Dead Presidents

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

By Anthony Bergen
Posts tagged "Abraham Lincoln"
Re: the survivability of McKinley's injuries. Your comment that President McKinley likely would have survived if he had received the same level of care that President Reagan did got me thinking - could the same be said for Presidents Lincoln and Garfield?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

With modern medical care, James Garfield absolutely would have survived his wounds. In fact, a case could be made that Garfield would have been better off if nobody even tried to treat him after he was shot. It was unsterilized instruments and dirty fingers being poked into Garfield’s wounds in an effort to find the track of the bullet which introduced the infections that eventually killed him. Of the four Presidents who were assassinated, Garfield’s original wounds were the least severe, and the gunshot wound that Reagan survived in 1981 was less severe than both Garfield’s and McKinley’s. Charles Guiteau shot James Garfield, but it was the President’s doctors who killed him.

Lincoln is a different story. Sure, there’s always the possibility that with an immediate response and modern technology, Lincoln could have remained alive via life support, but he would have been in a vegetative state. But even that is highly unlikely. John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln at almost point-blank range. There were powder burns around the wound in the back of Lincoln’s skull, so Booth was very, very close — probably less than six inches away from the President — when he shot him. Also, it’s important to remember that Lincoln was shot with a Civil War-era weapon, so he wasn’t struck with a bullet as we think of bullets today, but a .41 caliber ball from a Derringer pistol. The ball flattened as it passed through the back of Lincoln’s skull and carried bone fragments from the skull as it passed through the full length of Lincoln’s brain. There was no exit wound and the pressure and trauma fractured both of Lincoln’s eye sockets (from inside of his head). The ball probably lodged in bone near or behind Lincoln’s right eye — several attending physicians immediately after the shooting and in the autopsy the next day disagreed about which eye the bullet lodged behind because as they opened up Lincoln’s skull during the autopsy, the ball literally fell out of his head and through the fingers of a doctor. Most believe that it lodged behind the right eye because it was protruding after the shooting.

Lincoln’s wound was fatal in almost every instance in 1865, and it would probably be just as fatal in 2014. He kept breathing until 7:22 AM the next morning, but Lincoln was also known to be a surprisingly strong man physically so his respiratory system put up quite a fight. However, it’s pretty much a given that Lincoln was brain-dead by midnight or 1 AM; the trauma to his brain was too severe — the autopsy showed that the bullet not only passed through the entire brain and carried skull fragments with it, but it also left sharp pieces of bone from his skull in various parts of the brain. The doctors attending to Lincoln acted immediately and did as good of a job as could be expected — in 1865 or 150 years later — but it was a fatal wound.

Reagan was very lucky for the quick reaction of the Secret Service. At the Washington Hilton, the lead agent, Jerry Parr, quickly shoved the President into the limousine as shots rang out and Tim McCarthy did exactly what the Secret Service is supposedly trained to do — he instantaneously turned towards the gunman, made himself a bigger target, and literally took a bullet for the President. If Parr hadn’t shoved Reagan into the limo when he did, Reagan likely would have taken a bullet to the head; instead, two bullets hit the limousine and one of them ricocheted off the side and struck Reagan. If it wasn’t for the quick reaction of the Secret Service during the shooting and immediately afterward when Parr diverted the limo to the hospital instead of the White House, Reagan would have died from either a more direct shot or from the massive blood loss that he was suffering from. The doctors at George Washington Hospital believed Reagan would have died if he had arrived at the hospital even just a couple of minutes later. It also helped that Reagan was in really good physical shape for a 70-year-old man. But if Reagan had been shot in 1881 instead of 1981; he’d have ended up with the second-shortest Presidency in history. And if Garfield had been shot in 1981 instead of 1881, he wouldn’t be the guy holding that record.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
Was the Lincoln room ever actually Lincoln's bed room? Is it really haunted or is that a different part of the white house?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I hate to burst anyone’s bubble but, no, the Lincoln Bedroom is not haunted. Nowhere else in the White House is haunted, either. Nothing is legitimately haunted — anywhere — because ghosts aren’t real. Unless you happen to be Scooby-Doo. If you are, indeed, Scooby-Doo, please accept my apologies as I meant no disrespect. But if you’re Shaggy, get a haircut and some pants that fit you. And if you are Scrappy-Doo, you can go fuck yourself. Nobody likes you, Scrappy — you ruined everything. Everybody knows that you’re not really tough; you’re just overcompensating because of your Napoleon complex and the embarrassment that comes from never wearing pants. Plus, you’re just biting Scooby’s style. You are a copycat…I mean…copydog. Yeah, you’re a copydog.

