Grover Cleveland: The Rise of The Labor and Progressive Movement

Many people don't understand that the founders and their successors valued liberty over equality. Various presidents from George Washington all the way up to Cleveland generally adopted this view and the government was looked upon as something to protect people from more than something to help people.

The landscape however had been changing for a while. By the 1880's, people had been leaving their farms and small businesses for factory jobs in the city for decades. While citizens would not generally petition the government to increase their wages or maximize the hours they're required to put in on the job when they actually own the business they're working at, all that changed when the majority of Americans started to work for other people.

For some time, movements had been popping up that favored the interests of labor over capital. 'Free Silver' or the devaluation of U.S. currency had been pushed for a while as a means for the government to bail people out of debt and the movement to give pensions to Civil War veterans had been going on since before Cleveland took office.

In addition, there were immigrants pouring into the country from less stable places in Europe that advocated new and liberal ideas like socialism and anarchism.

Cleveland however continued to hold the view that the government did not exist to provide a safety net for people or create a more equal society. In his first term in 1885, his opposition to new social programs and refusal to have the government intervene in the private economy was not seen as major issue. Although he lost his bid for re-election, it was not because of popular anger at his economic policies.

However, when he was re-elected for a non-consecutive term in 1893, the country was in an economic crisis. Although this crisis was brought on by the 'free silver' policies that he had always been opposed to, he still took the blame for the crisis, or at least for not doing more to fix it. With many Americans out of work, his insistence on restricting government jobs and political appointments stood in direct opposition to the labor forces that were becoming stronger with every passing year.

As the depression continued, Cleveland's refusal to implement some kind of FDR type 'job creation' policy makes him seem out of touch to modern day historians. I think that this is unfair though since he was simply carrying out the widely held view of what government should and should not do that had been in place for more than one hundred years.


Grover Cleveland: "Waving the bloody shirt"

Grover Cleveland was the sixth president to serve since Abraham Lincoln won the civil war and was shot to death in 1865. At this point, the nation was a little over twenty years removed from the end of the war, had been through the reconstruction period and was well into the gilded age. The reason he got elected was as much about his republican opponents failed strategy as it was about his own grasp of politics.

Since the north had won the civil war, the republicans who were predominately from the northeast and midwest had made blaming the democrats for the war an integral part of their campaign strategy.

The strategy made a lot of sense at first, southern politicians were mostly democrats and many northern democrats harbored some sense of loyalty or at least sympathy to the confederacy in the 1860's. It continued to work well when after the war, southern politicians who had served in the confederate government once again became the congressmen and senators of the reunited country.

The problem was that it worked so well to stir up the republican base that some politicians never stopped using it as a way to scare the voters into electing them. In many ways, even twenty years on in the 1880's, the civil war was like the 9-11 of its day. Just like republicans of today continue to brand Barack Obama (the man that killed Bin-Laden and scores of other Al-Qaeda terrorists) and all other democrats as 'weak on terrorism', the republicans of the 1880's continued to imply that voters who elected democrats were somehow disloyal to their country.

Voters got tired of this strategy for several understandable reasons. The foreign born population had exploded since the 1860's due to war and famine in Europe and that constituency was much less swayed by anger at the South than the older native born population that had actually lived through the civil war. In addition, twenty years after the civil war, a fair amount of the war population had passed on and the younger generation were either too young to remember the war or were not even born when it took place.

The Republicans realized that immigrants were much less likely to vote for them and sought to tar them as also being disloyal to the United States due to their 'Romanism'. The anti-Catholic and foreigner rhetoric was ironic, coming from the party of emancipation of slaves. Eventually, voters tired of this fear driven agenda and the republican party lost influence even in its stronghold of the northeast.


Grover Cleveland: "Ma, ma, where's my Pa?"

The campaign of 1884 got ugly, even by presidential election standards. Blaine was chosen to run over the incumbent President, Chester Arthur. This choice greatly divided the party in to factions and even drove some Republicans who declared themselves part of the 'mugwump' faction to break away from the party and vote for the Democratic candidate, Grover Cleveland.

