Dead Presidents

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

By Anthony Bergen
Posts tagged "United States"

It doesn’t really get much better, or more terrifying, than Slate’s Middle East Friendship Chart.

This is such a complicated and dizzying conflict. I’d love to hear the conversation when the United States called Assad’s government in Syria and said, “Hey, I know we’re really trying to overthrow you and the last two times we did that to Arab dictators, they ended up being killed in a very public way by the people they held down for years, but we just wanted to let you know we’re going to bomb the shit out of those ISIS guys that are also trying to overthrow you but who we like even less than you. Oh, and we’re also going to arm the other Syrians who don’t like you to still make sure you get tossed out on your ass eventually.”

They probably used much more diplomatic language than that, but the message couldn’t have been much different.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
Would you say the War of 1812 was a draw or a victory for Canada or the British? I lean draw, but I once spoke with a Canadian friend who insisted it was an unequivocal victory for them.
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

It was a draw. Maybe Canada can take it as a moral victory from the War of 1812, but not an unequivocal victory. 

Canadian pride (is that a thing?) comes from the fact that Canada’s militia outperformed American militia forces when the United States invaded Canada during the war, but the Canadians also needed the help of British regulars and the Indian tribes led by Tecumseh. Tecumseh’s coalition of tribal warriors was a major weapon in the northwest (“northwest” being Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and Pennsylvania at the time), and were a thorn in the side (or, more accurately, the rear) of the Americans during the invasion of Canada. That was a big reason why the U.S. forces were pushed back over the border by the British and Canadian forces.

It still ended as a stalemate, however. I think Canadians see it as a victory because the United States invasion of Canada was part of a plan to annex Canada and make it a part of the U.S. So, that didn’t happen, and that’s probably something to celebrate. Especially now. But, like I said, it’s more of a moral victory than anything. And for those arrogant Canadians always bragging about their military prowess (is that a thing?), I’d like to point out that we burned down York (the precursor to Toronto) before the British burned down Washington, D.C. So take that, Canada.

Also, wasn’t 1812 the last time that a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup?

Sorry, that was just mean. To make up for that, I’m going to start writing a book about Canadian military victories right now……Okay, I finished the book.

Do books matter? Do they change minds — or do we just read into them whatever we want to know? We live in the most literate age in human history, yet many people today find few things less useful than books, and no books as useless as those of the philosophers. Many scholars today take for granted that philosophy is a technical discipline concerned with questions that can make sense only to a cadre of professionals trained to a perfection of irrelevance. The wider public, meanwhile, tends to think of philosophy as a place to stash all the questions that well up wherever our knowledge runs completely dry: the meaning of life, why there is something rather than nothing, the existence of the supernatural, and all that. Of the many attributes that seem to mark America’s Founders as residents of a foreign time and place, probably none is more astonishing today than their unapologetic confidence in the power of books — and in particular the books of the philosophers.

The first meeting in what would become a lengthy, lucrative, and often complicated relationship between the United States of America and Saudi Arabia took place on February 14, 1945, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with King Abd al-Aziz Ibn Saud aboard the USS Quincy in the waters of Egypt’s Great Bitter Lake during a transit of the Suez Canal.

Roosevelt was returning home to the United States following the Yalta Conference in the Crimea where FDR had met with fellow Allied leaders Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin to discuss plans for peace as World War II was finally drawing to a close. The conference and the lengthy travel required to get to the summit and arrive back home safely had taken its toll on the already-exhausted Roosevelt, who had been sworn in for his unprecedented fourth term as President less than a month earlier. Although FDR was tired and ailing — in fact, the President was dying; the 63-year-old had less than two months to live — he and King Ibn Saud instantly liked each other and enjoyed their discussions, which were translated by a remarkably fascinating man named Bill Eddy. Eddy, fluent in Arabic, was a Marine Colonel who was serving as the U.S. Minister to Saudi Arabia and would later help build and shape the CIA. Ibn Saud, who had never left Saudi Arabia in his life, was close to Colonel Eddy and personally requested that Eddy serve as the interpreter during the summit with the President.

The meeting between Roosevelt and Ibn Saud was very successful and it helped set a tone which would be continued by their successors for decades to come in which personal relationships between the Presidents of the United States and the Kings of Saudi Arabia (all of whom, including current King Abdullah, have been sons of Ibn Saud, who fathered at least 68 children) would help solidify diplomatic ties between their two very different countries. Perhaps more critically to the interests of the United States, the meeting helped to forge an advantageous economic partnership with the oil-rich desert kingdom.

