Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Appomattox and Marian Anderson: Symbolic Irony of History
April 9, 2011

Don't Buy Real Estate From This Man!

Don't Buy Real Estate From This Man!

On This Date in History: Wilmer McLean was a Virginia grocer. He probably did fairly well at his craft. But, he didn’t have much luck when it came to real estate. See, he had a patch of land not too far from the nation’s capital. The first major conflict of the Civil War was known as the Battle of Bull run and it took place on McLean’s land. Not only that, but Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard thought that the McLean house would make a good headquarters, so he comandeered it. The land was ravaged by the warfare and the house took a beating as a Union cannonball came crashing through the kitchen.

Lee's Table Not as Valuable as Grant's

Lee's Table Not as Valuable as Grant's

After the battle, which was also called the Battle of Manassas,  McLean hung on but gave up a year later when the entire episode was repeated during the Second Battle of Bull Run. Following the second episode of his home being turned inside out,  McLean picked up his family and moved to a small town some miles away in an effort to find some peace and quiet from the war.

McLean's Manassas Home No Longer His Castle After Bull Run

After a couple of years, McLean thought he’d made a good move until this date in 1865. See, Generaly Ulysses S. Grant had gotten General Robert E. Lee to abandon Petersburg and Lee’s army was on the run until finally, Lee sent Colonel Charles Marshall to find an appropriate site for a conference between the two army’s commanders near the small town of Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia which was some miles from the old McLean house. The first person that Marshall came upon was none other than Wilmer McLean. McLean first steered the colonel to an abandoned house with no furniture in it. Colonel Marshall quickly dismissed the idea. McLean felt like it was all but inevitable that the war had reached out and grabbed him again so he offered his home.

Parlor In Lower Left Hand Room

Parlor In Lower Left Hand Room

On that afternoon, General Robert E. Lee signed the articles of surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant in the front parlor of the McLean home and effectively ended the Civil War, though some skirmishes would go on for several days. Now, this was a pretty historic occasion and the soldiers on hand knew it. They wanted a piece of history. Union General Edward O.C. Ord gave McLean $40 for the table at which Grant had sat. Another Union General, either Philip Sheridan or George A. Custer, got a good deal by acquiring the table at which Lee sat for just $25. At that point, McLean figured he needed his furniture and brought an end to the impromtu rummage sale. But, less honorable individuals would have none of it. Chairs were broken up, upholstery ripped and the parlor was torn to pieces as if another cannonball had ripped through. Once again, Wilmer McLean had been touched by Civil War history…and his house took a beating. Maybe he should have moved to Texas.

Bear More Valuable Than Jesus?

Bear More Valuable Than Jesus?

The selling of the Grant table for more than the Lee table reminds me of when I lived in Birmingham. I once went into an art store. On some shelves were busts. Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest went for $500. Robert E. Lee and Jesus Christ went for $550. Bear Bryant? He went for $600! Yes indeed, it’s the bible belt and they love Robert E. Lee and Jesus, but you better not schedule a church social when Alabama football has a game!

Who knew the 1 year old girl would later sing for kings

Some 32 years after the close of the Civil War, a little girl was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  By the age of six, this young lady became known in her church as the “baby contralto.”  Recognizing her musical talent, her father bought a piano but was unable to afford lessons so the young budding prodigy simply taught herself.  In her early teens, she began accepting invitations to sing until she finally got the courage to ask for $5 per performance.  Groups were eager to pay.  Around that same time, the Philadelphia Choral Society held a benefit concert that raised $500 so that she might be able to afford voice lessons with a leading contralto of the day.  Following her high school graduation, her principal introduced her to the highly sought after vocal teacher Guiseppe Boghetti and her audition brought the man to tears.

23 years old looking as good as she sounded

Throughout the 1920′s and 1930′s, her career exploded.  She performed all over Europe at great stages such as those found in London and Berlin.  When Arturo Toscanini heard her in Salzburg at the Mozarteum international festival, the prestigious conductor told her, “Yours is a voice such as one hears once in a hundred years.”  She even performed before the King of both Sweden and Denmark.  By the late 1930′s, she was performing some 70 concerts a year in Europe, Latin America and in the United States, including at Carnegie Hall.  Wherever she went, she was welcomed to great acclaim…that is until she attempted to perform in the capital of the United States of America.  You see, Marian Anderson was one of the greatest contraltos the nation has ever produced but she was rebuffed by some who were not deaf but still could not hear.  Although a bloody Civil War had been fought that was thought to have brought freedom for all, African-Americans were not living on a level playing field in many parts of the country, including the nation’s capital.

