Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy actually never met each other, although Reagan campaigned strongly on behalf of Richard Nixon in 1960. In 1967, however, then-Governor Reagan debated the Vietnam War with Senator Robert F. Kennedy on television and beat him so badly that, as soon as the debate ended, RFK turned to an aide and said, “Who the fuck got me into that?” There’s a short clip of the debate here and a transcript here.
Carter and Ford were unlikely friends, but none of Carter’s successors got along with him. A lot of them thought that he was out of line and freelancing in international matters as an ex-President. Carter reportedly isn’t the easiest guy to get along with, either. Clinton had problems with Carter dating to Clinton’s time as Governor of Arkansas. Reagan and Carter slugged it out pretty viciously during the 1980 campaign and Reagan didn’t think much of Carter. Bush 41 was very bothered by Carter saying that Bush 43 was the worst President of his lifetime. Bush 41 believed that former Presidents shouldn’t criticize incumbents, and he really took that personally, as did Bush 43.
Reagan also wasn’t close with very many of his fellow Presidents, but Reagan wasn’t close to anybody but his wife. He even had distant relationships with his children, and had almost no real friends. He was friendly and people liked him personally, but he never, ever let anybody get close to him (except Nancy). Plus, once Reagan left office, he began to decline pretty quickly as his Alzheimer’s disease progressed, so his public life ended when he announced his illness and nobody really saw him, even privately, besides his family during the final ten years of his life.
Nope. There was an 1880’s group of Birthers who targeted Chester Arthur just as they did with Barack Obama except there wasn’t any obvious underlying racism with Arthur as there was with Obama. Maybe they just didn’t like Arthur’s sweet beard and sideburns. Anyway, it was just as ridiculous then as it is today.
And Arthur didn’t have to provide any sort of birth certificate — long-form, short-form, or electronic (that would have been difficult) — he just said, “I may be President of the United States, but my private life is nobody’s damned business.”
Well, I wouldn’t say that Wallace had the Presidency stolen from him. There was no way that he was going to win a national election for the Presidency on his own, and his own party was sufficiently worried about him that they didn’t even want him to be in the Cabinet, let alone nominated (again) as Vice President in 1944, so he wouldn’t have ever gotten close to the Democratic Presidential nomination in the first place. When he did run for President — in 1948 — it was as the Progressive Party’s nominee. In that election, a third party candidate did win some Electoral votes, but it was Strom Thurmond, the States’ Rights or “Dixiecrat” Party nominee. The fact that the Dixiecrat candidate for President won 39 Electoral votes while the Progressive Party candidate, Wallace, won a grand total on 0 Electoral votes is an indication of how he was perceived nationally. That’s why the Democrats never would have nominated him and it required FDR threatening to quit the 1940 Presidential campaign unless the Dems nominated Wallace as his running mate that year.
Henry Wallace was a loyal soldier during most of FDR’s Administration and was undoubtedly the greatest Secretary of Agriculture in American history, but he was politically capricious and leaders in both political leaders simply didn’t trust him. His only shot at being President would have been if he had been renominated as FDR’s running mate in 1944, inaugurated alongside Roosevelt as FDR’s fourth term begin, and happened to be Vice President when Roosevelt died 82 days later. But by 1944, even Roosevelt had soured on him and didn’t hesitate for a second to dump him from the ticket in favor of someone else — eventually Harry Truman. Wallace was capable, but Roosevelt clearly understand that he was dying as he sought he sought re-election in 1944 and that he would not survive his fourth term. There’s a major difference between being a capable Cabinet officer (or Vice President — a job which still about 20 years away from being even equal to that of a Cabinet Secretary when Wallace was VPOTUS), and being President of the United States and Commander-in-Chief of the United States military in the midst of the deadliest war in the history of the world.
Yes, it’s October 5, 1829.
A surprising number of sources list the year of Chester Arthur’s birth incorrectly as 1830. Even a lot of normally reputable or reliable sources — whether they are books or online — are confused about Arthur’s birthdate. The confusion seems to stem from the fact that as Arthur got older, he subtracted a year from his age and started listing the year of his birth as 1830 instead of 1829. We know that Arthur was born in 1829 because his family’s Bible — the place where such events were usually recorded for posterity by families — lists the births of his siblings (seven of which lived to maturity) and Arthur’s is recorded as October 5, 1829. In addition to that, Arthur is listed in the 1830 Census and his birthdate is recorded as October 5, 1829. Since Arthur was born in October, if he had been born in 1830, he wouldn’t have been counted in the Census if he hadn’t yet been born while it was being taken (it was likely finished before the end of the summer in 1830), especially in a time of such dangerous infant mortality percentages.
