Dead Presidents

Historical facts, thoughts, ramblings and collections on the Presidency and about the Presidents of the United States.

By Anthony Bergen
I know it’s only the preseason, but my #Raiders are beating the #Seahawks, 28-7, early in the 2nd quarter.
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Asker Anonymous Asks:
Why do presidents swear on the Bible?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:


However, the quick answer, which is not nearly as interesting as the question is this: We don’t know.

It’s largely due to tradition. George Washington placed his hand on the Bible while taking the oath of office and most of his successors followed suit. As President, Washington’s major contribution was setting precedent after precedent, which helped shape the Presidency into the position that it became. Some of those precedents were common sense; some of them were necessary for a brand-new federal government of a brand-new country; but some of them were choices that George Washington made because he had his own personal style of governing and a strict set of beliefs when it came to honor and respect. John Adams was famously trying to figure out which grandiose title was most deserved and fit best with the man, the position, and the times, but it was Washington who shut down the discussion and said that he’d be referred to as “Mr. President” and nothing more, and that’s how that tradition was born.

After two terms as President, Washington could have continued in office until the day that he died, but he recognized the importance of civilian leadership in a democratic republic returning to civilian life and went home to Mount Vernon after two four-year terms as President. That began another tradition — the two-term tradition that was rarely challenged by Washington’s successors. Ulysses S. Grant sought renomination for a third term as President, but the strength of Washington’s two-term tradition made it difficult for Grant’s candidacy to gain any traction. It wasn’t until 1940 when someone — Franklin D. Roosevelt — did break the two-term tradition, but the country was working its way out of the Great Depression and American involvement in World War II was on the horizon, so voters stuck with FDR and elected him to an unprecedented third term (and then a fourth in 1940). But Washington’s two-term tradition was so highly-regarded that FDR’s decision to run for a third (and the fourth) was controversial and became a campaign issue; Roosevelt even received flak from his fellow Democrats. Two years after FDR died (in office early in his fourth term), Congress passed the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, making Washington’s two-term tradition into law, and it was ratified in 1951.

With the Presidential oath of office, there are few definite requirements, and a bunch of long-standing traditions that, again, mainly started with George Washington, like the placing of the hand on the Bible. Nothing requires Presidents to swear their oath on the Bible. John Quincy Adams didn’t swear the oath on the Bible at all. In fact, JQA took his oath in a way that I think is much more powerful than using a Bible — he placed his hand on a book of U.S. laws to represent his promise to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.” After President McKinley was assassinated in 1901, Theodore Roosevelt didn’t use a Bible or any other prop when being sworn in. In Dallas, on Air Force One, there was no Bible, so stewards found a Catholic missal belonging to the slain President Kennedy, and that’s how he 36th President was sworn in.

But the Bible isn’t a requirement for the swearing-in ceremony. Swearing the oath isn’t a requirement, either. Presidents can say, “I do solemnly swear” or “I do solemnly affirm”. Only one President has given affirmed the oath rather than swearing it — Franklin Pierce in 1853, for religious reasons. When Bibles are used, the Presidents usually choose which Bible they want to use and whether or not the Bible is open or closed while taking the oath. Many Presidents choose to open the Bible and rest their hand on a specific scriptural passage, although no two Presidents have used the same passage when taking the oath. Several Presidents have used two Bibles — for example, in 1989, George H.W. Bush took the oath of office with an open Bush family Bible resting on top of George Washington’s Masonic Bible, which had been opened to a random passage. Bush 41’s inauguration was the 200th anniversary of Washington’s first inauguration in 1789, and he also had his Bible (the same one Bush used in 1989) opened to a random passage. Bush 41’s son, George W. Bush, used the Bush family Bible at both of his inaugurations (closed in 2001 and open in 2005). Incidentally, George W. Bush wanted to use the Masonic Bible belonging to George Washington at his first inauguration, just as his father had in 1989, but although it had been brought to Washington, D.C. from its home in New York City (and heavily guarded), poor weather at the 2001 Inauguration resulted in the first George W.’s Bible steering clear of the elements. The Library of Congress maintains a list of the specific Bibles used (if known) at each Presidential Inauguration, as well as the scriptural passages that the Presidents placed their hand upon when taking the oath of office.




David Suzuki in this interview about facing the reality of climate change and other environmental issues from Moyers & Company.

wow this is so true


Of course, as everything from our games to the fucked-up history of our social mores to our politics to our art tells you, if there’s one thing humans excel at, one thing that might actually separate us from other animals (although there may be counterexamples, I’d be fascinated to hear about them!), it’s that we are so excellent at treating the things we invent as if they were immutable facts of the universe.