Marian Filled the Mall After the Snub for Constitutional Hall

Washington’s Constitutional Hall was the city’s foremost venue but the city was segregated and the hall itself had separate seating based on race.  I bet I know who got the front seats.  Anyway, when Marian’s agent attempted the book the hall, he was told that it was unavailable.  It seems that, in 1935, those who ran the hall created a rule that called for only white performers.  So, while it was supposed the be the greatest venue in the city, the greatest contralto in the nation, if not the world, was not allowed in.  Marian Anderson was good enough for the crowned heads of Europe, but not Constitutional Hall.  How can such a place be considered the best when it won’t allow the best?  The First Lady of the United States, Eleanor Roosevelt was so incensed that she resigned from the Daughters of the American Revolution which just so happened to be the owner of Constitutional Hall.  Musicians protested and much of the public was in an uproar.  I’m not sure if President Roosevelt ever commented but, I’m sure he gave his blessing to Secretary of Interior Harold Ickes when he arranged a free open air concert for Easter Sunday.  On this date in 1939, 74 years to the day after The Army of Northern Virginia surrendered to Union forces under the command of Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant, Marian Anderson stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and performed before 75,000 adoring onlookers.  Millions more listened at home on their radios. 

I Bet Old Abe Smiled Over Marian's Shoulder

Relating to her performance, Anderson said that at first, she was reluctant to accept the invitation because she didn’t like a lot of show and that “one could not tell in advance what direction the affair would take. I studied my conscience. …. As I thought further, I could see that my significance as an individual was small in this affair. I had become, whether I like it or not, a symbol, representing my people.”  A few weeks later, Anderson performed at the White House for President Roosevelt the visiting King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain.  Finally, in 1943, at the height of World War II, Marian Anderson performed at Constitutional Hall under the condition that the Daughter’s of the American Revolution suspend their segregationist seating policy.

Marian Anderson at New York's Metropolitan Opera 1955

While history justifiably remembers Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Marian Anderson is largely forgotten.  In a city filled with monuments that elicit great symbolism, I think it is quite fitting to remember the contralto who performed on the steps of the monument, made largely of marble from former Confederate States, to the man remembered for his  leadership in a great struggle the resulted in freedom for African Americans on the day that struggle effectively came to an end.  It’s folly to try and play the “what if” game but I do wonder for a moment that, if Marian Anderson had not performed in 1939, would Dr. King have been able to stand in literally the same spot 25 years later?  Her career flourished and she lived to see great change prior to her death in 1993 at the age of 96.  But, certainly, as her voice was one heard once in a lifetime, her legacy should be etched in the American conscience for eternity as one rarely seen in a nation’s history.

 

Frederick Douglass: American
February 28, 2011

A Truly Great American With a Life that Stands on Its Own

Dr. Woodson Ultimately Is Responsible for Black History Month and Started It Partly With Douglass In Mind

Black History Month:  Some time ago, February was designated as Black History Month.   I have mixed emotions about that particular designation.  I think it’s always a good thing to focus attention on history, particularly American history since so many Americans really don’t know a lot about their nation.  I suppose the whole idea rose from the notion that the school system in this country didn’t really mention much about African-Americans except in the context of slavery.  However, I have a problem with a focus on a particular group of Americans. I am not saying that it’s wrong to have such a month; I guess I really think that its too bad that it was a necessity.  You see,  those individuals who are discussed in February are part of American history and I believe that they should be seen simply as Americans because all citizens, past and present are, in my view, my American brother and sister and my fellow American.  Race, religion or ethnicity does not add or dimish their position as an American.  Another thing that bothers me is the a grand oversight.  I’ve gone to some Black History Month presentations and they always quite properly include Dr. Martin Luther  King, Jr.  Sometimes they talk about the contributions of George Washington Carver at the events of which I have attended.  Typically following the discussion of such well-known luminaries, they go off into some modern rappers or sports stars.  If it’s a good presentation, then it will rightfully include Jackie Robinson, but Mr. Robinson sometimes loses out to other Americans whose acheivements really don’t measure up to that of Robinson or Carver and certainly not even in the same neighborhood as Dr. King.  But, almost every time, they leave out someone whom I believe to be one of the most important Americans in our history.  His name is Frederick Douglass and all Americans should know about the man.

Slave Cabin probably not unlike one Douglass shared with his grandmother for a few short years

Even though Douglass often is left out of the Black History month discussion, his life was actually part of the reason why February has the designation.  The foundation of Black History Month dates back to the 1920′s when a Harvard doctoral graduate and former slave chose the month of focus since both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass were born in February and Douglass also died then as well.  Douglass was born into slavery in Maryland in February 1818.    Douglass often suggested that his mother, Harriet Bailey, conceived Douglass following the advances of white man who was not his mother’s husband.  It may be for that reason that Douglass did not live with his mother but instead was put in the cabin of his grandmother Besty Bailey by owner, Captain Aaron Anthony.  Even though he lived with his grandmother, it didn’t take long for Douglass to be hired out and so his familial ties were not strong.  In 1826, he went to Baltimore to work and live in the household of Hugh and Sophia Auld.  Sophia was Capt Anthony’s daughter and Douglass lived with the couple for 7 years from 1826 to 1833.  During that time, he watched the Auld’s young son and also was taught to read and write by Sophia…that is until Hugh told her to stop.  But, the seeds were already sewn.