Blaine was known as the "Plumed Knight" and served in the cabinet of many administrations from the time of Lincoln all the way up to the turn of the century. He had an uncanny knack for crisis management and survival evidenced by the fact that he somehow stuck around after letters were brought to light that he had taken over the equivalent of over $1.5 MILLION dollars in bribes from various industrial and rail road interests. And that's just what we know about! Just like I can promise you that there were more than one intern that Bill Clinton had his way with, it's safe to assume that in Blaine's day, there was other money from special interests that found its way into his pocket.

The letters Blaine wrote that were published as evidence of his corruption allegedly instructed the reader to 'burn this letter'. Therefore, the Democrat's campaign slogan became 'Burn this letter!'. In my opinion, that's a catchier slogan than 'We are the 99%' or 'Yes we can'.

The Republicans countered by having party plants make public statements that the Democrats supported 'Rum, romanism and rebellion'. Rum was a reference to the temperance movement that had reached a fever pitch by the mid 1880's, romanism referenced the teeming masses of immigrants that were overwhelmingly Catholic and suspected to owe their loyalties to Rome, rebellion was a nod to the fact that historically, the democrats had been the party of the South and the confederacy.

Their biggest gem however came when it was revealed that Cleveland had fathered a child out of wedlock and it was alleged that he had provided housing for the boy and his mother only at 'the point of a shotgun'. They even came up with a catchy slogan for his bastard child: "Ma, ma, where's my Pa? Gone to the White house, ha, ha, ha."

Ultimately, the Republicans ended up looking worse during the ugly campaign and Cleveland gained sympathy when he didn't try and deny his 'illicit' relationship with the woman who had his child and made clear that he had provided for both of them.

You would have thought that Republicans in the 1990's would have remembered this lesson when they held the sham impeachment trials of Clinton, only to have their own affairs come to light shortly thereafter.


#22 and #24: Grover Cleveland

In the mid 1880's, the Republicans were angry at Chester Arthur for not having their back once he became President. Arthur was a consummate machine politician that came up in the stinking pit of corruption of NYC. He was brought to power by being a party man and following the system of reciprocal political favors the New York machine had in place.

He was actually the collector of the port of New York for eight years before Hayes removed him as part of his early efforts to reform civil service. It's strange then that Arthur pushed through reforms and refused to make many political appointments to his cabinet and the many patronage positions that were available in civil service. The republican party thrived on those patronage appointments as ways to earn the votes and the money of their loyalists.

Whether the motivation for Arthur's principled stand was out of his true desire to be his own man, a desire to carry out Garfield's legacy after he was shot to death by an assassin (Arthur came to power as Garfield's VP) or self preservation to prevent being a murder suspect in the president's death, the Republican machine was angry at Arthur's change in heart.

They were so angry in fact that they adopted a suicidal policy of revenge. The public was on the side of reform (unless they benefited from the graft), so when the party decided to not put Arthur on the presidential ticket after his partial term was up and nominate his rival, the machine politician James Blaine, the move backfired on them.

Grover Cleveland, the Democratic nominee ran on a platform of continued reform. Civil service reform had taken place under the Garfield/Arthur administration, but Cleveland wanted to further it. Blaine and the wise old men of the Republican party wanted to reverse it and distracted the public by bringing up Cleveland's love child "Ma, ma, where's my Pa?" and base charges that the Democrats would bring "Rum, Romanism and Rebellion" to the United States if elected.

It's nice to see that they got punished for their cynical strategy and gives me hope that we could do the same in this country with our out of touch politicians.


NYC in the 1870's vs the 1970's: The worse bad old days

Having relocated to NYC from Ohio four years ago, I noticed that I encounter a very different opinion of New York from older people that have lived their whole life here versus people that have moved here from other parts of the country.

From the life long residents over 50, you get all the same tired platitudes about NYC being 'the greatest city in the world', but you also notice a fear of the city. They take pride in having lived through the tumultuous 1970's when buildings were burnt down for insurance money and junkies roamed the streets at night like the zombies in "I Am Legend". They caution you against going out at night and often still refuse to take the subways that were the symbol of the city's decay in the 1970's.

