The Lincoln – Douglas Debates & Abolition

Today in History, August 21, 1858:

The first of seven debates between two candidates for an Illinois Senate seat begins.

Now famous as the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, former Congressman Lincoln, a former Whig and member of the infant Republican Party, tried for incumbent Democrat Stephen A. Douglas’ Senate seat.

The primary focus of the debates was Lincoln’s desire to curtail the spread of slavery to midwest and western states, and Douglas’ belief that each state should be able to decide for itself.

It is “debatable” who won the debates, but Lincoln lost the election.

Yet the debates launched this little known lawyer onto the national stage. Two years later he would face Douglas and others for the Presidency and would win.

It is important to note that while Lincoln was an abolitionist at heart, he was not yet arguing for complete abolition, only restrictions on slavery. Each of the debates lasted for hours. Here is one telling quote from Lincoln,

“This declared indifference, but, as I must think, covert real zeal for the spread of slavery, I cannot but hate. I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world—enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites—causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many really good men amongst ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty—criticizing the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest.”

Lincoln did not have all of the answers. He had little choice but to play politics and compromise to achieve his goals. I personally do not see how an analysis of his speeches, writings, and actions can lead to any conclusion other than he was an abolitionist.

Mount Rushmore

Today in History, August 10, 1927:

The Memorial at Mt. Rushmore is dedicated by President Calvin Coolidge.

The memorial wouldn’t be declared complete until October 31, 1941, seven months after the man in charge of it’s carving, Gutzon Borglum, had died. His son Lincoln finished the project.

President Washington was chosen for obvious reasons, having led the battles that created our nation;

President Jefferson was chosen due to his instrumental work in creating our Declaration of Independence, which has inspired Democracy around the world;

President Lincoln was chosen for leading the nation through the Civil War, preserving the Union and abolishing slavery;

Theodore Roosevelt was chosen for leading the nation through the industrial revolution of the late 19th century, seeing to the construction of the Panama Canal.

An interesting aside…Mt. Rushmore is named for a young NYC attorney who visited the area in 1884 to check land ownership for some eastern investors. He was impressed with the mountain and asked prospectors what it was called…they replied that it had no name, but since he had asked, they would call it Rushmore Peak…and so it was.

General of the Army of the United States

Today in History, July 25, 1866:

Congress creates the new rank of “General of the Army of the United States” specifically for the US Army’s commanding general, Ulysses S. Grant.

Typical of Grant’s unpretentious nature, he chose to signify the honor with a simple 4 star should board on his basic uniform.

Grant would hold the rank until elected President, at which time he was succeeded by William Tecumseh Sherman, who was succeeded by Phillip Sheridan. The rank died when Sheridan did in 1888, until WWII, when it was signified with 5 stars.

Sam Finishes his Book

Today in History, July 16, 1885:

Raison D’etre – Sam finishes his book.

Sam had led a bit of a rough life. He saw great success, no doubt, but he was also an alcoholic. His father struggled with the demon for a time, and his grandfather had succumbed to it. In those days they didn’t realize it was often a family trait or a disease…it was simply a weakness. Sam had fought the demon his entire adult life. He was brilliant at is chosen profession. He quit it for a time because of his drinking and tried other jobs…farmer, realtor, shopkeeper…none worked out. As brilliant as he was, he had another weakness; he had a big heart and was much to quick to trust people with his money. So Sam spent most of his life broke.

Even with this, events in his life led him in a round about way to the pinnacle of success. He succeeded where others failed miserably due to his tenacity, his organizational skills and his ability to see the big picture. Yet through it all, no matter how much he achieved, his detractors never forgot, and certainly never let him forget, his demons.

Sam had made his fortune at last…but then, in his older years when there was little to no chance of building success anew, his other failure reared its ugly head again. The people he trusted with his money were scoundrels, and he found himself…and more importantly to him, his family, destitute once again.

Living on borrowed money, things got worse. One day while eating a peach his wife had given him, he felt as if he had been stung by something within it. He had no time for doctors and stubbornly toiled for months until the pain was unbearable to relent to his wife’s demands to see his physician. By then, it was too late. The mouth and throat cancer was advanced, and all that could be done was to provide him with pain killers until the end would come.

Sam’s father had been an inveterate braggart, a schemer and an incessant talker. It embarrassed Sam so that he became the exact opposite. Quiet and humble to a fault, it took everything he had to do what he had refused for years…to blow his own horn and tell his own story. But now it was the only way he could leave his wife and children with a means of support. So he threw himself into the task.