(Which is to say I agree with Suzuki but I also kind of despair at our ability to actually, en masse, do anything along these lines?)

I agree with Suzuki and I agree with Ian.

I believe that there are far too many people that don’t understand that ideas evolve because there are far too many people that don’t believe that nature evolves. For example, here in the United States, too many people don’t recognize that the Founders didn’t expect the Constitution to be taken literally, as it was written in 1787; it’s an organic, living document. That’s why the Framers packaged it with a mechanism allowing for amendments. But people are instinctually repelled by change, even if it is changing something that we have created. And the key word is "instinctual" rather than "instinctive"; it’s not something we can’t do, it’s not something we don’t do, and it’s not something we haven’t done before — it’s something we choose not to do. It’s not natural, it’s learned. It’s not singular, it’s shared behavior. It’s also frightening because we are a society driven by the rule of the majority, and the thinking of the majority isn’t necessarily rational, reasonable, or what’s best for all.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:


Asker Anonymous Asks:
A weird question but if you were to meet George Washington somehow and the topic somehow switched to religion, do you think you'd openly say that you were atheist, fake it, or try to sway away from the topic? From my understanding, Atheists were at the level (and lower according to some articles I've reaD) of Satanists. I think I'd be scared to come out as an atheist back in Colonial/Revolutionary America. I'd fear I'd be flogged or something.
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I’d absolutely tell him that I was an atheist. Look, it’s 2014, and an openly atheist person could not be elected President today. Part of the reason for that is that there’s been a tendency to keep quiet about that or shy away from declaring that you are atheist because it might make others uncomfortable or make for awkward conversation with a believer. The problem is that we’ve made it weird and I don’t know why. I know very few people who go to church regularly or are religious, but people still feel uncomfortable to talk about religion or a lack of religion. Religion is a choice. It’s not like your sexuality; religion is a choice. 

Atheists shouldn’t be afraid to declare that they don’t believe, and people who do have faith in religion shouldn’t be afraid to declare that they do. Disagreements shouldn’t negate debate or discussion. A lot of atheists bring trouble on themselves and the cause by being such assholes about religion. Religion might seem silly to you, but it’s very important to a lot of people, and has been for thousands of years. Arguing about religion has NEVER worked. Reacting to someone’s faith by saying, “Oh my not-God, you are so dumb for believing in some invisible person in the sky because that isn’t scientifically possible and it doesn’t even make sense. Use reason,” doesn’t do anything for that person, for atheism, for reason, for anything. Believe or don’t believe. Be who you are and don’t be afraid to let others know who you are. But respect the same thing in others.

Now, back to your question, yes, I would tell him that I am atheist and I’d explain that I’ve read scores of religious texts, have thought about religion for years, and that I’ve come to the decision that it isn’t for me but respect its purpose for others. I’d also say that I understand his religious faith and appreciate it, but that my atheism and his faith should have nothing to do with the government of our country. And he would agree with that, and nearly every other Founding Father passionately agreed with that, as well. 

Asker zzchili Asks:
ok, congress can impeach the president and supreme court justices. is there anyone who can impeach a congressperson? im wondering more about the senate since they get 6 years before we the people can remove them.
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:


Congress can impeach and remove its own members, which is pretty rare because a congressperson has to actually do something really contrary to law or the chamber rules to get kicked out. They can also be censured by their chamber (in which they lose all their committee chair positions but still keep their seat) or be formally reprimanded for bad behavior.

It’s really up to the constituents (the people represented) to kick their Congresspeople out if they’re not doing their job. It’s unfortunate that so many people focus on voting for high offices like the President because they forget that it’s Congress that is the major policy-maker of the country.

Ladyhistory, I love you and your blog, so I just want to jump in and point out that it’s actually kind of up-in-the-air whether members of Congress can be impeached. Only the House of Representatives has the power of impeachment. Once the House impeaches an official (President, Vice President, member of the Supreme Court, or “civil officers” of the United States), the Senate sits as a jury and, if the impeached officer is found guilty by a 2/3rd vote, he or she is removed from office.