Times were so bad then that it seems hard to imagine a time in New York that was worse. However, in the 1870's as immigrants were pouring into the city's ports to escape the famine of Ireland and the endless wars of continental Europe, the city had the dubious distinction of having the highest death rate in the Western world.

Even though this was the golden age of the streets of gold myths about the United States, unknown numbers of New Yorkers died of exposure in the substandard tenements, fell victims to the ethnic and political gang violence, or lost the struggle with contagious diseases that gripped the poor communities as a result of poor sanitation in the areas around lower Manhattan.

While Chester Arthur held court at the 5th Avenue Hotel near the modern 26th St and Lexington with his gilded elite friends, the poorer citizens to a mile south stood in line in soup kitchens and begged for favors of the local machine politicians that ran and owned the many taverns. The issues with poverty, corruption, violence and sanitation combined to make the New York City of the 1870's make the 1970's look comparatively good. You can bet those people would take some graffiti on subways over the sewage that flowed through the streets and would be happy with the occasional crack house compared with the opium dens that dominated the early Chinatown.


Chester Arthur: Change no one believed in

All presidents since Washington tried to steer the country either into a forward or backward looking direction.

Presidents such as Jefferson, Jackson and Pierce tried to look backward and restore the country to what they viewed as the Republican golden age by keeping government small, weak and as out of people's lives as much as possible. They generally opposed having a central bank that could print money, supported only state militias to protect the country and tended to put as much decision making as possible into local communities.

Other presidents such as Adams, Polk and Garfield sought to look forward and modernize the country as much as possible through maintaining standing armies, supporting a strong central bank of the United States and 'internal improvements' which were usually public works projects such as railroads, canals or dams.

Arthur's legacy would certainly put him in the latter category as a modernizing president. He sought to continue Garfield's legacy of making the civil service more professional by making the non political positions be merit based rather than simple patronage, he pushed for time zones to be created in the United States, and even pushed for an early form of NAFTA by encouraging trade treaties with Nicaragua and Mexico.

In an age of even more suspicion and anger over immigration than our own, Arthur tried to create something even more powerful than NAFTA by pushing for a common currency for all of North and South America or a sort of United States Euro zone to further international trade.

This push for a common continental currency obviously didn't pass in the United States or Latin America and still would not today, but it really speaks to how dedicated to new ideas Arthur was.


Chester Arthur: A Lobbyist goes to Washington

Chester Arthur was not the politician you'd expect to launch much needed reforms in the Gilded Age, but he ended up doing just that and he paid the highest political price for it.

His political career really took off in the 'Gangs of New York' style environment of New York City in the 1870's. He was appointed Collector of the Port of New York by a political ally, President Grant. He used this position to reward Republican party loyalists and fill the coffers of the local political machine. The money was good since at that time, there was no restriction on keeping a percentage of the customs that he was able to collect.

He rose to the top level of Roscoe Conkling's Stalwart Republican political machine and held court at the Fifth Avenue Restaurant in Lower Manhattan. Arthur, with his mutton chops and love of fine liquor and prime rib could have looked no more the part of the Gilded Age politician and he played it well too, holding dinners there almost every night of the week to confer with his advisers and decide the best way to win or buy votes for the party.

He was eventually kicked out of this lucrative position when Hayes became president and removed him as part of the effort to clean of the 'spoils system' of public positions. Hayes efforts were in vain though and the reforms would require a second effort of his successor Garfield.

When Garfield was nominated for president by the Republicans in 1880, Arthur was put on the ticket by the party's 'money men' to keep Garfield from pushing the reform effort from encroaching too far on the party's interests.

Garfield was shot shortly after taking office and died some months later. As I've discussed before, this put Arthur in the awkward position of having to deflect rumors that he had a hand in the murder of the sitting president. Whether it was a desire to carry out the wishes of Garfield out of respect for the deceased president or out of a sense of deflecting rumors that he killed him, Arthur cut ties with old political allies and started to push for competitive bidding processes for government contracts and positions shortly after taking over the office of President.

This ability to put country above party endeared Arthur to the history books, but not the power brokers of his party. At the end of his partial first term, the Republicans nominated his political rival for president and didn't even give him a spot on the ticket. We'll never know if his position of the unlikely reformer increased his standing with voters since he was never given the chance to actually run for president.