Sorry, I got distracted from the main point of the question because Scrappy-Doo is an asshole. Where was I again? Oh yeah, the Lincoln Bedroom.

No, the Lincoln Bedroom was not actually Lincoln’s bedroom when he lived in the White House. There was no West Wing of the White House until Theodore Roosevelt’s Administration, so the President and his staff largely worked out of offices in the area of the Executive Mansion which is now considered to be the Residence. During the Lincoln Administration, the President worked and held Cabinet meetings in offices located in the general area of where the Lincoln Bedroom and Lincoln Sitting Room are situated at today. The White House was completely gutted and renovated from 1948 to 1952, so it was during that extensive renovation that the Lincoln Bedroom (and the Lincoln Sitting Room next door) was restored and decorated in a way to honor its connection to Lincoln.

Lincoln did not sleep in what is now the Lincoln Bedroom, but he did sign the Emancipation Proclamation there when he used the room as an office. Today, along with many artifacts from Lincoln’s time, the Lincoln Bedroom also has a copy of the Gettysburg Address on display. The copy of the speech has written out by Lincoln’s own hand and signed by him; it’s one of just five such originals in existence.

Of course, the centerpiece of the Lincoln Bedroom is the massive, ornate bed which most people understandably assume was the bed that Lincoln actually slept in because (a:) it is located in the “Lincoln Bedroom”, and (b:) the bed is 8 feet long by 6 feet wide and seems as if could have comfortably accommodated the 6’4” President. But, it is not the bed used by President Lincoln when he lived in the White House. However, the bed does date from his time — Mary Todd Lincoln ordered it from a Philadelphia furniture dealer in May 1861, nearly three months after the Lincolns moved into the White House.

While Abraham Lincoln didn’t sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom or the actual bed that the room now contains, several other Presidents have slept in the bed since Lincoln’s time and many famous (and not-so-famous) visitors have found themselves situated in the Lincoln Bedroom when staying overnight as guests of the First Family. One person who was rumored to have steered clear from the room was Harry Truman’s elderly mother, Martha, an unreconstructed Confederate sympathizer whose feelings about Lincoln and the Civil War were still raw and supposedly refused to sleep in Lincoln’s bed or room.

Perhaps more White House guests would have followed Mrs. Truman’s rumored example if they had been aware of one connection that Abraham Lincoln likely did have with the enormous bed in the room which carries his name. Although it was located in a different part of the White House at the time, many historians believe that there was at least one time that Lincoln was in that big bed — a few hours after President Lincoln was pronounced dead on April 15, 1865 and following an autopsy performed in the East Room. Abraham Lincoln may have never slept in the famous bed that still hosts visitors today in the Lincoln Bedroom; however, that bed is where the first assassinated President in American history was most likely embalmed.  

On August 27, 1858, Daniel Marshall brought his young son, Tommy, into Freeport, Illinois, near the Wisconsin border, where nearly 15,000 people had gathered in a downtown square for the second of seven debates between Senator Stephen A. Douglas and his Republican challenger Abraham Lincoln.  Marshall was a solid Democrat who had moved his family to Illinois from Indiana a year earlier and supported the incumbent Senator Douglas.