Frederick Douglass Broke the Chains and Headed into History

Douglass continued to teach himself to read and write on his own.   He secretly helped organized schools for slaves.  He resisted his position as a slave.  He tried to escape and was imprisoned for awhile and was sent to a plantation where slaves who needed to be “broken” were sent.  But, he never bowed.  In 1838, he broke his bonds and escaped to New York.  He got married and had children.  He fell in with abolitionists.  He had read books related to oratory and taught himself to make public speeches.  At the age of 23, he gave a speech at the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society convention and caught the attention of many abolitionists included renown abolitionist William Garrison.  Now, Douglass given name was really Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey but he realized that if he were to go on the speaking circuit, then he’d have to change his name to Frederick Douglass.  Afterall, he was officially a fugitive slave and could be returned to slavery.  So, he adopted the last name of Douglass. 

Click on Image For Information Regarding Book that details relationship between Lincoln and Frederick Douglass

On two occasions, Douglass fled to Europe to avoid recapture.  On one of his trips, sympathetic Europeans who heard Douglass speak raised money and bought his freedom.  By the time of the Civil War, Frederick Douglass finally was safe in the land of the free and home of the brave.  His autobiography that detailed his life in slavery was a huge hit and the words  he wrote and the words he spoke were significant contributors to the ultimate destruction of slavery.  Not only for the general public, but also for President Abraham Lincoln who consulted with Douglass regarding Lincoln’s policies and thoughts concerning slavery and the emancipation issue.  That included an idea Lincoln had about creating a colony in South America where freed  slaves could live.  Lincoln for a time had  the notion that Blacks and Whites were never intended to live together nor was it possible.  While he did  not believe in equality of the races, Lincoln also felt it was morally wrong for take what was earned from “the sweat of another man’s brow.”  Douglass impressed him as a tremendous mind and thinker and also took into consideration Douglass’ admonition that America was as much his country as it was the President’s.  Remember, Lincoln was born in the country just 9 years prior to Douglass.  Lincoln knew that Douglass had a very good and strong point.

Douglass' marriage to Helen (sitting) Was Not Popular with White or Black late 19th century America

Frederick Douglass was a proud man.  He was a tough man.  He was a smart, self taught man and great thinker.  He was bold and fearless.  Not only did he contribute to the rights of  Blacks, he also lent his name and effort to the equality of women.  He even was on the ticket for an early feminist presidential candidate.  Age did not diminish his courage though.  After his first wife died, he married a white, feminist woman and that, he said, brought condemnation and scorn from both Blacks and Whites alike.  His story is absolutely remarkable and one that every American should know and be proud to be able to say that Frederick Douglass was our American brother.  So, as Black History month comes to a close  just remember that the legacy and life of a great American, Frederick Douglass,  deserves as much recognition and acknowledgement as any American.  In my view, there is no other adjective beside “American” is needed to describe Frederick Douglass.  As he did in life, he can stand on his own for  the ages.

Falkland Islands: Nothing More Than a Symbol of Pride
January 22, 2011

May 14 1979 Time Magazine Proved To Be a Prophecy...but for what?

On This Date in History:  In the early 1980′s, there was a much publicized war between Argentina and Great Britain over a tiny group of islands off the southern tip of Argentina.  It became known as the Falkland Islands War.  Britain had long maintained sovereignty over the islands and Argentina suddenly had laid claim to them.  Very few people had heard of the islands before and most in Great Britain probably had no idea that it was British property.  The islands really had little value but the honor of Britain was at stake.  As it turns out, it was really a repeat of history. 

Sir Thomas Cavendish

The Spanish had been the lords of the sea for much of the 18th century and therefore had been able to do the most exploring and exploitation of the new world.   When the Spanish Armada was routed by the British in 1588, that opened up the New World to other European nations.  Now, Sir Thomas Cavendish was an English explorer and sailor known as the “navigator” for his sailing skills.  While Magellan, Loaisa, Drake and Loyola all had circumnavigated the globe, apparently none of them set sail with that intention.  Cavendish is credited with being the first to make such a voyage as his primary, intended quest.  He achieved this at age 28 after a two-year journey in 1588.  For some reason, that was not enough because he tried it again in 1591.  By 1592, Cavendish was dead of unknown causes and the attempt has been labeled a disaster.   However, it is thought that, on this voyage, one of Cavendish’s ships was captained by a man named Davis who, either by design or bad weather, got separated from Cavendish near the Straits of Magellan and is thought to be the first to have seen the islands.  However, he did not explore then or otherwise make any observations.  While that seems nebulous on the surface, it would prove to be important for centuries. 

Over 200 years later, Falklands still good for sheep

In 1771, a man named Samuel Johnson wrote a detailed history of the Falkland Islands up to that point.  Johnson seems to be opining of the uselessness of the islands.  After Captain Davis, several other people saw the islands but never bothered to stop.  When they were mapped, it was found that the islands had lots of water but no wood.  It had a good harbor and only had a benefit perhaps as a military outpost to support colonial operations.  But, even that was a dubious distinction because there was no way that the islands could ever be self-sufficient.  Spain had nominally laid claim to the islands as part of its Argentina colonization but the Spanish never did much with it.  The British did set up an outpost and provisioned it regularly and also found that sheep and cattle seemed to be more suitable for that environment than agriculture.  Around 1870, the Spanish showed up and asked the British to leave.  Mainly out of pride, the British refused.  The exchanges between the commander of the British garrison and the Spanish frigate captain is remarkable in that it is civil.  It’s as if both of them were doing their duty but really didn’t want to spill blood over something of such little value.  The Spanish eventually landed with a far superior force and the British left.  But, that wasn’t the end of it. Again, pride shows up and the crown just  couldn’t allow their claims to be challenged.  Their claim of possession was  basically that they had found it first.  The courts of Spain and England negotiated and discussed and, in the end, the King of Spain disavowed any knowledge of the actions of the governor of Buenos Aires, who apparently had directed his naval forces to take the island without orders  or permission from the King.  So, on this date in 1771, Spain ceded what was known as the Falkland Islands to the English, to the British Crown. 