Arthur's example shows that even a politician that feeds at the trough from time to time can do great things if they're willing to put the voters' interest above that of their party. Maybe both party's culture warriors could learn a thing or two from the unlikely example of Arthur.


#21 Chester Arthur: Murder Suspect

Imagine this scenario for a moment... Mitt Romney wins the nomination for the upcoming Republican presidential candidate and in order to retain the votes of the (much) more conservative members of its party, the Republicans nominate Rick Perry for the vice presidential candidate.

A few months after taking office, an assassin shoots Romney at point blank range and when apprehended, says that they did so for the Tea Party movement.

This might seem outlandish, but this situation happened in the Garfield administration with Chester Arthur serving as Vice President to retain the 'Stalwarts' in the Republican party. 100 days into office, an assassin mortally wounded Garfield and when he was wrestled to the ground, proclaimed "I am a Stalwart and Chester Arthur will be President."

This led to a very inauspicious beginning to Arthur's partial term presidency. He was elected to retain the votes of the Stalwart faction in the party. The Stalwarts wanted the United States to take a more active role in international affairs and increase they party's national appeal as well as attracting the votes of the many new immigrant groups that were coming the the United States from Ireland, Italy and elsewhere in Europe.

Garfield's faction of the Republican party still wanted to retain their old positions that they had since the civil war. Mainly retaining the "America First" attitude of isolation and anti slavery rooted views on reconstruction it had since the end of the Civil War. This faction looked at the Stalwarts with suspicion even before the assassination.

After Garfield died a few months after getting shot and Arthur took office, many of the conspiracy theories remained among the traditionalists of the Republican party throughout the rest of Garfield's life.

It's impossible to know if Arthur's adoption of many of Garfield's positions after the president's death were the result of Arthur trying to reduce suspicion of his role in Garfield's killing or if they were the honestly held views of a Gilded Age president that knew they were likely to serve only a partial term. However, Arthur's legacy will always be tied to Garfield's death.


James Garfield: Stalwarts and Mugwumps

Like the Republican Party of today, the G.O.P. during the 1880's was extremely divided and in decline.

There was the civil war generation that looked at voting Republican as a moral obligation. Their strategy in the elections over and over was to 'wave the bloody shirt' which meant equating voting democratic as a vote for the confederate sympathizers. This strategy worked well, from Lincoln's assassination well into the Gilded Age. Public anger in the north was insatiable, but only for so long.

There were the 'Mugwumps' who were sort of like the Tea Party. They viewed the single most important issues being civil service reform, returning from the 'greenback' standard to the gold standard of currency and reducing or eliminating tariffs. In short- they wanted to shrink the size of government, avoid inflation and increase free trade. The mugwumps tended to be what you might say was the business class that made their fortune from importing or manufacturing. They had much more political conviction than political savvy.

Another movement within the Republican party was the 'Half Breeds'. They were more moderate and somewhat more modern than the civil war faction. They believed in Civil Service reform, but were not as ideological or economically conservative as the Mugwump faction.

The final group struggling to politically keep all the factions together at all costs were the Stalwarts. They saw political machines as a good tool in staying in power. The Stalwarts gave the 'Half Breeds' their name as an insult to say that they were not putting party first, but the Half Breeds wore it with pride. The Stalwarts were much more concerned with getting their people elected and paying out the necessary bribes in the form of government appointments than they were in any kind of political conviction. They were usually the ones that would broker deals between the various factions.

It's interesting to see the parallels between then and now. It seems our modern day Stalwarts such as Newt Gingrich are losing power to the Mugwumps in the Tea Party. Waiving the bloody shirt these days seems to fall to the cultural warriors in the Republican Party that endlessly rehash their battles with hippies from the 60's to an ever shrinking crowd of retirees.

All revolutions, even Republican revolutions eventually eat themselves.



The Name Game

Peter Baker wrote an article in the NY Times in May talking about how the American public loves to compare Obama to past presidents.