In Freeport, under the debating rules set by the candidates, Lincoln spoke first for 60 minutes, Douglas spoke next for 90 minutes, and Lincoln finished with a 30-minute-long rebuttal.  The population of Freeport tripled on the day of the debate and the proceedings took place in unseasonably cool, cloudy weather for late-August.

As Lincoln and Douglas engaged in perhaps the most newsworthy debate of their historic series, 4-year-old Tommy Marshall found himself the best seat in the house.  While Lincoln spoke, Tommy sat in the lap of Stephen A. Douglas.  When Senator Douglas responded, Tommy sat in the lap of Abraham Lincoln.

Decades later, after little Tommy Marshall had grown into Thomas Riley Marshall and became Vice President of the United States under Woodrow Wilson, sitting in the laps of history at the second Lincoln/Douglas debate remained one of his fondest memories.

It is absurd to call him [Abraham Lincoln] a modest man. No great man was ever modest.
John Hay, Abraham Lincoln’s private secretary, to William H. Herndon, Lincoln’s former law partner
Asker Anonymous Asks:
Why are there so many books written about Lincoln?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

For the same reason that people have been writing comic books, making television shows, and filming movies about Batman for 75 years — he’s a fucking superhero.

Say to Mr. Lincoln from me that I shall at any time be pleased to receive proposals for peace on the basis of our [Confederate] Independence. It will be useless to approach me with any other.
Confederate President Jefferson Davis, to Northern emissaries during the Civil War, July 1864.

16th President of the United States (1861-1865)

Full Name: Abraham Lincoln
Born: February 12, 1809, Hardin County (present-day LaRue County), Kentucky
Political Party: Republican
State Represented: Illinois
Term: March 4, 1861-April 15, 1865 (Assassinated)
Age at Inauguration: 52 years, 20 days
Administration: 19th and 20th
Congresses: 37th, 38th, and 39th
Vice Presidents: Hannibal Hamlin (1st term: 1861-1865) and Andrew Johnson (2nd term: 1865; Assumed the Presidency upon Lincoln’s death)
Died: April 15, 1865, Petersen’s Boarding House, 516 10th Street NW, Washington, D.C.
Age at Death: 56 years, 62 days
Buried: Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, Illinois

2012 Dead Presidents Ranking: 1 of 43 [↔]

There was a time where I could consider Washington or FDR as #1 instead of Lincoln, but not anymore.  The more that I read about everything that Abraham Lincoln had to overcome in order to hold the North together so that the Union could fight the Civil War combined with all of the personal struggles that Lincoln faced — not just growing up and somehow becoming President, but AS President — makes him the closest thing in my eyes to a miracle.  If a religious person wants to make an argument for God, don’t do it with Jesus or Moses or the Bible, instead talk to me about Abraham Lincoln and what he did during the Civil War and how his time on Earth ended as soon as the war came to a close.  That’s an argument I might listen to if you want to talk to me about destiny.  Lincoln was the greatest President, the greatest American, one of the greatest people in the history of the world.  And he’s undoubtedly my #1.

1948: Schlesinger Sr./Life Magazine:  1 of 29
1962: Schlesinger Sr./New York Times Magazine:  1 of 31
1982: Neal/Chicago Tribune Magazine:  1 of 38
1990: Siena Institute:  2 of 40
1996: Schlesinger Jr./New York Times Magazine:  1 of 39
2000: C-SPAN Survey of Historians:  1 of 41
2000: C-SPAN Public Opinion Poll:  1 of 41
2005: Wall Street Journal/Presidential Leadership:  2 of 40
2009: C-SPAN Survey of Historians:  1 of 42
2010: Siena Institute:  3 of 43
2011: University of London’s U.S. Presidency Centre:  2 of 40

Asker hewest1937 Asks:
One of the tributes to Lincoln in your book Tributes and Trash Talk mentions the fact that Lincoln temporarily increased the Supreme Court to eleven members. I have never read or heard that before. When did he do that, and what were the circumstances that prompted it?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

The quote you’re referring to is from Harry Truman, who was listing many of the extraordinary executive powers wielded by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War and said that Lincoln “extended the Supreme Court from seven members to eleven”.  The problem with the quote is that Truman was just plain wrong.

