John Quincy Adams: Arborist

John Quincy Adams came late to nature.

JQA: The City Fellow

John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) was born in rural Massachusetts, but lived within ten miles of Boston, then considered a major city (pop. 10,000) in the Colonies. As a very young boy, his family periodically lived in Boston when the senior Adams had business there. When his father was in Philadelphia attending the Continental Congress, little JQ helped on the Adams farm – but at 7 or 8, he could only do so much.

But when Adams Senior was sent to Europe as a diplomat, he took his 10-year-old son along. JQ spent the better part of the next decade in the grand capitals of Europe, soaking up the finest culture and knowledge those cities had to offer. In addition, he was privileged to become acquainted with some of their finest and most illustrious citizens.

Young John Quincy Adams

At eighteen, he returned to Boston, which now looked very provincial in his eyes, attended Harvard, and went on to read law. Considered one of the most cosmopolitan young Americans of his generation, he became active in political and government affairs, and impressed everyone with his innate abilities – including President George Washington.

The President sent him to the Netherlands as a diplomatic Minister. He was 25. Once again, JQA was readily at home in the great capitals, and remained for another half-decade.

Nature Beckons

The house where the senior John Adams was born…

…and the house where JQA was born.

When he was in his mid-thirties, living back in Boston with his wife and young children, he purchased the old Adams family farm and buildings from his elderly parents, who needed the extra cash. (His parents had a lovely estate a few miles away). JQA now had a small place of his own – with some land, some crops, some trees, and a grand awakening to a love of nature.

Peacefield. The Adams family estate purchased in the late 1780s.

JQ, with a powerful methodical and disciplined mind for study, found himself immersed in the science of nature, and particularly botany. He learned the basics and became familiar with every type of tree and shrub on the property, and meticulously cataloged them. Then, he was once again recruited into diplomatic service, followed by eight years as James Monroe’s Secretary of State.

Ergo, he had little time to devote to his newfound botanical interests.

The President and The Trees

In late 1824, John Quincy Adams was elected President in a rancorous and difficult election. His was to be a chilly administration. He was unpopular, both with the politicians and the populace. Little of what he espoused came to pass.

Nevertheless, his garden goal was a national one. With the expert help of White House gardener John Ousley (who served in that capacity for the next quarter century), JQA hoped to replenish the forests primeval along the east coast which were being decimated by 200 years of encroaching cities. He set aside a acre or more on the grounds for a “nursery.”

An early image of the White House.

He especially wished to replenish live oak and white oak forests, deemed vital to the shipbuilding industry. (The USS Constitution, aka Old Ironsides, had its hull made from live oak.) Utilizing the perks of his office, he instructed all the commercial ship captains and foreign diplomats to bring back seeds, seedlings and cuttings of the various European trees and plants that could survive in North America. Every US consul was advised that the president sought “forest trees useful as timber; grain of any description; fruit trees; vegetables for the table… and plants of whatever nature…”  And, of course, books on horticulture.

Within a few months, packets of said seedlings, seeds and volumes of instructions for their planting reached the White House. And books, which he read voraciously.

JQA was in his late 50s when he became President.

While he originally planned to concentrate on oaks and hickories, his new knowledge expanded his sights: he wanted fruit trees and herbaceous plants, walnuts, hazelnuts and chestnut trees.

His new hobby was a great respite for his unhappy presidency, and he wrote in his diary, “In this small garden of less than two acres, there are forest- and fruit-trees, shrubs, hedges, esculent vegetables, kitchen and medicinal herbs, hot-house plants, flowers, and weeds… of at least one thousand…”

He began forgoing his usual walk  to devote time to his garden. When he returned to his family home in Quincy, he brought several tubs for seedlings and grafting purposes. He also carefully documented the outcome of dozens of seedling-trees that he had planted back in 1804, noting whether they had matured and to what extent, and if they were bearing nuts or acorns. Some did, and he was pleased when he wrote “This is encouragement for me to persevere in my experiments, which I would leave as…a charge and an inheritance to my children.”

The trees that he had planted at the White House also began taking root, although, he noted in his diary, “I shall see little of these myself, but in leaving an infant forest under the eyes of my Successors, I intend it as a memento for them which I hope they will have the means of cherishing.”

He hoped to leave a legacy to the country he so keenly wanted to serve.

Alas…

When Andrew Jackson became President, his rowdy adherents fairly well trampled the nurseries and grounds – and even most of the trees JQ had so carefully planted.

The elder JQA, who left a much larger legacy.

But his gardens in Quincy, although small in size, were the joy of his elder years. The trees he had planted in his birth-home had matured. Fifty years is usually considered a young tree! And up until his death at eighty-one, he still noted in his diary how he was “plucking up weeds – a never ceasing occupation.”

Sources:

McDowell, Marta – All the Presidents’ Gardens – Timber Press, 2016

McEwan, Barbara – White House Landscapes: Horticultural Achievements of American Presidents – Walker and Company, 1992

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

https://www.nps.gov/adam/learn/historyculture/places.htm

https://www.nps.gov/adam/learn/historyculture/john-quincy-adams-birthplace.htm

 

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VP James Sherman: Voting for the Dead Guy

James Sherman was VP for William Howard Taft.

A Little Bit About Sherman

James Schoolcraft Sherman (1852-1912) was born and raised in upstate New York – very very distantly related to General Cump and Senator John of the same name. His was a pleasant, middle-class upbringing in Utica, which included an education at Hamilton College, and a law degree.

Young James S. Sherman

He was diligent, hard-working, pleasant, and not one to make waves. Thus, when Republican political office beckoned, he was available – and electable. He served as Mayor of Utica for a term, then went on to a couple of terms in Congress in the 1880s. Then he lost in a Democratic sweep, but was re-elected two years later, and stayed for nearly twenty years.

Despite his safe seat and nickname “Sunny Jim” (for his genial disposition), he was never among the leadership. He was dependable, well regarded by his peers, an excellent parliamentarian, but he never introduced or sponsored substantive legislation. Few people ever heard of him. If you don’t make waves, you don’t create a wake.

Jim Sherman? Vice President?

President Theodore Roosevelt

After Republican VP-turned-POTUS Theodore Roosevelt won the office on his own in 1904, he declared he would not run for a third term. He regretted the decision, but once made, it was kept. All efforts were focused on his successor.

It was not the easiest choice. Despite TR’s genuine popularity and legacy of progressive governing, he had made powerful enemies in Congress, most of them within his own party. TR was much too progressive, radical, independent – whatever you wanted to call it – to suit the staid, uber-wealthy businessmen and their henchmen who had a substantial voice in Congress. Those die-hards, Old Guard, stand-patters – whatever you wanted to call it – liked things the way they were, especially when it came to their business interests.

