‘Little Rock’ Category


#22. Cleveland, Grover

In 1884

Grover Cleveland became the 22nd United States president receiving 29,214 more Popular Votes than his opponent.

  • 4,879,507 Americans voted for Grover Cleveland
  • 4,850,293 Americans voted for his opponent

Linda Lou Burton posting from Little Rock, Arkansas – Stephen Grover Cleveland (March 18, 1837 – June 24, 1908) was the 22nd president of the United States, from 1885-1889. He was also the 24th president of the United States, from 1893-1897, the only president in American history to serve two non-consecutive terms in office.

To be continued….


#21. Arthur, Chester A

October 10, 2020. Linda Lou Burton posting from Little Rock, Arkansas – Chester Alan Arthur (October 5, 1829 – November 18, 1886) was the 21st president of the United States, from 1881 to 1885, coming into office upon the death of President James Garfield. There is something sadly endearing about this man, if you look carefully. I’d always pictured Chester, known as “Elegant Arthur” and “Gentlemen Boss,” as a rather portly man who came up through political appointment. But once he assumed the office of President, he followed an honorable path, to the surprise of reformers. He advocated and enforced the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act, something Hayes had worked towards and Garfield pioneered – the awarding of federal jobs based on merit, and not the spoils system. He overcame a negative reputation and left the presidency “more generally respected, alike by political friend and foe.” Mark Twain said of Chester “No duty was neglected in his administration.”

Endearing? Consider his feelings about his wife Nell, who died before he became president. Chester deeply mourned the loss of Nell, and ordered fresh flowers placed daily before her portrait in the White House. He could see St John’s Episcopal Church from the Oval Office, so commissioned a Tiffany stained glass window dedicated to his wife installed in the church, specifying that it be lighted so he could view it at night. Chester never remarried, and was quite protective of his children – son Alan was at Princeton during the White House years, and daughter Ellen, who was 9 at the beginning, was sheltered from the public eye. Chester is credited with saying “I may be president of the United States, but my private life is nobody’s damned business.” Just days before he died, he burned all his personal and official papers. Would I invite this man to my party? Well, yes, I think I would, though I doubt such a private person would come.

How It All Began

Chester’s father William was born in Ireland, graduated from college in Belfast, and emigrated to Canada where he began teaching school near the Vermont border. He married schoolteacher Malvina Stone in 1821 and together they had nine children – Chester was the fifth-born. William studied law for a bit, but eventually became a Freewill Baptist minister. He was also a staunch abolitionist, frequently at odds with his congregation, so the family moved a lot, living in a number of towns in Vermont before eventually settling in Schenectady, New York. Despite the frequent school changes, Chester did well, and in 1845 enrolled at Schenectady’s Union College, following the traditional classical curriculum. In his senior year he was president of the debate society, and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa; during breaks, he taught school. From the time of his graduation in 1848 he taught school and studied law, eventually moving to New York city. He was admitted to the New York bar in 1854 and joined the firm of Erastus Culver, an abolitionist lawyer and family friend. Can you see where this is going?

In one of his first cases as lead attorney, Chester represented Elizabeth Jennings Graham after she was denied a seat on a streetcar because she was black. He won the case and the verdict led to the desegregation of New York city’s streetcar lines. An auspicious beginning! In 1856 Chester started a new law partnership with friend Henry Gardiner; the two traveled to Kansas to set up a practice there. At the time, Kansas was undergoing a brutal struggle between pro and anti-slavery forces. The two New Yorkers didn’t like “frontier life” however and after four months came back to New York. In 1859 Chester really “settled down” – he married Ellen (Nell) Herndon; he was 30, she was 22. Chester had grown up in rural Vermont, remember. But Nell’s family was socially prominent – she was friends with the Vanderbilts, Astors, and Roosevelts. Her social network widened Chester’s political contacts and her mother’s wealth allowed Chester and Nell luxuries such as a Tiffany-furnished three-story brownstone townhouse on Lexington Avenue. Chester devoted himself to the New York Republican party, rising through political patronage to the position of Adjutant General of New York, with a US Army rank of brigadier general. Nell was a talented soprano who sang with the Mendelssohn Glee Club and performed at benefits around New York. They had three children together, and what appeared to be a strong marriage.

The Unexpected Deaths

Chester and Nell lost their firstborn son in 1863; he died of convulsions at age two and a half, a devastating event. On January 10, 1880, Nell Arthur came down with a cold. She quickly developed pneumonia and died two days later at age 42; another unexpected and devastating event. Chester was 50 by then; son Alan was 16 and daughter Ellen 9. Chester was elected Vice President of the United States that November, on the ticket with James Garfield as President; they were sworn in on March 4, 1881. And then, yet another unexpected death; James Garfield was shot on July 2, 1881 and lingered until September 19.

Chester was in New York when he learned that James Garfield had been shot. No one was sure who, if anyone, could exercise presidential authority. Chester was reluctant to be seen acting as president while the president still lived; there were conspiracy theories due to the fact that Garfield’s assassin loudly proclaimed “Arthur is president now!” Chester refused to travel to Washington and was at his home on Lexington Avenue in New York on September 19 when he learned that Garfield had died. Just after midnight Chester dispatched messengers to locate a judge who could administer the presidential oath. At 2:15 am on September 20 John Brady, a Justice of the New York Supreme Court, administered the oath of office in Chester’s home.

Next Actions

Chester prepared and mailed to the White House a proclamation calling for a special Senate session, ensuring that the Senate had legal authority to convene even if he died before reaching Washington. He then joined the funeral train as Garfield’s body was moved from New Jersey to Washington. On September 22 he re-took the oath of office before Chief Justice Morrison Waite to ensure procedural compliance; former presidents Ulysses Grant and Rutherford Hayes were present for the ceremony in the capitol. Chester took up residence at the home of Senator John Jones shortly afterwards and ordered remodeling of the White House, to include a 50-foot glass Tiffany screen.

Chester’s youngest sister Mary served as White House hostess during his time in office, and helped to care for the children. But sadly, Chester was diagnosed with Bright’s disease, an acute inflammation of the kidneys, shortly after becoming president. As Mark Twain noted, no duty was neglected on Chester’s watch, but due to his poor health he retired at the end of his term. He left the White House in March 1885 and returned to his home in New York City where he died November 18, 1886. His New York private funeral was attended by President Cleveland and former President Hayes; he is buried beside his wife in Albany Rural Cemetery in Menands, New York.

What Remains

Son Chester Alan Arthur II graduated Princeton and Columbia Law School but warned by Chester on his deathbed to “avoid politics,” Alan spent his life playing polo and traveling. He died in 1937. Daughter Ellen Arthur, who was only 15 when her father died, stayed out of politics as well; she died in 1915 at the age of 44.

The elegant Tiffany-filled Lexington Avenue brownstone that was the Arthur home for so many years today houses Kalustyan’s, a Mediterranean grocery store, on the first two floors, and apartments on the top three. It is the only surviving building in New York City where a president was sworn into office. The Tiffany screen Chester put into the White House entrance hall was removed in 1902 by President Teddy Roosevelt, who didn’t care for Victorian style; it was auctioned off and eventually installed in the Belvedere Hotel in Maryland, which burned to the ground in 1923.

The Presidential Succession Act of 1886 provided that in case of the removal, death, resignation or inability of both the President and Vice President, a cabinet officer “appointed by and with consent of the Senate and eligible to the office of president and not under impeachment” would act as President until the disability of the President or Vice-President is removed or a President shall be elected. This last provision replaced the 1792 provision for a double-vacancy special election, a loophole left for Congress to call such an election if that course seemed appropriate.


#20. Garfield, James A

Linda Lou Burton posting from Little Rock, Arkansas – James Abram Garfield (November 19, 1831 – September 19, 1881) was the 20th president of the United States, from March 4, 1881, until his death by assassination six and a half months later. Two words come to mind when I read the story of James’ life: What If? What if his presidency had lasted more than six months? He had high ideals – what impact might he have made on our country? What if x-ray had already been invented when he was shot? His wound wouldn’t even be considered serious today, and he wouldn’t have suffered the infection caused by endless probing with unsterilized fingers, and instruments. James Garfield overcame the poverty he was born into. He studied so hard and learned so much he graduated Phi Beta Kappa. He built a strong enough marriage with Lucretia Rudolph that they had seven children together, and she was there at his bedside during those last awful months.

Would I invite this man to my party? Probably not. A pallor of sadness hung over James Garfield. Things just didn’t seem to work out for him – and this was a guy who spoke Latin and Greek and had the mathematical talent to develop a trapezoid proof of the Pythagorean theorem! He once wrote “I lament that I was born to poverty, and in this chaos of childhood, seventeen years passed before I caught any inspiration … a precious 17 years when a boy with a father and some wealth might have become fixed in manly ways.”