When his poll numbers are up, he's been compared to Abe Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson. If he addresses the American public directly, bypassing Congress, he's been called our generation's JFK or Regan. When his numbers are down, he's been called the next Carter or LBJ.

However, this isn't really a new phenomenon. When Rutherford B. Hayes was asked to perform one of Washington's speeches on the founding of the Republic for America's centennial in 1876, he was roundly criticized as a symbol of how far the country had declined.

Andrew Jackson (Old Hickory) was sort of a Regan type figure of his times, a divisive politician that enjoyed great loyalty and respect from some segments of the population and was reviled by others. His later admirers who would go on to become president were James Polk and Franklin Pierce. Both their supporters and opponents jointly gave them the nicknames 'Young Hickory' and 'Young Hickory of the Granite Hills' respectively to highlight the common policy of the three men.

Abraham Lincoln's supporters commonly compared him to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson for both his reputation as a warrior struggling to save the country and a man of peace. This was somewhat strange since the Confederate President Jefferson Davis was also commonly compared to Thomas Jefferson by his supporters for his belief in states' rights (to own slaves).

George W. Bush has been compared to James Polk for his partisanship and his skill at ramming through legislation, making enemies but also achieving his ambitious political goals.

Even George Washington in his own day was compared to a figure from history when there were no other presidents to compare him to. Washington was given the name 'Cincinnatus' after the Roman retired general/farmer who quit his plow and took his sword back up to defend his country from foreign invaders.

Maybe it's just human nature that people treat history like baseball, always looking for comparisons of current and former greats. At some point though, we have to accept that before they're anyone else, presidents are themselves, making their own history.


Lower Your Standards for Politicians

I'm so tired of outraged anchors on TV and tearful and supportive wives on television.

Every time that some sex scandal breaks, it's as though Americans thought that our congressmen and senators lead an honorable life, giving an example of moral certitude (to quote Congressman Weiner) to our young people.

I really don't understand this. Politicians get paid to lie for a living and it's really no surprise to me that they're of questionable character in areas other than politics.

Politicians take money from corporations and unions and pass whatever laws their paymasters demand. They always cloak their actions in political ideology, but it's fairly obvious that we have nothing more than a sophisticated system of bribery in this country. The only people who aren't in on this joke are people that routinely vote for Democrats and Republicans.

The politician that cheats on his wife is the norm, not the exception. Just ask Henry Hyde, Newt Gingrich, Bob Dole, Rush Limbaugh, Phil Gramm, Rudulph Giuliani, Strom Thurmond, Mark Foley, Larry Craig, Bill Clinton, John Edwards, David Patterson or the aptly named Anthony Weiner. I'd keep writing but I'm afraid that I'd get carpal tunnel.

Lower your standards America!


Bin Laden: The Rabbit Hole

For many, today was a day of soul searching. A day when many asked "I'm happy that we got Bin Laden, but should I feel happy over the fact that someone died?"

For me, the short answer is yes. I see absolutely nothing wrong with rejoicing over Bin Laden's death.

This guy took advantage of the Cold War in the eighties and enlisted the United States as an ally in driving the Soviets out of Afghanistan. He then stuck around and made the country a haven and training ground for Islamic extremists.

When the United States established a base in his home country of Saudi Arabia, he then started to launch terrorist plots against the Western world that increased in intensity culminating in the twin towers coming down in 2001.

We had him cornered in Tora Bora but he slipped over the border to Pakistan. We then shifted our mission in Afghanistan to the naive goal of 'nation building' which consisted of paying bribes to Warlords who would re emerge later as 'Taliban' and then re morph into allies again when they wanted our money. We also worked on building girls schools and teaching woman's lib to herdsmen. Policies I'm sure were very effective in a society that uses gang rape on innocent women to punish their male relatives for transgressions against a tribe's honor.

We then went into Iraq largely because by that time, the United States had become a national security state where even the potential threat of attack was enough to mobilize the whole military to seize control of a country. When that inevitably became a three way civil war we again switched our priorities to 'nation building' which consisted of building electric and water plants that the very people we were building them for would then blow up.

