Rutherford Hayes’ Secret Oath

The election of 1876 was one of the most rancorous, divisive and probably corrupt in American history.







Oddly Enough…

Both Governor Rutherford Hayes (R-OH) and Governor Samuel Tilden (D-NY) were honest, decent men, albeit bland and uncharasmatic. Any scandals or machinations done in their names were done with no overt support from either of the candidates. (Whether or not there was tacit approval, or more likely “blind eye” is always open to conjecture.)

General Hayes

Major Rutherford B. Hayes of the Union Army.

Hayes had a solid reputation. He was a successful Ohio attorney, a Union Major General – wounded four times, Ohio Congressman and three-term Ohio Governor. He was sincerely respected and even beloved by his soldiers. He was a devoted family man, married nearly twenty-five years, with five surviving children.

Governor Samuel Tilden of New York.

Samuel Tilden had a credible record as a New York behind-the-scenes politician – a man reputed to have a brilliant legal mind.  He never married, and was reputed to be a loner and cold-fish in personality. Nevertheless, he had served New York capably and honestly, successfully prosecuting Boss Tweed!

The Problem Was…

Ten years after the Civil War, few people believed that a Democrat could ever reach the White House. They were the party of rebellion. They were the party that started the Civil War.  So how did the Democrats get so close? How and why did the Republicans steal the election?

General Grant had been President for two terms in 1876. He had won in a walk in 1868, following the mess of Andrew Johnson’s impeachment proceedings. He had won in 1872 in a strange situation. Horace Greeley, a lifelong Republican newspaper publisher, ran against the victorious General – on the Democratic ticket. He lost – and then promptly died.

General Grant’s administration has always been considered fraught with corruption. Grant was never personally corrupt, but his poor choices in cabinet members and those closely associated with him are undeniable. The problem got even worse during Grant’s second term. Reform was in the air! Problem was that the “reformers” were about as exciting as a bowl of oatmeal, and “reform” as a campaign issue, was in the same category.

Meanwhile, many parts of the South, still under a severe thumb of Reconstruction, military districts and soldiers, were flexing political muscle. If they were to rejoin the Union per se, they wanted above all, for the soldiers to go away.   Both candidates promised an end to Reconstruction.

The Election of 1876

Many books and articles have been written about the fractious “stolen” election of 1876. It was very complicated. The fact that both Hayes and Tilden chose to rise above it all speaks well of both candidates. Hayes was a decent enough President; we can only conjecture that Tilden would have been the same.

Cartoonists had a field day as the Republicans and Democrats fought over the election result.

But the basic problem with the election centered on a) while Tilden unquestionably won the popular vote; b) the electoral vote (ay, there was the rub), was in question. It appeared that Tilden had also won the electoral count, but FOUR states were questionable, and there was indication (plausible) that there may have been finagling involved.

The Republicans were infuriated that after only a decade since the Civil War, the party of rebellion might claim the Presidency. Unthinkable!

The bottom line was that IF the Republicans could demand a recount in those four states, and IF they could “un-finagle” and “re-finagle” in their own behalf, and IF they could claim the electoral votes for ALL FOUR questioned states, they could claim the election victory. That was a lot of IFs. It remained iffy for months. Nobody really knew who the next President would be.

Ballots were re-counted. A special committee was named: five Congressmen, five Senators and five Supreme Court Justices (8 Republicans, 7 Democrats) to investigate the suspected finagling.

And, as only politicians can do, ALL FOUR of those suspect states were determined along party lines to have their electoral votes line up in the Hayes column. The final decision was made only two or three days before the Inauguration! And, as one might expect, there were a lot of people who were unhappy with the decision.

General Grant’s Final Decision

President Grant was concerned that there might be trouble at the Inauguration.

President Ulysses S. Grant had truly enjoyed his eight year residence in the White House. The recent election, however, was troublesome, and he, for all intents and purposes, sat it out. He did not participate in the campaign, and instead focused on his personal plans for a trip around the world, which would last the better part of two years.

Concerned that the dissonance in the country might seriously impact the Inauguration proceedings, the President had arranged for extra security, soldiers and whatever means could be taken for preventative measures. In addition, it so happened that March 4, 1877, the day Constitutionally assigned for the Inauguration, fell on a Sunday. In deference to the Sabbath, the Inauguration would not take place until Monday, March 5.

Rutherford B. Hayes, 19th President.

Meanwhile, the President and First Lady hosted an elegant dinner party on Saturday night, March 3, their technically-last-day in the White House.  Congressmen and Cabinet members and Court Justices and assorted other notable were invited for a big “farewell” bash. President-elect Hayes and his wife were included.