Interestingly, it’s not just books or internet websites that get Chester Arthur’s birthday wrong — even his grave at Albany Rural Cemetery in Albany, New York lists his birthdate as October 5, 1830. But it is definitely October 5, 1829.
In terms of quantity, it would have to be Theodore Roosevelt, but I think Abraham Lincoln was undoubtedly the best pure writer of any of the Presidents, no matter if we’re talking about public papers or private communication, especially when you consider the extent of his education and the era in which he lived. Stylistically, much of the writing (official and personal) of our 18th, 19th, and even early 20th Century Presidents has a formality that can make it a chore to read. There’s certainly an art and a beauty to some of that writing, as well, but it rarely feels natural. Nearly all of the early Inaugural Addresses read more like royal proclamations than the initial public speech by the democratically-elected leader of a free republic.
Lincoln’s writing always felt natural — whether we’re talking about public messages or private correspondence. I always get the sense that Lincoln wrote with the people hanging out at the post office in Sangamon County, Illinois, or the bars in Chicago in mind rather than Ivy Leaguers or the editors of newspapers in New York and Boston. Lincoln seemed to write with the thought that everything he released would be read out loud. I think that came from his love of the theater, and the fact that his reading tastes ranged from Shakespeare to Artemus Ward. Lincoln’s reading lists weren’t wholly dominated by Locke, Hobbes, Montesquieu, Rousseau, and he was one of the first American Presidents to realize that the vast majority of the rest of the country — including the voters — had similar tastes and experiences. That’s not to say that Lincoln ever dumbed himself down to the American public as some Presidents have (I’ve previously written about the long history of anti-intellectualism in Presidential politics). Instead, he was one of the first Presidents who actually knew how to talk to people. Quite frankly, he’s still one of the few Presidents who had that ability.
Another President whom I believe was a great pure, natural writer might surprise some of my readers — Ronald Reagan. It’s always difficult to discern which words belong to modern Presidents because we live in an era where every politician has a staff of speechwriters and even their autobiographies are generally the work of ghostwriters. Reagan had one of the great Presidential speechwriters of all-time in Peggy Noonan, and his delivery of important speeches was usually so on-point that he deservedly earned the nickname of “the Great Communicator”. But with President Reagan, we have two paths of insight that illuminate the fact that he was not simply a Great Communicator of other people’s words, but that he was a wonderful writer himself. First of all, Reagan kept a diary as President that was released after he died — edited to one volume by the great historian Douglas Brinkley and available unabridged, as well. Reagan’s diary is mostly short daily recaps of what happened each day while he was in the White House, but from time-to-time, there are surprisingly candid reflections about his family life — no earth-shattering revelations, but an almost stunning candor from a genial man who also happened to be completely opaque to everybody he every knew except for his wife, Nancy. Clark Clifford once referred to Reagan as an “amiable dunce”, but his diaries make it clear that he was anything but. Ronald Reagan may have been an actor — a professional at reading other people’s lines — but he was also a thinker and, right or wrong, an idealist with ideas of his own.
But the diary that Reagan kept during his Presidential years isn’t the best example of his talent as a writer — it’s his personal correspondence. Now, again, most Presidents have secretaries, speechwriters, and interns in charge of their correspondence — in fact, there is literally an “Office of Presidential Correspondence” in the White House. President Obama (another very good pure writer as displayed in his first book, Dreams From My Father) reads a number of letters from the American public every week, but other Presidents have done something similar in an attempt to sample the pulse of life outside of the White House bubble. Reagan was no different and, as I wrote in "Ronald Reagan’s Private Correspondence With America", not only read letters from the American people, but he personally responded. His instantly-recognizable handwriting and simple style set Ronald Reagan apart from the usual form letters and cautious responses of normal Presidential correspondence — much to the chagrin of his political advisers, and especially his wife when he would send a personal check to a family in need that had asked for his help.