TR worked very hard to find a successor to continue his progressive agenda. Finally settling on his good friend, Secretary of War William Howard Taft, who accepted the “honor” very reluctantly (he preferred the Supreme Court), the big push was to get WHT nominated and elected. The position of Vice President (despite TR’s own history) was considered a throwaway. It was ceremonial. Honorable, but toothless. Neither TR nor Taft really cared who would be the running-mate. The convention could decide.

William Jennings Bryan ran for a third time, and struck out again.

That Taft would win in 1908 was practically a given. Most people knew him, and he was not only competent, but loveable. Even William Jennings Bryan, trying yet again (third time), knew he would strike out. Still, when the Republican convention met in Chicago, a Vice President had yet to be nominated.

The Candidates

The New York delegation, mostly the Old Guard, lobbied hard to convince Taft’s campaign mangers that a New Yorker would add strength to Taft, the Ohioan.

James Sherman was definitely one of the Old Guard, particularly when it came to the plethora of regulatory legislation TR introduced to protect the consumer, and even to protect business from itself. Sherman had inherited the family canning company in upstate NY, and strenuously opposed the provisions of the Pure Food and Drug Act to label weights and measures accordingly. Some re-nicknamed “Sunny Jim” to “Short-Weight Jim.”

Neither Taft nor TR were thrilled, since they hoped the convention would choose a more “progressive” Republican, but they acquiesced.

Taft won, and Jim Sherman, overwhelmed by the honor, was now Vice President.

Taft and Sherman: Bridging the Gap

Taft always said that being POTUS was the only job he didn’t like.

The relationship between the generally progressive, but judicial minded Taft and the Old Guard Sherman was cool. But with opportunities to mix and mingle, the very likeable Taft and the very likeable Sherman warmed up to each other. And, as the  judicial Taft aligned more with the Old Guard, their relationship became even more cordial.

Taft required very little of his VP however, other than the customary ceremonial-and-related tasks. The President, like those before him, saw the position as an empty chair.

VP Sherman had a secret, however. He was a sick man and he knew it. He had Bright’s Disease, a kidney ailment, sooner or later always fatal in pre-antibiotic days. (As a “Presidential” aside, the disease was responsible for the deaths of TR’s first wife, 23-year-old Alice Lee, President Chester Alan Arthur, and within a year or two, First Lady Ellen Wilson.)

Sherman and The Election of 1912

TR, the Bull Moose Candidate

By spring 1912, President Taft was all but certain that he might win the Republican nomination – but the rift between him and ex-POTUS Roosevelt had become a chasm, and the “Colonel” was campaigning once again – for his own nomination.

Taft was reluctant as ever, but he believed he had done an honorable and credible job in office, and needed to defend his record. He was also no fool, and knew that party division would not be in his favor, and the Democrats, whoever they might nominate would likely win. The party regulars had neither time nor inclination worry about the second spot. They asked Sherman to run on the ticket.

Sherman declined. Several times. By the summer of 1912, his health had begun to fail rapidly. But as the Republican convention heated up and boiled over, the dying man was coerced into allowing his name to be placed on the ticket.

On October 30, a week before the election, VP James Sherman died. The ballots had been printed. There was no time to reprint them. The Republican party regulars designated Nicholas Murray Butler, President of Columbia University, to “receive” the votes that Sherman would have won, and serve in office, if by some miracle he did win. There were no miracles. Nevertheless, the Taft-Sherman ticket polled around 3.5 million votes – and 8 electoral votes. The office of VP remained empty for more than 4 months.

Sources:

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

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

https://www.senate.gov/about/officers-staff/vice-president/VP_James_Sherman.htm

https://www.britannica.com/event/United-States-presidential-election-of-1912

 

 

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BULLY! The Life and Times of Theodore Roosevelt: A Book Review

BULLY! The Life and Times of Theodore Roosevelt really is “BULLY!” – as in Theodore Roosevelt’s usage, meaning “terrific!” “great idea!” It was written a few years back, and it has been sitting on my shelf unread for a few years back… (so many books, so little time…)

Anyway, it is a bully book on many fronts! Not the least of which is that it is a good looking book, beautifully composed and printed.

First a few comments on author Rick Marchall, a talented fellow on many fronts as well. Just like a superb athlete at one sport can excel at several others, creative artistic talents can frequently manifest in multiple forms. This author is a gifted (and successful) political cartoonist, which already taps into a variety of talents. He also has a generous eye for other political cartoonists of old, and their works are featured throughout. Then, of course, he has a good ear for the vernacular, which makes him a fine writer. But perhaps the link that ties it all together, is his “nose.” He has the nose for sniffing out all the good stories and he tells them well. And as a Theodore Roosevelt aficionado myself, I don’t think he has missed many!

What makes BULLY! stand apart from the hundreds of books written by-and-about Theodore Roosevelt, and the billions of words about him in newspapers and magazines and films, is the unerring way Marchall taps into the essence of TR’s persona, his soul, his spirit and all the other facets that make him an exceptional human being.

The basic facts are all there, and they are accurate, and unembellished for the most part – but it is way above the stuff of encyclopedia entries. There must be at least a hundred “episodes” that make for good storytelling. Marschall doesn’t “tell the story” per se, he alludes to it. Like the brief account of Father TR. With six rambunctious children, there were the usual squabbles and brawls, requiring TR to adjudicate the matter. He always listened, but before hearing any side, the first thing that he wanted was the truth. This is core Theodore – and you can practically visualize the story and the moral he always tried to stand for.

Then of course, there’s the story of President TR bemoaning to an acquaintance that he wished he had a good constitutional lawyer to talk to. His companion was amazed, since he had two of the best constitutional lawyers in the country (and his good friends) in his cabinet: Elihu Root (State) and William Howard Taft (War). “Yes, I now,” sighed Roosevelt, “but they don’t agree with me.” It is also core and classic TR.

Part of the successful “nosing” is all the help Marschall has assembled from scores of political cartoonists of Theodore’s yesteryear. They were light years more potent than the pre-Civil War cartoonists, good in their own way, but gabby and cluttered. The late decades of the 19th century and into the early 20th were awash with marvelous and savvy political artists whose skills with pen and ink – and wit – were as good (if not better) than today’s commentators.

So, not to belabor a wealth of marvelous information, talent, humor and pithiness thrown into his lap a generation or three later, author Marschall merely needed to sort things out and intellectually cut-and-paste. The meat is already there, and it is dee-licious!

Arguably the most unique aspect of BULLY! are those old political cartoons and illustrations, most of which are more than a hundred years old. Some of them refer to long-ago near-forgotten episodes of history. But a huge number have relevance today!

