Lincoln the Military Hero

On July 27, 1848 Abraham Lincoln (R.Ill), got up to speak in the House of Representatives.  1848 was an election year, and the candidate of Lincoln’s party, the Whigs, for president was General Zachary Taylor, “Old Rough and Ready”, who was a national hero after his victory at Buena Vista the year before in which he had defeated a Mexican Army under Mexican dictator Santa Ana that had outnumbered his force more than three to one.  The standard-bearer for the Democrats was the grand old man of Michigan politics, Lewis Cass.  Cass had served as a brigadier general in the War of 1812, competently if not with any distinction.  The Democrats were attempting to build up that long ago service and claim that Cass was a military hero also.  In his speech Lincoln attempted to deflate this attempt to claim the status of hero for Cass by mockingly comparing the service of Cass in the War of 1812 to Lincoln’s service in the Black Hawk War. (At the time of the Black Hawk War, Lewis Cass was Secretary of War and participated in the direction of that conflict.)  The relevant portion of Lincoln’s speech:

There is one entire article of the sort I have not discussed yet; I mean the military tail you democrats are now engaged in dovetailing onto the great Michigander. Yes sir, all his biographers (and they are legion) have him in hand, tying him to a military tail, like so many mischievous boys tying a dog to a bladder of beans. True, the material they have is very limited; but they drive at it, might and main. He invaded Canada without resistance, and he outvaded it without pursuit. As he did both under orders, I suppose there was, to him, neither credit or discredit in them; but they [are made to] constitute a large part of the tail. He was not at Hull’s surrender, but he was close by; he was volunteer aid to Gen: Harrison on the day of the battle of the Thames; and, as you said in 1840, Harrison was picking huckleberries [whortleberries] two miles off while the battle was fought, I suppose it is a just conclusion with you, to say Cass was aiding Harrison to pick huckleberries [picking whortleberries]. This is about all, except the mooted question of the broken sword. Some authors say he broke it, some say he threw it away, and some others, who ought to know, say nothing about it. Perhaps it would be a fair historical compromise to say, if he did not break it, he did n’t do any thing else with it.  

By the way, Mr. Speaker, did you know I am a military hero? Yes sir; in the days of the Black Hawk war, I fought, bled, and came away. Speaking of Gen: Cass’ career, reminds me of my own. I was not at Stillman’s defeat, but I was about as near it, as Cass was to Hulls surrender; and, like him, I saw the place very soon afterwards. It is quite certain I did not break my sword, for I had none to break; but I bent a musket pretty badly on one occasion. If Cass broke his sword, the idea is, he broke it in desperation; I bent the musket by accident. If Gen: Cass went in advance of me in picking huckleberries [whortleberries], I guess I surpassed him in charges upon the wild onions. If he saw any live, fighting indians, it was more than I did; but I had a good many bloody struggles with the musquetoes; and, although I never fainted from loss of blood, I can truly say I was often very hungry. Mr. Speaker, if I should ever conclude to doff whatever our democratic friends may suppose there is of black cockade federalism about me, and thereupon, they shall take me up as their candidate for the Presidency, I protest they shall not make fun of me, as they have of Gen: Cass, by attempting to write me into a military hero. (more…)

Published in: on February 29, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments Off  
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Molly Stark Didn’t Sleep as a Widow

On August 16, 1777, General John Stark, a veteran of Roger’s Rangers during the French and Indian War, New Hampshire militia, fought and won the battle of Bennington.  His force, consisting of 1500 New Hampshire militia, more than 10 percent of the male population of New Hampshire over the age of 16, about 500 Massachusetts militia and 350 Green Mountain Boys from Vermont under Colonel Seth Warner, defeated a force of approximately 800 dismounted dragoons of the Brunswick Prinz Ludwig regiment, Canadians, Tories and Indians under Colonel Friedrich Baum, which had been sent out on a foraging expedition by General Burgoyne.   The battle was hotly contested, and at the end the Americans had killed or captured all of Baum’s force, Baum being among the slain.  At the end of the battle, the Americans fought a second fight against a reinforcing column of around 650 members of the Breymann Grenadiers, an elite force under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Heinrich Breymann, driving them off with casualties of about one-quarter of their force.