As the guests were gathering that evening, Grant asked Hayes to join him for a few minutes in the Blue Room. He also asked a few congressmen, and Chief Justice Morrison Waite to join him as well. Then, to insure against confusion that might result in having the United States without a duly inaugurated President – even for a day – he asked the Chief Justice to administer the Presidential Oath to Hayes a day early to insure continuity.

The witnesses were unimpeachable, but it was not made public at the time. Sunday, March 4, came and went with no disturbances. On Monday, March 5, ex-President Grant escorted incoming President Hayes to the Senate chamber where he formally re-took the oath of office.

Nobody was the wiser about the premature-oath until  afterwards.


Rehnquist, William – Centennial Crisis – Alfred Knopf, 1974

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President Grant and the First State Dinner

King David Kalakaua of the Sandwich Islands.

The first sovereign of a foreign country to be hosted at a White House State Dinner was the King of the Sandwich Islands – in 1874.

State Dinners

From the beginning of the United States as a nation, elegant dining was an essential practice. A little upstart country with even smaller claims to “culture” needed to prove itself equal (or almost equal) to the great countries of Europe, with centuries of history and tradition.

This does not mean that the US was backward or inhospitable. George and Martha Washington were wealthy Virginians, to whom elegance, taste and “southern hospitality” was natural. Their “official” presidential house on Cherry Street in New York City, albeit rented, was chosen specifically because its ballroom could accommodate a hundred people.

The White House State Dining Room, perhaps around the 1870s.

John and Abigail Adams were considered gracious hosts. Thomas Jefferson, the soul of elegance, preferred the “small” table, perhaps a dozen to twenty guests. But it was the charming First Lady Dolley Madison who put the White House on the map as a social Mecca, hosting not only intimate luncheons and suppers, but grand weekly soirees, for some 300 people.

“State” Dinners, however, were formal banquets for the highest level guests, and could be either large or small. The problem was that with 3,000 miles of ocean on one side, and 3,000 miles of unknown frontier on the other, not too many heads of state were coming for dinner. Thus, the few foreign diplomats dispatched to these upstart former-colonies, were welcomed like the visiting royalty they represented.

Ambassadors from Britain, France, Spain and other European countries, accustomed to pomp, ceremony and inviolable etiquette, were usually dismayed at the “democratic” tendencies of US dinner parties.

But mostly, the so-called “state” dinners of early Presidencies honored their own: Governors, Victorious Generals, the Supreme Court Justices, the Congress, and sometimes for former or incoming presidents.

The US Civil War as a Turning Point

Grand entertainment in Lincoln’s administration was curtailed due to Civil War; Andrew Johnson’s turbulent administration due to the President’s unpopularity.

President Ulysses S. Grant.

But when Ulysses S. Grant became President in 1869, the Gilded Age (a term coined by Mark Twain) had begun. Grant was likely the most popular man in the country. The economy was strong. There was money to be made, and a great many people were making it. Showing off wealth was fashionable. The more opulent the dress and decor, the more respect you were said to merit.

While the White House could never rival the true glitz of the Astors’ Fifth Avenue New York mansions, or the summer “cottages” of Newport’s Vanderbilts, the Presidential Mansion was still a nifty place to hold a party. Since both Ulysses and Julia Grant were affable people, the White House doors were flung wide for dinners and balls and receptions.

President Grant Hosts King David Kalakaua

The King of the Sandwich Islands, a.k.a. Hawaii.

The Sandwich Islands, today known as Hawaii, was a practically-unknown atoll in the faraway Pacific, but it was a sovereign nation. It had its own government. It had its own king. During the American Civil War, it had become semi-important to the Union economy by supplying sugar.

In 1874, David Kalakaua (1836-1891) became King (actually the last King, but he did not know it at the time). It was a semi-elected accession, he being a collateral (rather than direct) descendant of the reigning monarch. But Kalakaua was a man of strong western influences, and the Sandwich Islands were suffering an economic depression. In order to bolster their economy by trade agreements, he embarked on an extensive goodwill tour, starting with the United States.

As a reigning monarch, Kalakaua was invited to the White House for the first “state dinner” given by an American President for a foreign head of state.  President Buchanan’s dinner for the Prince of Wales in 1860 does not count. The Prince was only eighteen, not a head of state, and supposedly traveling incognito (although nobody believed that for an instant), thus relieving the President from demanding protocol issues.

An artistic rendering of the first U.S. state dinner for a reigning monarch.

King Kalakaua was different. He was a reigning monarch, and expected to be acknowledged as such. He was pleasantly acquainted with Mark Twain, who had spent considerable time in Hawaii. Twain was also pleasantly acquainted with President Grant, a man he greatly admired. An introduction from Mark Twain (who Grant admired in return) was good enough for an invitation to dinner at the White House.