Marschall likely could have written the script and contextual material in his sleep; after all he has been an acknowledged TR maven for years. But methinks his pure dee-light was in the explaining, or annotating the cartoons, which are not usually found in TR books. And who better than a fine political cartoonist who knows, loves and appreciates history! He captions a pile of left-to-right caricatures of dead guys most people never heard of, and I daresay he enjoyed every minute of it, since he knows them all like family.

On a personal note, it was my good timing to read the book now, in such troubled and worrisome times. So much of what TR said and thought is pertinent today, and the lessons are still valid.

So whether the reader is significantly learned in TR – or is the casual novice, BULLY! is a book that should be on every TR lover’s shelf! Read it! You’ll enjoy it.

 

BULLY!: The Life and Times of Theodore Roosevelt

Rick Marschall

Regnery History, 2011

  • ISBN-10: 1596981547
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596981546

 

 

 

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Abigail Adams and Polly Jefferson

Abigail Adams always loved children.

The Lonely Childhood of Polly Jefferson

Said to be Jefferson’s wife Martha. (Not really sure)

Mary (or Maria) Jefferson (1778-1804), called Polly as a child, was the second surviving daughter of Thomas and Martha Jefferson. Her older sister Martha (1772-1836), nicknamed Patsy from birth, was six years older – and there had been a few siblings between who died at birth. Mrs. J., unsuited for childbearing, became increasingly frail.

Three years after Polly’s birth and shortly after Lucy Elizabeth (the second Jefferson daughter of that name) was born, Martha Jefferson died at only thirty-three. Polly had no memory of her mother.

Thomas Jefferson was devastated by his young wife’s death. Patsy, aged ten, was the only person Jefferson could bear to have near him. Polly and baby Lucy were cared for by relatives and family servants. Jefferson unquestionably loved his children, but he was a cerebral man, with little patience or understanding of babies.

Two years later, practically yanking him from his self-imposed hermit-life, the United States Congress sent him to Paris as the American Minister. He took Patsy with him.

The little girls were sent to live with their late mother’s half-sister, Elizabeth Wayles Eppes. It was a godsend. The Eppes family embraced the children tenderly, and Jefferson was comforted knowing that they had a good home. Jefferson wrote to the Eppes’ regularly, sending money and occasional toys or gifts for the children.

Polly’s cousin and later husband, John Wayles Eppes.

Within a year he received terrible news. Lucy had died. She was only two. He determined that he must not be separated from the only two “souvenirs” from his beloved wife. He wanted the family to be together in Paris, and sent for Polly. He “prepared” her for the voyage nearly a year in advance, tempting her with the opportunity to learn charm and grace, to draw and dance and to speak French. He also carefully and in detail admonished the Eppes’ to find a strong, suitable ship for the trip – a daunting exercise. Polly, not quite eight, was not interested.

The Deception and The Voyage

Polly Jefferson had absolutely no desire to leave Aunt and Uncle Eppes, who she had learned to love dearly. Nor did she care to be reunited with the father she barely remembered. She became overwrought and difficult. Jefferson persisted however, and arrangements were made for Polly’s voyage on the Arundel.

She was so unhappy and reluctant to leave her foster-parents that a subterfuge had to be undertaken. The entire Eppes family went to the port and lured Polly aboard the ship, where she “innocently played with her little cousins until she began to feel at home. When she fell asleep they were speeded away, and when she awoke the voyage had begun.”  With no escort other than Sally Hemings, a fourteen year old servant, she found a kind mentor in Captain Ramsay, who she grew to admire. The passage was calm and uneventful.

Jefferson Disappoints His Daughter

The “European” Thomas Jefferson.

Thomas Jefferson, as Minister to France, had many responsibilities, and in the winter of 1786-7, he was required to travel to the south of France, and even Italy. Polly was due to arrive in England, in Spring, 1787. Realizing that an enormous amount of work had accumulated in Paris making it inadvisable for him to leave again, he asked his good friends Abigail and John Adams, recently appointed as Minister to Great Britain, if they would do him the favor of meeting Polly’s ship, and keeping his daughter under their wing until he could come for her.

Abigail Adams became a substitute mother to Polly – for a few weeks.

They were happy to oblige their dear friend. Mrs. Adams was apprehensive at first, since Polly had been taken aboard against her will, and spent five weeks at sea surrounded only by men and a teenage servant. But eight-year-old Polly bonded almost instantly with Abigail Adams and stayed with them for about three weeks.

Abigail wrote to Jefferson, giving him her glowing observations about his little girl.  “She is a child of the quickest sensibility, and the maturest understanding, that I have ever met with for her years… She listened to my admonitions, and attended to my advice and in two days, was restored to the amiable lovely Child which her Aunt had formed her. In short she is the favorite of every creature in the House… Books are her delight, and I have furnished her out a little library, and she reads to me by the hour with great distinctness, and comments on what she reads with much propriety.”

Three weeks later, once again Polly was disappointed. And angry. Jefferson did not come in person, but sent his maitre d’ to escort the child to Paris. He did not speak a word of English.

Polly had come to love Mrs. Adams and was reluctant to leave her. “If I must go, I will,” wept Polly, “but I can’t help crying, so pray, dont ask me to.”

Abigail sympathized with the child, but as fate would have it, the two would never meet again.

Years Later

Francis Eppes, Polly’s only surviving son.

The once-dear friendship between Thomas Jefferson and John and Abigail Adams never erupted per se; it merely withered from political estrangement. Polly married her cousin John Wayles Eppes, had a son Francis, and in 1804, died giving birth to a second son. She was 25.

Thomas Jefferson was President at that time, and understandably devastated by the loss of his beloved daughter. Abigail Adams had not corresponded with him in several years, but was compelled to write condolences, “to shed the tear of sorrow over the departed remains, of your beloved and deserving daughter, an event which I most sincerely mourn…  the recent account of her death, which I read in a late paper, brought fresh to my remembrance…”

Poplar Forest

In his will Thomas Jefferson left his summer estate, Poplar Forest, to his grandson Francis Eppes.

Sources:

Levin, Phyllis Lee – Abigail Adams – St. Martin’s Press, 1987

Malone, Dumas – Jefferson the President (1st Term) – History Book Club, 1990

https://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/maria-jefferson-eppes

https://www.vqronline.org/essay/polly-jefferson-and-her-father

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James Buchanan: Tired Ol’ Buck

James Buchanan was nearly seventy in 1861, a time when 75 was a ripe old age.

The Election of 1856

When James Buchanan (1791-1868) was elected in 1856, he was a) the last President born in the 18th century; b) had a good reputation and resume of accomplishment, and c) was a loyal Pennsylvania Democrat from a “free” state, but one who was personally sympathetic toward many of the southern issues.