For over a year he wrote. He wore a muffler to cover the baseball sized tumor at his throat. Typical of his demeanor, he never complained of the excruciating pain that wracked him day and night…his family only saw him grimace from the pain when he was asleep and unable to hide it.

Sam worked with a purpose…he amazed his publisher by finishing 10,000 words in a day, written out. Mark couldn’t believe it…Mark was one of the most prolific story-telling authors of his time, and could never match Sam, who disliked the task of telling his own story. But now he had to…for his family…for his legacy because his old detractors were only too happy to repeat their own refrain, “See, we told you so.”

Fighting past the pain and past the fog of his medications, he toiled even when he could no longer write, and tortured himself to dictate his story to others.

Finally on July 16, 1885, Sam completed his autobiography. Mark had promised to publish it for a handsome price which would see to it that Sam’s family did not want for anything. It was suspected that Mark had ghostwritten the work…which he adamantly and angrily denied. His friend Sam had written the work…brilliant and surprising as usual.

Having won his last battle, he could let go now. Seven days later on July 23, 1885, Hiram Ulysses Grant, “U.S. Grant” due to an Army administrator’s error in his youth, Sam to his friends, a drunk to his detractors, an amazing horseman and hero of the Mexican-American War, General of the Army and President of the United States, passed from this earth.

Mark Twain saw that “The Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant” was published and the family was treated fairly and well. Sam had found someone trustworthy this time. I’ve read General Grant’s memoirs, and they would be impressive if written by someone in perfect health. They are nothing less that heroic considering the suffering he endured during his final work.

I am fortunate to have what appears to be a 1st Edition of volume 1. Would love to find the matching volume 2! I’ve listened to the audible book.

Quentin Roosevelt Shot Down

TODAY IN HISTORY, JULY 14, 1918:

US Airman Quentin Roosevelt, youngest son of President Theodore Roosevelt, dies when he is shot down over France in WWI.

He and his brothers, who all served in WWI were very competitive in the voracity of their service, trying to live up to their father’s exploits…a father who also wanted to serve but was refused due to President Wilson’s fear that TR’s service might lead to a run for President in 1920. TR wouldn’t live that long…and he spent his last years heartbroken over the loss of his youngest son.

TR Jr. would die of a heart attack just weeks after leading his division in the Normandy invasion of 1944…again living up to his father’s legacy. A family of immense wealth; several generations of which dedicated their lives to service to their country.

Presidential Justice…William Howard Taft

Today in History, July 11, 1921:

Former President William Howard Taft is sworn in as the 10th Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, replacing the recently deceased Chief Justice that he himself had appointed when he was President.

It was Taft’s dream job, and he took to it enthusiastically. He would be the only person to be both President and Chief Justice, and therefore the only President to swear in other Presidents.

We Are Going “Over There!”

TODAY IN HISTORY, APRIL 6, 1917:

President Woodrow Wilson asks Congress for a Declaration of War.

“It is a war against all nations. American ships have been sunk, American lives taken, in ways which it has stirred us very deeply to learn of, but the ships and people of other neutral and friendly nations have been sunk and overwhelmed in the waters in the same way. There has been no discrimination. The challenge is to all mankind. Each nation must decide for itself how it will meet it.

The choice we make for ourselves must be made with a moderation of counsel and a temperateness of judgment befitting our character and our motives as a nation.

We must put excited feeling away. Our motive will not be revenge or the victorious assertion of the physical might of the nation, but only the vindication of right, of human right, of which we are only a single champion.”

Presidential Roosevelts…Firsts in Flight

TODAY IN HISTORY, JANUARY 14, 1943:

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt became the first US President to fly in an aircraft for official business.

FDR was to meet Winston Churchill in Casablanca, Morocco to discuss strategy in WWII. For previous meetings the President and Prime Minister had travelled by warship, but the US military was concerned about heightened U-Boat activity in the Atlantic.

As a result President Roosevelt agreed to make the trip by plane, specifically a Boeing 314 four engine flying boat named the Dixie Clipper. The flight flew from Florida to South America and crossed to North Africa. After the meeting, FDR celebrated his 61st birthday on the return flight. He was already in poor health and the 1700 mile trip took its toll.

Thirty-three years earlier, FDR’s cousin Theodore Roosevelt had become the first president to fly in an aircraft. After having left office, TR was on a speaking tour when he encountered pilot Arch Hoxley at Kinloch Field in St. Louis, Missouri.