Well It Was Lousy

Yes, James was born in a log cabin. He was the youngest of five children, and yes, his father Abram died shortly after he was born. Leaving his mother Eliza in a bad spot – so she remarried quickly, only to leave her second husband just as quickly (one could suspect he was not a kindly person). Divorce was scandalous in those days, and times were tough for the family. Eliza loved to tell James stories of their ancestors – especially the Welch side of the family, and the “knight of Caerffili Castle.” Outside of the house, James was bullied by the other kids; he escaped by reading every book he could find. At the age of 16 he left home.

He first found work on a canal boat, managing the mules. That was short-lived; he became ill and returned home where Eliza finally persuaded him to go to school. In 1848 his life began to shift – he enrolled at Geauga Seminary, where he became especially interested in languages and elocution, and wrote “I love agitation and investigation and glory in defending unpopular truth over popular error.” Of course he worked during his school years – he was a carpenter’s assistant, a janitor, and most frequently, a teacher. Lucretia Rudolph was a fellow student at Hiram College – James wooed her while teaching her Greek. And he had a religious awakening, got baptized in the Chagrin River, and attended many camp meetings. He also developed a regular preaching circuit. As he completed all a school had to offer, he moved on to the next until finally enrolling at Williams College in Massachusetts, where, as I mentioned, he graduated Phi Beta Kappa. A pretty darned good student.

He returned to Ohio as a “man of distinction” teaching at Hiram; in 1857 was made its president, and began to get involved in politics. He married Lucretia in 1858 (he was 27, she was 26), began to read law, and was admitted to the bar in 1861 at the age of 30.

Government Positions

  • Member of Ohio State Senate, 1859-61
  • Member of U.S. House of Representatives, 1863-80
  • Elected to United States Senate, 1880
  • President of the United States, 1881

Now here’s a quirky thing:

On election day, November 2, 1880, he was at the same time a member of the House, Senator-elect and President-elect. Lucky guy, you’d think! He hadn’t even sought out the presidency, and received only a few thousand more popular votes than Democrat Hancock. But that was enough – he was inaugurated as President of the United States March 4, 1881, along with his vice-president Chester Arthur. His predecessor Rutherford Hayes was there; James’ mother Eliza was there too – the first time a president’s mother had attended an inauguration. The Inaugural Ball at the beautiful new Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building that evening featured a large “Statue of America” in the museum’s rotunda; John Phillip Sousa directed the evening’s music. It should have been the start of something good. But something was awry from the first. James was an extremely competent public speaker, but his inaugural speech fell flat. And in only a few months, the unthinkable happened.

The End Was Too Close To The Beginning

On July 2, 1881, Charles J Guiteau shot and fatally wounded President James A Garfield in the lobby of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Depot in Washington, DC as he yelled, “I am a stalwart and Arthur is now President of the United States!” Guiteau blamed the president for not selecting him for a job at the US Consulate in Paris.

James’ presidency was cut so short there isn’t enough of a legacy to rank him among the worst and best. He was the last president to be born in a log cabin and one of the most well-read of our presidents. Maybe that childhood bullying toughened him up; as soon as he took office he pioneered the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act, making it a law that all government jobs be granted on the basis of merit and merit alone. And then was killed by a man wanting a job. At least, that’s part of the story.

President Garfield did not die immediately, but lingered for eleven weeks, during which time surgeons repeatedly attempted to find the bullet that had lodged in his back. In spite of Joseph Lister’s discoveries regarding the use of antiseptics in surgery, the practice of sterilization had not caught on, and Garfield’s wound was probed by many unwashed fingers. The resulting infection, not the bullet, caused Garfield’s eventual death on September 19, 1881. Vice president Chester A Arthur became president of the United States on September 20.

Addressing A Problem

Garfield’s incapacitation sparked a constitutional crisis, as the Cabinet was divided over whether the vice president should assume the office of the incapacitated president or merely act in his stead. It was not until 1967, with the passage of the Twenty-fifth Amendment to the Constitution, that the question of the succession of power was fully addressed. Today, the vice president assumes the office of president in the event that a sitting president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”

In spite of Guiteau’s manifest insanity at his trial, his attorneys were unable to gain an acquittal on that basis—it was, however, one of the first uses of the modern insanity defense in a criminal court. After a six-month trial that sparked great public interest, Guiteau was found guilty and hanged on June 30, 1882.


James Abram Garfield was 50 years old when assassinated. Lucretia was 49 and the children were still young; Harry was 18, James 16, Mary 14, Irvin 11, and Abram 9 when they, and James’ mother Eliza, left the White House after their brief stay. A $350,000 trust fund was raised for Lucretia and the children by financier Cyrus Field. Eliza lived another seven years; Lucretia another 37; she was active in preserving the records of James’ career and creating a wing to the home that became a presidential library of his papers. Eliza is buried beside her husband in Roselawn Cemetery, Solon, Ohio. Lucretia is buried beside James in the James A Garfield Memorial, Lake View Cemetery, Cleveland, Ohio. Five terra cotta panels surround the balcony depicting James’ life; the last shows him lying in state in the Capitol rotunda. Lake Erie’s shore is visible, on a clear day.


#19. Hayes, Rutherford B

Linda Lou Burton posting from Little Rock, Arkansas – Rutherford Birchard Hayes (October 4, 1822 – January 17, 1893) was the 19th president of the United States, from 1877 to 1881. He was the first president to graduate from law school – Harvard Law School at that; the only one of the five presidents who served in the Civil War who was wounded (more than once); and the first president to come into office after losing the popular vote. In fact, he almost wasn’t president at all. Remember, the country was still in a period of distress and reconstruction when Grant declined a third term.

On November 11, 1876, three days after election day, Democrat Tilden appeared to have won 184 electoral votes, one short of a majority. Republican Hayes appeared to have 166, with the 19 votes of Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina still in doubt. After an Electoral Commission declared Hayes the victor, outraged Democrats attempted a filibuster to prevent Congress from accepting the findings. It took a compromise to move forward, a big compromise, which essentially stated that Democrats would acknowledge Hayes as president only if certain demands were met:

  • Removal of all remaining US military forces from Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina.
  • Appointment of at least one Southern Democrat to Hayes’ cabinet.
  • Construction of another transcontinental railroad using the Texas and Pacific in the South.
  • Legislation to help industrialize the South and restore its economy.

On March 2, the filibuster ended, and on Saturday, March 3, Rutherford Hayes became the first president to be sworn in at the Red Room of the White House. This ceremony was held in secret under tight security, due to the bitter divisiveness of the election. The public ceremony took place on Monday, March 5, at the East Portico of the Capitol. The Presidential Oath of Office, in case you don’t know, is “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” That is what Rutherford said that day, but when I review what he did for the next four years, and for all the years before, and after, I’m reminded of the Boy Scout Oath — I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country….to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.

And his wife Lucy was just the same. Yes, I’d invite them both to my party, and hope we’d become lifelong friends. Just listen to the way they lived their lives.


Rutherford Hayes had something in common with Andrew Jackson – his father died just weeks before he was born, and his mother never remarried. But the resemblance to their path to the presidency ends there. Sophia Hayes raised daughter Fanny and son Rutherford with the help of her brother, Sardis Birchard. Both the Hayes and Birchard families were descended from New England colonists – hardy stock. Rutherford was born in Delaware, Ohio and first went to common schools there; then to Webb School in Connecticut, a preparatory school where he studied Latin and Greek. Back to college in Ohio where he earned highest honors – graduating as class valedictorian. By then, he’d gotten interested in politics. So next step – Harvard Law School, of course. The year was 1843; Rutherford was 21 when he decided on that path. He was 23 when he graduated, was admitted to the Ohio bar, and opened his own law office.

A move to Cincinnati in 1850 put him just across the river from the slave state of Kentucky, and his focus changed from dealing primarily with commercial issues to criminal law. Ohio was a destination for escaping slaves, and Rutherford defended slaves who had been accused under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. He became a successful criminal defense lawyer and found the work personally gratifying, but it also was politically useful, as it raised his profile in the Republican Party. And socially, he joined the Literary Society, attended the Episcopal Church, and courted Lucy Webb. They married December 30, 1852 at her mother’s house – he was 30, she was 21.

I Love Lucy

Lucy Webb (1831-1889) and Rutherford Hayes first met at Ohio Wesleyan University. Lucy was 14. Yes, she was a smart girl, in fact, the first First Lady to have a college degree. She was too young for Rutherford at 14 (he was 23), but when they met again in Cincinnati, things changed. Lucy and Rutherford were members of the same wedding party the summer she was 19. It was one of those affairs where a gold ring was baked into the wedding cake as a prize. Perhaps a tradition like the bride tossing her bouquet? Rutherford got the piece of cake that had the ring, and he gave it to Lucy. After the two were engaged, she returned the ring to him, and he wore it for the rest of his life.