A successful lawyer, state legislator, congressman, senator, cabinet member and diplomat, “Buck” had been shortlisted as a Democratic presidential candidate for a dozen years. But  as a popular and successful Ambassador to Great Britain during the Pierce Administration (1853-57)  he was out of the country for four very turbulent years.

Since it was a fact of political life that a “southerner” could never win the nomination let alone the election, the Democrats needed to look elsewhere. A Pennsylvanian, whose closest friends and colleagues were from the south, seemed a good move. The fact that he was already past sixty-five and his energies were showing the signs of age was not a concern. Buchanan pledged to serve a single term.

John C. Fremont, first Republican Presidential candidate.

The 25-year-old Whig party was sectional, and never a cohesive group. As the 40s and 50s became more and more embroiled by slavery, states’ rights and (gasp) secession, it fragmented completely by 1856. A new Republican party more organized in their goals and philosophies fielded its first presidential candidate, General John C. Fremont, in 1856. They made a strong showing and were poised for the next go-round.

If winning the Presidency in 1856 was a thrill for James Buchanan, the thrall dissipated rapidly. Three days after his inauguration, the infamous Dred Scott Decision was handed down by the Supreme Court, inflaming the slavery issue into a near-conflagration. Nearly every month brought another crisis or problem or headache to a man who desired peace for everyone and easier days for himself.

left to right: Howell Cobb (GA), John Floyd (VA) and Jacob Thompson (MS)

He had tried to balance his cabinet with men he had known for years, including three southerners who would cause him more grief than nearly anything else: Georgia’s Howell Cobb (Treasury), Virginia’s John Floyd (War) and Mississippi’s Jacob Thompson (Interior). By the time Buchanan finally took steps and demanded resignations, they had wreaked enormous (and likely treasonous) damage on the country.

His beloved Democratic party was hopelessly and bitterly split.

The Election of 1860

As the turbulent decade groaned to an end, Buchanan longed to turn the Presidency over to his successor, whoever he might be. There were four candidates. The Democrats had split their choice between Buchanan’s VP, John C. Breckenridge of Kentucky, and Illinois senator Stephen A. Douglas. A fourth candidate, John Bell of Tennessee, was an old southern Whig, hoping to “save” the Union. Abraham Lincoln, an Illinois lawyer with little national reputation was the only Republican candidate.

It was no surprise when the lone Republican won. Nor was it a surprise when South Carolina, arguably the most rambunctious state of all, voted to secede.

Buchanan finally had to face the problem he long dreaded. He had to take action, and he was not a man of action. He was undoubtedly a man of good will, but not of strong will. Rumors abounded that he was ill. Other rumors abounded that he was not only healthy, but sleeping well and eating heartily. Then there were rumors that all he did was weep and pray. With so many of his close friends deserting him for the new confederacy, he had no confidantes, and had lost whatever was left of his own confidence. His seventy years had caught up with him. He was tired – and old.

Despite a brilliant social scene that troubled winter, hosted by Buchanan’s charming and competent young niece Harriet Lane, the capital, and indeed the country, was “dancing on the precipice.” The beleaguered president’s main goal was to hold the frazzled pieces of the Union together – until the new president took office.

The Welcomed Exit

Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican President.

Buchanan and Lincoln had never met, nor did they share any more than a handful of acquaintances. Lincoln had taken great pains as president-elect, to duck and waffle almost as much as his predecessor. But Lincoln, at 52, was not a man to duck and waffle as part of his persona. His aim was to let the sitting president act as he saw fit, and then, once Lincoln was in office, he could assess the situation better.

The Lincoln Cottage (White House photo)

When Lincoln arrived in Washington prior to his inauguration, he was overwhelmed by the number of callers, well-wishers, office-seekers, advisors, potential advisors, and government officials of varying importance. Nevertheless, he found time to pay a courtesy call on President Buchanan, and the two men spent a cordial hour in conversation. Buchanan advised his successor of the salient crises that had arisen in previous weeks, including the problems of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. But he had no recommendations.

One piece of excellent advice he could offer however, was to encourage the POTUS-to-be to make use of a delightful cottage at the Soldiers’ Home, three miles outside the city. He said that the house provided a cooler venue, and was sufficiently distant from the boggy area that made the city disease-prone in hot weather. Lincoln did not use it that first summer of his presidency; but for three years afterwards, he found it to be a wonderful respite from Washington heat, miasma – and the usual hordes of visitors.

Then, in an oft-quoted remark, as Lincoln was leaving, the tired (and soon to be re-tired) old POTUS said, “If you are as happy entering the White House as I shall feel at returning to Wheatland, you are a happy man indeed.”

He meant every word of it.

Sources:

Baker, Jean – James Buchanan – Times Books – 2004

Leech, Margaret – Reville In Washington – New York review Books Classic (reprint) – 2011

Pinsker, Matthew – Lincoln’s Sanctuary: The Soldier’s Home – Oxford University Press – 2003

https://www.whitehouse.gov/about-the-white-house/presidents/james-buchanan/

 

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Brother Generals: Hancock and Armistead

Few ties are as strong as the military bands of brotherhood.

The Gist of the Matter

Two soldiers, close friends for years, had the unlikely distinction of meeting (sort of) for the last time at Gettysburg. One fought for the Union, one for the Confederacy. One died in battle. The other nearly became President of the United States.

Winfield Scott Hancock

Almira Hancock penned a biography of her husband shortly after his death.

General Winfield Scott Hancock.

Winfield Scott Hancock (1824-1886) was a Pennsylvanian of a solid middle class background, named for a hero of the War of 1812. He had a West Point education (Class of 1844), graduating mid-class, assigned to the infantry, and then proving his soldierly mettle mostly as a quartermaster. In private life, he married Almira (Russell) in 1850, and had two children who predeceased him. He received various assignments and promotions and, once the Civil War began, he was made a Brigadier General in the infantry. During the Peninsula Campaign, General George McClellan telegraphed the War Department that “Hancock was superb today.” The nickname “Hancock the Superb” stuck.

Lewis Armistead

Although born in North Carolina, Lewis Armistead (1817-1863) came from a pedigreed First Family of Virginia background. Military service ran in his blood. His father and four uncles all served in the War of 1812. One uncle was commander at Fort McHenry, of Star-Spangled Banner fame. He went to West Point, but resigned midway – possibly for a disciplinary action, possibly academically – or possibly both. Notwithstanding, his influential family arranged for him to receive a commission as Second Lieutenant in the Regular Army about the same time he was expected to graduate. Nicknamed “Lo” for “Lothario,” he married twice. Both wives died young. Two of his three children died before they were five.