President and Mrs. Grant greeted the King cordially, and dinner was served at a small party: only thirty-six people were invited. It was said to have nearly thirty covers (separate dishes) of exotic French cuisine and the finest of wines. The menu included several choices of soup, fish, boiled meats, roasted meats, game entrees, vegetables, relishes, pastries and other desserts. And coffee. The cost of the affair was around $3000 – more than ten-times the amount today!

But the purpose of the visit (and the dinner) was well served – at least for King Kalakaua. He achieved his goal, and a duty-free agreement was reached between the Sandwich Islands and the USA for sugar, among other items. It was obviously mutually beneficial, since twenty years later, Hawaii (as it became called) chose to annex itself to the USA.

Postscript to King David

In 1881, King David Kalakaua made a round-the-world trip, and became the first ruling monarch of anywhere to do so. He again visited the US, met President Chester Alan Arthur, again to promote Hawaiian “culture” and again arranged reciprocal trade agreements.

As a one-man Chamber of Commerce, King Kalakaua could be considered a whopping success.

When he first came to his throne in 1874, Hawaii had been exporting little over $1,000,000 in sugar and other commodities. By the end of his reign in 1891, the amount had risen to $31,000,000. But he would be the last King of the Hawaiian Islands.


Landau, Barry H. – The President’s Table –  Harper Collins Publishers, 2007,28804,2043087_2043088_2043115,00.html

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Sarah Polk’s Memoirs

First Lady Sarah Childress Polk lived to be nearly ninety.

Miss Childress of Tennessee

Sarah Childress (1803-1891) was born to a comfortable Murfreesboro, Tennessee family, not long after it had joined the Union. Her Presbyterian father was a planter and merchant, and, rare for his time, believed in educating his daughters as well as his son.

Accordingly, she attended the best available schools in Tennessee, and then to a Moravian Female Academy in North Carolina. Before completing her studies, her father died, and she returned home.

Sarah and James Knox Polk

At twenty, Sarah married James Knox Polk, a Tennessee attorney and state legislator, seven years her senior. Legend has it that General Andrew Jackson advised Polk to “look no farther than Miss Sarah Childress” as possessed of all the qualities desired as a lifetime companion. Legend or bona fide, or a combination (since they were both acquainted with the General) the bottom line was that Jackson was right: they were very well-suited and happy together.

The Silver Years

According to Sarah, many years later, the two never had a cross word in the twenty-five years of their marriage. Comfortable financial circumstances (two plantations) helped. That the Polks had no children may also have contributed to their compatibility.  The freedom from the serious health issues of childbirth and its ties to home left Sarah free to accompany her husband on many of his travels.

President James Knox Polk

A year after he was elected to the first of his seven terms in Congress (including four years as Speaker), Sarah went to Washington with him.  She was one of the few Congressional wives in the capital, happy to fully participate in all the social events. Their personal intimacy with now-President Jackson insured that those events were numerous. Those who knew her – both men and women – were abundant in praise of her charm, her stylish good looks, her discreet character, and her uncommon intelligence.

In 1839, Polk was elected Governor of Tennessee, but he lost the next two efforts at re-election, and a life of political oblivion loomed. Faced with the possibility of returning to a law practice (which was not appealing), Polk made a last-ditch political effort, hoping to secure the Vice Presidential slot on the Democratic ticket in 1844. He subtly (and later more overtly) lobbied for the second spot.

Sarah Polk served as Presidential secretary as well as First Lady.

In the complicated and deadlocked 1844 Democratic convention, nobody really cared about a Vice President. The physically unimposing ex-Speaker and ex-Governor was interested, and seemed qualified. The office, merely a geopolitical accommodation by that time, was honorable, paid a handsome $5000 a year, and had few responsibilities.

When no one seemed to agree on a suitable candidate for President it began to occur that if Polk was everyone’s choice for the second spot, why not the first spot?

Thus “dark horse” James Knox Polk received the Democratic nomination, and in a surprise upset over sure-winner Whig Henry Clay, became the 11th President of the United States.

James Polk had an extremely busy Presidency, ably helped by his capable and politically savvy wife. They seldom took time to relax, believing it was their bound duty to work assiduously to complete a comprehensive agenda in a single-pledged term. He achieved his goal, but died (some say from overwork) only three months after his term ended. He was 53.

Enter Anson and Fanny Nelson

Sarah Childress Polk as a middle aged widow.

Sarah Polk was a widow at only 46. She returned to their Polk Place home in Nashville, and became a “professional widow.” Her beautiful and becoming deep jewel-toned gowns and accessories were put away forever, and she wore only black. She also eschewed most activity, other than attending regular church services.

With servants and periodic live-in family members to help, the months and years passed. Sarah arranged and sorted her husband’s papers. Then she re-arranged and re-sorted them. The Civil War came and went, with both Union and Confederate soldiers careful to keep Mrs. Polk’s home from harm. Men of prominence who visited Nashville were said to make a point of paying their respects to the former First Lady.