Too sentimental for a criminal defense lawyer who became president? Listen to what he wrote in his diary about her in 1851: “I guess I am a great deal in love with L(ucy). … Her low sweet voice … her soft rich eyes….She sees at a glance what others study upon….She is a genuine woman, right from instinct and impulse rather than judgment and reflection.”

And Then There Was a War

Rutherford was lukewarm about the idea of a civil war; as states began to secede after Lincoln’s election, his opinion was to “let them go.” His feelings changed after the attack on Fort Sumter however; he joined a volunteer company composed of his Literary Society friends. Things moved rapidly; he was promoted to major in the 23rd Regiment of Ohio Volunteer Infantry; the 23rd was assigned to western Virginia. War Hero stories now – Rutherford led several raids against rebel forces; sustained a knee injury and later, in northern Virginia, was shot through his left arm, fracturing the bone. With a handkerchief tied above the wound to stop the bleeding, he continued to lead his men. Hospitalized for a bit, he was back in the thick of it; the Shenandoah Valley Campaigns of 1864; Rutherford took a bullet to the shoulder; had a horse shot out from under him; and kept going. Victory after victory as they broke through Confederate lines; an ankle sprain when thrown from a horse; a bullet to his head from a spent round. His leadership and bravery drew attention; Grant wrote of him: “His conduct on the field was marked by conspicuous gallantry as well as the display of qualities of a higher order than that of mere personal daring.” In May of 1865 the 23rd returned to Ohio to be mustered out of service.

Government Positions

  • Member of U.S. House of Representatives, 1865-67
  • Governor of Ohio, 1868-72
  • Governor of Ohio, 1876-77
  • 19th President of the United States, 1877-1881

As a president coming into office with a Congress full of angry Democrats, Rutherford fought for several things that didn’t happen.

  • My task is to wipe out the color line, to abolish sectionalism, to end the war and bring peace,” he wrote in his diary. His efforts failed to persuade the South to accept legal racial equality or to convince Congress to appropriate funds to enforce the civil rights laws.
  • Civil service appointments had been based on the spoils system since Andrew Jackson’s presidency. Believing that federal jobs should be awarded by merit according to an examination, he was unable to convince Congress, but did issue an executive order forbidding federal office holders from being required to make campaign contributions or taking part in party politics.

Rutherford may have been blocked by Congress, but Lucy definitely made headway with things in the White House. Imagine moving into the White House after the war years –it was a mess! Lucy scrounged around in the attic and rearranged things to hide the holes in the carpets and drapes. Significant changes made to the White House during Hayes’ term were the installation of bathrooms with running water, but the biggest change involved the “billiard room,” a room that connected the house with the greenhouse conservatories. Lucy put the billiard table in the basement, opened the shuttered windows in the State Dining Room, and enlarged the greenhouses, offering guests a beautiful view. Every day flowers were brought in from the greenhouses to decorate the White House, and additional bouquets were sent to Washington hospitals.

Music was important to Lucy. Not only did famous musicians perform at White House events downstairs; they had informal “sings” upstairs in the family quarters. Lucy sang and played the guitar; the vice president and various cabinet members often played the piano and sang gospel songs. In general, Lucy had a casual family style; during the holidays, she invited staff members and their families to Thanksgiving dinner and opened presents with them on Christmas morning. Lucy allowed White House servants to take time off to attend school.

Lucy was the first First Lady to use a typewriter, a telephone, and a phonograph while in office. And she was fond of animals – a cat, a bird, two dogs and a goat were part of the Hayes family; remember, son Scott was 6 and daughter Fanny 10 at the time they moved in; three older sons were 19, 21 and 24. Reporters loved to write about Lucy; an article in the New York Herald said of her: “Mrs. Hayes is a most attractive and lovable woman. She is the life and soul of every party … For the mother of so many children she looks … youthful.”

Note: the White House during the Hayes’ stay was alcohol free. Rutherford made that decision early on, dismayed by drunken behavior he’d observed at receptions around Washington.


Rutherford kept his promise to serve only one term and the Hayes family returned to their Fremont, Ohio home, Spiegel Grove, in 1881. He became an advocate for educational charities and federal education subsidies for all children. He believed education was the best way to heal the rifts in American society and allow people to improve themselves. He emphasized the need for vocational, as well as academic, education: “I preach the gospel of work,” he wrote, “I believe in skilled labor as a part of education.” In 1889 he gave a speech encouraging black students to apply for scholarships from the Slater Fund, one of the charities with which he was affiliated. One such student, W. E. B. Du Bois, received a scholarship in 1892.

Lucy joined the Woman’s Relief Corps, attended reunions of the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, and entertained visitors to Spiegel Grove. She also became national president of the newly formed Woman’s Home Missionary Society of the Methodist Church. As president, she called attention to the plight of the urban poor and disenfranchised African-Americans in the South. She also spoke out against Mormon polygamy.

Lucy died on June 25, 1889 after suffering a stroke. She was 57 years old. Rutherford died of a heart attack on January 17, 1893, at the age of 70. They are buried side by side at Spiegel Grove. Also buried there is their dog Gryme and two horses — Old Whitey and Old Ned.

Good Scouts, to the end.


#18. Grant, Ulysses S

October 7, 2020. Linda Lou Burton posting from Little Rock, Arkansas – Ulysses S Grant (born Hiram Ulysses Grant; April 27, 1822 – July 23, 1885) was the 18th president of the United States, from 1869 to 1877. I won’t pull a Groucho Marx on you by asking “Who is buried in Grant’s Tomb?” but I wonder if you know WHY the tomb of Ulysses and Julia Grant is in New York City – Riverside Drive and W 122nd in Manhattan, to be exact. After all, he was born in Ohio and she was born in Missouri. Part of the answer is simply that’s where they were living when Ulysses died in 1885 and she wanted to easily be able to visit his grave. His only request was that his wife could be buried by his side, which left out military cemeteries (they didn’t accept women). But the clincher was this – within hours of Ulysses’ death, the Mayor offered New York as a burial place. Not long after the funeral, fundraising for a splendid monument began; the “military” design, based on Napoleon’s tomb, was completed in 1897, and Julia was buried beside her husband upon her death in 1902. The monument has been under the management of the National Park Service since 1958.

You might want to visit the site, because everything about the lives of Ulysses and Julia Grant is somewhat – unusual. Like the fact that Ulysses was a little guy, not the gigantor war hero I’d always envisioned. He was 5’2” when he arrived at West Point, although he did keep growing; the record books say he achieved 5’8” and about 150 pounds by the time he was president. And do you know why images of Julia are generally a profile view? She was cross-eyed. She was afraid of surgery in her younger days; when she became First Lady, she decided she should look better, but Ulysses objected: “Did I not see you and fall in love with you with these same eyes? I like them just as they are.” Sweet, and an example of the attraction between the two that had her following him around the country when he was fighting in wars! He wanted her near, and she wanted to be near. Ulysses S Grant is more remembered for his military accomplishments than his presidency, but he NEVER wanted a military career. Would I invite this man to my party? Yes, and Julia too. Their lives had more ups and downs than a Coney Island roller coaster, but they hung together to the end.

You’re In The Army Now

Ulysses liked horses. Father Jesse Grant was foreman of a tannery, which Ulysses didn’t like, so Jesse gave him the job of driving wagonloads of supplies during the years before he left for West Point in 1843, age 17. Ulysses was well-schooled by the time he got to West Point, and he did moderately well there, but enjoyed reading James Fenimore Cooper more than military texts. And, he studied art. He preferred watercolor; nine of his paintings exist today, in museums or private collections. Still, his greatest proficiency was with horses. So wouldn’t you know – when he graduated he didn’t receive a cavalry assignment; he was sent to Fort Barracks near St Louis, the largest military base in the west. The year was 1843, Ulysses was 21 years old. Four years of duty to fulfill my obligation, then resign and become a teacher – that was his plan.

Ulysses met Julia Dent ((1826-1902) while he was in Missouri; her brother Frederick was friends with Ulysses at West Point; he introduced them. Then Ulysses was sent off to fight in a war; something he definitely did NOT want to do. He was 24 when he found himself serving under Generals Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott in the Mexican War. Here’s the timeline of what happened next:

  • 1848, age 26: Married Julia in Missouri, stationed in Michigan, then New York
  • 1850, age 28: Son Frederick born
  • 1852, age 30: Stationed in Oregon Territory, son Ulysses born
  • 1854, age 32: Stationed in California

By this point, well beyond the time he’d planned to be away from the demands of a military career, drinking got him out. He was at Fort Humboldt in California, a captain, when reprimanded for a drinking episode. He promised to resign if it happened again; it did, and he was finally out of the Army, no court martial, no bad mark against his name. Back to Missouri, reunited with his wife and two sons; and no job. The next seven years were not good.