The War With Mexico

Many historians today consider the War with Mexico (1846-48) the precursor to the American Civil War. It thrust West Point classmates and alumni (or even dropouts) together, tempering in battle the talents that presaged the Civil War fifteen years later. They were all American soldiers then. Some bonds of camaraderie could withstand the strains that would follow.

Hancock and Armistead found themselves serving together in Mexico. They fought bravely, intelligently and honorably, were decorated for valor, and earned brevet (on-the-field) promotions. They also became lifelong friends, and remained close despite a decade of varying paths in their respective careers. When Lo Armistead tragically lost his wives and children, it was Hancock who came to his side.

California

Lo Armistead

Gold was discovered in California in 1848 and ignited a mad rush to that far-away place for the riches everyone hoped to find. Naturally law and order had to be preserved, and by 1858-9, the two mid-range officers and friends, Hancock and Armistead, found themselves reunited in Southern California. Now in their late thirties, they were tempered by the personal and professional challenges life throws at everyone.

Win Hancock

Their friendship which had always remained strong, now became cemented in California. The bond deepened to a point that they both considered themselves “close as brothers.”

Both men considered themselves Democrats as well, but not overly “political.” Both, however, were solidly for the “union,” whose uniform they had proudly worn for more than a decade.

As the country drifted into the chasm that would pull it apart, discussions obviously abounded about the choices they had to make. Winfield Scott Hancock was not openly hostile to the South and replied simply, “I shall not fight upon the principle of state-rights, but for the Union, whole and undivided.” He returned East to join the Union Army, where his experience, seniority and fine record quickly earned him promotions.

For Lewis Armistead, when Virginia seceded in May, 1861, his choice was painful but easy. Virginia was his country. He too was quickly promoted, but in the Army of Northern Virginia.

Almira’s book.

It is said in family lore and in apocryphal lore, that there was a farewell party the night the soldiers left California to go “home.” It is generally believed that Lo Armistead, considered a stern man personally, put his hand on Hancock’s shoulder and, in tears, told him, “Hancock, goodbye; you can never know what this has cost me and I hope God will strike me dead if I am ever induced to leave my native soil, should worse come to worse.” According to Pulitzer Prize winning author Michael Shaara in The Killer Angels, Armistead made a vow that God should strike him dead if he ever lifts his hand against Hancock. Either way, according to a memoir written years later by Almira Hancock, it was a very rough parting between the two men who had been so close for seventeen years.

Gettysburg and Afterwards

Lo Armistead was a Brigadier General in Pickett’s Division at the time of Gettysburg. Win Hancock was a Brigadier General in command of the Union’s center.

Armistead leading his brigade during Pickett’s charge.

Fact and lore coincide on Pickett’s Charge on the third day of battle. Always brave and disciplined, Armistead skewered his hat with his sword, raised it high, and rallied his men, shouting, “Virginians! With me! Who will come with me?”

He made it all the way across that huge unprotected battlefield where it rained artillery shells and hundreds lay dead and dying, and reached the stone wall before he was wounded. Lore says he asked to be taken to General Hancock, but was told the General had been wounded an hour earlier. They never saw each other again. The facts and the sentiment are generally true.

Presidential Candidate Winfield Scott Hancock.

Armistead’s wounds were not believed to be mortal, and the doctors expected his recovery. But he died from infection two days later, leaving his gold watch and other prized possessions to his dearest friend.

Hancock’s wounds were not mortal, but they were serious and lingering. After his basic convalescence, he returned to the field, and despite great pain, commanded his division at Petersburg.

After the war, he was promoted to Major General, remained in the US Army, and developed political ambitions.

In 1880, he was the Democratic nominee for President. He lost the election to James A. Garfield by less than 40,000 votes out of  9 million cast.

Sources:

Hancock, Almira Russell – Reminiscences of Winfield Scott Hancock – HardPress Publishing (reprint) 2013

Shaara, Michael – The Killer Angels – Mass Market Paperback, 1987

https://www.battlefields.org/learn/maps/gettysburg-picketts-charge-300-330pm

https://www.britannica.com/event/Mexican-American-War

 

 

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Mrs. Coolidge and Mrs. Hoover: A Rare Friendship

On the surface, there were only superficial commonalities between FLOTUS Grace Coolidge and her successor Lou Henry Hoover.

The FLOTUS Sorority

Many historians refer to the position of First Lady as a sorority. There are only a few dozen FLOTUSES across the generations, yet so many similarities to bind them. Many knew their predecessors and/or successors. Many were prominent women before they became FLOTUS.

Friend of Abigail….

Friend of Martha…

Martha Washington and Abigail Adams became acquainted at the outset of Washington’s presidency, and AA famously wrote that she and MW “lived in habits of intimacy and Friendship.” 

Dolley Madison, of course, knew just about everyone between Lady Washington and Sarah Polk.

Edith Roosevelt: Pleasant acquaintances…

Nellie Taft:…for fifty years…

The twenty-year close friendship between Theodore Roosevelt and William H. Taft was not overly embraced by their wives, who always remained pleasant, but cool.

In modern times, Eleanor Roosevelt could claim close kinship with one (Aunt Edith Roosevelt), and pleasant association with more than fifty years of FLOTUSes, fore and aft.

But real  “friendship” is another story.

The Superficial Stuff…

Both Grace Goodhue Coolidge (1879-1957) and Lou Henry Hoover (1874-1944) were raised middle class. Grace was an only child; Lou had a younger sister by eight years, so in many ways, Lou was the “only.”

They looked nothing alike. Grace, perhaps 5’3”, dark, attractive and feminine, even as a child; Lou about 5’9,” fair complected, nice looking enough, and athletic.

Tomboy Lou Henry

Their upbringings were different. Iowa-born, Lou’s family moved to California (still the Wild West) when she was a child, thus she considered herself “western,” with the expansive western outlook and opportunities to grow – even for women. Grace was a Vermont New Englander, in a smaller environment, tied tighter to tradition than to exposure.

Both girls enjoyed good educations in the 1890s. Both were smart, but Lou was smarter. She liked the tough subjects (math and science) and excelled at them. Grace was humanities all the way.

Feminine Grace Goodhue

Lou attended a two-year “normal” school (teachers’ college), and taught the tough subjects for a year. Then she enrolled at Stanford University, and became the first woman in the country to receive a degree in geology, definitely a man’s career. Grace went to the University of Vermont in Burlington and lived at home. She too became a teacher, but was directed into mastering sign language and teaching the deaf, or “special ed” today.

Both were personable and outgoing, and made friends easily. They both joined sororities. Grace became a founding member of UVT’s chapter of Pi Beta Phi and remained active in their affairs for the rest of her life. When Lou went to Stanford, she joined Kappa Kappa Gamma, and lived in the sorority house.

Differing Paths…

Nothing could be more polar opposite than Mrs. Coolidge and Mrs. Hoover.

