The Grand Army of the Republic

Today in History, April 6, 1866:

Fraternity, Charity and Loyalty.” The Grand Army of the Republic is formed in Decatur, Illinois, bringing together a Fraternal organization of veterans of the Union (US) Army, Navy, Marines, and “Revenue Cutter Service” (Coast Guard) from the Civil War.

Admittedly an arm of the Republican Party, the GAR was one of the first bi-racial fraternal organizations in the US…white and black veterans worked together to gain veteran’s pensions, elect Republican Presidents Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Harrison and McKinley, all Civil War veterans.

At it’s high point, the organization had 490,000 members; it passed with it’s last member’s death in 1956, to be replaced by the “Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.

Historic Connections: Lincoln-Hay-Roosevelt

Today in History, March 4: 1861 (Lincoln Inauguration) / 1905 (Theodore Roosevelt Inauguration) – A very special connection between two Presidents, 40 years apart. As a young man in Illinois, John Hay got the chance of a lifetime. His friend John Nicolay was working at the law firm of Abraham Lincoln, Presidential candidate. When Lincoln was elected, Hay and Nicolay became his private secretaries in the Executive Mansion and became his confidants…he would stay up nights sharing stories with them and came to trust them; they helped to keep him balanced through the trials and tragedies of the Civil War. They, in turn nearly idolized him, referring to him as the Ancient One. When Lincoln was assassinated it devastated Hay. He recovered and went on to serve in numerous posts within the government, including the Ambassador to the Court of St. James (England); he was a successful author and journalist (remarkably understated..but I must keep this somewhat brief). He served several other presidents, becoming Secretary of State for President William McKinley. When McKinley was assassinated, Hay stayed on to serve in Theodore Roosevelt’s administration. He was largely responsible for the Open Door Policy in China and negotiated the Hay–Bunau-Varilla Treaty to build the Panama Canal. He initially thought TR a rogue cowboy, but as he grew to respect the President, they became fast friends. TR came to respect Hay’s experience and wisdom, and came to depend upon him. The night before TR was to be inaugurated for his second term, his first in which he was elected, John Hay sent TR a gift. A ring containing a strand of President Lincoln’s hair under glass, taken during his autopsy. Hay included a note:

“Dear Theodore:

The hair in this ring is from the head of Abraham Lincoln. Dr. Taft cut it off the night of the assassination, and I got it from his son-a brief pedigress.

Please wear it tomorrow; you are one of the men who most thoroughly understand and appreciate Lincoln.

I have had your mongram and Lincoln’s engraved on the ring.

Longas, O utiman, bone dux, ferias, Praestes Hesperia.

(Mayest thou, Good Captain, give long holiday to Hesperia!)

Yours affectionately, John Hay”

TR replied:

“Dear John, Surely no other President, on the eve of his inauguration, has ever received such a gift from such a friend. I am wearing the ring now; I shall think of it and you as I take the oath tomorrow. I wonder if you have any idea what your strength and wisdom and sympathy, what the guidance you have given me and the mere delight in your companionship, have meant to me these three and a half years?

With love and gratitude, Ever yours….”

What a life! A integral part of the story of two of our best presidents, and a key player in numerous historic decisions and events. Aside from the photos of the ring, there are photos of Hay in his youth, as an older man (he would die later in 1905), and even the photo of Lincoln’s funeral procession through New York City is important…in a window of one of the buildings to the left are two small boys watching the procession go by…young Theodore Roosevelt, Jr and his brother Elliott.

The Philippine – American War

Today in History, February 4: 1899 –

The beginning of the Philippine-American War. The Americans had won the Spanish-American War, obtaining several Spanish colonies in the process.

The Americans knew the value of Cuba, but even President McKinley had to have the Philippines, where Admiral Dewey had won a tremendous naval victory, pointed out to him on the map.

McKinley commented that he wished Dewey had just sailed away after the victory…what was America to do with the Pacific Island nation??

But after further research, it was discovered that Germany would love to obtain the opportunities for a coaling station and empire. America and their British allies couldn’t have that. So the US annexed the Philippines…for the time being.

The Philippinos, who some in the US saw as “Indians” of the west…thinking the US was a liberator, turned to war for their independence. Oddly enough, the Americans did see themselves as liberators, having no desire for traditional imperialism. After 4 years of war, a compromise was reached. The Philippines would eventually be an independent nation.

Assassination of President McKinley


Today in History, September 6: 1901 – President William McKinley assassinated. The President was shaking hands at the Pan-American Exhibition in Buffalo, New York when a Polish immigrant Socialist suddenly pointed a gun at him and fired twice. The man was ready to fire a third time when he was tackled by the President’s body guards. McKinley lingered until the 14th before succumbing to his injuries.

“Now look! That damned cowboy is President of the United States!” -Sen. Mark Hanna

Today in History, September 14:  1901 – About a year earlier, Senator Mark Hanna had been discussing with other high-powered Republican leaders whether or not to enlist New York Governor Theodore Roosevelt to be the Vice-Presidential nominee for President William McKinley’s second term.  Hanna made no bones about his opposition, “Don’t any of you realize there’s only one life between this madman and the presidency?”  But, other political leaders from New York state wanted the head-strong reformer out of their governor’s office, and most felt he would be rendered harmless as VP.  However this former NYC Police Commissioner, Under Secretary of the Navy, Colonel of the Rough Riders and yes, Cowboy, was wildly popular and would be a boon for the ticket.  When named, TR set records on the campaign trail.

On today’s date in 1901 President McKinley succumbed to infection from his wounds from being shot by an anarchist at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York.  McKinley had prided himself on shaking as many hands as possible, and was prepared to shake his assassin’s hand when shot by a concealed .32 revolver.

It initially looked as if President McKinley would recover, so Roosevelt left his side in Buffalo and joined his family mountain climbing in the Adirondacks.  When the first messenger ran up the mountain to inform TR that the President had taken a turn for the worse, he decided to stay with his family.  When the second messenger came up the mountain to say the President was dying, Roosevelt left immediately.  He once gain set records in wild wagon rides to make it to the nearest train station and return to McKinley’s side.  It was not to be….WM had passed while TR was on his wild ride down the mountain.

Theodore Roosevelt paid his respects at the residence where McKinley’s body laid, then was sworn in as the youngest President at a friends home in Buffalo in a small ceremony.

When TR asked Mark Hanna for his support, Hanna had two conditions…that Roosevelt would continue McKinley’s policies (sort of did) and…if Roosevelt would stop calling Hanna the “old man”, Hanna would stop referring to TR by the nickname he hated, “Teddy.”  Hanna gave his support, but the nicknames continued.