The question is whether members of Congress are “civil officers” of the United States. Many people argue that they are not. The House has only impeached one member of Congress — Senator William Blount at the end of the 18th Century. When Blount’s case went to the Senate for a trial, the Senate decided that they didn’t have the jurisdiction to try a member of Congress. Instead, they expelled him. Expulsion is the way that the House and Senate have tossed out members who would otherwise be impeached, and the precedent set by the Blount case has led to Congress expelling members from time-to-time (like the Southern Senators who supported the Confederacy during the Civil War or members convicted of significant crimes). Expulsion is rare because once a member of Congress realizes that they are likely about to be expelled, they usually resign.

do you ever wish Richard Nixon was more financially successful so that people could unawkwardly call him Rich Dick Nix? (Pretty sure that would have been his rap name)
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I don’t know how anyone could say “Rich Dick Nix” without feeling awkward, but you definitely settled the question of what Nixon’s rap name should have been.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
thoughts on the tyrant season finale?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I damn near forgot that it was Tyrant Tuesday, but caught the show just in time. The season finale definitely left me wanting to see what happens next.

I’m kind of bummed that they made Jamal into such a monster with the early episodes because he is, by far, the most interesting character and Ashraf Barhoum’s performance makes up for some of Adam Rayner’s wooden performance as Bassam. The really interesting story would be Bassam wanting to overthrow his brother and “save” Abuddin from Jamal, but really have Bassam be the power-hungry brother. That could still be the direction they are heading, but it’s tough to walk back the things Jamal did in the first two or three episodes. That actually wasn’t necessary. They could have made Jamal a flawed character without making him evil. And Jamal coming through at the end (instead of Bassam) could be the redemption story and the twist. To use the Godfather analogy I’ve referenced in the past when talking about Tyrant, it would be like Fredo saving the family as Michael Corleone got more-and-more evil and distant. If they hadn’t made Jamal do some terrible things at the beginning of the series, Jamal would easily be the most likable character on the show. Bassam isn’t likable, Bassam’s wife and kids aren’t likable, Jamal’s wife and son aren’t likable, Jamal’s daughter-in-law isn’t likable, Tucker and the other American characters from the State Department and Embassy are definitely not likable, none of the Abuddin military leaders are likable, and even the opposition in Abuddin (the Sheikh’s son) isn’t likable. Jamal is the most interesting and likable character, but we can’t like him because they had the character commit totally unnecessary (to the story) sexual assaults, cheating, and murders.

Don’t get me wrong, I really like the show, and I hope it gets picked up for another season. I just think it could be so much better.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
Do you think President Nixon really meant it when he said that he would have gone for a rap career if they were around in the 30s? Do you think he would have been any good?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Most of my readers will probably look at this question and think that it is one of those silly questions or messages where someone asks or says something odd or outrageous just to see how I might respond. It’s funny to imagine Richard Milhous Nixon simply having rap music explained to him.

But, in reality, Nixon actually did mention the possibility of him becoming a rapper if rap had been popular when he was young. At Nixon’s Presidential Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda, California, visitors used to be able to tour the exhibits while listening to the 37th President of the United States guide you via an audio recording (I’m not sure if you can still take the tour guided by Nixon’s voice; when I visited Yorba Linda in 2004, I just did a self-guided tour). The small house that Nixon was born in stands on the grounds of Nixon’s Library, and visitors listening to the audiotape while making their way through the house had their attention directed to several musical instruments that belonged to the Nixon family. When the former President referenced the instruments (on the audiotape) and mentioned his lifelong love for music, Nixon added, "I have often though that if there had been a good rap group around in those days, I might have chosen a career in music instead of politics."

Was he serious? No, of course not. Nixon did have an appreciation for music, and was confident enough in his abilities as a pianist that he played in public from time-to-time. But Nixon was also notoriously awkward and uncoordinated; he usually needed help to open bottles of any type and was so inept when it came to technology that it really is entirely possible that the infamous 18½-minute gap on the Watergate tapes was the result of Nixon clumsily erasing and/or taping over part of the recording.

One of the most crucial building blocks that make up the foundation of a good rapper is rhythm. Not only was Richard Nixon completely absent of rhythm but his lack of coordination actually made anyone around him seem awkward and out of place. Oddly enough, the rest of Nixon’s story resembled that of many contemporary rappers — as a young man, he faced quite a bit of adversity, growing up in an impoverished family on the West Coast (WESTSIDE!) and losing two brothers at a young age. He also had a way with words that very well could have translated into success for rap music in a different time period. While attending high school, Nixon represented the West Coast on the national level in debate/oratory contest. Later, he became the captain of the debating team at Whittier College and coaches marveled at his unique ability to successfully take on any viewpoint on any of the subjects up for debate.