It was an astonishingly good performance by the American troops, most of whom were completely raw militia, against forces consisting mostly of trained professional soldiers.  To inspire his men, Stark had yelled out at the beginning of the battle:  There are your enemies, the Red Coats and the Tories. They are ours, or this night Molly Stark sleeps a widow! (more…)

Published in: on February 28, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments Off  
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If

The ninth in my ongoing series examining the poetry of Rudyard Kipling.   The other posts in the series may be read here, here , here , herehere , here ,here and here.  By far If is the most famous poem of Kipling’s, written in 1909 in the form of advice to his only son, John (Jack) Kipling, who would die fighting bravely at Loos shortly after his eighteenth birthday in 1915.  The poem was inspired by the Jameson raid,  undertaken in 1895 by Doctor Leander Starr Jameson.  Jameson, who became a close friend of Kipling, became a British national hero by his leadership of the unsuccessful raid which attempted to start a revolt of British settlers, who outnumbered the native Boers two to one, against the Boer government of the Transvaal.  Jameson, who rose to be Prime Minister of the Cape Colony, throughout his life embodied many of the virtues praised in the poem.

If you can keep your head when all about you

  Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

  But make allowance for their doubting too;

  If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

  Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating, 

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

  If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with triumph and disaster

  And treat those two imposters just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

  Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

  Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

  And stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

  And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

  And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breath a word about your loss;

  If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

  To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

  Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch;

  If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;

  If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute 

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

  Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—you’ll be a Man my son! (more…)

Published in: on February 27, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments (4)  
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Anne de Gaulle

Anne De Gaulle

Charles de Gaulle could be a very frustrating man, as many American presidents could attest.  Churchill, in reference to de Gaulle, said that the heaviest cross he had to bear during the war was the Cross of Lorraine, the symbol of the Free French forces.  Arrogant, autocratic, often completely unreasonable, de Gaulle was all of these.  However, there is no denying that he was also a great man.  Rallying the Free French forces after the Nazi conquest of France, he boldly proclaimed, “France has lost a battle, France has not lost the war.”  For more than a few Frenchmen and women, de Gaulle became the embodiment of France.  It is also hard to dispute that De Gaulle is the greatest Frenchman since Clemenceau “The Tiger”, who led France to victory in World War I.  However, de Gaulle was something more than a great man,  he was also at bottom a good man, as demonstrated by his youngest daughter Anne de Gaulle. (more…)

Published in: on February 26, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments Off  
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The Girl I Left Behind Me

Something for the weekend.  The Girl I Left Behind Me.  First seeing print in 1791, the song has always been associated with the parting of young soldiers and their sweethearts as a result of war.

Published in: on February 25, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments Off  
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Harvard and Andrew Jackson

In 1833 the administration of Harvard decided to bestow an honorary doctorate of laws on the President of the United States, Andrew Jackson.  Many Harvard alums, looking down their noses at the rough, uncouth and ill-educated Jackson, were outraged.  None was more angry than Harvard alum John Quincy Adams who had been ousted from the presidency in the election of 1828.  Adams gave his cousin the President of Harvard an earful stating “as myself an affectionate child of our alma mater, I would not be present to witness her disgrace in conferring her highest literary honors upon a barbarian who could not write a sentence of grammar and hardly could spell his own name.” (more…)

Published in: on February 24, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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Presidency as Curse

A good video bio of Franklin Pierce, called Young Hickory be Democrats when they ran him for President in 1852, hoping to latch on to the Mexican War hero Pierce some of the mystique of Andrew Jackson, Old Hickory.  Pierce in the White House was a cautionary tale of the possible impact of winning that ultimate brass ring of American politics on the historical reputation of a man.  Prior to the Presidency Pierce was a popular politician from New Hampshire, having served in both the House and Senate.  He was also something of a hero for his service as a general of volunteers during the Mexican War.  However, after he became president he said farewell to his popular reputation.

Deferring to the slave holding South through vigorous enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act, and attempting to have Kansas admitted as a slave state, Pierce outraged the North, including most Northern Democrats.  Failing of renomination by his own party in 1856, Pierce spent the rest of his life fighting a losing battle with the alcoholism that had plagued him his entire adult life.  Correspondence between him and Jefferson Davis, found by Union troops when they occupied his plantation in Mississippi in 1863, destroyed what little remained of his reputation among most Northerners, particularly one passage in which he proclaimed that he would never support the Union war effort, and that the true purpose of the war was to blot out the States. (more…)

Published in: on February 23, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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Sage Advice From George Washington

 

 

Today is the 280th birthday of our first president.  Fortunate indeed were we to have such a man as the Father of our nation.  Without him to lead us to victory in the Revolution there would be no United States of America today.  Recently I was re-reading his Farewell Address, and I think some of the matters he touches upon are extremely relevant today:

1. Religion-Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connexions with private and public felicity.

It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?

2.  Centralized Power-It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution in those entrusted with its administration, to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism.

3.  Partisanship-There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in governments of a monarchical cast, patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume. (more…)

Published in: on February 22, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments Off  
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Rate That President ! : Part II

The second part of my rating of US Presidents.  The first part may be viewed here.