Meanwhile, a younger couple, Anson and Fanny Nelson, had become neighbors to the venerable Widow Polk, now well into her eighties and as alert and intelligent as ever. The Ansons were fascinated by Mrs. P’s stories of her life in the White House, and suggested that she write her memoirs for a whole new generation who knew little about James Knox Polk, let alone the former First Lady.

The elderly former First Lady, Sarah Polk

The elderly woman was disinclined to lift her pen, but was amenable to “collaborate.” She would be happy to tell her story to the Nelsons, and let them write it.

A modern copy of The Memorials of Sarah Childress Polk.


It was the first “biography” of a First Lady based on actual interviews with the subject herself.

Sarah recounted how she saved money by assuming most of the President’s secretarial functions; copied his papers in a firm hand; maintained his appointment book; and culled dozens of daily newspapers, carefully folding them to bring her husband’s attention to the salient points. Wearing her “FLOTUS-hat”, she saved money by serving no refreshments at their weekly receptions, since they were paid out-of-pocket.

She remembered “permitting” new-fangled gas candelabra to be installed, but kept the candles just in case. Sure enough, the gaslights failed and the candles were needed, available and appreciated.

She also made a point of discreetly allowing her “opinions” to be known only to her husband, but insisted on strict observance of the Sabbath. No visitors would be admitted to the White House on Sunday – unless they wished to accompany the Polks to church services. And, in accordance to her strict Presbyterian faith, she banned spirits, dancing and card playing in the Executive Mansion.

The Memorials of Sarah Childress Polk, was published in 1892, shortly after Sarah died at 88. It has been reprinted many times, and while it is Victorian in style, content and florid language, it accomplished exactly what the Nelsons desired: a remarkable look into the life and times of a remarkable First Lady.


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

Nelson, Anson and Fanny – Memorials of Sarah Childress Polk – ADF Randolph Company (reprint of 1892 publication)

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Julia Tyler’s Premonition

Julia Gardiner Tyler spent only seven months as First Lady; then she went to live in Virginia.

JGT: The Young Wife

One of the earliest photographs of Julia Gardiner Tyler.

Julia Gardiner (1820-1889) was only 24 when she married sitting President John Tyler, a recent widower.  At 54, Tyler was still considered a fine figure of a man; tall, lean, an excellent horseman, graceful dancer (of mild dances), splendid orator, and a Southern charmer of the first order.

In middle age, President John Tyler was still a fine figure of a man.

The former Miss Gardiner, known to some as “The Rose of Long Island,” came from a wealthy New York family, had been educated at a fine finishing school, and had spent two years in Europe. She was also good looking. The thirty years that separated the “Rose” from the President, along with the seven children Tyler had with his first wife, did not preclude a successful union. John and Julia Tyler had seven children of their own.

The Adopted Daughter of Dixie

The new Mrs. Tyler was definitely a Northerner, and a wealthy and cosmopolitan New Yorker at that. Her new husband’s Virginia plantation, which he named Sherwood Forest, was located  along the James River, midway between Williamsburg and Richmond.

Virginia was then, still is, and always will be, a state proud of its heritage and its Southern character. The former President, born and raised in Virginia, and having a father who served as its Governor, was always a well respected citizen, with the requisite Southern charm and manners.

For Julia, it was an adjustment.  The neighbors were initially aloof to this Northerner now in their midst, but she won them over. She could assimilate “her” airs with “their” airs, entertain and host with as much grace and style as they did, and had tons of Gardiner money to outdo them, if she so chose. She did not choose alienation; she chose acceptance.

The Tyler Lifestyle

Mrs. Tyler was a lady of fashion and style.

For fifteen years, John and Julia Tyler enjoyed a traditional Virginia planter’s life. They had picnics and barbecues, dinners and dances, visited friends and neighbors, spent time with her family in New York every year, traveled to Saratoga Springs for the waters, and visited the hot springs in the western part of Virginia. They had their own boat to take them up and down the James River to visit friends. It is said that she designed liveries for her boat-servants, with Sherwood Forest’s emblem and a little golden-arrow on the collar.

Sherwood Forest, the Tyler plantation on the James River.

John Tyler was a lawyer by profession, and even in his retirement years, practiced law – a little. Mostly he tended to his beautiful plantation and to raising his growing second-family. His last child, a daughter, would be born when he was nearly seventy. But as a former President of the United States, Tyler was also in demand politically, and asked to speak or chair discussions in various locations in Virginia. He did so willingly.

The Tyler Political Dilemma

The 1850s were unquestionably a time of divisiveness and turmoil throughout the country, and in particular in the South. The popularity of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin created a furor in Dixieland. The Dred Scott decision, wherein the Supreme Court in essence claimed that no Negro could ever be a citizen (even if he had lived for years in a free state), caused a brouhaha throughout the country, especially when it was coupled with a harsh law demanding the return of runaway slaves. Talk of secession was becoming louder and more strident.