As President Roosevelt and the King prepared to part ways, they exchanged gifts. The King gave the President a solid gold dagger along with four luxurious, traditional Arab robes. Roosevelt gave the King a gold medal and informed Ibn Saud that the biggest part of his gift would be awaiting him upon his return to Saudi Arabia. FDR had arranged for Ibn Saud to receive a customized Douglas DC-3 airplane which was stocked with American crew members and featured a throne on board that was capable of swiveling in any direction in order to permit the King to face Mecca during prayers, as all Muslims are required to do. When Saudi Arabian Airlines was formed in September 1946, the aircraft that the King had been given by the President became its flagship plane.

After 34 years of tension — a few months longer than I have been alive — all it takes is for two guys to pick up the phone and things begin to ease.  Major props to President Obama and President Rouhani.  Obviously we have a long way to go, but we shouldn’t disregard the fact that the President of the United States and the President of Iran just had a cordial chat via telephone.  That’s history.

229 plays
Marvin Gaye,
The Master (1961-1984) (Disc 4)

Marvin Gaye: The Star-Spangled Banner (Live at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game)


On this day, throughout our nation, something remarkable will take place.  The fact that it happens quadrennially does not diminish its wonder.  In fact, the longer the tradition continues and the more often that it occurs as expected and as designed makes it seem something like a miracle; like an extraordinary experiment that perpetuates itself peacefully and successfully despite the flaws of humanity and the blemishes of our stubborn beliefs.

Across the country, Americans like you and me; men and women; old and young; Democrat, Republican, Independents, and undecideds will stand in lines at churches, in firehouses, in school cafeterias, in community centers built for the public and the normally private garages of local volunteers.  All of the campaigning, the signs, the bumper stickers, the television ads, the newspaper headlines, the e-mails seeking donations, and the chatter with friends, family, and co-workers will be silenced as we step into a polling place and take our ballots.  Some of us will poke holes in paper, some will fill in bubbles like an elementary school quiz, and some will use high-tech touch screens.  What we all will do, however, is participate.  We will make a choice.

That doesn’t seem like it should be all that amazing, does it?  Making a choice?  Yet, it is.  It’s a privilege that Americans are able to claim as a right.  It’s something that many people around the world can’t imagine doing.  It’s a right and privilege that some people still alive today — gray-haired and stooped but very much alive — had to march against hatred and ignorance to gain access to.  Because of where we were born and where we live, we have the ability to make choices today that will have a significant impact on each of our lives.  That is not only a privilege and a right, but a special responsibilty that we have a duty to fulfill.

After all of the money and energy spent on the campaign for President of the United States, the seemingly endless campaigns reach the finish line today.  The candidates have dominated our lives for nearly two years in the most expensive and most visible Presidential campaign in American history.  Yet, this one ends exactly like the 56 Presidential campaigns that preceded it — with people like you and me making a choice.

Despite the divisive nature of politics, we go to the polls today because “politics” is not really a dirty word.  Instead, it’s the system we use to find solutions.  As fractured as our nation is, there is something unifying in the collective act of streaming into polling places across the continent and making the choice we believe is best for our country.  Tense disagreements and heightened emotions are calmed by the singular majesty of millions of individual Americans exercising their right, responsibility, and privilege of voting.  The loud arguments, the angry words, and the destructive vitriol hurled at political opponents in debates, on cable news networks, and on partisan internet sites is quieted by the dignified power of casting your ballot.

Our country has many problems and our political leaders can be difficult, disappointing, and seemingly defeatist, but that’s why there is such beauty in what we do today. 

Yes, there is something beautiful and inspiring about Election Day, and it is us.

On another Election Day — Super Tuesday, February 5, 2008, which seems like a lifetime ago — then-Senator Barack Obama told a crowd of supporters, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.  We are the change that we seek.”  Whether you support President Obama or Governor Romney, that is still the case.  There have been a lot of problems in the United States of America lately, and there will continue to be problems tomorrow.  But today is the day where we can start solving those problems.  The solution lies with us.  We have the power to change things and set things right because that amazing privilege/right/responsibility — the ability to make a choice — belongs to us. 

For all of the ugliness we see and experience in this country, there is definitely beauty and bliss in the ballot.  We can continue to scream at one another and cast shadows over our nation’s future because of petty political differences, or we can make righteous choices that benefit the most Americans possible.  We can choose leaders who seek solutions rather than those who think our political system is based around a scoreboard and that they only win if the other side loses.  The American experiment is a not a competition between liberals and conservatives, so on this day where we continue our remarkable history of peacefully making important choices, let’s remember that our country doesn’t progress unless we all move forward together. 