Falklands More Suitable To Penguins Than People

Johnson opined on what all of this got the crown:  “… a restitution of our settlement, maintained the honour of the crown, and the superiority of our influence. Beyond this what have we acquired? What, but a bleak and gloomy solitude, an island, thrown aside from human use, stormy in winter, and barren in summer; an island, which not the southern savages have dignified with habitation; where a garrison must be kept in a state that contemplates with envy the exiles of Siberia; of which the expense will be perpetual, and the use only occasional; and which, if fortune smile upon our labours, may become a nest of smugglers in peace, and in war the refuge of future bucaniers.”  Johnson hammered the point of the lack of utility of the island when he points out that, after the Brits gained the concession, they abandoned the island.  He does note, however, that “the Spaniards have stipulated, that the grant of possession shall not preclude the question of prior right, a question which we shall probably make no haste to discuss, and a right, of which no formal resignation was ever required.”  This perhaps was the underlying excuse for hostility by the Argentinians 200 years later.

Falkland Islands Map

Falkland Islands Map

On the other hand,  it is not unusual for a government in turmoil with a risk of collapse from within to create an international incident in order to unify the country against a common foe besides the government. In the late 1970′s and early 1980′s, Argentina had been ruled by a military dictatorship that had once been popular but was rapidly losing support from the people as they grew weary of the number of political prisoners that had been taken as well as people who had simply disappeared. The economy was shrinking at 6% per year and inflation was running at 160%. The unions began to join forces with political opposition groups and the military Junta knew it was in trouble. Then, they thought a gift had been delivered to them.

The Harrier Proved Its Meddle in the Falklands

The Harrier Proved Its Meddle in the Falklands

While the Falkland and the South Georgia Islands had long been part of the British empire, the general global feeling of the 20th century was that empires needed to come to an end. However, perhaps due to the same pride that caused the British to want to keep the islands in the 18th century,  numerous attempts through the United Nations by Argentina to get Britain to cede the islands to Argentina failed. In 1979, an Argentinian businessman (Constantino Davidoff) purchased a former whale slaughterhouse on the South Georgia Islands from an Englishman(Christian Salvensen). The new owner wanted to dismantle the plant and sell the metal for scrap. The HMS Endurance was in the vicinity and the Argentine owner asked the Brits to loan him the use of their naval vessel to help him haul off the scrap. The crown denied his request. So, he went to his own Navy which obliged. This was the perfect set up for the Junta. It knew that the people of Argentina supported the idea of the nation gaining sovereignty over the islands off its coast and, if the Junta could use the situation properly, it could perhaps regain public support.  Besides, the Spanish never did acknowledge that the British had rightful claim when it ceded control in 1771.

Aluminum Ships Like Destroyer HMS Sheffield Proved Vulnerable To Missiles

Aluminum Ships Like Destroyer HMS Sheffield Proved Vulnerable To Missiles

So, in March 1982 when the Argentine Navy ship showed up at the South Georgia Islands, residents there complained to London that there was a warship with the Argentine flag floating in their waters. So, the British sent the HMS Endurance to the scene to prevent any landing by any Argentinians. Argentina responded by sending the military transport Bahia Parasio to the islands with the hope of occupying the islands peacefully. Now, the Junta had a plan for invading the Falkland and South Georgia Islands on the shelf for a couple of years. The nation had a pretty decent military and the battlefield would be 7500 miles from England. Also, they figured that they could use the weather as an ally by staging their invasion between June and October, which is the winter time in the Southern Hemisphere which would make things more difficult for England. The advantage really was with Argentina.

War Was The Big Headline in London

War Was The Big Headline in London

But…the people at home were getting restless and protests were growing quickly against the military leaders. So, they made the mistake of moving up their time-table. On April 2, 1982 Argentine ground forces of landed on the South Georgia Islands. The Falkland Islands War was on and the Argentine government appealed to President Reagan for support. The Rio Treaty of 1947 called on all nations of the Americas to come to the aid of any nation that was invaded by foreign forces. The Junta told Reagan that they were enforcing the rights of Argentine workers to legally do the job of removing the whaling slaughterhouse. I guess Ron didn’t agree because he didn’t lift a finger. After all, England was not your ordinary foreign invader. It had been our pal throughout the 20th Century and Reagan had established a strong bond with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who earned her reputation as the “Iron Lady” by calling the Argentine bluff.