The adventuresome Mrs. Hoover

Lou Hoover began married life in exotic China, with six servants, circumnavigated the world twice (with two children!), and translated and co-authored a Renaissance treatise on mining from the Latin – all before she was forty. Then the wealthy (self-made) Hoovers moved to an upscale London home, and remained there until WWI. Once they discovered humanitarianism on a grand scale, they became true career partners, each gravitating to what he/she did best.

The traditional Mrs. Coolidge

Grace Coolidge, once married, became a traditional middle-class New England housewife and mother of two. She was active in her church, and, as the US inched toward involvement in WWI, she joined the Red Cross.

The Paths Intersect

In late 1920, Calvin Coolidge became the unlikely Republican Vice President to the equally surprising President Warren Harding. By that time Herbert Hoover was very well known, and became Secretary of Commerce.

It is common for “official families” (POTUS/VP/Cabinet members) to have numerous social occasions to meet, greet and interact. Mrs. Coolidge and Mrs. Hoover had a pleasant acquaintance, but once Harding died and Coolidge became President, the acquaintance deepened into a real friendship.

Their public personae were always different. FLOTUS Grace was stylish, warm-hearted, and extremely traditional in performing her duties. She also had a personality that endeared herself to just about everyone. Most people liked her immensely. FLOTUS-to-be Lou was a doer, an activist, and somewhat reticent outside her own circles.

FLOTUS Coolidge is happy to support Girl Scout activities.

While Mrs. Coolidge was busy with her White House entertaining, meeting, greeting and enchanting all the visiting celebrities, Mrs. Hoover was immersing her activism into the Girl Scouts, where she became its National President. She and also participated in the National Amateur Athletic Federation, where she espoused physical education for women.

Mrs. C. and Mrs. H. – pals.

But the friendship between the two women had indeed become a real friendship. FLOTUS Coolidge was happy to support the Girl Scouts, and assumed its Honorary Presidency, a title always traditionally offered (and accepted) by First Ladies.

Bleeding Heart and Lily

Today it is considered an archaic affectation when correspondents assume “pen” names with each other. But for centuries, such disinclination to use “real” names when corresponding was practically the norm.

Two First Ladies at leisure.

Lou Hoover was “Bleeding Heart”; Grace Coolidge was “Lily”. Their flowering correspondence began around 1923, as a proper-but-cordial exchange. Once FLOTUS Hoover assumed the position, the correspondence deepened and became far more intimate. It lasted until  Lou Hoover’s death in 1944. Different in their styles and personalities, they nevertheless found commonalities of their characters, and appreciated and enjoyed the ties that bound them together.

By 1930, the two women wrote and exchanged original poetry on Easter. The poetry was nice, but the ending was better… Grace wrote, “adding my deep appreciation of your loving thoughts of me…To you, my love—I have the honor to be, sincerely your friend, Grace Coolidge.’”

The Hoover Presidential Site holds more several file folders containing warm and even affectionate letters between the two women, now housed in the Herbert Hoover Archives.

Sources:

Anthony, Carl Sferrazza – First Ladies: The Saga of the Presidents’ Wives and Their Power, 1789-1961, Harper Perennial, 1992

Foster, Feather Schwartz – The First Ladies: From Martha Washington to Mamie Eisenhower, An Intimate Portrait of the Women Who Shaped America – Sourcebooks, 2011

Pryor, Dr. Helen B. – Lou Henry Hoover: Gallant First Lady – Dodd Mead, 1969

Bleeding Heart and Lily

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Alben Barkley: The Last VP of His Kind

When Al Barkley became Vice President to Harry Truman in 1949, the position had been primarily ceremonial for 150 years.

The VPOTUScy in General

When our country formulated its Constitution in 1787, the position of Vice President was an afterthought. Most delegates believed it was worthless.

There was, and still is, only ONE Constitutionally assigned task for the Vice President: to preside over the Senate. Of course, if a President dies, or is otherwise unable to fulfill his duties, the VP assumes the position – but that’s a big if.

In 1804, after a debacle of an election in 1800, a Constitutional Amendment (the 12th) was quickly passed which made the Vice Presidency a separate office – but still required only presiding over the Senate.  Thus, the VPOTUS basically serves at the President’s pleasure, i.e. filling in wherever the President wishes.

So for the next century and a half, the President “wished” for the VP to handle mostly ceremonial duties, and perhaps sitting on a few dignified boards or commissions. The job was so toothless that the office was empty at various times for several years!

The Pride of Kentucky: Alben Barkley

Young Alben Barkley. Good looking, friendly – and with hustle.

Kentuckian Alben W. Barkley (1877-1956), was far from a thoroughbred. He was the oldest of eight born to a tenant tobacco farming family, deeply immersed in their religious beliefs, including strict prohibition and any form of gambling. It was a hardscrabble childhood, but he managed to get a decent education. For a while he attended Emory University in Georgia, but withdrew for financial reasons.

He returned to Kentucky, and read law/clerked for a couple of attorney-Congressmen, and in 1901, was admitted to the Kentucky Bar. In 1902, he managed to attend some classes at the University of Virginia Law School.

Then he was off and running on a Democratic political medium-track by running for county attorney. He won the election, and over the next decade proved to be a pretty fair attorney: honest and unafraid to tackle political investigations that uncovered a huge amount of corruption. Even the Republicans in Kentucky liked him.

But more than anything, Al Barkley was nice looking and very likeable. It was his greatest asset. He was super-good at the meet and greets, joined all the popular civic organizations, loved speaking in public, and had a generous amount of eloquence, wit and charm. And he really was a pretty good lawyer.

Alben in Washington

Congressman and Senator Alben Barkley

So it wasn’t much of a stretch for young Al Barkley to run for Congress in 1912. In a convoluted election with several candidates, he won with 49% of the vote. Always valuing party loyalty, he cemented his political popularity by steadfastly supporting the Democratic line. His conservatism was tempered under the auspices of President Woodrow Wilson, who he admired. And while admitting to personal temperance, he managed to waffle, duck and keep silent on Prohibition, which had risen to the top of the issues list. And he still remained popular!

Rising in visibility, reputation, diligence and assignments, Barkley remained in Congress on and off until until 1927 – when he successfully ran for the U.S Senate.

Barkley the Orator.

Always a popular orator, Barkley became a well-known keynote or nominating speaker or temporary chairman at practically every Democratic national convention for the next twenty years. His folksy charm and wit  captivated audiences. Then, when Franklin D. Roosevelt was re-elected President in 1936, Barkley became Majority Leader, a position he held for the next ten years. He gained a national reputation as a loyal party man, who could/would bow to the “will of the people,” a solid campaigner and diligent worker – and above all, someone just about everybody liked. They might oppose him politically, but never personally.