It’s certainly a funny and outlandish image to picture Richard Nixon as a rapper. It’s even funnier to try to figure out who Tricky Dick’s favorite rapper would have been (I’m going to guess Mystikal just because it’s the strangest combination I immediately thought of). But, unfortunately, he wasn’t serious about wanting to be a rapper. And while his verbal skills and talent as an orator could have made him a dangerous freestyler and potential success in rap battles, the complete absence of rhythm would have been a lethal handicap to his reputation as an MC.

(Just out of curiosity, though, what would the best rap name for Richard Nixon be? Just his old-fashioned “Tricky Dick” moniker? “DJ Watergate”? “Presidential MC?” “DJ POTUS?” Since Nixon tried so hard during his lifetime to get his initials over like TR, FDR, JFK, and LBJ, how about “MC RN”?)

I said that I’d be responding to “speed-round questions” tonight while I watched the VMAs and FIFA’s U-20 Women’s World Cup, made a point of suggesting “yes or no” questions, and then kicked off that “speed-round” session by spending several hundred words answering ONE question about something that is ALWAYS confusing — Constitutional interpretation of specific Presidential Succession situations, the difference between a Vice President assuming the President permanently or temporarily assuming office as “Acting President”, and the fact that there a VP assuming the Presidency as President and a VP assuming the Presidency as “Acting President” are two different situations yet result in no difference between the actual duties and powers.

I’m glad I was able to stick with my plan to be concise and quickly answer easy, “speed-round” questions.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
If a Vice President takes over for a period of time from the President, and the President resumes his job but later resigns from office, does the time previously served count for the new President's service? If that makes any sense.
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I understand what you’re saying. This is another one of those instances — as is the case with most questions about Presidential succession or the 25th Amendment — where there are no precedents to follow and a lot of confusion, and where that confusion will remain until something happens that actually puts the 25th Amendment into effect and tests the process.

To refresh everyone’s memories, a President can permanently relinquish his office by resigning, which leads to the Vice President (or the person next in the line of succession) becoming the new President. If that happens, the VP-turned-President can be elected to two full terms as President in his own right unless the VP completes more than two years of the unfinished term of the President he succeeded. In that case, the VP is only allowed to be elected to one term in his own right. As an example: when LBJ assumed the Presidency upon the death of John F. Kennedy, JFK had less than two years left in his term. So, LBJ was able to run again in 1964 (and won), and would have been allowed to run for another term in 1968 if he had chosen to. After that, he would have been term-limited and unable to seek the Presidency again in 1972. On the other hand, when Gerald Ford succeeded Richard Nixon in 1974 following Nixon’s assassination, Ford completed more than two years of Nixon’s term. Ford was unsuccessful in trying to win a term of his own in 1976, but if he had won the ‘76 election, he would have been term-limited from seeking another term as President in 1980.

But a President could also temporarily the powers of the Presidency if he or she were incapacitated or unable to discharge their duties, and then reclaim their duties when they are ready. This has happened a couple of times when recent Presidents have undergone medical treatment which required anesthesia. When that happens, the President invokes the 25th Amendment, and the Vice President becomes “Acting President” until the President feels clear enough to reclaim the full duties of the Presidency once again.

Now, this is where the questions start popping up. When a President resigns and a Vice President permanently assumes the powers, duties, and trappings of the Presidency (as in the aforementioned cases of LBJ and Gerald Ford), the VP becomes President of the United States in full. However, when a President invokes the 25th Amendment and temporarily transfers power to the Vice President, the VP does not become “President of the United States”. Instead, the VP becomes “Acting President”, and remains “Acting President” until the President reclaims the position, resigns, or is removed from office.

Since this Constitutional curiosity has never been put to the test, we don’t know for sure what the answer to your question is. But my interpretation is that the time that a VP served as “Acting President” in an instance where the 25th Amendment was invoked would not count towards term limits if that VP eventually became the President in his own right. Plus, the invocation of the 25th Amendment in order to temporarily relieve an incapacitated President of his duties is not meant to be a long-term solution. The 25th Amendment also has a mechanism for removing a seriously incapacitated President who has little change of regaining the ability to discharge his duty. If things got that serious, a temporary fix would be bypassed in favor of removing the incapacitated President and handing power to the next in the line of succession. At that point, the clock would begin ticking to determine whether the successor would be limited to being elected to one or two terms as President on their own, but that’s a different discussion.

The strangest (and most confusing) thing about the differences between someone who assumes the Presidency permanently and someone who temporarily becomes “Acting President” is that there isn’t any difference in actual power. The difference is in the title, but — whether temporary or permanent — they exercise all of the powers of the Presidency.

Forget Will, Kate, and whatever their baby’s name is. Jay-Z, Beyonce, and Blue Ivy are the world’s true royal family. #VMAs
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