Sinking HMS Conventry and other ships highlighted limitations and vulnerability of naval assets

Instead of quietly negotiating away the islands, she sent a task force of ships, submarines, sailors and over 10,000 troops all the way from England. The task force left on April 5, 1982…just 3 days after the Argentine invasion. The first encounter of the Brits and Argentines happened on April 25 and by the middle of June, the war was over with an Argentinian surrender…just before the winter got going. Many historians agree, the biggest mistake of the Argentine Junta was to attack in the fall instead of sticking to their plan of a winter assault. In the eyes of many, the Argentinians had a good case for obtaining the islands but, the military might and determination of Margaret Thatcher rendered any legitimate points moot. A little more than a year later, the Argentinian Junta was out of office and any hope of ever getting to the negotiating table with Britain over ceding the islands was doomed. They never should have neglected the weather forecast.  Or maybe they should have just agreed that the islands were of no value.  As it stands, many people died and treasure spent on a bunch of islands that no one really found  much use for except express misappropriated pride…but at last, that pride is redeemed…you see, oil was discovered a few years ago near the Falkland Islands and, once again, Argentina is claiming and Britain ain’t listening. 

Weather Bottom Line:  Yes, it’s cold.  Is your street clear of snow?  I think the Mayor is in Washington DC so maybe he’s not aware of the snow on the streets in your neighborhood.  Then again, perhaps the delay is just a money-saving tactic since it’s the weekend and they’ll just clear everyone’s road by Sunday night for the Monday start to the work week.  See, there is a model out there that just keeps throwing snow over the area for many days.  That would be the GFS.   Its been consistent in that assertion from last Thursday through early Saturday morning. I suspect that it will change its mind because it’s the outlier as most models do not have a low traversing the Ohio Valley and conspiring with one to the South to bring lots of snow, or at least several days of light snow.  Instead, most damp out the midwest low and make the southern low the dominant feature and routes it through Dixie and up the east coast.  The weather service still has a chance of snow in the forecast from Sunday night through Wednesday, but we’ll have to wait and see.  Either way, while it will remain cold for the forseeable future, we will come out of the ice bucket after the weekend.

It’s National Nothing Day; Celebrate in Earnest
January 16, 2011

You can even get a wristband (click image) for National Nothing Day!

Doing Nothing Meant Alot to Bon Scott and Angus Young

This Date in History: Everyone says that they are so busy these days, or at least we act like we are. I wish I had a dollar for every time someone tells me that they are too busy to do something. Do you think that you could just do nothing? There is an AC/DC song called Down Payment Blues with a line that says “I know I ain’t doin’ much, doin’ nothin’ means a lot to me.” My friends and I in high school always liked that song. I guess Bon Scott liked doin’ nothing. After a bunch of poor grades on a test, a bunch of my students’ excuse was that they didn’t have time to do the reading assignment. A few days later, I tricked them when I asked if they had seen the UL-UK football game, the VH-1 Awards or Dancing with the Stars. When they all said that they had, I told them to never tell me that they don’t have time to do the reading assignment. We use the excuse that “I don’t have time” to do a given thing when, in fact, we choose not to use our time in that way. We say that we don’t have time to visit a co-worker in the hospital but have plenty of time to watch that favorite TV show. So, the question on the table might be, could you do nothing or are you too busy?

I think that everyone’s life is an interesting story. But, I suppose society doesn’t much think so. The lives of everyday people tend to go by the wayside while instead we turn our attention to people who yearn for attention even though they didn’t do anything to really earn that distinction. Think of all of the celebrities in the spotlight today who really have done nothing except be in the spotlight. So, maybe we do like to celebrate nothing. If that is the case, then today is your lucky day. It would seem that the life of a newspaperman would be interesting but, in the case of Harold Pullman Coffin, apparently that was not the case.

One cannot find anything about the life of this journalist; not even the name of any newspaper for which he worked. Children Come First have a writing contest for the day but the link to the Smithsonian it features leads nowhere. But, you will find that he was described as a “newspaperman” and he managed to leave his name for posterity and history simply by decided to celebrate nothing. On this date in 1973, newspaperman Harold Pullman Coffin designated January 16 as National Nothing Day. I’m not sure of his motivation but he wanted to “to provide Americans with one national day when they can just sit without celebrating, observing, or honoring anything.” Beyond that quote and the assertion that he was a newspaperman, there is nothing more. It’s too bad that Congress doesn’t recognize Coffin’s day for about half the year, then the nation might be able to get something done.

Abolitionist Coffin Related To Harold Pullman Coffin?

Anyway, I”m forced to speculate regarding Mr. Coffin but I have found that the University of Nevada at Reno is the holder of the E.B. Coffin collection. It is a set of personal papers and photographs derived from the Edward Baker Coffin family. Edward Baker Coffin was born in 1861 in California. His family was from Nantuckett, MA and his uncle or great uncle was probably aboltionist Levi Coffin as his brother was named George Levi Coffin. Edward B. Coffin married Ida Pullman of Elko, Nevada. They had 4 children, including Harold Pullman Coffin. Now, that is a rather unusual name so it’s probably our National Nothing Day founder or at least a relation. Now, the listing of Harold Pullman was fourth in the list of the children so we may presume that he was the youngest. But even so, if we assume that Edward Coffin was 30 when Harold was born, then Harold Pullman Coffin would have been 82 when he designated National Nothing Day as an Un-Event.

