with Sherman in full command of the western armies. If Grant became known as the “butcher of the battlefield,” Sherman could be called the “butcher of the battleground.”


Sherman marches to the sea. And makes Georgia howl – just like he declared.

He had learned well from Grant’s examples: trusting his own instincts and taking calculated risks. He also understood, perhaps better than anyone else, (and perhaps better than he himself realized) that war is truly hell. In Sherman’s eyes, war had ceased being armies facing armies on a battlefield, and began to emerge as a total entity of itself: destroying the enemy’s ability and will to fight on.

He said he would make Georgia howl, and he did precisely that. Leading three separate armies in a hundred mile swath, William T. Sherman marched across Georgia, destroying everything in his wake. The property damage would be horrendous, but the casualties, in comparison to Grant’s battles, were minuscule. Nevertheless, the South would never be quite the same again. Nor would waging war.


Catton, Bruce – The Civil War – Fairfax Press – 1980

Flood, Charles B. – Grant and Sherman – Farrar, Straus, 2005

Grant, Ulysses S. – Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant – World Publishing (reprinted) 1952


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The White House New Year’s Day Reception


An early artistic rendering of Washington DC about the turn of the 19th century.

After two years in New York and ten years in Philadelphia, the capital of the country was moved to Washington at the very end of 1800.

The Dismal Days

Washington DC was just opening for business in late 1800, after a ten-year building process. Designed and built practically from scratch from donated pieces of Virginia and Maryland, the new city was muddy, full of building debris, stray dogs, cats and pigs, unpaved streets, fields of weeds, and huge distances between neighbors.


John Adams was the first POTUS to open the White House for a public reception on New Year’s Day – in 1801.

President John Adams came to the White House alone. His wife Abigail joined him shortly afterwards, along with John and Esther Breisler, their long-time stewards.

The place was cold and damp, basically unfurnished other than what Adams brought himself. No one was there to welcome him. The inhospitable atmosphere was matched by the President’s private feelings. His presidency had been troubled and generally unsuccessful, and he had recently lost a bid for a second term to his Vice President and good friend Thomas Jefferson. He had also come to suspect a widening rift marring their quarter century of friendship.

His few weeks in residence in the unfinished President’s House would not be happy.

Nevertheless, Adams began what would become an annual event for more than a century.

New Year’s Day: 1801

white house 1807

One of the earliest images of the White House – circa 1807.

George Washington had instituted a Presidential open house reception on the 4th of July, both in New York and in Philadelphia. Everyone was invited. No formal invitations were needed.

As Chief Occupant in the new President’s House in Washington, especially in a centennial year, Adams believed it was the “people’s” house, and it was incumbent upon him, its first resident, to extend hospitality. Thus, on New Year’s Day, 1801, the doors were open to any and all persons in Washington who wished to come by, shake his hand and exchange greetings.

A year later, Jefferson, urbane and sophisticated, followed suit and cordially greeted any and all who wished to shake his hand on New Year’s Day.

Thus a tradition was born and continued.


Public Presidential receptions differed somewhat from official or private ones. The purpose was to express cordiality to the general public. Refreshments were either very modest or not included. (Presidents were expected to pay for their guests’ refreshments out of pocket until the time of Calvin Coolidge.)

andrew jackson 1

Hordes of well-wishers came to Andrew Jackson’s New Year’s Day receptions.

As the town grew, the New Year’s Day reception lines grew longer.  And if a person, male or female, was properly dressed (most of them in their finest clothes) and willing to stand patiently in line, they were welcome.

Except for slaves. Or even free blacks. It was not a written rule originally, but a tacit understanding. Few blacks could be “properly” dressed, and few blacks – or whites – would be comfortable standing next to each other in line.

By the time of Andrew Jackson, the white population of Washington had grown from some 10,000 in 1800 to nearly 28,000 in 1830. Jackson, a man-of-the-people, attracted thousands of proletariat followers. Clothing was more rustic, manners more coarse, but the people still came to shake hands with Their Hero, who seemed pleased to shake hands with them.

New Year’s Day: 1863

The annual New Year’s Day reception in 1863 is arguably the most important event in the Reception’s history. Abraham Lincoln was President, and the Civil War was raging.

President Lincoln

The New Year’s Day reception of 1863 is arguably the most important. President Lincolns Emancipation Proclamation was going into effect.

It was a Thursday. Earlier that morning, a somber President, well aware of the momentous occasion, retweaked any final changes he wanted made and had the final copy of the Emancipation Proclamation prepared. Then at 11a.m., as customary, the Blue Room reception began, for high ranking public officials and invited guests. A half hour later, the White House doors were opened to the public, and for the next three hours, the President duly shook hands with any and all who had waited in line. Mrs. Lincoln, who was still in mourning for their son Willie who had died less than a year earlier, knowing the importance of this particular day, came for an hour.

At three p.m. the public New Year’s Day reception ended, and the President moved to a different room to sign his carefully written full name to the Emancipation Proclamation.

Hundreds of Northerners who had been active in anti-slavery efforts, some for a generation, had flocked to Washington for this welcome event. Thousands had lined Pennsylvania Avenue waiting to shake the President’s hand. His arm grew tired. His kid glove was stained by contact with thousands of hands. But everyone who came was welcome.

The following year, there were a few well-dressed, cultured and educated Negro attendees admitted to the Reception. It was the first time they had been permitted to attend a social event in the White House.

The End of the Receptions

Sargeant Teddy

TR perfected a handshake that moved the crowds forward like an assembly line.


Crowds lined up for the 1909 New Year’s Day Reception.

As time went on, the New Year’s Day receptions became cumbersome and onerous for the President. Some, like Theodore Roosevelt who was naturally gregarious, perfected a handshake that firmly pushed the visitor along, while controlling the strength of the handshake itself.  By 1900, the population of Washington DC was over 279,000, not counting visitors. By the twentieth century, the estimate was more than 9,000 attendees and was becoming annoying for the president, who complained of a sore arm and hand.


A crowd lines up outside the White House for the annual New Year’s Day Reception.  Notice the weather.

Then there was the obvious problem: Cold, wet, damp weather, with attendees standing outside, perhaps for hours, coughing and sneezing, chilled to the bone.  It had become a serious health concern.


One of the last images of crowds lining up for the New Year’s Day Reception.

The last New Years Day Reception was held in 1932. Herbert Hoover had followed the protocol three times, but by 1933, whether it was from his own disinclination to press the flesh, or the unwieldy (and unhealthy) crowds, or even a perceived threat to his personal safety, since the Great Depression was gripping the country, he was “out of town” on New Year’s Day.

No President since has sought to revive the old custom, and today, the logistical and security problems would make it completely impossible.


Brandus, Paul – Under This Roof: The White House and the Presidency – Lyons Press, 2016

Landau, Barry H. – The President’s Table: Two Hundred Years of Dining and Diplomacy – Harper-Collins, 2007



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