After we finally got Saddam, we decided to double down on Afghanistan and start a 'partnership' with the Pakistani government. This partnership consisted mainly of us giving a military dictatorship billions of dollars a year for the privilege of using our own military to kill tribesmen that were also enemies of the military dictatorship. All the while, they were apparently hiding Bin-Laden in the biggest, most conspicuous house of a military town.

So trillions of dollars and several thousand (U.S) casualties later, he's dead and I'm at least glad we got something for our money. Hopefully this will all prove what a waste it is to 'nation build' in a land where people still literally identify with tribes and most of the population is illiterate.

We immediately need to pull back our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan into permanent military basis where we can focus on quick strike missions to kill people that pop up and threaten the United State. That is what a military is for.

Leave the nation building to the people that live there and I think that everyone would be happier. As Alexis de Tocqueville once said "People get the government they deserve."


The Political Movements

The post Civil War years were times of great change for American politics. Between Abraham Lincoln's Vice President Andrew Johnson mismanaging the post war occupation in the South so badly and the public (northern) anger towards the Democrats (most confederate sympathizers were Democrat) the Republican party enjoyed political support higher than America has ever seen before or since the war.

As political parties or movements are prone to do though, they overplayed their hand and became corrupt. They took full advantage of the spoils system under the pretense of patriotism and installed their friends and family in what would seem non political positions (post office workers, sheriffs etc.)

They also 'waived the bloody shirt' whenever they could. This term was coined by the Democrats and basically meant they tried to whip up anger over the Civil War during rallies in the North and tried to direct that anger towards the Democrats since most southerners were Democrats. This strategy worked for a while after the war, but as the actual veterans of the war started to die out and the public became preoccupied with the industrial revolution, this strategy seemed stale and out of date. Kind of like the public now is tired of Vietnam dominating the tired debates of Congressional ex hippies and cold war soldiers.

Just like now we have crusty old politicians looking at the culture and cold war issues as the 'real' debate who refuse to address the real issues that face the country such as preventing another financial crisis, the crushing national debt or the country's over response to terrorism threats, those politicians of the 1870's and 1880's tended to spar over who could out Civil War one another and which side was responsible. The public, even in the south had moved on to more pressing issues such as what the governments role should be in managing the industrial revolution and whether there should be a safety net for citizens.

As the Democrats rose back to power, the Republicans declined. The political machines which were at the height of their power in the gilded age of the post reconstruction years gradually gave way to national parties with parties based more on ideas than the geography of their members. The national parties would become so entrenched in American politics that the presidency would be challenged only a handful of times by a non major party ticket. The only ready examples I can think of for credible third party runs are the Bull Moose party of Teddy Roosevelt and Ross Perot's run as an independent.

It makes me nostalgic for the days of the Whig, Liberty and Anti Mason parties.

Garfield: The Middle Civil War President

The Civil War defined generations of Americans and decades of politics from its end in 1865 well into the twentieth century.

In addition to catapulting the Republicans into political dominance on the national level for years after the war, it set up the issues to be debated for the next century.

There are the obvious ones that came directly after the war:

What is the status of freed slaves?
What is the Federal Government's responsibility in protecting the rights of freed slaves?
What is the status of the states that seceded from the Union? Are they states or are they a conquered territory? Do they have the right to self government anymore?
If Southern territories are made states again, can they be made to pay reparations for the war they started?

There were the ones that came later:

What is the financial obligation of the Federal Government to the Union Veterans? Should it take care of their retirement and medical care?
Can politicians and generals that served in the Civil War for the Confederacy serve again in the Congress and U.S. Army?
How long should the Democrats be kept out of power in the voting box? (Almost all Confederate Sympathizers in the South were democrats)
Should hay be made of politicians that didn't serve in the Civil War because they purchased 'substitutes' to serve in there place? (Think of Vietnam and Clinton not serving)

And the ones that would come much later:

Is the Confederate flag something that can be flown with pride or is it just a racist symbol? (South Carolina has it on its state flag to this day.)
If the Southern states will not suppress the KKK terrorizing its black and non democrat citizens, is the Federal Government obligated to send agents and troops to intervene? (again)
At what point could Southerners call themselves patriotic Americans again without being chastised by their friends? (for the generation in the South that fought the Civil War, the federal government was still viewed largely as the enemy.