The 2004 book, Reagan: A Life in Letters, is a solid sample of Reagan’s skill as a writer and includes public and private correspondence from before and after he embarked upon a political career. In every instance, Reagan’s writing style is genuine — the mark of any good writer. I gained a whole different level of respect for Ronald Reagan once I began reading his personal writing, and the book that really reinforced that was actually published by Nancy Reagan — I Love You, Ronnie: The Letters of Ronald Reagan to Nancy Reagan. What really sets that book apart, again, is the candor. There’s nothing contrived about the letters in that book. They are love letters, pure and simple. I saw some of them on display at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, and was astonished at the beauty and simplicity of the writing. Reagan had no expectations that the letters would ever be read by anybody but the love of his life, and I think that is what makes them so powerful. It’s difficult to fake humanity and love and determination, and that’s what makes Lincoln and Reagan such great writers.
Fittingly, the last act of Ronald Reagan’s public life was the release of a letter — handwritten, simple, memorable, and beautifully heartbreaking — in which he announced that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, closing the letter with, “I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead.” Even in such tragic circumstances, Reagan included a dose of optimism, something that Lincoln also often instilled in his speeches, messages, or correspondence. And maybe that’s what made these two men the best writers to ever serve as President. Somehow, their writing was never about them — even when it was.
In 2003, Edmund Morris, who wrote a brilliant trilogy of biographies on Theodore Roosevelt and a must-read, albeit controversial, authorized biography of Ronald Reagan (Dutch), penned an article for The Washington Post about Reagan’s writing style. Of the personal letters that Reagan wrote during his life — in and out of politics — Morris said:
It’s important to understand that Reagan, unconscious of being anthologized one day (lack of ego, again), addressed almost all these letters to individual people whose reactions were important to him. In that sense, each is a campaign document, even if he had no public office in mind at the time of writing. His weapons are honesty, modesty, and an epistolary style that, while free of literary flourishes or anything resembling an original thought, seems (deceptively) to focus on the recipient. I’ve interviewed many of the owners of these letters, and can testify that they cherish every cliché.”
What really set Lincoln and Reagan apart from other Presidents when it comes to their writing is that it was always meaningful — to them and the reader — but the simplicity and modesty of the writing made its importance also seem effortless. And that’s what makes it feel genuine.
44th Vice President of the United States (1989-1993)
Full Name: James Danforth “Dan” Quayle
Born: February 4, 1947, Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana
College: DePauw University, Greencastle, Indiana; Indiana University School of Law, Indianapolis, Indiana
Career Before the Vice Presidency: Served in the Indiana National Guard (1969-1975); Investigator, Consumer Protection Division, Office of the Attorney General of Indiana (1971); Administrative assistant to Indiana Governor Edgar Whitcomb (1971-1973); Director of the Inheritance Tax Division, Indiana Department of Revenue (1973-1974); Lawyer, Huntington, Indiana (1974-1976); Associate publisher of the Huntington Herald Press newspaper, Huntington, Indiana; Member of the United States House of Representatives from Indiana (R-IN, January 3, 1977-January 3, 1981); United States Senator from Indiana (R-IN, January 3, 1981-January 3, 1989); 1988 Republican Vice Presidential nominee (August 18, 1988)
Political Party as Vice President: Republican
State Represented as Vice President: Indiana
Term as Vice President: January 3, 1989-January 3, 1993
Length of Vice Presidency: 4 years, 0 days
Age at Inauguration: 41 years, 351 days
Served: President Bush/51st Administration/101st Congress and 102nd Congress
Post-Vice Presidential Career: 1992 Republican nominee for re-election as Vice President of the United States; Unsuccessful Republican candidate for re-election as Vice President of the United States (1992); Unsuccessful candidate for the 2000 Republican Presidential nomination (1999); Director, Cerberus Capital Management, New York City, New York; Investment banker, Phoenix, Arizona
Age at Death:
Cause of Death:
Random Facts About Vice President Quayle:
•Although he was born in Indiana and represented the Hoosier State in Congress and as Vice President, Dan Quayle grew up in Arizona and relocated there after his political career ended.
•Quayle was born into a family of newspaper publishers. His maternal grandfather owned numerous major American newspapers, his father managed and owned several newspapers, and Quayle worked for a time as associate publisher of the Huntington (Indiana) Herald-Press after graduating college.