Julia Tyler, the “Rose of Long Island.”

John Tyler had been President of the United States, and despite the fact that his presidency and even he, himself, had been generally unpopular, he felt the importance of that position (or former position) keenly. He had been in public service since he was a young man, as a Virginia legislator, and both a Congressman and Senator for several years. He maintained a low profile.

When Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860, and the dreaded secession process began in earnest, there was a last ditch effort on the part of many prominent Southerners to hold a conference of notables, and try to design a workable solution. Ex-President Tyler was asked to preside. Most people, including Lincoln, believed it would be fruitless; another rehash of the same-old grievances and impossible alternatives.

They were right. The conference failed, and the representatives returned home.

Like a good many Virginians, Tyler was against secession.  Virginia originally voted to remain in the Union. But after Fort Sumter, when President Lincoln called for military volunteers, Virginia called for another vote, and this time, chose to secede along with her sister Southern states. Again, like a good many Virginians, Tyler believed that his “country” was Virginia.

With bravado, brash and dash, Virginians quickly organized their Confederate government, and elected 70-year-old ex-President John Tyler as a Congressman. He accepted and went to Richmond, only a short distance from his plantation.

Julia Tyler’s Bad Dream

One of the later photographs of John Tyler.

Mrs. Tyler’s husband had only been gone for a few days, when the 41-year-old mother of seven children under fifteen abruptly awoke from her sleep, frightened by a terrible dream: that her husband had suffered a stroke and died.

The dream had been so real that Julia was unable to calm her nerves and decided to see for herself. She flagged the James River steamboat that regularly passed their plantation, took the two hour trip to Richmond, and went immediately to Tyler’s hotel.

She was delighted and relieved to find him not only alive, but in good health and spirits. They had supper together. All was well, and Julia prepared to return home the following day.

But the following morning, as Tyler was starting to wash and dress, he collapsed with a massive stroke. He died within hours.

It was exactly the way Julia had dreamt.


  • Anthony, Carl Sferrazza – First Ladies 1789-1961, William Morrow,1990
  • Seager, Robert III – And Tyler Too, McGraw Hill, 1963
  • Truman, Margaret – First Ladies, Random House, 1995

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The Death of Tad Lincoln

Tad Lincoln and his Father, President Abraham Lincoln.

Tad Lincoln had just turned 18 when he died.

Tad in Springfield, IL

Tad Lincoln when he was around three.

Thomas Lincoln, (1853-1871) named for his paternal grandfather, was called Tad from the outset.  It was a hard birth, and Tad was born with a cleft palate and its resulting speech impediment.

His early years were happy. His brother Robert was older by ten years.  Three-year-old Eddie died six years before Tad was born. But Willie, older by only two-and-a-half years, was Tad’s best friend and boon companion.

Tad and Willie Lincoln. Brothers, playmates and best friends.

Abraham and Mary Lincoln were loving parents, considered permissive for the Victorian Age. Keenly aware of Tad’s handicap, and perhaps some (unknown to them) childhood dyslexia that kept him from learning at the usual pace, the parents Lincoln encouraged him to “remain a boy” as long as possible.

Tad in the White House

Tad Lincoln was only seven, the youngest presidential child to live in the White House up to that turbulent time.

Union soldiers were camped in and around the White House – a heady sight for young boys.  Willie and Tad made friends; the staff loved them, the soldiers loved them, they had the run of the White House and a grand time of it!

But in 1862, 11-year-old Willie died, and the Lincolns were devastated. Tad was eight. He lost his brother, best friend and playmate. He could barely deal with his own loss or grief. His distraught parents, distracted by their own problems, had little time to comfort him.

Tad Lincoln in his “soldier’s uniform” when he lived in the White House.

Three years later, Abraham Lincoln (the boy’s new best friend) was assassinated, and Tad, just twelve, somewhat babyish and still unable to read, had to grow up quickly.

Tad in Chicago and Europe

Tad’s mother, the Widow Lincoln.

Barely able to cope, former First Lady Mary Lincoln refused to return to Springfield and its memories. Instead, she and her two remaining sons went to Chicago. Despite her own cares, she realized Tad’s education had been woefully neglected, and it became a priority.

Tad was also approaching puberty. While he was unschooled and still juvenile, he definitely understood that he was an ordinary boy now.  He had to learn to do things for himself. Mary enrolled him in school, but since he was so far behind  other boys his age, private tutoring was essential. His speech impediment made things even harder. But he tried.