The always adventurous TR could not resist the offer to go for a jaunt in the Wright built airplane…little more than a powered kite, and much less luxurious than the Clipper his cousin would use. In fact, TR’s pilot, Hoxley, would die in a plane crash the following December.

I have to wonder if this is historic coincidence or much more. FDR grew up in TR’s very large shadow, and greatly admired him. FDR followed TR’s path as much as he could…Under Secretary of the Navy, the New York legislature and New York governor. While TR was a Republican and FDR was a Democrat, FDR traded on TR’s legend…and TR supported his prodigy. TR wanted to break tradition and serve a third term, which did not happen. FDR was into his fourth term when he died.

So of course one has to wonder if from competitiveness or emulation, was the opportunity to follow up on a Presidentially pioneering flight just too much too pass up?

“Ohhh…Do You Remember the FUN of him??”

“Oh…Do You Remember the Fun of Him?”

Posted on JANUARY 6, 2019Categories HistoryUncategorized

Today in History, January 6, 1919:

“The old lion is dead.”

“Death had to take Roosevelt sleeping, for if he had been awake, there would have been a fight.”

-Vice President Thomas Marshall.

President Theodore Roosevelt dies at Sagamore Hill, Oyster Bay, New York in his sleep of a heart attack. “Teddy” had taken every last drop of adventure and worthiness that he could squeeze out of life in the preceding 60 years.

Roosevelt had been a sickly child; constantly plagued by breathing problems, he could rarely play with the other children. His father, Theodore Sr., a remarkable man himself, told “Teedie” that if he wanted to have a successful life, he would have to take charge and force his body into the form he needed to match his intellect. Roosevelt did just that. He took exercise as his “raison detre” until he was barrel chested and of vigorous health. Each time he became sick during his life, he would simply work through it.

As a young man, while serving in the New York Assembly, Roosevelt was called home from Albany by an urgent message. After the train ride to NYC, he arrived home to be met at the door by his brother, “There is a curse upon this house.”

Roosevelt’s wife and mother died on the same day…February 14, 1884, within hours of each other. Writing in his diary only a large X and the words “The light has gone out of my life”, Roosevelt fled into the west, becoming a rancher and for a time a lawman in the Dakota Territory. The experience would strengthen him and give him a background people respected.

During his life he was a state rep from New York, the Police Commissioner for New York City, Governor of New York, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (he oversaw the building of a modern US Navy while his boss was not paying attention), he led the “Rough Riders” (1st Volunteer US Cavalry) up San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War, became Vice President, and the President after President McKinley was assassinated.

As President he defined the modern presidency, breaking up monopolies, seeing that mistreated workers got a fair shake, sent the “Great White Fleet” around the world establishing American as a world influence, saw the Panama Canal built, saw the establishment of the National Parks Service, and countless other accomplishments.

He worked tirelessly for the American people. After the Presidency he traveled extensively, going on an African Safari, and exploring an unknown region of South America, “The River of Doubt”; a region so treacherous that it was considered a no-man’s land. He nearly died in the mapping of the river, now called “Rio Roosevelt” in his honor.

All of his male children fought in WWI, and the only reason Teddy didn’t was because the Democrat President (Wilson) refused to let him, afraid Roosevelt would run against him in the next election and win. One of his sons, Quentin, would be shot down over France and be killed. That was the last straw for the “Old Lion”. He mourned dreadfully until his death.

One of his other children, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., would be the only General to go ashore with the troops at D-Day in WWII; Teddy Jr would die of a heart attack himself several weeks after the Normandy invasion. The entire world would mourn President Roosevelt’s passing; he had become larger that life, a hero to people the world over. The quintessential American. And in case you couldn’t tell, my favorite Hero.

At TR’s funeral at Oyster Bay, what I believe is the best, most heartfelt eulogy was spoken in passing. Walking from the church a New York City Police Captain who had served with Roosevelt more than 20 years earlier when he was Police Commissioner, was overcome with emotion. He turned to TR’s sister and asked, “Oh…do you remember the FUN of him?”

Savannah Falls…

Today in History, December 29, 1778:

It appears Christmas time is not lucky for Savannah, Georgia in war time. On this date in 1778 British forces over powered the Colonials and took the city; they would hold the city, despite a seige by American and French forces, until the end of the Revolutionary War.

86 years later on Dec. 22, 1864, Union forces under William T. Sherman would take Savannah again, presenting it as a “Christmas gift” to President Lincloln during the American Civil War.