Ulysses’ father offered him a job in his leather business, but demanded that Julia and the children remain with her family in Missouri. They declined that offer. Ulysses took up farming on his brother-in-law’s Missouri farm; but had to sell firewood on the street corners of St Louis to survive. Daughter Ellen was born that year. They moved to some land on the farm of Julia’s father and built a little cabin they named “Hardscrabble.” The Panic of 1857 was devasting to farmers; Ulysses sold his gold watch, rented out Hardscrabble, and moved to the plantation of Julia’s father. Suffering from malaria, he gave up farming, and son Jesse was born.

In 1859 Ulysses took a position in St Louis with Julia’s cousin, working in the real estates business as a bill collector. No success there either; he then applied for a position as county engineer, but was passed over because he was believed to share his father-in-law’s Democratic sentiments. By this time Ulysses’ father had turned the business of his many leather stores over to his sons, so Ulysses joined his brothers and moved his family to the store in Galena, Illinois. Ulysses did routine work, tended the books, and traveled to neighboring states to purchase green hides from local farmers. A reputable citizen now, he couldn’t vote in the 1860 election because he was not yet a legal resident of Illinois, but he favored Democrat Stephen Douglas over Abraham Lincoln. He was torn – he was strongly anti-slavery; Julia remained a staunch Democrat. Nevertheless, on April 15, 1861, the day after the attack on Fort Sumter, he answered Lincoln’s call for seventy-five thousand volunteers, and re-enlisted in the Army.

Let’s Get Together Again

At the beginning of the Civil War, Ulysses helped organize volunteers; then took command of the Illinois troops; was promoted to brigadier general; then major general. But he didn’t do this without Julia. Over the course of the Civil War Julia stayed with Ulysses during campaigns at Memphis, Vicksburg, Nashville, and Virginia. She covered more than 10,000 miles in four years to be with her husband. And she was accompanied by her slave. That’s right — the spouse of the leader of the Union Army fighting to preserve the Union and abolish slavery visited her husband’s encampments often, sometimes traveling alone and sometimes with their children in tow, who were watched over by Jule.

Julia grew up on a plantation with slaves, and “Black Julia” or “Jule,” as she came to be known, was with Julia from an early age. Julia wrote in her memoirs “When I visited the General during the war, I nearly always had Jule with me as a nurse. She came near being captured at Holly Springs.” At one point, Julia lived at Walter Place, an Antebellum mansion in Holly Springs, Mississippi. When Confederate General Earl Van Dorn raided the house, he was not permitted by the pro-Union owner to enter before she went outside, with Jule kept safe.

Lincoln realized how Julia’s presence affected her husband; he supported her visits. Letters between Julia and Ulysses show she was a trusted confidant; it was Julia’s suggestion that Ulysses invite President Lincoln, first lady Mary, and their son, Tad, to visit him at the front lines. On April 9, 1865, Ulysses S Grant accepted the surrender of Confederate General Robert E Lee at Appomattox Court House in Virginia, effectively ending the Civil War. The Lincolns invited the Grants to a play at the Ford Theater five days later, but they declined. How different history might have been had they gone! Ulysses S Grant was meant to be killed that evening too, but he was home with Julia.

After the War and Reconstruction

During the years of Johnson’s presidency, the Johnson-Grant relationship went from warm to icy cold; Johnson didn’t attend Ulysses inauguration on March 4, 1869. But Julia did; she was thrilled! She had been a major part of Ulysses’ campaign, though he had been reluctant to run.

After four years of war, Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, and Andrew Johnson’s impeachment trial, Washington was ready for someone like Julia. She gave lavish state dinners, and also received callers at informal receptions, with one stipulation – the women must wear hats, and the men must leave their weapons at home. She was devastated when Ulysses refused to run for a third term. But he was done; for eight years the issues of reconstruction had consumed the country; it wasn’t settled yet. The Compromise of 1877, signed in March, left the end of it squarely in the new president’s hands. (Rutherford B Hayes story next.)

Claiming “I was never so happy in my life!” Ulysses left Washington. By May he and Julia were off to England. They kept going, around the world, stopping in Europe, Africa, India, the Middle East, the Far East, meeting with dignitaries along the way. President Hayes considered them “unofficial diplomats” and provided transportation on US Navy ships – five months in the Mediterranean on the USS Vandalia; travel from Hong Kong to China on the USS Ashuelot; travel from China to Japan on the USS Richmond. They crossed the Pacific on the SS City of Tokio, escorted by a Japanese man-of-war, and landed in San Francisco in September of 1879, greeted by cheering crowds.

And the Grants were broke again.

Most of their savings were gone, but a wealthy friend bought them a home on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Their son Buck (Ulysses Jr) had opened a Wall Street brokerage house there, and – long story short – things turned sour, Ulysses borrowed a huge sum of money to save the venture, but it still went bust. Ulysses sold off war mementos, handed over title to his house, began writing his memoirs, and was diagnosed with throat cancer. Frantic to make sure he left Julia with enough money to live on, he finished his memoirs just days before he died on July 23, 1885, at the age of 63.

This man was mourned. President Grover Cleveland ordered a thirty-day nationwide period of mourning. After private services, the honor guard placed his body on a special funeral train, which traveled to West Point and New York City; it was viewed by a quarter of a million people. Tens of thousands of men, many of them veterans, marched with the casket drawn by two dozen black stallions. His pallbearers included Union generals Sherman and Sheridan, Confederate generals Simon Bolivar Buckner and Joseph E. Johnston, Admiral David Dixon Porter, and Senator John A. Logan. Following the casket in the seven-mile-long procession were President Cleveland, the two living former presidents Hayes and Arthur, all of the President’s Cabinet, and the justices of the Supreme Court. Attendance at the funeral topped 1.5 million. Ceremonies were held in other major cities around the country, while Grant was eulogized in the press and likened to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

As for Julia – Mark Twain published The Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant which focused on Ulysses’ military career; he marketed it to veterans as Ulysses’ death was being mourned. Julia lived another 17 years, and received about $450,000 (equivalent to $12,800,000 today) in royalties.

You really should visit Grant’s Tomb.


#17. Johnson, Andrew

 Linda Lou Burton posting from Little Rock, Arkansas – Andrew Johnson (December 29, 1808 – July 31, 1875) was the 17th president of the United States, from 1865 to 1869. If Abraham Lincoln was handed a can of worms on his first day as president, Andrew Johnson was gifted with a bucket of snakes on his. Angry, viperous snakes. Andrew had to step in for a president who had just been shot in the back of the head; a horrible, bloody death. Andrew was hastily sworn in as leader of a country that was plagued with the roaring disease of hate, as hundreds of thousands lay dead due to civil war. But Andrew accepted the job. Here was a man who was born to illiterate parents, had no formal education, and had been hiding out for days after making a public fool of himself as a blubbering drunk. He doesn’t get credit for much as a president, but I doubt the Angel Gabriel himself could have done any better. I want you to remember three words about Andrew – Greeneville, tailor, and alcohol. First I’m going to tell you some things about Tennessee, my home state for over twenty years. It’s a skinny horizontal piece of land, with the Mississippi delta to the west, a plateau in the middle where Nashville sits, and Appalachian Mountains to the east. Often called the “three states of Tennessee” it is a good example of the differences in our country at the beginning of the Civil War – the plantation lands that depended on slave labor to function; the hardscrabble mountains where folks tackled life in a vastly different way, and the middle ground, where politicians gathered to govern the whole batch of it.


Greeneville is tucked into the mountains of northeast Tennessee, an area that once was the State of Franklin – almost. It is important to the Andrew Johnson story because he moved there when he was 18, met and married Eliza McCardle (1810-1876) there, and is buried there today. If you understand Greeneville, it may help you understand Andrew Johnson. Back in 1784, folks in these isolated mountains decided they didn’t have much in common with the rest of North Carolina, so they’d just be their own state. A petition for statehood was drawn but rejected by Congress. They tried again; the first state legislature met in December in a crude log courthouse in Greeneville and prepared a constitution. However, the Franklin movement began to collapse and North Carolina remained in control until 1790, when it ceded the land to the federal government. In 1796, when Tennessee became a state, that little area just south of Virginia and just north of North Carolina wound up becoming part of Tennessee. But still remote, and still feeling independent.


Andrew Johnson fell in love with Greeneville the first time he saw it. He loved it so much that later in life, when he had money enough to buy land, he bought the land he first camped on, and planted a tree right on the spot. I can understand that! Andrew was, literally, a “run-away slave.” In his birthplace town of Raleigh, North Carolina, his mother  apprenticed him to a tailor when he was 10; he was legally bound to serve until he was 21. He did benefit in the five years before he ran away – he learned the art of tailoring, and he developed a lifelong love of learning. People coming into the tailor shop read aloud to the tailors as they worked and Andrew loved to listen. He ran away after five years though, and a reward was posted for his return. Andrew feared being captured; he lived in South Carolina for a while, fell in love, and along with a proposal, made a quilt for his intended. A quilt! His proposal was rejected, so Andrew moved west, trudging through the Blue Ridge Mountains to Greeneville, Tennessee.