Many of these questions are still being asked and Garfield fit squarely in the middle of the presidents that served in the Union military, with Johnson, Grant and Hayes before him and Arthur, Benjamin Harrison and McKinley after him.

While World War II largely defined America's place in the world, the Civil War defined domestic policy debates we have to this day.


Presidential Nicknames: Number 1-22

I wanted to publish some presidential nicknames I've come across in the biographies I've read so far. I owe a debt of gratitude to Wikipedia for jogging my memory on some of the more obscure names.

Of note, Andrew Jackson (Old Hickory) inspired the nicknames of two later presidents; James Polk (Young Hickory) and Franklin Pierce (Young Hickory of the Granite Hills). Jackson's tough guy populism made him a kind of Ronald Reagan figure for the next generation, with many candidates claiming to be his legacy.

Five of the first 22 presidents' nicknames were preceded by 'Old', showing a trend where the second and third generation of Americans wanted to be less known as revolutionary and known more for being established.

I think that my personal favorite nickname remains 'The Careful Dutchman' (Van Buren) closely followed by John Quincy Adams (Old Man Eloquent).

Here's the list:

The American Cincinnatus
The Survivor of Monongahela (used mostly during the revolution)

The Duke of Braintree
King John the Second

The Sage of Monticello
The Negro President (for his victory in the election of 1800 since he won because of the 3/5's compromise)
Mad Tom

Little Jemmy (he was only 5'4'')
His Little Majesty

Nothing too creative

John Quincy Adams:
Old Man Eloquent

Andrew Jackson:
Old Hickory
The Hero of New Orleans

Van Buren:
The Careful Dutchman
The Little Magician
Old Kinderhook (O.K)
Martin Van Ruin (by his Whig opponents)

Old Tippecanoe

His Accidency

Young Hickory

Zachary Taylor:
Old Rough and Ready

Millard Fillmore:
The American Louis Phillepe

Franklin Pierce:
Young Hickory of the Granite Hills

James Buchanon:
Ten-Cent Jimmie (because he once said a man should be able to live on 10 cents a day)

Abraham Lincoln:
The Rail Splitter

Andrew Johnson:
The Tennessee Tailor

U.S. Grant:
Unconditional Surrender Grant

Rutherford B. Hayes:
Granny Hayes

James Garfield:
Boatman Jim

Chester Arthur:
Gentleman Boss

Grover Cleveland:
The Hangman of Buffalo


U.S. Foreign Policy: Middle East

We live in a time that will almost certainly be remembered in history. Revolutions are sweeping across the middle east, a region of the world that has known nothing but repressive dictatorships over the last century or so.

The United States has always had a complicated relationship with this region of the world.

One of the first bold international acts of America was to take revenge upon the Barbary States of Morocco and Algiers for routinely capturing American merchant ships and demanding ransoms for the sailor's lives. The young U.S. Navy took the fight to the enemy, attacking the actual cities where the pirates made their home base (This is where the 'Shores of Tripoli' line came from in the famous military song).

That was in the old days when the United States followed a humble foreign policy which restricted us to protecting our own interests and fighting only those battles that represented a direct threat to the nation's interest and avoiding 'entangling alliances'.

We're now bombing Libya for the second time in our history and although it's certainly a noble cause, it would be prudent to evaluate the extent we're willing to further enter into the affairs of the middle east which are the very definition of entangling alliances.


Presidents Day 2011

As I've written before, Presidents day is to celebrate the founder of our nation as well as the savior of our country, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

Now that over 150 years have passed since the death of both men, much about them has been simplified and/or lost. George Washington's early doubts about the revolution and his identification of himself as a British Gentleman not being given his due by the empire has been replaced by a cartoonish figure of a fire breathing patriot.

Abe Lincoln is portrayed as a messianic, stoic figure, but much of his warmth, humor and humanity has been lost.

Beyond the historical truth of both men, I'm left to wonder how much of Presidents Day in this modern age is really even about them.

During MLK Day, we get television programming and at least lip service to black history as we should. But on Presidents Day, we get advertisements for used car dealerships and half off sales at department stores.