Andy Rooney Doesn’t think much of Birthdays

Andy Rooney just celebrated his 92nd birthday so, it’s possible that Coffin could have been still working as a newspaperman. (Rooney Bio) But, it seems more likely that the founder of National Nothing Day was the grandson of Edward Baker Coffin. But, we know nothing of the birthday of Harry Pullman Coffin and Andy Rooney says that Unhappy Birthday is a better greeting or none at all for someone looking at another year on the planet. Besides that, it’s probably better that we know nothing about the founder of National Nothing Day because, if we knew more, than that would be something.

Weather Bottom Line:  Today may be nothing…and the Seattle Seahawks seemed to have taken the day seriously…but tomorrow is something of note as we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  There are lots of events around town but, unfortunately, the weather will not be very cooperative.  The good news is that we will be dancing with the 40 degree mark.  The bad news is that its going to be wet.  I would much rather have a bunch of snow than cold, dreary rain.  Well, we can’t have everything and I suspect that after the cold and rather snowy winter we’ve had so far, many of you would take the rain.  But, alas, the pattern does not change too much and it would appear that we’re in store for another pretty cold stretch after Tuesday as, after again being around 40 or so we fall below freezing Tuesday night and do not rise above 32 through next weekend.  In fact, several days will feature highs in the 20′s.  Snow returns to the forecast for Thursday behind which arctic air spills down.  At this point, the morning golf game next weekend may be tough as we’ll probably be in the single digits each morning.  Hope you’ve been nice to LG&E.

FBI origins date back to Teddy’s Roosevelt’s attempt to keep in eye on Congress
January 8, 2011

Did Teddy Fancy Himself More Than a President?

Did Teddy Fancy Himself More Than a President?

Teddy Like Napoleon?

Teddy Like Napoleon?

On This Date in History: President Theodore Roosevelt had many crusades during his presidency and one was against corruption. He weilded power by liberally using the investigave arm of the Treasury Department, aka the Secret Service. Apologists of the practice suggested that the Secret Service was the federal government’s only trained investigative agency. Remember, this was prior to the creation of the FBI. But, opponents decried this use of federal resources as presidential thuggery, comparing the service to the secret police of Napoleon!

Livingstone Had His 15 Minutes

Livingstone Had His 15 Minutes

That little comparison probably came about since Roosevelt’s Attorney General was none other than Charles J. Bonaparte, Napoleon’s Great Nephew. Now, Congress was atwitter with rumors that President Roosevelt, in his zeal to crush corruption, used the Secret Service to create files on the private lives of Congressmen and that he meant to use them. Does this sound familiar? Remember the 900 FBI files that showed up in the Clinton White House and it was blamed on the former bouncer working in the White House, Craig Livingstone?

Anyway, Congress decided to take action and tried to restrict the reach of the Secret Service. Members of the House and Senate blasted away, claiming that Roosevelt was developing despotic powers by creating his own secret police force. Teddy fired back that he was simply using tools to fight corruption, even if the trail led right up to the doors of the Congress. The two side tossed verbal grenades at one another until on this date in 1909, Congress decided to defend its “maligned integrity.” (Is it only Congress thinks that Congress has integrity?) The House voted 212-36 to table, or formally ignore, that portion of the president’s annual address that assailed any restrictions on the Secret Service. It had not been since the days of Andrew Jackson that a president had received such a rebuke from the legislative body. It took a few years but eventually, it all got worked out. Congress restricted the use of the Secret Service but, partly due to Teddy’s use of the bully pulpit and big stick way of pushing for what he wanted, a bureau of investigation was formed in the Justice Department which later became known as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, more commonly called simply the FBI.  While many histories point to Bonaparte’s creation of the Bureau in 1908 as the beginning, it was not until March 1909 that it officially came about as Congress, for its part, had staked out its position against any form of domestic spying.

J Edgar Hoover Confused?

J Edgar Hoover Confused?

Now, the funny thing about this is that the man who became the first head of the FBI was J. Edgar Hoover and he held the post until his death in 1972. After 40 years at the helm, he had amassed so much power and had so much dirt on so many people, many people have suggested that Hoover actually held more power than any person in the United States. Presidents were afraid of what Hoover might have in his files. It has been revealed the the FBI pressured Martin Luther King, Jr during his Civil Rights protests with many historians suggesting that the pressure put on King was directly linked to Hoover’s own private prejudice. So, in effect, the very thing Congress was afraid of came to pass except the power was not so much in the hands of an elected official, the President, but instead on the man who led the agency.

It is partly for this type of abuse of power why the framers of the Constitution did not allow for a provision for a federal police force. Well, after Hoover’s death, it was determined that no one could ever hold that type of power again and so the FBI director cannot serve for life any more but instead is limited to a ten year appointment. So, it could be said that Congress didn’t get it close to right until some 65 years after it wrestled with Roosevelt about domestic spying….keep in mind that Congress’ concern was not so much with the feds spying on your average joe….no…it was concerned with spying on them! The public certainly cannot be privy to the skeletons in the closet of its elected officials. This link will also tell you of Hoover’s own closet full of secrets that may have made him thankful that there was not a bureau of investigation for investigating the bureau of investigation. This link claims Hoover’s closet was clean…mostly….you be the judge if you care.

