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"
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.
A fellow once advertised that he had made a discovery by which he could make a new man out of an old one, and have enough of the stuff left to make a little yellow dog. Just such a discovery has General Jackson’s popularity been to you. You not only twice made President of him out of it, but you have had enough of the stuff left to make President of several comparatively small men since; and it is your chief reliance now to make still another.
Abraham Lincoln, on Presidential politics during the Mexican-American War to Democrats in the House of Representatives, July 27, 1848
Asker Anonymous Asks:
If Dwight Eisenhower were a politician today do you think he would still be a Republican?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I think the better question is if Dwight Eisenhower and Herbert Hoover and Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford were in politics today, would they have allowed batshit crazy extremists who have NO chance of ever winning a national election to hijack the Republican Party? 

No, they would not have allowed that.  Because Eisenhower, Hoover, Nixon, and Ford were leaders.  And the GOP doesn’t have any leaders right now.  That’s why hey have to have a 15-person Royal Rumble every four years to decide on their Presidential nominee.  That’s why they haven’t elected a President not named “Bush” since 1984 — 1984!  If JFK hadn’t been assassinated, he would have been 67 years old in 1984 — the same age Hillary Clinton will be this year.  That’s the last time the Republicans nominated someone not named “Bush” who could win a Presidential election.  And the most reasonable of the rumored 2016 GOP contenders is the guy with that same last name, too.

The question isn’t if so-and-so would be a Republican if they were around today; it is who does the Republican Party belong to?  What does it stand for?  What country does it really believe it represents?  Where is Lincoln’s Republican Party?  Where is Theodore Roosevelt’s Republican Party?  Eisenhower’s Republican Party?  Hell, where is NIXON’s Republican Party?  Because I don’t know many people who today’s GOP represents, and I’m certainly not close with anybody who represents today’s Republican Party because those aren’t the type of people I surround myself with.  The GOP had an identity that I might not have agreed with, but I respected it and Republicans could be proud of it.  They were the party which helped make Civil Rights a reality — not just with Lincoln, but by delivering the votes that LBJ needed in 1964 and 1965 to offset the Southern Democrats.  Today, if the GOP has an identity — and they don’t, I don’t know what they truly stand for, I just know what they are adamantly opposed to — it’s that they are the dysfunctional family that thinks Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Scott Walker, and Rick Santorum are viable contenders for the Presidency.

So, this is a long way of saying, yes, Dwight Eisenhower would be a Republican if he were active in politics today.  Why?  Because Dwight Eisenhower was a warrior and a true leader.  Dwight Eisenhower believed in himself, in his ideals, and in this country and the American people.  And if Dwight Eisenhower were around today, he’d take charge of the Republican Party, clear out the crazies, stand his ground, and say, "I am a Republican.  This is what the Republican Party represents.  And you — Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Scott Walker, Rick Santorum, Jim DeMint, Mike Lee, Cory Gardner, Raul Labrador, Dan Burton, David Vitter, Michele Bachmann, Tim Scott, Eric Cantor, etc, etc, etc — are NOT Republicans. Give us back our party so we can make our country work again."

People keep asking me, ‘Why can’t you do something about your face?’ Well, if I grew a beard they’d say I was trying to look like [Abraham] Lincoln. A mustache might make me look like [Thomas] Dewey. And if I let my hair grow, they’d say I was trying to look like Bobby [Kennedy].
Richard Nixon, during his first campaign for the Presidency, 1960.
It did not happen to General Taylor, once in his life, to fight a battle on equal terms, or on terms advantageous to himself — and yet he was never beaten, and he never retreated…General Taylor’s battles were not distinguished for brilliant military maneuvers; but in all he seems rather to have conquered by the exercise of a sober and steady judgment, coupled with a dogged incapacity to understand that defeat was possible.

Abraham Lincoln, eulogizing Zachary Taylor at City Hall in Chicago, Illinois, July 25, 1850.

President Taylor had died suddenly at the White House on July 9th — the second President of the United States to die in office.