On the day in September 1826 when Andrew arrived in Greeneville, he was spotted by Eliza McCardle, who was outdoors chatting with classmates from Rhea Academy. They instantly took a liking to each other, and were married the following May at her mother’s home – he was 18, she was 16. (Mordecai Lincoln, a distant relative of Abraham Lincoln, performed the ceremony. A portent?)

Eliza was better educated than Andrew; she tutored him patiently while he worked in the tailor shop he’d opened in the front part of their home. “My work never ripped or gave way” was the way Andrew promoted his business; the business was successful, and so was their marriage. Eliza supported his endeavors and together they had five children – Martha, 1828; Charles, 1830; Mary, 1832; Robert, 1834; and Andrew Jr 1852.

And Andrew got interested in politics, progressing over the next 45 years in this way:

Government Positions

  • Served as Alderman of Greeneville, Tennessee, 1830-33
  • Elected Mayor of Greeneville, Tennessee, 1834
  • Member of Tennessee State Legislature, 1835-43
  • Member of US House of Representatives, 1843-53
  • Governor of Tennessee, 1853-57
  • United States Senator, 1857-62
  • Military Governor of Tennessee, 1862-65
  • Vice President, 1865 (under Lincoln)
  • 17th US President, 1865-1869
  • United States Senator, 1875


Yes, Andrew was a stumbling, bumbling drunk during his inauguration as vice president on March 4, 1865. He rambled on for ten minutes past his allotted speaking time, forgot names, and didn’t sit down till somebody tugged on his coat. He claimed later that he had typhoid fever and the doctor had prescribed the medication. President Lincoln commented, in response to criticism of his new vice president’s behavior, “I have known Andy Johnson for many years; he made a bad slip the other day, but you need not be scared; Andy ain’t a drunkard.” Nevertheless, after briefly presiding over the Senate, Andrew hid from public ridicule at a friend’s home in Maryland.

Alcohol may have embarrassed Andrew that day, but it saved him the very next month. You see, the plot to kill Abraham Lincoln included killing Andrew Johnson at the same time. George Atzerodt, a Prussian immigrant who owned a carriage repair shop in Maryland, met John Wilkes Booth in January 1865. And George agreed to kill Andrew Johnson on the night of April 14. That morning he booked a room at Kirkwood House, where Andrew was staying. But then he got cold feet, and spent the day at the hotel bar drinking. While Booth was taking care of business at the Ford Theater, George spent the night walking the streets of Washington in a drunken stupor, instead of killing Andrew Johnson. He admitted this in his trial which began May 1; he was hanged for his part in the conspiracy.

Three Little Words

So let’s say alcohol saved Andrew’s life for things he was destined to do. Let’s consider that his tailoring skills taught him how to piece scattered unmatched bits together into a useful whole (the quilt!) and to construct things that “never rip or give way.” Let’s add to that the strength that comes from growing up in a place where the very air he breathed was independent air. Maybe Andrew Johnson was the most qualified fellow to step in that day and try to pull the country back together. He gave it a shot. What would you have done? Would you invite this man to your party? I would.

Going Out

Andrew worked at it nonstop, but Andrew didn’t get invited back. Under his reign, the last battle was fought, all but three states were back in the Union — Virginia, Mississippi, and Texas – and reconstruction was well underway; Ulysses S Grant would shoulder that burden next. On Christmas Day 1868, Andrew issued a final amnesty, covering everyone, including Jefferson Davis; he also issued pardons for crimes. On his 60th birthday that December, Andrew threw a party for several hundred children – not including those of President-elect Grant, who said he would not allow his to go. On March 3, his last final day in office, Andrew hosted a large public reception at the White House. Grant had made it known he would not ride in the same carriage as the outgoing president, so Andrew refused to go to the inauguration at all. He headed for home.

During his time away, both Union and Confederate armies often used his Greeneville home as a place to stay and rest during their travel. Confederate soldiers left graffiti on the walls expressing their displeasure; Andrew had to renovate his home after returning from Washington.

Eliza suffered from tuberculosis and had not been an active First Lady; those duties were handled by daughter Martha. Martha and her husband maintained a farm near Greeneville; she lived until 1901. Son Charles became a doctor; he remained loyal to the Union. He joined the Middle Tennessee Union Infantry as an assistant surgeon but was thrown from his horse and killed at age 33. Daughter Mary’s husband served as colonel of the Fourth Tennessee Union Infantry during the war; they also maintained a farm in Tennessee. Son Robert became a lawyer and politician; he was a Colonel in the First Tennessee Union Cavalry, and private secretary to his father during his tenure as president. He committed suicide at age 35. Andrew Jr founded the Greeneville Intelligencer, but died at age 26.

Andrew was elected to the Senate in 1875, making him the only former president to serve in the Senate. He died five months into his term, on July 31, 1875, at the age of 66. Eliza died the following January.

The Andrew Johnson National Historic Site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Properties include Johnson’s tailor shop at the corner of Depot Street and College Street. The site also maintains Johnson’s house on Main Street and the Andrew Johnson National Cemetery atop Monument Hill to the south. 



#16. Lincoln, Abraham

Linda Lou Burton posting from Little Rock, Arkansas – Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865) was the 16th president of the United States from 1861 to 1865. I’m finding it very hard to write about Abraham Lincoln; for one, there’s probably been more written about this president than any; he was neither obscure nor forgettable. So I’m guessing there isn’t much about the man you don’t already know, or have an opinion about. And I’ve already written a lot about “Abe” – on the Journey I came upon his statue everywhere; in front of the capitol in Charleston, West Virginia, a pensive, sad figure that took research to determine if he was sad about the war, or family matters, or just suffering the general melancholia we’ve heard about. In Frankfort, Kentucky his statue stands in the capitol rotunda, with Jefferson Davis nearby. I found that not only odd, but strangely heartwarming – two men on different sides, in a position to communicate across the room. In Springfield, Illinois I got the full package – I visited his tomb, his home, his law office (where his kids romped around while he was absorbed in his work) and the topper of it all – the Disney version of Lincolnland, with holograph ghosts, cannon fire jolting your seat in the 4D show, and a modern-day telecast of the 1860 election, So I refer you to those posts rather than tell it all again; the links are at the end.

Instead, I’m focusing on four moments in time: his first inauguration, the Emancipation Proclamation, his second inauguration, and his funeral. I grew up in the south; a number of my ancestors served in the Confederate Army and a few in the Union Army; one family had sons serving in both, and two sons hiding in the woods to avoid either. Lincoln’s presidency was a time of heart-rending confusion and upheaval; a time when beliefs and behaviors learned at Daddy’s knee were brought into question. Not just actions were forced to change, but feelings about those actions. It was emotional. That’s the can of worms that came with Lincoln’s job.

1861: First Inauguration

Lincoln won 180 electoral votes on November 6, 1860. Seven deep-south states declared their secession from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America before he arrived in Washington for his inauguration. Word of an assassination conspiracy brought him into the city through Baltimore at midnight on a special train. The air was thick with rumors of “rebel plots” to assassinate or capture Lincoln before he took office. General Winfield Scott was charged with providing protection for Lincoln; he too received death threats. On the procession to the Capitol, Lincoln’s carriage was so closely surrounded by marshals and cavalry it was almost hidden from view.

Nevertheless, on March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln stood on the East Portico before a crowd of 25,000 and delivered his first address to a nation in trouble. Indicating that he’d leave aside matters of no special anxiety, he made these points:

  • Slavery: “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”
  • Legal status of the South: “I have just taken an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the United States Constitution, which enjoins me to see that the laws of the Union are faithfully executed in all states, even those that have seceded.”
  • Use of force: “There will be no use of force against the South, unless it proves necessary to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the federal government. If the South choses to actively take up arms against the Government, their insurrection will meet a firm and forceful response.”

Lincoln concluded his speech with a plea for calm and cool deliberation in the face of mounting tension throughout the nation. He assured the rebellious states that the Federal government would never initiate any conflict with them. Though most of the northern press praised the speech, it was met with contempt in the south.

1862: Emancipation Proclamation

The Federal government’s power to end slavery was limited by the Constitution. In June 1862, Congress passed an act banning slavery on all federal territory, which Lincoln signed. Privately, Lincoln concluded that the Confederacy’s slave base had to be eliminated. Publicly he said this:

My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union … I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.

The Emancipation Proclamation became effective January 1, 1863 and affirmed the freedom of slaves in the ten states not then under Union control. With the abolition of slavery now a military objective, Union armies advancing south liberated three million slaves; enlisting former slaves became official policy. In a letter to Andrew Johnson, then military governor of Tennessee, Lincoln encouraged him to lead the way in raising black troops, stating: “The bare sight of 50,000 armed and drilled black soldiers on the banks of the Mississippi would end the rebellion at once.”