The Clock is Ticking…

Alben Barkley always had ambition. Maybe a seat on the Supreme Court? Maybe Vice President? Fair and do-able. But by World War II, Al was well past sixty, when that number was considered “borderline old.”  If he sought higher office, time was not on his side.

President Harry Truman

Truman and Barkley.

Franklin Roosevelt had been President for 12 years, and had just begun his 4th elected term, when time ran out on the President, whose health had been failing rapidly. Harry Truman, Senator from Missouri, had been elected as his Vice President, and was now Chief Executive. (And like seven other VPs who assumed the Presidency via death, Truman served without a Vice President.)

Meanwhile, in 1947, Barkley’s wife Dorothy, who he had married in 1903, died after a very long illness. With mounting medical bills and only his Senate salary, he parlayed his renown as a raconteur into an aggressive speaking schedule on the “rubber-chicken circuit” to augment his income.

The VEEP

The running mates of ’48.

The famous headline of ’48!

Harry Truman was not a popular president, and the likelihood of being elected to a term of his own was nearly unthinkable. But Truman persisted, won the nomination, and the “convention” chose Alben Barkley as his running mate. He was 71 years old. Truman was 65. At that point, the nominees were the oldest “team” in history. Nevertheless, they mounted an exhausting barnstorming campaign, crisscrossing the country by train and by air, alternating between grit and charm to surprise the world by winning.

The Veep and his bride.

Barkley’s ten-year-old grandson was the originator of the nickname “VEEP” for the new Vice President. It caught on with the press, and Barkley was thereafter The VEEP. Truman and Barkley, both midwestern farm boys who grew up the hard way, found much in common and Truman actually found substantive tasks for his energetic VEEP.

But mostly Al-The-VEEP still was dispatched to the ceremonial tasks where he excelled. He went to the funerals, the ribbon-cuttings, the state fairs and the beauty queen contests. In between, he managed to court and marry a woman decades his junior – the only VEEP to remarry while in office. And he always said he had a grand time of it!

Sources:

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

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

https://www.senate.gov/about/officers-staff/vice-president/VP_Alben_Barkley.htm

 

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Will and Nellie Taft: A Modern Marriage, Part 1

William Howard Taft and Helen (from-birth Nellie) Herron were born and raised Victorians – but they had a very modern marriage.

The Early Years

President & Mrs. Hayes were close friends of the Herrons.

Both William Howard Taft (1857-1930) and Helen Herron (1861-1943) were pedigreed Cincinnatians. He was the son of a lawyer, jurist and member of Grant’s cabinet. Her father was a law partner of eventual President Rutherford B. Hayes.

But the most important pedigree was Cincinnati itself: the Queen City, not only of Ohio, but the whole Midwest. It prided itself on its culture, influence and cosmopolitan pretensions, all of which (so they said) were much greater than that upstart, Chicago.

Young Will Taft.

The story goes that they first met at a sledding part, remembered by her, forgotten by him. But he was a college fellow of eighteen, and she a fourteen-year-old adolescent. There was no connection.

Miss Nellie

Will finished top of his class at Yale, and received a law degree at Cincinnati Law School. From the start, he entered public service. A teenaged Nellie, having spent two weeks at the Hayes White House, fixed her sights firmly on the seat of power, intending to live there herself – as First Lady.

Her ambition, talents and intelligence were numerous. Her opportunities however, were zilch. If she was going to live in the White House, she would have to marry it.

The Salon

Nellie came from a large family: five girls, two boys. Girls married, no matter how bright or ambitious. Boys went to college.

So poor Nellie grumbled, and tried to find her mostly unsuccessful way. Then she and a few friends started a Sunday afternoon “salon” for Cincinnati’s younger set. Salons had been a popular European activity for more than a century, and in the US, had been on the social agenda for decades.

Young attorney Taft

Thus on Sunday afternoons, the Herron parlor was filled with the cream of Cincinnati youth, to enjoy tea, light refreshments and high-minded conversation. And make new friends. Will Taft came regularly.

Miss Herron

Will was a big fellow, an easy six-footer, who weighed an even easier 250 pounds on a thin day. By this time, Nellie at 21 or 22, was medium in height, perhaps 5’4” with a nice figure. Her features were somewhat sharp, as was her tongue. But Will liked her. He liked her enough to keep coming back, and soon began escorting her to other events.

He liked her enough to propose marriage. Three times. But it was fashionable for a young lady to demur coyly, and decline. Besides, Miss Nellie needed an assured vehicle to the White House. They finally married in 1886.

The Vehicle and The Trip

Will Taft was not only a fortuitous choice, but excellent on several fronts. Aside from his pedigree, his politics (Republican) and his sharp mind (Yale does not take dummies), he had the perfect good natured disposition to balance the high-strung ambitious young woman who thrived on shepherding his career like a border collie. 

When he was appointed Solicitor General by President Benjamin Harrison, she knew they were on their way!  The position was sub-cabinet, and important. Plus, it gave WHT access not only to the White House (Nellie’s dream), but to Will’s dream: The Supreme Court.

The two addresses a mile apart on Pennsylvania Avenue were always at the center of the Taft marriage. Will loved the judiciary. He was suited to judgment and justice, and his mind ran to exacting detail at a slow and considered pace. And a judge’s robe covered a lot of territory. Nellie’s eyes were fixed at #1600 and never wavered. Period.

Once WHT became a judge, he fell in love with the bench.

Outgoing POTUS Harrison appointed William Howard Taft to the 8th Circuit Court – a plum position giving both Will and Nellie the opportunity to come into the core of their marriage.

Mrs. Taft – at work.

Judge Taft needed to travel extensively. He enjoyed it. Nellie remained in Ohio, tending to her growing family, managing the household and the budget. It was she who made sure all the political bills and contributions were paid first. If there was any skimping to be done, she skimped on herself. She proved to be a thrifty and careful manager. She also wrote her traveling justice near-daily letters, and not merely of family “business.” She included news from the several papers she subscribed to, with all the who-did-what, and who-went-where political events. And all the opinions and positions of the leading political figures, along with her own prescient commentary. And of her own activities.

MusicHall2

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra was Nellie’s project.

Once her children were school-aged and she had time on her hands, she found a project of her own: a woman’s club devoted to music, which she had loved since childhood. She joined the club, became active, and quickly was elected its president. Then she spent five years spearheading the creation of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, including building plans, consulting architects, interviewing and engaging a maestro and musicians, planning its opening programs – and a huge amount of fund-raising on a grand scale. She succeeded magnificently. Other members of the prominent Taft family contributed mega-generously, but it was Nellie Taft who did the heavy lifting.