In 1868, Robert Lincoln, now 25, got married. Mary and Tad went to Washington for the wedding – and then sailed to Europe.  Pathologically concerned about finances, the Widow Lincoln believed it was cheaper to live abroad and Germany offered the best educational opportunities in the world. They remained off-and-on there for three years, with Tad either with tutors and classes, or as companion to his mother.

Then Robert and his wife, also named Mary, had a baby daughter – yet another Mary Lincoln.

Tad Comes Home to Die

Tad Lincoln as a young man.

Tad was delighted with his new title: Uncle. He always idolized his big brother, but the ten years between them had been a chasm. Now the chasm was closing. He wanted to go home. Mary booked passage in mid-May, 1871.

The arrival of the Widow Lincoln in New York was of modest interest, and one of the newspapers sent a reporter – none other than John Hay, who had been one of Lincoln’s private secretaries, and who knew the family intimately. Hay was particularly interested in seeing Tad, who he remembered as a somewhat spoiled child. He was delighted by the progress of young “Mr. Thomas Lincoln”, including his improved speech, albeit now with a German accent.  Even before he filed his story, Hay wrote his good friend Robert Lincoln with glowing praise for Tad, who had made such great strides.

Robert Lincoln was ten years older than Tad.

Robert was now ready to be a big brother. Married, a father with a growing law practice, he wanted to help guide Tad in his future plans.

But Tad had caught a cold en route, and when they reached Chicago, it had worsened. Their stay as guests of the young Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln was brief, and also worsened. The two Mary Lincolns saw their once-cordial relationship deteriorate to a point that Robert’s wife packed up the baby and left to care for her own ailing mother.

Robert’s wife – another Mary Lincoln. This one was Mary Harlan Lincoln.

The tensions created sufficient turmoil for the Widow to pack up as well, and move with Tad to the Clifton House Hotel on Wabash Avenue.

Tad’s Decline and Death

Tad’s cold had become serious and required Dr. C.G. Smith’s medical attention. He had trouble breathing, and was feverish. The diagnosis was (by various sources) dropsy, or pleurisy, or tuberculosis. Whatever the actual cause, all aforesaid possibilities were extremely serious without modern antibiotics.  He suffered horribly, and was confined to a chair with an iron bar across it to prevent him from falling forward or lying down, a position that made breathing impossible.  Mary Lincoln hovered by his side. Robert came daily.  Doctors came daily.  So did a few old Lincoln friends who could extend words of sympathy, but little more. Tad died on July 15.

According to the obituary in the Chicago Tribune (generously provided by Jane Gastineau of the Allen County Public Library, Ft. Wayne, IN), a private funeral service was held at the home of Robert Lincoln, but Mrs. Lincoln (Sr.) was too distraught to attend. Mrs. Lincoln (Jr.) was still with her mother. The small service, officiated by Dr. Everts of the First Baptist Church, was attended by some Lincoln friends, and some of Tad’s old Sunday School classmates.

Once again Robert Lincoln rode a train with a coffin to Springfield, along with his father-in-law Senator James Harlan of Iowa, Judge David Davis, and other Lincoln friends. Another private service was held at the home of his aunt and uncle, Elizabeth and Ninian Edwards, Jr. before final internment in the Lincoln Tomb at Oak Ridge Cemetery, where his father and two older brothers had been laid to rest. There were a few obituaries in the newspapers marking Tad’s passing.

Thomas Tad Lincoln

Tad Lincoln is buried in the family crypt.

In honor of the son of Abraham Lincoln, the flag at the Illinois State House in Springfield was flown at half-mast.


Epstein, Daniel Mark – The Lincolns: Portrait of a Marriage, 2008, Ballantine

Painter, Ruth Painter – Lincoln’s Sons, 1955, Little, Brown

The Chicago Tribune, July 16 and July 17, 1871, generously provided by Jane Gastineau, Lincoln Librarian, Allen County Public Library, Ft. Wayne IN


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The Carnival Campaign: A Book Review

A professional writer who chooses to write about history (as opposed to a professional historian who chooses to write) probably knows intuitively that picking the right subject is half the battle.

Author Ronald G. Shafer, a long-time Wall Street Journal editor and (ahem) Pulitzer Prize nominee, hit a bonanza of a subject matter when he elected to treat the world to the campaign of 1840. The Carnival Campaign: How the Rollicking 1840 Campaign of “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” Changed Presidential Elections Forever may be a mouthful of a title, but it is a rollicking romp, full of fun, silliness, mud-slinging, name-calling mayhem and a pile of historical firsts – easily called the grand-daddy of political campaigns as we know them.

Democrat Martin Van Buren was President in 1840, looking to keep his palatial address. Alas, he was unpopular and fairly colorless. How the Whigs (a new party) came to choose an elderly (68), mostly forgotten, second-rate ex-military leader and perennial office seeker as their standard bearer is not the real point; superb qualifications have seldom ranked high among candidate choices.