First of all, the President can’t expand the size of the Supreme Court, only Congress can.  If the President could add seats to the Court, Franklin D. Roosevelt would have simply done that when he wanted to pack the Court. Instead, he lobbied Congress to expand the Court and failed miserably — probably the biggest political miscalculation of his career.  Even in a national emergency, that isn’t a power that belongs to the President.  The President can appoint members to the Court (with Senate confirmation), but he can’t remove them and he cannot alter the composition of the Court.

On top of that, there had been nine seats on the Supreme Court for nearly a quarter-century at the time of Lincoln’s election in 1860.  The Supreme Court was established with the Judiciary Act of 1789 and created a Court with six members.  In 1807, Congress added another seat to the Court. More states continued to be granted statehood and, in 1837, Congress created two new circuit courts (the Eighth Circuit and Ninth Circuit) and balanced the addition of two new circuit courts with the addition of two new Supreme Court justices bringing the size of the Supreme Court to nine seats.

When Lincoln took office in 1861, the size of the Supreme Court was nine — the Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices.  In 1863, Congress again expanded the size of the Court by adding one more seat, and the confirmation of Lincoln’s nominee made the Supreme Court as large as it has ever been — ten Justices.  But, again, it was Congress that expanded the Court.  Lincoln simply fulfilled his responsibility of nominating the tenth Justice and then the Senate confirmed his appointee.  And, although it happened under Lincoln’s watch and occurred during the Civil War, the expansion of the Supreme Court in 1863 really had nothing to do with the war or any national emergency.  Instead, it was a decision by Congress to balance the Supreme Court after adding another Circuit Court to handle some of the newly-acquired regions of the country which were being populated.

Ten seats was as big as the Court ever got and it didn’t stay that size for long.  In 1866, Congress decided to scale back the size of the Court from ten seats to seven.  Since Supreme Court Justices are appointed to their positions for life and there is no mechanism for removing a Justice outside of death, resignation, or impeachment, Congress decided to gradually reduce the size of the Court by just not filling the first three seats that were vacated.  When Associate Justice John Catron died, it brought the number of seats to nine, and Associate Justice James Moore Wayne’s death in 1867 left eight members on the Court.

The major reason for the reduction in seats on the Court in 1866 was because Congress didn’t want President Andrew Johnson to have an opportunity to appoint a Supreme Court Justice.  Johnson assumed the Presidency upon Lincoln’s assassination and was embroiled in a vicious feud with Congress throughout his entire term in the White House, which led to his impeachment by the House and a trial in the Senate where President Johnson narrowly escaped being convicted and removed from office by just a single vote. When Johnson left office in March 1869, it quickly became apparent that the decision three years earlier to reduce the size of the Supreme Court was almost entirely political.  Just one month after Ulysses S. Grant succeeded Johnson, Congress passed a new Judiciary Act restoring two seats to the Court, bringing the size of the Court back to nine Justices as the 1837 Judiciary Act had done.  

The composition of the Supreme Court has not changed since 1869, but in 1937, FDR unsuccessfully attempted to pressure Congress into expanding the Court once again. Roosevelt intended to pack the Court with friendly Justices who would help protect initiatives of his New Deal program from being declared unconstitutional.  Since Roosevelt could not simply get rid of Supreme Court Justices who were not amenable to his programs, FDR urged Congress to give the President the authority to appoint an extra Justice for every sitting Justice who was over the age of 70 years and six months, with a maximum number of six new Justices allowed in addition to the nine who were already on the Court.  There was significant opposition, even from members of FDR’s own Democratic Party, including Roosevelt’s Vice President John Nance Garner, who bluntly told the President, “You are beat,” when it was obvious that FDR wasn’t even close to having the votes he needed. Although the court-packing plan crashed and burned, the unprecedented number of years that FDR was President opened up enough vacancies to allow him to eventually swing the majority of the Court into his favor anyway.