Weather Bottom Line:  Believe the forecasts Louisville…looks cold with snow off and on for the next 5 or 6 days.  Most models toss out a few inches total through Wednesday but I could create a scenario for more than that.  Either way, I’m not so sure that the mercury doesn’t go above freezing nearly a week.  I love it when all that ice that forms on the rocks along the freeway, like on 71 just in side the Watterson.  Looks like frozen waterfalls.

A Dirty Ring Around the White House Bathtub
December 28, 2010

Rub a Dub Dub, Big Bill Taft's Bath Could Hold Four Men In a Tub

I Don't Know if Big Bill is Right because I don't think being Secretary of War counts as part of the legislative branch. Either Way, the Tub story is more fun

On This Date in History:   According to H.L. Mencken, the first bathtub was installed in the White House in 1851 by President Millard Fillmore. Mencken wrote in a New York newspaper that the first bathtub in the United States was an “elegant mahogany contraption” installed in the home of a Cincinnati businessman in 1842. He said after that point, that the practice of bathing became popular with the wealthy. He said when word reached the masses a public outcry against the “epicurean and obnoxious toy from England” was “designed to corrupt the democratic simplicity of the republic.” Mencken added that it was Fillmore was responsible for the public’s acceptance for the habit of regular bathing. On this day in 1917, Mencken was basking in the glow created by his article in the New York Evening Mail titled” A Neglected Anniversary.”

He was probably still chuckling the day after his work was published because it was an elaborate hoax. December 1917 was a time of great sadness around the world due to World War I. He decided that a spoof on bathtub history would be a good way to raise the spirits fo his readers.  And who better to include in the hoax but the historically hapless Millard Fillmore.   Mencken’s joy turned to shock when he learned that his words were taken as Gospel. In 1926, he was so uneasy with the fact that his fiction was considered to be real history that he wrote a public confession of his hoax. But, no one listened and the result of his little tale have continued to this day with some sources claiming that Fillmore did indeed install the first bathtub in the White House. The real truth is that copper bathtubs and a shower were installed in the Executive Mansion on the first floor in 1833 or 1834. A permanent bathtub was put in the second floor of the White House in 1853. Mencken would have been better off publishing a true story about the White House bathtub. President William Howard Taft was 6’2″ and weighed a rotund 300 pounds. He had once become stuck in the normal presidential tub. So, he installed a tub that was 41 inches across and 7 feet long. It is said that it could hold four regular size men. The truth was stranger than fiction and this little story may be a good example of how if a lie is told enough times by enough people, then the lie becomes the truth. It also may be a good example of how we should not necessarily believe everything that we read.  And then again, perhaps it is telling that William Howard Taft is best known for being the fattest president, having a huge bathtub, standing up in the middle of the 7th inning to begin the “7th inning stretch” tradition and splitting the ticket with Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose campaign and vaulting Woodrow Wilson to the presidency.  The fact that he was the only person to serve as President and Supreme Court Chief Justice gets lost.   He was also Secretary of War.  Maybe if he’d done something more interesting while holding the important jobs then he wouldn’t be remembered as he is.  But, it could be worse, he could be remembered like Millard Fillmore who is but a footnote.  Besides, its more fun this way.

The Factual Story of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott Flowed Like an Orchestra
December 5, 2010

Rosa Parks Was More Than a Simple Seamstress Who Wanted to Ride the Bus

Real story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott is Lost in Many Historical Narratives

On This Date in History:  Often times, when history becomes part of the popular lexicon, facts get obscurred in a sanitized or abbreviated version.  In some cases, the blurring of facts is done intentionally.  In other instances, it is a result of lazy or ignorant members of the media or simply from an effort at brevity.  Most of the time, the ultimate storyline remains true at the expense of accuracy.  The process often concludes with the creation of a mythology that raises some figures to great heights while diminishing the efforts of others that history may otherwise lift to the champion pedestal.  The story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 provides an example of a historical events that involve all of the elements mentioned.  Many narratives incorrectly mark the start of the 381 day boycott heard round the world.

Robinson May Have Been the Original Force Behind the Boycott

The general story is that a seamstress, Rosa Parks, got on a public Montgomery bus and sat in a seat toward the front and was arrested for doing so and that sparked the boycott that many people point to be the initiation of the Civil Rights Movement that culminated in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  But, there was much more to the story that really had its roots many years before.  You see, all the way back in 1943, Rosa Parks had an issue with the bus service when she paid her fare only to see the bus drive away before she could board through the back entrance as the  driver had instructed her to do.  However, there was another incident in the 1940′s that involved a woman who has been lost to history but whom Dr. Martin Luther King described in his 1958 book Stride Toward Freedom  as “indefatigable”  and whom he acknowledged was “perhaps more than any other person, was active on every level of the protest.”   The person of whom King referred was Alabama State College professor Jo Ann Robinson who in 1949 boarded a sparsely occupied bus and inadvertently sat in the front seat.  The driver unmercilessly screamed at her until she fled the vehicle in tears.  Her response was to attempt to start a protest boycott.  But, when she approached her fellow members of the Woman’s Political Council with her story and proposal, she was told that it was “a fact of life in Montgomery.”  A year later, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church pastor Rev. Vernon Johns, whom is referred by some as the “father of the Civil Rights movement,” refused to give up his seat for a white passenger and was subsequently evicted from the bus.  He asked other African-American riders on the bus to leave with him in protest.  The other passengers rebuffed his urging by  telling him that he should have known better.  It’s worth noting that Jo Ann Robinson was part of Vernon Johns’ Dexter Avenue Baptist Church congregation.