But how William Henry Harrison, a bland Virginia aristocrat, became whipped into a frenzy of man-of-the-people is one of those truth being stranger than fiction tales.

Author Shafer is an experienced journalist, blessed with a journalistic sense of order and sequence, and a wry sense of humor. He has deftly arranged his book into appropriate sections of campaign activity, as opposed to mere chronology, usually favored by the more didactic historians.

He begins naturally enough with Matty Van “the used-up man” and the resuscitated William Henry Harrison, whose derring-dids nearly thirty years earlier were buffed and polished till he came out looking like Lochinvar in a 10-gallon hat. How his supporters foisted a log cabin and hard cider image on this First Family of Virginian was a master stroke of public relations, as well as an outright lie! But nobody cared whether it was true or not. It sounded terrific!

According to Shafer, the campaign for WHH, a compromise candidate at best, was not faring well, and the Democrats were painting a portrait of a feeble old Harrison, saying “give him a barrel of hard cider… and he will sit the remainder of his days in a log cabin.”

A Harrisburg, PA publisher and Whig supporter were indignant, and sowed the seeds of turning a negative slur into a symbol of vital youth and true Americanism. After all, most Americans of 1840 had a log cabin of some kind in their family histories – and hard cider was drink of choice, cheap and readily available (or do-it-yourself-able).

Log cabins and hard cider took – albeit not the way the originators planned. The “positive” slogan spread like wildfire, and presidential campaigns would be changed forever.

Shafer delights us not only with old timey politicking that does not seem to have changed much, but introduces the reader to all the stuff and nonsense of campaigns: rallies, banners and parades, tall-tales and half-truths, songs, slogans (“Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” being the first of the memorable ones), women as campaign participants, stump speaking and free drinks for everyone, keeping the candidate quiet as much as possible, slurs and slanders, and all the rest of the huzzah and hiss.

Parades and rallies and torchlight parades were held in big cities and small villages alike, usually accompanied by bands, banners, candidate-promoting kerchiefs and lots of singing and slogan chanting. Newspapers sprang up practically overnight, blazing their Whig headlines with the virtues of Old Tip, or Tip and Ty, or lambasting the horrible Democrats. And the Dems gave as good as they got.

Float wagons mounted with miniature (and sometimes larger-than-life) log cabins were a mainstay of every parade. Barrels of hard cider were donated and generously poured – for free! Early in the campaign some partisans had fashioned a ten-foot high steel-ribbed ball, plastered it with pro-Harrison signs, and rolled it from town to town for the the next rally, thus giving rise to the expression “Keep the ball rolling.”

It was more than a presidential campaign, it was truly the “carnival” of Shafer’s title. It was a grand party for the entire country, and everybody came. They could cheer and brawl and drink and parade, and let their emotions and coarse frontier spirit run amok while poor old General Harrison was trotted around to pontificate from time to time. He was definitely a pontificator from the old school, generously peppering windy speeches with classical references that few frontiersmen understood or cared about, but it was the first time a presidential candidate actually participated in person. The former “aristocratic” candidates, far superior to tooting their own horns, wrote letters – and let others speak for them.

The carnival campaign of 1840 changed history. Hoopla would become a permanent part of politics.

Ron Shafer is a very engaging writer with a strong narrative style and a whimsical sense of humor. This in no way denigrates his well-researched venture into part of Americana’s electioneering history! The Carnival Campaign is a super read about small-d “democratic” participation on the grandest of grand scales!

The Carnival Campaign: How the Rollicking 1840 Campaign of “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” Changed Presidential Elections Forever, by Ronald G. Shafer

Chicago Review Press

Hard cover and ebook available: The Carnival Campaign: How the Rollicking 1840 Campaign of “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” Changed Presidential Elections Forever

  • ISBN-10: 1613735405
  • ISBN-13: 978-1613735404


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William McKinley: The Sneezing Fit

William McKinley was one of the best liked Presidents.

President William McKinley was a genial and popular man. He had a long list of personal friends.

William McK: Mister Nice Guy

William McKinley (1843-1901) was a nice fellow – and a good fellow. At 18, he enlisted in the Union Army and served the entire four years, rising from private to major.

A devout Methodist, young Billy did not smoke, drink, play cards, gamble, dance, swear or chase women. Despite this absence of the vices of camaraderie, he was immensely popular with the soldiers, who liked and respected him.

As a young attorney, he joined all the fraternal and civic societies, along with the Republican Club, the Grand Army of the Republic (Veterans all!) and the Methodist Church.  He was welcome everywhere.

Ida Saxton McKinley, “the prettiest girl in Canton, Ohio, according to McKinley.

At 27, he married Ida Saxton, the daughter of the town banker, and “the prettiest girl in Canton, Ohio,” according to the bridegroom. For four years they were a happy couple, and proud parents of little Katie, born a year after their marriage.

