Zachary Taylor: The Tease

I've mentioned before that Taylor wasn't exactly a political lifer. President was the very first elected office he held.

But he took not being political to a new extreme. Here's part of an actual letter he wrote in response to a reporter asking him to state his political views:

"I reiterate what I have often said...I am a Whig but not an ultra Whig. If elected I would not be the mere president of a party- I would endeavor to act independent of party domination and should feel bound to administer the Government untrammelled by party schemes.

Second- the veto power- the power given by the Constitution to the Executive to exercise his veto is a high conservative power, but in my opinion, it should never be exercised except in cases of clear violation of the Constitution, or manifest haste or want of due consideration by the Congress. Indeed I have though for many years past, that known opinions and wishes of the Executive have exercised undue and injurious influence upon the Legislative Department of the government and from this cause I have thought that our system was in danger of undergoing a great change from its true theory."

So....he didn't want to actively enforce party beliefs and he prefers to let congress figure out what to do, reserving his veto for extreme cases and not letting his beliefs influence it. Not exactly playing to the base.

I'm not saying that they should have put some fire breathing party animal on the ticket, but it just seems strange to put someone on the ticket that almost refuses to be classified as even belonging to the party they're running for.

It was a testament to the exhaustion of the American people with the party politics of the increasingly southern dominated democratic party. Could an independent get elected in this day and age, or have the two parties gotten their tentacles too deep into the keys to power?


Happy Presidents' Day

Today is a good day to reflect on the men this holiday is devoted to- Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. They were both indispensable to the founding and the saving of the country from internal and external enemies.

Much is known about Abraham Lincoln's quiet determination in steering the country back on course and helping his countrymen make the right moral choice on the scourge of slavery. His letters are all well preserved and his speeches and philosophy are part of the national psyche.

Less however is known about George Washington who burned his letters and writings before his death and left little more for the nation's written record than his journal on the daily temperature and rainfall that he kept for his entire life.

There were many possible motivations people assign to Washington's purposeful anonymity- possible fear of reprisal from Britain on his family and friends if the revolution failed or the country didn't sustain itself, wanting to let Americans decide for themselves what America is or should be etc.

One of the greatest unknowns is why George Washington turned down a ruler for life position and the chance to be a founding of an aristocracy that would have lasted for the entire history of the nation that he founded.

The aristocracy question is interesting to me especially, since my family on my father's side is distantly related to George Washington.

I was going through some old papers on our family history the other day and came across an article my Grandmother cut out called 'West Virginia Royalty' or something like that. In it- the journalist interviews a woman in West Virginia who's distantly related to the Washingtons and talks about how different life would be for her had Washington accepted the sword from his fellow generals and started a familial empire.

Instead of working for a living like some sucker, I could be kicking back and enjoying a guaranteed income from the family estate like one of the Julians or Claudians in the Roman empire.

Oh well- I guess some choices he made are better for the country and not for me. Anyway- Happy Birthday President Washington and Lincoln!


Zachary Taylor: Office Politics

The idea of a President and his cabinet and/or his Vice President not getting along is really nothing special. We had the 'kitchen cabinet' of Andrew Jackson which led to armed posses and near duels over a woman's honor, we had Thomas Jefferson's service as Vice President to John Adams who felt that he was actively trying to undermine him and today is no different- with the presidential hopefuls John McCain and Sarah Palin who now it seems, could barely stand each other.

That's all normal, but never before the Polk administration did a President have so much animosity towards an active General fighting a war. As General Zachary Taylor, a Whig (not even a declared Whig at that point), was fighting the Mexican War, James Polk, a democrat, did everything that he could to minimize his victories on the field of battle so he couldn't become another War Hero president like Henry Harrison.

Polk was like a less corrupt Richard Nixon, brilliant and effective, but thinking that everyone was out to get him. By the time of his administration, the Whigs blossomed into an effective national protest movement against the Democratic policies of national expansion and limited 'internal improvements' Polk espoused. He constantly wrote to friends, suspecting Taylor of 'Whiggery'.

The irony of this strained relationship, is that Taylor was more or less completely apolitical until the Whigs convinced him to accept the presidential ticket in the election of 1848. Once he accepted the nomination as Whig candidate, he refused even to put his beliefs in writing, simply saying that he'd 'protect and enforce the constitution'. I think that Taylor's limpness on issues hardly put him in the category of Whig crusader.

Imagine today if President Obama kept General Gates' from enacting his policies to keep him out of presidential contention. How would the American people feel about that?


Gays in the Army v. the Civil Rights Movement

I read an article in the Times today by Frank Rich that made me want to take a little sidebar from my writings on history and address current events.

The article points out that most Republicans who were once fierce opponents of gay rights are now distancing themselves from the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' debate. The article reasons that attitudes in the last 20 years have changed regarding gays and that it would not be politically expedient for the Republicans to retreat to tired social arguments when they're trying to attract independent voters who might identify with their fiscal responsibility and small government message.

Frank Rich points out that the arguments about troop cohesion, morale etc. being damaged by by the inclusion of gays in the military were all the same ones that were used in the 50's when Truman ordered the integration of the Army.

This got me thinking about the weight of history that some of the conservative leaders must surely feel bearing down on them. Gays and Mexicans (illegal immigrants) might be some of the last acceptable targets of borderline bigotry to score political points, but it won't be that way forever. Surely Orrin Hatch and gang must know that with the momentum of acceptance of gays in America, if they make a strong stand against eliminating this bias, in twenty years, their biographers will be writing things like "it was a different time...", "he also did some good things" etc.

It also made me think about how uncontroversial the idea of not forcing military gays to be closeted is vs. the idea of allowing blacks into the Army in the 1950's. In the 1950's, a black person had to drink out of a separate water fountain in many parts of this country and could literally be LYNCHED for looking at the wrong white person's wife. Southern Whites made up a large percentage of the Army and certainly needed to be forced into this arrangement.

Gays on the other hand, although they face some overt discrimination, are overall allowed to freely travel where they want throughout the country, work where they want and go to school where they want. It's more and more obvious that this and the marriage issue are going to be resolved for good in our generation's lifetime and that those that stand in the way will look worse and worse when the history books on this period are written.