1865: Second Inauguration

The Republicans nominated Abraham Lincoln again in 1864, selecting Andrew Johnson as his running mate. Lincoln ran under the label of the new Union Party, to include War Democrats as well as Republicans. Lincoln pledged in writing that if he lost the election, he would still defeat the Confederacy before leaving the White House. His pledge was put into a sealed envelope; which he asked his cabinet members to sign. The pledge:

“This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President elect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he cannot possibly save it afterward.”

Sherman captured Atlanta in September. On November 8, the Lincoln/Johnson ticket won all but three states – Kentucky, Delaware, and New Jersey. Only twenty-five states participated in the election; of the seceded states Tennessee and Louisiana chose electors who voted for Lincoln; their votes were rejected by Congress. Three new states participated for the first time: Kansas, West Virginia, and Nevada. Of the 40,247 army votes cast, Lincoln received 76%.

On March 4, 1865, Lincoln delivered his second inaugural address. In it, he deemed the war casualties to be God’s will.

“Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s 250 years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said 3,000 years ago, so still it must be said, “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether”. With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

Before Lincoln was sworn in, Vice President-elect Andrew Johnson took his oath of office in the Senate Chamber. Obviously inebriated, he later explained that he had been drinking to offset the pain of typhoid fever, but the press ridiculed him as a “drunken clown.” This was the first inauguration to be extensively photographed; one photo is thought to show John Wilkes Booth, a well-known actor and Confederate spy.

1865 Timeline: Assassination and Burial

  • On April 9 General Robert E Lee surrendered his Confederate troops to Ulysses S Grant, marking the beginning of the end of the Civil War.
  • On April 11 Abraham Lincoln gave a speech in which he promoted voting rights for blacks. John Wilkes Booth was there.
  • On the afternoon of April 14 Lincoln and Johnson met for the first time since the inauguration. John Wilkes Booth dropped by Kirkwood house that day and left his card with Johnson’s personal secretary with the message “Don’t wish to disturb you, are you home?”
  • On evening of April 14, Abraham and Mary Lincoln attended a play at Ford Theater. Our American Cousin was a comedy, a farce about an awkward, boorish-but-honest American, heading off to England to claim the family estate. John Wilkes Booth was there. He was familiar with the play, and waited for the line that he knew would draw loud laughter; when the character of Asa Trenchard says to Mrs Mountchessington: “Don’t know the manners of good society, eh? Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal – you sockdologizing old man-trap!” At that moment John Wilkes Booth entered the Lincoln box and shot Abraham Lincoln in the back of the head, then leapt onto the stage and escaped through the back to a horse he had left waiting in the alley. Lincoln was first attended by doctors there, then taken across the street to Petersen House. He remained in a coma for eight hours.
  • On April 15 at 7:22 AM Lincoln died. His flag-enfolded body was escorted in the rain to the White House by bareheaded Union officers as the city’s church bells tolled. Andrew Johnson was sworn in between 10 and 11 in the presence of most of the Cabinet. Between April 15-19 Lincoln’s body lay in state in the East Room of the White House.
  • On April 19 the coffin, attended by large crowds, was transported in a procession down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol Rotunda, where a ceremonial burial service was held. The body again lay in state on the 20th and on the early morning of the following day a prayer service was held for the Lincoln cabinet officials.
  • On April 21 Lincoln’s coffin was removed to the depot and placed on a train, which traveled through 444 communities and seven states before arriving in Springfield, Illinois, for internment on May 4.
  • On April 26, John Wilkes Booth was caught and killed.

I’d like to talk more about Mary Todd Lincoln, and the Lincoln boys. Back in the happier days of “life in Springfield” when the boys were small, and romping around the little town, I would have invited the whole family over for dinner; a picnic maybe.

But then, everything got so sad.

For Lighter Reading

The Citizen Key, Charleston, West Virginia https://capitalcitiesusa.org/?p=8362#

An April Afternoon, Frankfort, Kentucky  https://capitalcitiesusa.org/?p=9950#

Honestly Abe, Springfield, Illinois  https://capitalcitiesusa.org/?p=9141#



#15. Buchanan, James Jr

Linda Lou Burton posting from Little Rock, Arkansas – James Buchanan Jr (April 23, 1791 – June 1, 1868) was the 15th president of the United States, from 1857 to 1861. We’ve gone from rough and ready to dull to pretty boy in descriptions of the last few presidents. The words obscure and forgettable also popped up. James Buchanan is the first one that has been accused of treason by a biographer. Jean Baker wrote in 2004: “Buchanan’s failing during the crisis over the Union was not inactivity, but rather his partiality for the South, a favoritism that bordered on disloyalty in an officer pledged to defend all the United States.…. In his betrayal of the national trust, Buchanan came closer to committing treason than any other president in American history.” OK, she actually said he “came close.” It’s kind of like that other thing they say about James, with winks and innuendo. I mean, the man never married, so….did he “come close” to being gay? James’ romantic life got almost as much coverage as his politics, so let’s just tackle the gossip right away. A truth: he never married. A truth: he was engaged to Anne Coleman in 1819. A truth: she broke off the engagement, and suddenly died. A truth: Her father refused permission for James to attend her funeral.

There was much more speculation, aka gossip, about William King than Anne, however. William was from Alabama; he was Franklin Pierce’s vice-president for a while, and he and James lived in the same Washington boarding house, and attended social functions together, for ten years. William King had a few nicknames – Andrew Jackson called him “Miss Nancy,” and others referred to him as James Buchanan’s “better half.” Would I invite James to my party? Yes I would. He grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where the Amish cooking is to die for; I’d ask him to bring Shoofly Pie and we could talk about what it was like in those frantic days before our country split apart. I’d invite Harriet too, she was in the thick of it.

Violet Eyes and Golden Hair

Harriet Rebecca Lane (May 9, 1830 – July 3, 1903) was James’ niece. When she was orphaned at 11 James became her guardian; he sent her to boarding schools, and later, as Secretary of State, he introduced her around Washington circles. She joined him in London in 1854 when he was Minister to the court of St James. Harriet was a beauty, described as having “violet eyes and masses of golden hair;” Queen Victoria was impressed with her; admiring suitors lined up; she even received a proposal of marriage. She was the obvious choice to serve as First Lady for the new Bachelor President in 1857 and was welcomed into the White House with loving admiration. Harriett turned out to be the “Jackie Kennedy” of the 1800s; women copied her hair and clothing styles, and parents named their daughters for her. She wasn’t just a “pretty girl,” she used her position to promote social causes, such as improving the living conditions of Native Americans on reservations. She invited artists and musicians to the White House; and she paid careful attention to seating arrangements at the weekly formal dinner parties, keeping political foes apart, a task which eventually became impossible, as seven states had seceded by the end of James’ presidency.

Yes, that began under James’ watch. What happened between a peaceful Pennsylvania childhood and the splitting apart of a nation that had fought so hard to became “united” states?

Back Home In Pennsylvania

A log cabin in Cove Gap, Pennsylvania was where James entered the world on April 23, 1791. Scotch-Irish parents James Sr and Elizabeth Buchanan moved into the town of Mercersburg by the time James was three and James Sr became wealthy; he was a merchant, farmer, and real estate investor. James attended Old Stone Academy and then Dickinson College, graduating with honors in 1809. He moved to Lancaster, which was the state capital at the time, read law, and was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar in 1812. He did very well, handling various types of cases, including a much-publicized impeachment trial, and his income grew rapidly. He was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 1814, but when the British invaded Maryland that year he served in the defense of Baltimore as a private in the Pennsylvania Militia. James is the only president with military experience who was not an officer; he was also the last president who served in the War of 1812.

Government Positions

  • Member of Pennsylvania House of Representatives, 1815-16
  • Member of US House of Representatives, 1821-31
  • Minister to Russia, (under Jackson) 1832-34
  • United States Senator, 1834-45
  • Secretary of State, (under Polk) 1845-49
  • Minister to England, (under Pierce) 1853-56
  • 15th President of the United States, 1857-1861

James Buchanan was a regular contender for the Democratic party’s presidential nomination as far back as 1844. He was finally nominated at the Convention in 1856; the Democrats didn’t want Franklin Pierce back again. James proved to be the right choice for the Democrats; he received 174 electoral votes and was inaugurated on March 4, 1857. In his inaugural address, he expressed an abhorrence for the growing divisions over slavery and its status in the territories, while saying that “Congress should play no role in determining the status of slavery in the states or territories.”

I’ll go straight to the 1860 Democratic National Convention; Douglas, not Buchanan, was eventually nominated, after much contention. The Party splintered; Republican Abraham Lincoln had enough support from the north for an electoral majority. The army’s Commanding General, Winfield Scott, had warned Buchanan that Lincoln’s election would likely cause at least seven states to secede from the union, and recommended that massive amounts of federal troops and artillery be deployed to those states to protect federal property. That recommendation was ignored.