At 40, Will Taft loved his job, despite all the travel. He also loved his Nellie, and understood her. Where most men preferred their wives to focus on family and household, he was inordinately proud of Nellie’s newfound executive skills and her ability to juggle so many balls in the air. And he always trusted her political savvy. It was better than his.

Their marriage was working. They understood each other’s needs and temperaments. They gave each other room, encouragement and the kind of respect they both deserved. And in a time where wives were merely support personnel, Mrs. Taft was her own woman, and his fulcrum.

Sources: 

Anthony, Carl Sferrazza – Nellie Taft: The Unconventional First Lady of the Ragtime Era – 2005, William Morrow

Ross, Ishbel – An American Family: The Tafts – 1964, World Publishing

Taft, Mrs. William Howard – Recollections of a Full Life – Dodd, Mead, 1914

https://www.whitehouse.gov/about-the-white-house/presidents/william-howard-taft/

http://law.jrank.org/pages/10668/Taft-William-Howard.htmlhttps://www.whitehouse.gov/1600/presidents/williamhowardtaft

http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/first-ladies/helentaft

 

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The Eisenhower Tragedy: Ikkie

Mamie, Ike and Little Ikkie

Nothing pained Ike and Mamie Eisenhower more than the death of their firstborn son.

The Parents Eisenhower

Mamie Doud became “Mrs. Dwight Eisenhower” on July 1, 1916. She was nineteen.

Lt. Dwight Eisenhower

Surprising everyone, including herself, Mamie adapted well to army living. Both bride and groom were sociable people, with easy smiles and good natures that fit well anywhere. Ergo, they were popular. And since military brass has a responsibility to scout for potential leadership, Ike’s superiors had their eye on him. They liked Mamie, too.

Mamie Doud Eisenhower

In September, 1917, their first son was born. He was named Doud Dwight, but from the start he was nicknamed Ikkie (pronounced Icky and sometimes spelled Ikky), and he was the joy of their lives.

Despite Ike’s disappointment at not being deployed overseas during WWI, the young couple made the best of it, with Ike assigned the interesting new challenge of becoming a tank maven. It would stand him in excellent stead.

Meanwhile, along with being new parents, they became part of a socially active army base with dozens of friends who entertained each other at frequent parties and dinners and assorted come-on-overs. Their friends doted on their “Little Mascot” almost as much as they did.

Ikkie Eisenhower (Eisenhower National Historic Site)

But perhaps Ike doted most. He couldn’t wait to come home to play with his new son. He brought the toys and treats that dads everywhere love to give their offspring. He even had a pint-sized uniform made for the baby, and showed him off proudly.

When Ike was traveling with a convoy, he called Mamie often, and the story goes that most of the conversation was about the baby. Mamie, somewhat miffed at not getting enough attention, said that maybe Ike might like to ask about his wife… A contrite Ike immediately changed the subject, asked Mamie about her day, but within a few minutes was back talking about Little Ikkie, who was growing like a weed: strong, straight, smart, and everything a little boy should be.

Ike was a tank officer.

But in late December, 1920, (and there are a few versions of the story), Ike had received a promotion and engaged a maid to help around the house.

The Tragedy Part 1:

Unbeknownst to everyone, the maid had been exposed to scarlet fever, then a contagious and potentially fatal disease. The girl had neither symptoms nor knowledge that she had been exposed and had become a carrier. It was Christmas. Ikkie became sick. The doctor had him admitted to Johns Hopkins Hospital, but nothing could save the three-year-old. He died on January 2, 1921 in Ike’s arms.

To say that Ike and Mamie were devastated is an understatement.

An honor guard escorted Ike, Mamie and the baby’s coffin to the train for Ikky’s burial in the Doud family plot in Denver. Whether they blamed each other or blamed themselves, or blamed the maid or an unkind fate or whatever people flail at during crises is unknown. But both Ike and Mamie responded differently, and it nearly ruined their marriage. According to Julie Nixon Eisenhower, “Ikky’s death closed a chapter.”

Twenty-four-year-old Mamie, despite her determination to be cheerful, needed to be comforted, to be held and loved and have a strong shoulder to cry on.

The Eisenhowers were an attractive couple.

But thirty-year-old Ike, for all his broad smile and sociability, was a very private person, and his pain was unbearable. He stayed on duty hours longer than was assigned, he was morose when he returned home, barely approachable. He needed to be alone with his grief.

The Tragedy Part 2:

The pain of their loss, and the pain of their growing distance did not go away, despite the birth of their second son John, less than two years later. Now stationed in Panama, Ike worked long hours, and far away from her own loving family, Mamie turned to a motherly Virginia Connor, their neighbor and wife of Ike’s commanding officer General Fox Connor, for the comfort she needed.

The Eisenhower marriage finally became so strained, that Mamie couldn’t sleep and lost weight (and she was always petite). She practically fled back to Denver to see her own parents, and suggest that she and Ike might be headed toward a divorce. (There are a few versions of this story as well). One version says she planned to remain in Denver indefinitely, but her parents (who adored Ike) insisted she return and put her marriage in order.

The story continues that Mrs. Fox Connor had been saying the same thing – and even suggested that Mamie use her “womanly wiles” to achieve that end. “You mean I should vamp Ike?” Mamie asked. The response was affirmative.

The story further continues that Mamie bought a new nightie, and got her hair done. Some sources claim it was the first time she had it styled with the bangs that would become her trademark. Maybe… But it obviously worked, since they both worked harder at accommodating to each other’s needs.

The Tragedy: Part 3

Ike seldom spoke about his firstborn, who he had loved with his whole heart. According to Mamie herself, “For a long time, it was as if a shining light had gone out in Ike’s life…Throughout all the years that followed, the memory of those bleak days was a deep inner pain that never seemed to diminish much.”

Ike no doubt loved his son John, but not to the depth he had loved Ikkie. That part was sealed forever. From that point on, he always sent Mamie flowers on Ikkie’s birthday.

Ikkie’s small coffin lies between Ike and Mamie.

When the Eisenhower Presidential Center was built, the retired General-President made a private flight to Denver, had Ikkie’s small coffin disinterred and brought it to Abiline, KS, where he was laid to rest, waiting for his parents to join him.

In one of the rare comments he made on the subject, Eisenhower called Ikkie’s death as “the greatest disappointment and disaster of my life, the one I have never been able to forget completely”.

Sources:

Eisenhower, Susan – Mrs. Ike: Memories and Reflections on the Life of Mamie Eisenhower – Farrar, Straus and Giraux – 1996

Lester, David and Lester, Irene – Ike and Mamie – G.P. Putnam, 1981

http://www.firstladies.org/biographies/firstladies.aspx?biography=35

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Dwight-D-Eisenhower

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