•In 1992, when President George H.W. Bush and Vice President Quayle were defeated for reelection by Bill Clinton and Al Gore, it was the first election that Dan Quayle ever lost.
•Quayle was elected to the United States House of Representatives from Indiana at the age of 29, to the United States Senate at age 33, and the Vice Presidency at age 41. Quayle was the youngest person ever elected to the Senate from Indiana, and remains the third-youngest Vice President in history — only John C. Breckinridge and Richard Nixon were inaugurated as VP at a younger age.
•In 1978, Congressman Leo Ryan invited then-Representative Quayle to accompany him on a fact-finding trip to Guyana to investigate the People’s Temple cult led by Jim Jones at Jonestown. Quayle ended up not being able to make the trip with Ryan, who was assassinated by followers of Jones as the Congressman attempted to leave Guyana with other members of the cult. The assassination of Congressman Ryan and several people traveling with him triggered the massacre and mass suicide at Jonestown which killed over 900 people.
•Quayle is best-remembered for his numerous gaffes and a perception by the press and late-night talk show hosts that he wasn’t qualified to be a heartbeat away from the Presidency and…well…dumb. During the 1988 Vice Presidential debate between Quayle and Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen, Quayle tried to combat attacks about his youth and inexperience by noting that he had “far more experience than many others that sought the office for Vice President of this country” and “I have as much experience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the Presidency.” (Which was actually true) Bentsen’s response was one of the most vicious and memorable moments in American political history: “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.” All Quayle could respond with was, “That was really uncalled for.” Incidents like the “potatoe” incident and quotes like “I stand by all the misstatements that I’ve made” (during an interview with Sam Donaldson on ABC) didn’t help the public’s perception of Quayle.
•When George H.W. Bush stunned the political world and chose Dan Quayle as his running mate in 1988, some Republicans had trouble with finding the right tone when praising their party’s Vice Presidential nominee. Senator John McCain suggested that the youthful Quayle might help draw some female voters to support the ticket. When McCain received some criticism about his comments from Torie Clark, who worked in Bush’s campaign and later became White House Press Secretary, McCain told her, “Torie, I know three things about Dan Quayle: He’s dumber than shit, he’s a scratch golfer, and he’s good-looking. I went with his strengths.” Surprisingly, that did not end up in any campaign literature.
•Quayle briefly considered running for either Governor of Indiana or the Republican Presidential nomination in 1996, but declined for health reasons. In 2000, Quayle did seek the Republican Presidential nomination, but dropped his bid after a poor showing in the 1999 Ames (Iowa) straw poll.
•His son, Ben Quayle, served one term in the United States House of Representatives from Arizona (2011-2013), but lost his bid for re-election after redistricting forced a face-off between him and another incumbent Republican Congressman.
•While there are many Presidential Libraries, there are few places dedicated to the history of the Vice Presidency. Quayle’s hometown of Huntington, Indiana is the site of the United States Vice Presidential Museum at the Dan Quayle Center, and hosts exhibits with artifacts about Quayle, other Vice Presidents, and the history of the Vice Presidents.
That is a much better way of asking that question, thank you.
If we are somewhat seriously looking at the promiscuity of Presidents, we have to remember that there have been major differences when it comes to openness about sexuality throughout history. Even some people who really got around in, say, George Washington’s day, might not have been as open about their sexual history as they were in the 1920s or 1960s or today. I don’t think it’s out of hand to say that promiscuity is a matter of perspective. We don’t know every President’s sexual history, and it’s difficult to separate the truth from rumors. That can be the difference between history and mythology.
Knowing this, it’s really hard to answer this question because the definition of promiscuity is ever-changing. (I’ve learned this first-hand in my own personal relationships whenever “the number” has been brought into the conversation.) We know this: Warren G. Harding, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Bill Clinton were serial adulterers. Other Presidents had at least one affair that we know of while married; others almost certainly had mistresses that we did not know about.
But we don’t know their sexual history when they were young or when they weren’t married. It’s impossible to fairly account for any of that. And although it’s entertaining, it’s really not any of our business. Now, we do tend to take ownership of these historical figures’ lives because of who they are, but I’m not going to wildly and publicly speculate on anyone’s sexual history because I know that I don’t even like people privately speculating about mine. We know that Harding, FDR, JFK, LBJ, and Clinton had numerous affairs. We understand that where there is smoke, there is usually fire. But I’m not fanning the flames.