With Lincoln’s victory, talk of secession and disunion reached a boiling point. In his final speech to Congress, James Buchanan denied the right of states to secede but maintained the federal government was without power to prevent them. The north criticized him for his refusal to stop secession; the south for denying its right to secede. On December 20, South Carolina was the first to leave the Union.

  • South Carolina – 12/20/1860
  • Mississippi – 1/9/1861
  • Florida – 1/10/1861
  • Alabama – 1/11/1861
  • Georgia 1/19/1861
  • Louisiana – 1/26/1861
  • Texas – 2/1/1861

At 4:30 a.m. on April 12, 1861, 39 days after Abraham Lincoln was sworn into office, Confederate troops fired on Fort Sumter in South Carolina’s Charleston Harbor. The Civil War began.

The war against James Buchanan began too. He received threatening letters daily, and stores displayed his likeness with a noose drawn around his neck and the word “TRAITOR” written across his forehead. The Senate proposed a resolution of condemnation which ultimately failed. Newspapers accused him of colluding with the Confederacy. His former cabinet members refused to defend him publicly. James became distraught by the attacks and fell sick and depressed. His memoir Mr. Buchanan’s Administration on the Eve of Rebellion, was published in 1866. He died at home of respiratory failure on June 1, 1868 at the age of 77, and is buried in Lancaster.

By then, over 600,000 people had been killed in “brother against brother” Civil War battles, and a president was assassinated. Seems to me the critics put that “traitor” sign on the wrong foreheads.



#14. Pierce, Franklin

Linda Lou Burton posting from Little Rock, Arkansas –Franklin Pierce (November 23, 1804 – October 8, 1869) was the 14th president of the United States, from 1853 to 1857. Franklin was handsome; just look at all his portraits and see for yourself. History books record him as a drunk; he died of cirrhosis of the liver. Historians rank him as one of the worst and least memorable of all presidents. And as for his wife, well, her story is grim. How deep do we need to go to find something positive to say about Franklin besides the fact that he was good-looking? Go way, way back. Franklin was “born in a log cabin in New Hampshire“ and that happened in November, so the world he entered was COLD. His older brothers and his father were military men – Revolutionary War and War of 1812 uniforms and swords and guns all over the house. And his mother kept having babies that needed tending to. Franklin was a middle kid. And we know what middle kids do, don’t we? They usually resort to tomfoolery to get a little attention. Maybe that explains some of the choices he made in later life. Would I invite this man to my party? I’m on the fence about that. I wouldn’t want a drunk at my party, but geez, after the tragedy that happened to his family between election day and inauguration day, I would have taken a covered dish AND a bottle of whiskey over to his house. But I’m getting ahead of the story. What about that tomfoolery?

Benjamin Pierce made sure his sons were educated. When Franklin was twelve, he was sent to the town school some miles away. Franklin didn’t like school, so one Sunday afternoon he just walked back home. His father fed him, put him in the carriage, and drove him part way back before kicking him out. In a thunderstorm! By the time Franklin entered Phillips Exeter Academy to prepare for college, his school reputation was well established. He was charming, but “prone to misbehavior.”

And Then What Happened

College days brought some interesting friends; one was Nathaniel Hawthorne, who became a lifelong friend. Franklin was “last in his class” after two years; when he graduated in 1824 he’d moved up to fifth in a class of fourteen. Franklin had joined the Athenian Literary Society as a freshman; he organized an unofficial militia company during his junior year, the Bowdoin Cadets. Some tomfoolery there, like leading a strike against the school’s president over an argument about where they could drill. He went on to study law, and was admitted to the New Hampshire bar in 1827 and began to practice; he lost his first case. He did well as a lawyer however, because – he was charming. He had a deep voice. He had a good memory for names and faces. And he got elected to a few things.

Government Positions

  • Served in New Hampshire Legislature, 1829-33
  • Member of US House of Representatives, 1833-37
  • Unites States Senate, 1837-42
  • 14th President of the United States, 1853-1857

But we can’t forget the military influence he grew up with. He wanted to fight in a war. He wanted to wear a uniform, like his brothers, and his father. He was a passionate advocate for volunteer militias and had experience mustering and drilling bodies of troops. When Congress declared war against Mexico in May 1846, he immediately volunteered. Before you could say Battle of Contreras, Franklin found himself at the port of Vera Cruz as a Brigadier General preparing a march of 2,500 men to take supplies to General Winfield Scott. Charm is only good for so much during a battle. Desire to be viewed as doing something great can push you on however. First day of battle, Franklin’s horse tripped and fell into a crevice, pinning him underneath and injuring his knee. Because it appeared he had fainted, one of his men called for a replacement, calling him a “damned coward.” Next day Franklin was back, hobbling behind his men with a lame knee. As the Battle of Churubusco approached, General Scott ordered Franklin to convalesce. Franklin begged to be allowed to “lead my brigade,” so entered the fight tied to his saddle, and passed out on the field. The Americans won and Franklin wound up getting to negotiate the armistice. The Battle of Mexico City again found Franklin ill; diarrhea kept him in the sick tent. Nevertheless, he remained in command during the three-month occupation of the city and came home to a hero’s welcome. He resigned from the Army in December 1847 as a popular guy. But Jane wasn’t happy.


Jane Means Appleton (1806-1863) was petite, frail, and shy, the third of six children born to Elizabeth and the Reverend Jesse Appleton. After her father died, Jane was sent to live with her wealthy grandparents in Amherst, New Hampshire. She was prone to deep depression; and it isn’t known how she met Franklin. What is known is that they married November 19, 1834 – he was 30, she was 28 – and that her grandparents opposed the union due to Franklin’s political ambitions. Jane didn’t like the political life either; she hated living in Washington. She blamed politics for all the troubles in her life.

Franklin and Jane had three sons. Their first, Franklin Jr, died three days after his birth in 1836, while Franklin was a member of the US House of Representatives. Their second, Franklin Robert, was born in 1839 and their third son Benjamin in 1841, when Franklin was a US Senator. Jane was so unhappy in Washington she encouraged Franklin to resign his Senate seat and return to New Hampshire, which he did in 1842. Little Franklin Robert died the next year in New Hampshire at age four, from epidemic typhus.

Was it patriotism, or a need to just shoot something – anything – that sent Franklin off to fight in the Mexican-American War in 1846? Back home as a hero in 1847, his political callings were stirred again. Next thing you know, Franklin Pierce was on the ticket for the 1852 election, opposing General Winfield Scott. Jane fainted when she heard the news.

Bring Out The Tissues

Little Benjamin, Benny as he was called and 11 years old at the time, knew exactly how his mother felt about Washington DC. He wrote a letter to her after Franklin’s nomination saying, “I hope he won’t be elected for I should not like to be at Washington and I know you would not either.”

Jane prayed Franklin would lose the election, but he pushed the idea that being a president’s son would be an asset to Benny in the future. When the Pierce/King ticket tallied up 254 electoral votes to Scott’s 42, Jane reluctantly made plans to move.

In January 1853 the Pierce family took a train trip to Boston to attend a family friend’s funeral. During their return, a coupler failed and threw several cars down a snowy embankment. Little Benny’s head was crushed and partly severed right before his parent’s eyes. He was the only fatality in the accident.

Franklin and Jane suffered severe depression afterward. When Franklin departed New Hampshire for his inauguration, Jane remained behind. Franklin affirmed his oath of office on a law book rather than a Bible that March 4, and delivered his inaugural address from memory. Regarding his personal tragedy, he said to the crowd, “You have summoned me in my weakness, you must sustain me by your strength.

Jane wondered if the train accident was divine punishment for her husband’s pursuit and acceptance of high office. She wrote a lengthy letter of apology to Benny for her failings as a mother. She avoided social functions for her first two years as First Lady, making her public debut in that role to great sympathy at the annual public reception held at the White House on New Year’s Day, 1855.

Franklin was not nominated for a second term and left office on March 4, 1857.

After Washington

Seeking warmer weather, the Pierces spent the next three years traveling, beginning with a stay in Madeira and followed by tours of Europe and the Bahamas. Jane died of tuberculosis in December 1863; she was buried at Old North Cemetery in Concord, New Hampshire. Franklin was further grieved by the death of his close friend Nathaniel Hawthorne in May 1864; he was with Hawthorne when the author died unexpectedly. Hawthorne had controversially dedicated his final book to Franklin. Some Democrats tried again to put Franklin’s name up for consideration as the 1864 presidential election unfolded, but he kept his distance; Lincoln easily won a second term.

Though Franklin’s drinking impaired his health, he grew increasingly spiritual. He used his influence to improve the treatment of Jefferson Davis, by then a prisoner at Fort Monroe in Virginia. He offered financial help to Hawthorne’s son Julian, as well as to his own nephews. On the second anniversary of Jane’s death, he was baptized into her Episcopal faith at St. Paul’s Church in Concord. He took up the life of a farmer, farming the land himself and drinking less. In mid-1869, suffering from severe cirrhosis of the liver, he hired a caretaker. No family members were present when he died October 28, at the age of 64.