So, even though Harry Truman was a big-time fan and student of history (he gave candid comments about every single one of his predecessors), he was wrong about Lincoln expanding the Supreme Court.  Ten seats was as large as Congress ever increased the Court and it only allowed that many seats for a very short time (1863-1866).  The 1869 Judiciary Act set the size of the Court at nine — one Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices — and that’s been the composition of the Supreme Court for 145 years.

John Hay was one of America’s great diplomats.  He served overseas during the Administrations of Andrew Johnson and Ulysses S. Grant, worked in the State Department of Rutherford B. Hayes, and held the nation’s top two diplomatic posts — Ambassador to the Court of St. James and Secretary of State under Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt.

Hay also may have been one of 19th Century America’s most prolific and talented writers, an astute observer of everything and everybody.  Late in life, he and his close friend Henry Adams became such institutions of Washington, D.C. society that today the Hay-Adams Hotel is literally one of Washington, D.C.’s great institutions.

But in March 1861, the 22-year-old Hay was in the nation’s capital for the very first time, and he was there as one of the two private secretaries (along with John Nicolay) to Abraham Lincoln, who was about to be inaugurated President of a rapidly fracturing United States.  Even at that young age, however, Hay’s gifts of observation were apparent — and one of the reasons why Lincoln had brought the young man with him to Washington from Illinois.

On March 4, 1861, Lincoln was inaugurated, and Hay was nearby when Lincoln met with the outgoing President James Buchanan.  With Southern states seceding and Civil War approaching, Hay was curious to hear what advice or words of warning President Buchanan might have for his successor.  As he later wrote, “I waited with boyish wonder and credulity to see what momentous counsels were to come from that gray and weather-beaten head.  Every word must have its value at such an instant.”

Buchanan had spent decades in Washington and his Presidency had taken place in one of the most difficult moments of American history — a moment that Lincoln was now sharing.  As John Hay listened carefully, the 15th President, with his head cocked to the left to compensate for the fact that one of his eyes was nearsighted and one of his eyes was farsighted, spoke to the 16th President.  

What Buchanan said to Lincoln was memorable to Hay, albeit not very momentous:  ”I think you will find the water of the right-hand well at the White House better than that at the left.”  Hay would recall that Buchanan “went on with many intimate details of the kitchen and pantry.  Lincoln listened with that weary, introverted look of his, not answering, and the next day, when I recalled the conversation, admitted he had not heard a word of it.”

One space on the wall was reserved for the President’s most influential predecessor. I chose Lincoln. He’d had the most trying job of any President, preserving the Union. Some asked why I didn’t put Dad’s portrait in that spot. ‘Number forty-one hangs in my heart,’ I said. ‘Sixteen is on the wall.’
George W. Bush, on the reason he hung a portrait of Abraham Lincoln in the Oval Office instead of a portrait of his father, George H.W. Bush, Decision Points, 2010
Lincoln had faith in time, and time has justified his faith.
Benjamin Harrison, on Abraham Lincoln
Through all his awkward homeliness, there is a look of transparent genuine goodness, which at once reaches your heart and makes you love and trust him.
James Garfield, writing in his diary about meeting President-elect Abraham Lincoln in Ohio when Lincoln’s train journey to Washington, D.C. for his inauguration took him through Columbus, 1861.
I have never had a feeling, politically, that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence…It was that which gave promise that in due time the weights would be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance. Now, my friends, can this country be saved on that basis?
Abraham Lincoln, speaking at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on George Washington’s birthday, February 22, 1861, as he headed to Washington, D.C. for his inauguration.