No American has ever had more success as a Presidential candidate than Franklin D. Roosevelt and, barring a change in the Constitution, no one ever will. After unseating incumbent President Herbert Hoover in 1932, FDR won one of the largest landslides in American history in 1936 against Kansas Governor Alf Landon. In 1940, Roosevelt broke the unwritten two-term tradition set forth by George Washington and followed by all of Roosevelt’s predecessors to win an unprecedented third term. In 1944, with the nation in the middle of World War II, FDR shot down questions about his clearly deteriorating health to win his fourth Presidential election. Roosevelt died 82 days into his fourth and final term. In each of Roosevelt’s Presidential election victories, FDR won a significant majority of the popular vote and four clear-cut landslides in the Electoral College.
Ironically, FDR — the most successful Presidential candidate in American history — also happens to be the only President to have lost a campaign for the VICE Presidency. Throughout President Woodrow Wilson’s Administration, which included World War I, Roosevelt served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, a position that Roosevelt’s famous distant cousin, Theodore Roosevelt, had used as one of the springboards for his career.
Loyalty to President Wilson and Roosevelt’s own unique charisma and appeal made FDR a rising star in the Democratic Party. At the 1920 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco, Ohio Governor James M. Cox emerged as a compromise Presidential nominee to the deadlocked Convention and the Democrats nominated the 38-year-old Roosevelt as Vice President.
FDR was a workhorse and campaigned tirelessly throughout the nation as an advocate for Cox as well as for the previous eight years of Democratic rule under the Wilson Administration. The country, however, was ready for a change and drifted towards Cox’s opponent and fellow Ohioan, Senator Warren G. Harding. Harding and his Vice President, Calvin Coolidge, defeated Cox and Roosevelt in November, but FDR had made an impact on the Americans who heard him speak during the hours and hours of speeches that he had given during his tens of thousands of miles of travel throughout the 1920 campaign. The next time FDR was on a national ticket, the results were different. With his name on top of the ballot, Franklin Delano Roosevelt would never lose another campaign again.
To this day, not only has a losing Vice Presidential candidate never been elected President, but only one losing Vice Presidential candidate besides FDR — 1976 Republican Vice Presidential nominee Bob Dole — has come back to even won his or her party’s nomination as President.
When he won the 1904 election, TR said that he wouldn’t run again, and he instantly regretted it. Why did he do it? He probably got caught up in his victory and believed that the honorable thing to do was to say he’d stick to George Washington’s two-term tradition. Technically, Roosevelt was elected to only one term of his own (1905-1909), but since President McKinley was assassinated so soon into his own second term, Roosevelt’s succession felt like a full term. That’s the only reason that we can think of for why he refused to run in 1908; everyone has been scratching their head since he made the statement. As the second episode of The Roosevelts noted, when he made the statement, Alice Roosevelt cringed because she knew it was a mistake. It haunted him for the rest of his life because he loved being President and could probably stayed in office for at least two more terms. It especially haunted him once World War I rolled around and he grew disgusted by a lack of American preparation and the foreign policy of the Administration of President Wilson and Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan.
I don’t know about you, but beginning on tonight I’ll be spending every night of the next week glued to PBS while watching the latest documentary from Ken Burns and Florentine Films: "The Roosevelts".
Focusing on the three most significant and impactful members of one of America’s great political dynasties — Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Eleanor Roosevelt — "The Roosevelts" is a seven-part, 14-hour-long documentary, and I can’t imagine it being a disappointment to history-lovers.
Here’s the schedule for "The Roosevelts" on your local PBS affiliate. Encore performances of each episode immediately follow the new episodes each night. The schedule below is for Pacific Daylight Time (PDT), so be sure to check your local listings for the air time and PBS affiliate in your area:
•Get Action (1858-1901): Sunday, September 14th, 8:00 PM
•In the Arena (1901-1910): Monday, September 15th, 8:00 PM
•The Fire of Life (1910-1916): Tuesday, September 16th, 8:00 PM
•The Storm (1920-1933): Wednesday, September 17th, 8:00 PM
•The Rising Road (1933-1939): Thursday, September 18th, 8:00 PM
•The Common Cause (1939-1944): Friday, September 19th, 8:00 PM
•A Strong and Active Faith (1944-1962): Saturday, September 20th, 8:00 PM
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.