I'm not sure if there's anything wrong with this. Many still live that remember MLK's speeches whereas Washington and Lincoln are in such the distant past, that they're little more than marble statues in the minds of most Americans now.

However, I think that we should at least pause for a few minutes and remember Washington's era when America was simply an idea and Lincoln's vision of the United States having to make the right moral choice at the cost of hundreds of thousands of American lives. This should put the nation's current concern over decline of our absolute world dominance in perspective.


Garfield: Self Made Man

Many presidents in the early and mid 1800's demonstrate the level of upward mobility that was available in America at that time.

Andrew Jackson left his home state of North Carolina a practically penniless young man whose parents had passed away and found the respect and adventure he craved in the Tennessee militia. He became a military hero in the war of 1812 and ultimately had a career that culminated in the White House.

Abe Lincoln was the most famous president of humble means. He really was born in a log cabin, the son of a bumbling farmer for a father. He had to move several times due to land title disputes in Kentucky and Indiana and taught himself to read and write. He left home and took several odd jobs to earn a living and ultimately ended up practicing law and getting involved in local politics. Having no real military experience beyond the Black Hawk War, he poured over military strategy manuals and led the nation through the Civil War.

Garfield certainly belongs on this list of Presidents that rose from humble means along with less well know commanders in chief such as Martin Van Buren and Millard Fillmore.

Garfield was brought up in a log cabin in rural Ohio by a single mother. He spent his childhood working on neighbors farms to bring in some income to reduce the crushing poverty his mother faced. He learned to read in a wooden hut in village and borrowed as many books he could growing up. He went on to a local college and eventually became its administrator. He held the role of teacher, preacher, soldier and had many other occupations before he entered politics.

There's still far too much corruption and money in politics, however it's refreshing that so many men in America rose beyond the circumstances of their birth to achieve the highest office of the land.


#20: Garfield: 100 days in office


Sometimes getting assassinated does wonders for your career as a president. For example, look at JFK who although he's fondly remembered, was a much more divisive leader than people today realize.

Sometimes, getting killed in office just makes people forget you. This is unfortunately the case with Garfield who was really neither loved or hated and went from president into a historical foot note after he was assassinated 100 days into his term.

Garfield's legacy can be considered civil service reform, which he supported and Chester Arthur (his Vice President) enacted.

The very idea that he'd be remembered as a man who would reduce the role of 'spoils' politics is ironic. Garfield was elected only with the support of Senator Roscoe Conkling who mobilized the political machine he informally ran in New York to vote for Garfield. Without the support of the very machine that Garfield's reform sought to reduce, Garfield would have lost the election.

The fact that Arthur pushed Garfield's desired reform after he assumed the presidency is even more ironic. Arthur made his career in Manhattan as a loyal party man, coming up through the ranks of Conkling's machine.

I can think of a couple presidents that would have been much more fondly remembered if they had been killed early on in their terms, but we'll never know which category Garfield would have fit into.


Hayes: Contradictions

There was a lot that was ironic about Rutherford B. Hayes.

Hayes had a very liberal view of blacks for his time, wishing for them to have nearly equal rights as whites, the right to vote and believed that through education, they could be integrated into society. It seems strange then that he presided over the end of reconstruction in the South.

He probably would not have personally chosen this path but allowed it as a bargain with the south to win the disputed electoral votes needed to decide his controversial election. Hayes had to fully know that when the South ceased to be a country occupied by federal troops, it would return to its policy of pseudo slavery against blacks through share cropping and black codes.

Rutherford B. Hayes is remembered as a man that sent federal troops in to suppress a huge railroad strike, but privately wrote in his journal and talked to friends about how he wished the desperate people striking could gain the education they needed to enhance their station in life and not resort to rioting.

Hayes was against the inequality that the industrial revolution was creating but was firm against any government policy concerning increasing the money supply that could potentially help the masses of poor farmers in the Midwest and western states.

He was known as the corrupt bargainer who bargained his way into office, but he honored his pledge to serve only one term.

Best of all about Hayes, he helped found The Ohio State University when he served as governor of the state, you'd think that he'd be more popular in Ohio than he is for that alone!