Choices are marvelous things.  Whether you see your ability to make a choice as a privilege, a right, or a responsibility, remember that it is also a gift of power.  Use that power.  Make a choice, make a difference, go vote, and let’s move our nation forward.  Together.

In the nearly 225 years that the Presidency has existed, the American Presidents have been born in less than half of the nation’s states.  In all, 29 of the 50 states in the Union have never seen a native-born son reach the White House.

Visitors to the following states will not find a Presidential birthplace within the borders of their destination:  Alabama; Alaska; Arizona; Colorado; Delaware; Florida; Idaho; Indiana; Kansas; Louisiana; Maine; Maryland; Michigan; Minnesota; Mississippi; Montana; Nevada; New Mexico; North Dakota; Oklahoma; Oregon; Rhode Island; South Dakota; Tennessee; Utah; Washington; West Virginia; Wisconsin; and Wyoming.  In addition, no President has ever been born in the District of Columbia, either.

The “Cradle of Presidents”, of course, is Virginia, birthplace of 8 of our Presidents, including 7 of the first 12.  The Old Dominion is followed closely by Ohio, birthplace of 7 Presidents, all of whom served in the span of just a half-century. 

Here’s the rundown of the states where the Presidents were born and how many each state produced:
8:  Virginia (Washington; Jefferson; Madison; Monroe; W.H. Harrison; Tyler, Taylor; Wilson)
7:  Ohio (Grant; Hayes; Garfield; B. Harrison; McKinley; Taft; Harding)
4:  Massachusetts (J. Adams; J.Q. Adams; Kennedy; G.H.W. Bush); New York (Van Buren; Fillmore; T. Roosevelt; F. Roosevelt)
2:  Kentucky (Lincoln; Jefferson Davis [Confederate President]); North Carolina (Polk; A. Johnson); Texas (Eisenhower; L. Johnson); Vermont (Arthur; Coolidge)
1:  Arkansas (Clinton); California (Nixon); Connecticut (G.W. Bush); Georgia (Carter); Hawaii (Obama); Illinois (Reagan); Iowa (Hoover); Missouri (Truman); Nebraska (Ford); New Hampshire (Pierce); New Jersey (Cleveland); Pennsylvania (Buchanan); South Carolina (Jackson)

2012 Note:  If Mitt Romney defeats President Obama in November, he will be the first President in American history born in Michigan.
As for the Vice Presidents, we have had 48 VP’s in American history (I’m including Confederate Vice President Alexander Hamilton Stephens), and their birthplaces are scattered across 23 states meaning more than half of our country’s states (27) can’t claim a Vice President as a native-born son:  Alabama; Alaska; Arizona; Arkansas; Colorado; Connecticut; Delaware; Florida; Hawaii; Idaho; Illinois; Louisiana; Michigan; Mississippi; Montana; Nevada; New Mexico; North Dakota; Oklahoma; Oregon; Rhode Island; Tennessee; Utah; Washington; West Virginia; and Wyoming. 

Here’s the rundown of which states the Vice Presidents were born in and how many VPs each state produced, beginning with the “Cradle of Vice Presidents” — New York:
8:  New York (George Clinton; Daniel D. Tompkins; Martin Van Buren; Millard Fillmore; Schuyler Colfax; William Almon Wheeler; Theodore Roosevelt; James Schoolcraft Sherman)
4:  Kentucky (Richard Mentor Johnson; John C. Breckinridge; Adlai E. Stevenson; Alben William Barkley)
3:  Massachusetts (John Adams; Elbridge Gerry; George H.W. Bush); Ohio (Thomas A. Hendricks; Charles Warren Fairbanks; Charles G. Dawes); Vermont (Chester A. Arthur; Levi P. Morton; Calvin Coolidge)
2:  Indiana (Thomas Riley Marshall; Dan Quayle); Maine (Hannibal Hamlin; Nelson Rockefeller); Nebraska (Gerald Ford; Dick Cheney); New Jersey (Aaron Burr; Garret Augustus Hobart); North Carolina (William Rufus DeVane King; Andrew Johnson); Pennsylvania (George Mifflin Dallas; Joe Biden); Texas (John Nance Garner; Lyndon B. Johnson); Virginia (Thomas Jefferson; John Tyler)
1:  California (Richard Nixon); District of Columbia (Al Gore); Georgia (Alexander Hamilton Stephens [Confederate Vice President]); Iowa (Henry A. Wallace); Kansas (Charles Curtis); Maryland (Spiro Agnew); Minnesota (Walter Mondale); Missouri (Harry S. Truman); New Hampshire (Henry Wilson); South Carolina (John C. Calhoun); South Dakota (Hubert H. Humphrey)

2012 Note:  If Paul Ryan is elected Vice President in November, Ryan will be the first Vice President in American history born in Wisconsin.