Maybe he was forgettable as a president. I suspect it was a time he didn’t want to remember either.


#13. Fillmore, Millard

Linda Lou Burton posting from Little Rock, Arkansas –Millard Fillmore (January 7, 1800 – March 8, 1874) was the 13th president of the United States, from 1850 to 1853. I’m going to say right up front that I would invite Millard Fillmore to my party, and if you wouldn’t, then you’re a snob. Like all the folks who’ve picked on this man: His name is dull. He is dull. Historians rate his presidency as “obscure.” This guy needs a Plus-Minus chart, and I’m going to make one for him. Read on, and take notes. Let’s start with his NAME. That came from his parents, don’t blame Millard for an inelegant name. He was the first son of the eight children born to Nathaniel and Phoebe Millard Fillmore, and of course Phoebe gave him her maiden name; that’s what people did, and still do, even if it sounds dull. And Nathaniel and Phoebe were POOR; they were tenant farmers in upstate New York, where the ground is not great for farming. So they moved to Vermont; not better; and they moved again. Log cabin poverty, that was Millard’s early life. Hard work and severe poverty. Nathaniel taught school occasionally and was chosen to serve in local offices; he wanted Millard to learn a trade so apprenticed him to a cloth maker; Millard was fourteen at the time. That didn’t work out; Millard felt he wasn’t learning any skills; his father then sent him to a nearby mill to work. What do you do when you’re stuck in a rut? Some people complain. Millard bought a share in a circulating library and read all the books he could find. And he enrolled in a new academy there in town, and fell in love with his teacher. No inappropriate scandal there; the teacher was Abigail Powers (1798-1853), who eventually became First Lady of the United States, the most scholarly woman to attain that position. She installed the first library in the White House. And Millard became President.

You’ve got to hear this story.

Let’s pick up in Millard’s nineteenth year. The family moved again, and Nathaniel persuaded his landlord, Judge Walter Wood, to allow Millard to clerk for him. Millard read law there, and taught school for a bit, earning enough money to buy out his apprenticeship in 18 months. And the family moved again, settling near Buffalo, New York. Things began to improve, at last. Nathaniel’s farm became prosperous; Millard taught school and continued the study of law. In 1823 he was admitted to the New York bar and established a practice in East Aurora. He and Abigail, after a long courtship, married February 5, 1826 – he was 26, she was 28. They had two children, Millard Powers and Mary Abigail (continuing the naming trend). And Millard’s career took off. I’m giving him PLUS marks so far for trying to please his father, while moving ahead with his own goals. And for marrying a smart woman.

Government Positions

  • Member of New York State Assembly, 1828-31
  • Member of US House of Representatives, 1833-35
  • Member of US House of Representatives, 1837-45
  • Comptroller of New York, 1847
  • Vice President, 1849-1850 (under Taylor)
  • 13th US President, 1850-1853

Millard got interested in politics. He was a delegate to the New York convention that endorsed President John Quincy Adams for reelection. He was elected to the New York State Assembly and served in Albany for three one-year terms. He promoted legislation to provide court witnesses the option of taking a non-religious oath, and for abolishing imprisonment for debt. He moved his successful law practice to Buffalo, which was growing rapidly, and helped draft the city charter. He helped found the Buffalo High School Association, joined the lyceum, attended the Unitarian church. He was active in the New York Militia and attained the rank of major.

As a Congressman he supported building infrastructure, voting in favor of navigation improvements on the Hudson River and constructing a bridge across the Potomac River. He fought for government funds being used to develop the country. He was not in favor of slavery at this time of fierce debate over the issue, but he did not believe it should be a political issue. He grew tired of the political wangling and returned to Buffalo and his law practice in 1843. By that time he was at the height of his popularity and deemed “able in debate, wise in council, and inflexible in his political sentiments.”

So far, good. And then he founded a university. At least, he was involved in the founding of the University of Buffalo in 1846, and became its first chancellor. As to politics, he opposed the annexation of Texas, and spoke against the Mexican-American War; he believed it would extend slavery’s realm. He also spoke out in anger when President Polk vetoed a river and harbors bill that would have benefitted Buffalo, and wrote: “May God save the country for it is evident the people will not.”

It’s hard to imagine, with today’s “campaign fervor” which puts office seekers under relentless second-by-second scrutiny, that in the mid-19th century any candidate wanting high office should not appear to seek it. So when all the back-stage fiddle-faddle finally settled on a Taylor/Fillmore ticket in 1848, Millard remained quiet. Except for a widely published letter he sent to an Alabamian stating that “slavery was an evil, but one that the federal government had no authority over.”

Millard Fillmore was sworn in as vice president on March 5, 1849, in the Senate Chamber. After taking the oath from Chief Justice Roger Taney he swore in the senators beginning their terms. And then, he was largely ignored by Zachary Taylor. Until that day in July 1850 when he was called from his chair while presiding over the Senate to join the vigil outside Taylor’s bedroom at the White House. On July 9 he received official notice of Taylor’s death; after acknowledging the letter and spending a sleepless night, the next day, in a joint session of Congress, he took the oath of office. Now he was President of the United States.

Taylor’s cabinet resigned, as is customary; Millard accept their resignations. Not a good start? He set up his own cabinet; knocking a few heads along the way. When I read about Millard Fillmore’s presidency, one critique is that he didn’t force an agenda in line with his beliefs. Example: his signing of the Fugitive Slave Bill. Fillmore generally signed bills as they reached his desk, but he held the Fugitive Slave Bill for two days until he received a favorable opinion as to its constitutionality from the new Attorney General, John Crittenden. “It is not my job to make the law,” he observed, “but to enforce it.” Basic Civics 101.

Millard was unpopular with northern Whigs for signing and enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act but had considerable support from the South; nevertheless, he wasn’t selected for the 1852 ticket, and Franklin Pierce became President # 14.

Need Work

Millard was out of a job, with no independent wealth, no landed estate, and no pension. He and Abigail planned a tour of the South after leaving the White House, but she caught cold at Franklin Pierce’s inauguration on March 4, 1853, developed pneumonia, and died March 30.

A word about Abigail Powers before I tell you what Millard did next. Abigail was the youngest of seven children; she grew up in Moravia, New York, not far from the Fillmore farm. Her father died shortly after she was born, but left behind a large library; her mother used the books to educate her children beyond the usual frontier level. Abigail came to love literature, but also became proficient in math, government, history, philosophy, and geography. She became a teacher, and was asked to open a private school; in 1819 she took a post at a new academy where her oldest pupil was 19-year-0ld Millard Filmore. Their love of learning is one thing that drew them together and to marriage in 1826. She continued teaching until their son was born.

Abigail learned the ways of society as the wife of a Congressman, but much of her time, as always, she spent reading. An injured ankle that never properly healed rendered her unable to stand for long periods of time, so on becoming First Lady in 1850 at age 52, she entrusted many routine social duties to her daughter Abby. She was appalled to learn that there was no library in the White House, so with a special appropriation from Congress of $2,000, she spent her time selecting books and building a library. Shakespeare, history and geography books, and her piano graced the library; she taught herself to play. She invited writers such as William Thackeray, Charles Dickens, and Washington Irving to meet with her; she invited performance artists such as Jenny Lind to come; she created a White House literary salon. She was reportedly a witty and erudite conversationalist, the most intellectual of the early first ladies.

She offered Millard advice and counsel on political matters; reportedly he never made any important decision without first consulting her. It is said she advised him not to sign the Fugitive Slave Bill; she predicted what would happen if he did, and she was right. Abigail left behind a legacy of women and work.

Moving On

Millard Fillmore returned to Buffalo for Abigail’s burial, but his grieving was not yet done. The very next year his daughter Abby died of cholera. So Millard spent over a year abroad, visiting Europe and the Middle East. Queen Victoria called him handsome; he had an audience with Pope Pius IX; he was offered an honorary Doctor of Civil Law degree by the University of Oxford. He declined, explaining he had neither the “literary nor scientific attainment” to justify the degree. And while he was away, the Know Nothing Party put him on the 1856 ticket. James Buchanan won with 174 electoral votes; the Fillmore/Donelson third-party ticket came in third.

Millard had not sought to be on the ticket in the first place; but felt that his political career had truly ended with that; and he wasn’t really interested in continuing the practice of law. So he got married again; this time to a wealthy widow, Caroline McIntosh (1813-1881), where, as the story ends, they lived happily ever after, devoting themselves to entertaining and philanthropy, “generously supporting every conceivable cause,” such as the Buffalo General Hospital, which Millard helped found.

Millard Fillmore died March 8, 1874, at the age of 74. He may not have been the most exuberant or dashing of presidents, but he didn’t violate his principles, and he did some good things in his lifetime.

Way more pluses than minuses.