That Horrible Year.

Ida’s second pregnancy was difficult. Her mother died.  Their baby was born sickly and died weeks later. Childbirth left Ida with phlebitis. And epileptic seizures. Then little Katie sickened and died before her fourth birthday.

Katie McKinley died shortly before her fourth birthday.

This year of relentless woe plunged Ida into a deep and understandable depression and transformed the pretty young woman into a demanding semi-invalid, whose focus on herself and her husband became (according to contemporaries) “strangulating.”

Phlebitis. And Epilepsy.

In the 1870s, both phlebitis and epilepsy were known to the medical community – but treatments were vague, and cures did not exist.

Phlebitis is not an uncommon residual of childbirth. It is basically blood clots, usually formed around the knee. It is serious to the point of fatal, even today; but now it can be effectively treated. The only treatment available then was rest, elevation, a compress, and perhaps something for pain. At 27, Ida McKinley walked with a cane.

Epilepsy has been known since Biblical times, but it was a word that bore a stigma. The McKinleys spared no expense seeking medical treatment, and even traveled to Philadelphia and New York, where the best doctors in the country were said to practice.

THe McKinleys spared no expense to find treatment for Ida’s “condition.”

No doubt the doctors recognized Ida’s problem, but it was never mentioned by name. It was couched in such euphemisms as a “nervous condition” or “fainting spells.” Some people still whispered about the “falling down” sickness.

Doctors could offer nothing other than powerful barbiturates for severe symptoms, and recommendations for a rigid routine: no excitement, no surprises – and no stress.

Bottom line. Ida McKinley had become a petulant semi-invalid, whose husband doted on her every whim, petrified that if she did not get her way, it could precipitate an attack.

H.H. Kohlsaat

H.H. Kohlsaat, Chicago newspaperman and friend of William McKinley.

Herman H. Kohlsaat (1853-1924) was a Chicago businessman and newspaper publisher of the Chicago Times Herald and the Chicago Evening Post. In the 19th century, long before movies, radio, television and the internet, newspapers were the mainstay of disseminating news – and forming public opinion. All the major cities had several papers. Some were devoted to promoting partisan politics, much like today. By 1890, Kohlsaat had converted his newspapers from Democratic to Republican viewpoints.

One of his “pet” interests was maintaining the “sound money” gold standard, as opposed to the free-silver issues of the Midwestern Democrats. McKinley was an ardent “sound money” man.

During the twenty years William McKinley spent on the national scene, as long-time Congressman and then Ohio Governor, he made scores of friends, Kohlsaat among them.

It was no secret that Ida McKinley was a semi-invalid; and most McKinley intimates were generally tolerant of her obsessive absorption of his time and energies. Despite his sincere cordiality with dozens of men, McKinley kept a distance when it came to his private/personal life. There are only a few instances when he acknowledged the constant strain he was under from worrying about Ida’s health.

The Sneezing Fit.

Ida McKinley was a frail semi-invalid as First Lady, and was the primary concern of her devoted husband.

William McKinley became President in March, 1897, and by the end of that year, was confronted by growing tensions in Cuba, where long-time harsh Spanish rule was fomenting violent reaction among the Cubans. Freedom-loving Americans were sympathetic to the Cubans who were trying to shed their Spanish oppressors.

Fanned by a jingoistic press, many Americans were eager for a war with Spain. President McKinley was not.

The thought of war with Spain was particularly upsetting to McKinley, who had experienced war first hand.

In need of a frank discussion with a good friend, he wired Kohlsaat, and asked him to come to Washington. The Chicagoan took the next train, but it was delayed, and he reached the White House hours after he was expected.

He was then ushered into the East Room, where a musical entertainment was in progress. McKinley caught his eye and slipped off to greet his friend. He told Kohlsaat to wait for an appropriate lull in the program, pay his respects to Mrs. McKinley, and then join him in a nearby room.

When Kohlsaat entered the room, he found a distraught President, who unburdened himself about the threat of possible war. He had spent four years in the Union Army. He had seen the carnage at Antietam. He dreaded the thought of sending American soldiers to fight – and die – in Cuba. He admitted that he hadn’t slept more than three hours a night for weeks.

Then he burst into tears, confessing that he was also sick with worry because Mrs. McKinley was “doing far too much,” recklessly scheduling luncheons and teas and musicales, without care to her delicate health. It was a very rare admission of his preoccupation with his wife.

Having unburdened himself, the President regained his composure and said he needed to rejoin his wife, because “she was among strangers.”

Herman Kohlsaat then advised his friend to blow his nose hard, and dab his eyes when he rejoined the gathering. This way, he could tell Mrs. McKinley that he had a severe fit of sneezing – which caused his eyes to water.

That’s what friends are for.


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

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

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