Looking at all of the information, there are 23 states in the U.S. that can’t claim either a President or Vice President as a native-born son:  Alabama; Alaska; Arizona; Colorado; Delaware; Florida; Idaho; Louisiana; Michigan; Mississippi; Montana; Nevada; New Mexico; North Dakota; Oklahoma; Oregon; Rhode Island; Tennessee; Utah; Washington; West Virginia; Wisconsin; and Wyoming.

"In reviewing our blessings we must pay heed to our leadership.  It is said of us that we demand second-rate candidates and first-rate Presidents.  Not all our Presidents have been great, but when the need has been great we have found men of greatness.  We have not always appreciated them; usually we have denounced and belabored them living, and only honored them dead.  Strangely, it is our mediocre Presidents we honor during their lives.

The relationship of Americans to their President is a matter of amazement to foreigners.  Of course we respect the office and admire the man who can fill it, but at the same time we inherently fear and suspect power.  We are proud of the President, and we blame him for things he did not do.  We are related to the President in a close and almost family sense; we inspect his every move and mood with suspicion.  We insist that the President be cautious in speech, guarded in action, immaculate in his public and private life; and in spite of these imposed pressures we are avidly curious about the man hidden behind the formal public image we have created.  We have made a tough but unwritten code of conduct for him, and the slightest deviation brings forth a torrent of accusation and abuse.

The President must be greater than anyone else, but not better than anyone else.  We subject him and his family to close and constant scrutiny and denounce them for things that we ourselves do every day.  A Presidential slip of the tongue, a slight error in judgment — social, political, or ethical — can raise a storm of protest.  We give the President more work than a man can do, more responsibility than a man should take, more pressure than a man can bear.  We abuse him often and rarely praise him.  We wear him out, use him up, eat him up.  And with all this, Americans have a love for the President that goes beyond loyalty or party nationality; he is ours, and we exercise the right to destroy him.

To all the other rewards of this greatest office in the gift of the people, we add that of assassination.  Attempts have been made on the lives of many of our Presidents; four have been murdered.  It would be comparatively easy to protect the lives of our Presidents against attacks by foreigners; it is next to impossible to shield them from the Americans.  And then the sadness — the terrible sense of family loss.  It is said that when Lincoln died African drums carried the news to the center of the Dark Continent that a savior had been murdered.  In our lifetime two events on being mentioned will bring out the vivid memory of what everyone present was doing when he or she heard the news; those two events are Pearl Harbor and the death of John F. Kennedy.  I do not know anyone who does not feel a little guilty that out of our soil the warped thing grew that could kill him.

It is said that the Presidency of the United States is the most powerful office in the world.  What is not said or even generally understood is that the power of the chief executive is hard to achieve, balky to manage, and incredibly difficult to exercise.  It is not raw, corrosive power, nor can it be used willfully.  Many new Presidents, attempting to exert executive power, have felt it slip from their fingers and have faced a rebellious Congress and an adamant civil service, a respectfully half-obedient military, a suspicious Supreme Court, a derisive press, and a sullen electorate.  It is apparent that the President must have exact and sensitive knowledge not only of his own office but of all the other branches of government if his program is to progress at all.  The power of the President is great if he can use it, but it is a moral power, a power achieved by persuasion and discussion, by the manipulation of the alignments of many small but aggressive groups, each one weak in itself but protected in combination against usurpation of its rights by the executive; and even if the national government should swing into line behind Presidential exercise of power, there remain the rights, prejudices, and customs of states, counties, and townships, management of private production, labor unions, churches, professional organizations of doctors, lawyers, the guilds and leagues and organizations.  All these can give a President trouble; and if, reacting even to the suspicion of overuse or misuse of power, they stand together, a President finds himself hamstrung, straitjacketed, and helpless.”

— John Steinbeck, America and Americans and Selected Nonfiction (BOOKKINDLE)

Asker Anonymous Asks:
mr. bergen, you posted a steinbeck quote about the presidents but I can't seem to find it. do you mind reposting it or linking it? also I am curious about where the quote came from.
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

The quote is without question my all-time favorite quote about the Presidents or Presidency and it comes from John Steinbeck’s America and Americans and Selected Nonfiction (BOOKKINDLE).

I don’t mind reposting it, but I’m going to post it in a separate post just in case anyone wants to reblog it.