24.  John F. Kennedy-From a moral standpoint perhaps the worst man ever to sit in the White House, the recent revelations of his teenage White House intern mistress during that time period helping to cement that status.  Kennedy was a strong advocate of the space race and set the country the goal of landing a man on the moon which the nation met in 1969.  He presided over a prosperous economy, helped along with a reduction in marginal rates which he pushed through.  In foreign policy he presided over the Bay of Pigs fiasco, and our widening involvement in South Vietnam, lending support to the coup that toppled Diem. He will always be best known for the Cuban Missile Crisis which he successfully navigated, but it was a very close shave for the world.  On civil rights, he gave much lip service to it, but it would be his successor who would push through the key civil rights legislation.  The second most over-rated president in our nation’s history.

25.  James Garfield-A Union Civil War general with a superb combat record, Garfield was also a canny politician with seven terms under his belt in the House.  During the brief four months he held the office before his assassination, he staked out positions in favor of civil service reform, the hot domestic issue of the day, and reform of the post office.   He refinanced a substantial portion of the national debt at a lower interest rate, saving the nation millions in interest payments.  An ardent advocate of civil rights for blacks, he sponsored a bill to provide for universal federal education to combat the fact that in many Southern states no provision was made to educate blacks.  It failed in Congress after Garfield’s death.  He appointed many blacks to federal office, and began to reverse President Rutherford’s policy of conciliation white Southerners at the expense of blacks.  Garfield began the policy of modernizing the Navy carried forward by President Arthur.

26.  John Tyler-Known as “His Accidency” by his critics after he took over when President Harrison died just after thirty days in office, Harrison set the mold for Vice-Presidents who assumed the office.  It was by no means clear that he would be called President and that he would have the full powers of the President or be considered to be simply conducting a caretaker “regency” until the next election for President.  Harrison had none of that.  He insisted on being called President and was quite clear in his own mind that he had all of the powers of an elected President.  Aside from this setting of precedent, the most signficant event in his presidency was the annexation of Texas at the very end of his term.  Tyler was a former Democrat and he acted like a Democrat as president, vetoing almost the entire Whig agenda, including vetoing a proposed national bank twice.  The Whigs in the House, for the first time in the nation’s history, began impeachment proceedings.  Tyler probably would have been impeached if the Whigs had not lost their majority in the 1842 election in the House.  Tyler died in 1862, shortly after his election as a representative to the Confederate Congress.  Stunningly, he still has two living grandsons.

27.  Herbert Hoover-Hoover rose from poverty to become a self-made millionaire as a mining engineer.  He was a noted philanthropist, organizing relief efforts in Europe throughout World War I, saving tens of millions of lives.  His administration was dominated by the Great Depression.  To combat the Depression Hoover initiated policies that set the precedent for Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.  Like the New Deal, Hoover’s policies were largely unsuccessful in combating the Depression.  Out of office, Hoover became an outspoken critic of the New Deal which he regarded as socialism by another name.  Hoover lived on until 1964, staying active in various causes, and being called upon by all his successors as president for advice and to conduct special missions for them.  The only exception was Roosevelt, who shared with Hoover a cordial enmity.

28.  Gerald Ford-Our only president never to be elected either president or vice president, Ford was left to pick up the pieces after Nixon resigned in disgrace.  Pardoning Nixon was probably the right thing to do to avoid the nation having to go through several more years of the Watergate melodrama, and Ford took immense grief for doing so.  In foreign affairs his hands were tied by a Democrat leftist dominated Congress that came to power in the election of 1974, and 1975 witnessed the fall of South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos to the Communists, and set the stage for Soviet adventurism in Africa and Afghanistan.  Domestically, the country went through a short but sharp recession in 1974 largely caused by the Arab oil embargo.  Inflation was still a great problem, but the economy had vastly improved by 1976 and Ford probably would have beaten Carter but for Ford making a verbal mistep in one of their debates, claiming that Poland was not under Soviet domination, and stubbornly refusing to correct himself for several days.  He died in 2006 at 93, making him the longest lived president, beating Reagan for that distinction by 45 days.

29. Millard Fillmore-Fillmore took over as the last Whig president following the death of Zachary Taylor.  He helped push through the Compromise of 1850 which delayed the Civil War for decade, and after you have mentioned that you have largely accounted for any historical importance of the Fillmore administration, other than the opening of Japan by Commodore Perry which occurred under President Pierce but which Fillmore initiated.  In retirement Fillmore turned down an honorary degree from Oxford, saying that he was unworthy of it, and noting that it was written in Latin and that a man should never accept a degree that he was unable to read. (more…)

Published in: on February 21, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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February 20, 1962: God Speed John Glenn

Published in: on February 20, 2012 at 10:02 am  Comments Off  
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