At 15, Colvin Could Have Been Parks Before Parks

So, you see, many historians suggest that the Montgomery Bus Boycott had its origins well before 1955 and it actually involved persons of some prominence.  The circumstance also was not just happenstance.  After the US Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 that struck down the concept of “separate but equal” in public education, Robinson, who had ascended to the position of president of the Women’s Political Council,  informed the mayor of Montgomery that some 25 local organizations were considering a bus boycott to protest the city bus system policies.  The following year, the same Women’s Political Council that told Robinson in 1949 to forget about a bus boycott,  decided to listen to the call of their president and determined that  such a protest was in order.  But, leadership in the African-American community recognized that they needed a catalyst that would outrage Black bus riders enough to the point that they would respond affirmatively.  They wanted to find a person who was “above reproach” and who would agree to challenge the segregation laws in court.  They thought that they had found their person when 15 year-old Claudette Colvin was arrested in early 1955 for refusing to give up her seat.   Miss Colvin was active with the NAACP Youth Council and  NAACP Montgomery Chapter President Edgar D. Nixon thought that Ms. Colvin would be the perfect person to get a boycott plan started.  His hopes were dashed, however, when it was learned the teenager was pregnant.  That brings us back to Rosa Parks. 

Photo Part of Effort to Portray Parks as a Simple Seamstress When In Reality She was Very Involved With the Organizers of the Boycott

Miss Parks was not just a simple seamstress.  In reality, she was a well-respected, educated woman with an unassailable record who had attended the laboratory school at Alabama State College; the same college for whom Jo Ann Robinson was a professor.  Parks was a seamstress but only because she could not find a job that fit her skill set.  However, for many years, Miss Parks was also working for the NAACP, serving as the volunteer secretary for President Edgar Nixon since December 1943.  She and her husband became members of the Voters League in 1944 and, for a brief time, she held a job at Maxwell Air Force Base where there was prohibited.  She often rode a desegregated Trolly on the base and she told her biographer that “Maxwell opened my eyes up.”    By the end of 1955, she had returned from Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, TN where she completed a workshop on race relations.   That trip was encouraged and sponsored by a politically liberal white couple, Clifford and Virginia Durr,  for whom Parks worked as a seamstress and housekeeper.  When the young Colvert was arrested early in 1955, Parks took a keen interest in her case.

Nixon Also Was Arrested During the Boycott

Many narratives suggest that, since it was known (and Parks had experienced first hand) that the bus driver on Park’s chosen route had strong racist tendencies and used harsh measures to enforce Montgomery segregation policy, Parks was encouraged to create an incident that would serve as a catalyst for a planned boycott.  Other narratives imply it was simply a coincidence that it was Parks who got arrested.  In any event, on Thursday, December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks found herself on the 5th row of a crowded bus.  The rules were that Blacks and Whites could not share a seat and that Blacks could only sit from the 5th row to the back of the bus.  The first 4 rows became crowded with Whites and a white man was left standing in the aisle.  The driver instructed the Blacks on the 5th row to move to the back of the bus.  The other riders on Parks’ row complied but Rosa did not.  She was arrested and NAACP President Nixon called to find out on what charge his secretary was being held.  After has was told to mind his own business, Nixon called a white lawyer who was sympathetic to the plight of African-Americans in the hope that the Civil Liberties lawyer would help.  Nixon probably knew that the lawyer would give his assistance since the lawyer was none other than Clifford Durr, Rosa Parks employer and benefactor. 

Parks' Arrest May Have Been Part of the Plan All Along

Professor Jo Ann Robinson that night pushed for a one day bus boycott on the following Monday to protest the arrest of Parks.  She persuaded her students to distribute flyers on Friday announcing the boycott  all over town.   A group of ministers and Civil Rights leaders met to discuss the boycott but the meeting quickly fell apart and many attendees left.  Those who remained decided to spread the word of the planned boycott through word of mouth and from the pulpit.  Initially, it was thought that the boycott would be a one-day affair but they decided to meet again on Monday night to determine the effectiveness of the protest and to determine what their next move would be.  So, on this date in 1955, the Montgomery Bus Boycott began.  Dr. Martin Luther King, who by that time had succeeded Vernon Johns as pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, determined that a 60% participation in the boycott by African-Americans would be considered a success.  To his surprise and that of others, the busses on Monday that  rolled by his house were nearly empty.  King wrote in Stride Toward Freedom that it was a miracle and that “The once dormant and quiescent Negro community was now fully awake.”  Many leaders wanted to end the boycott and declare victory but Nixon addressed the crowd at the Monday night gathering quite forcefully.  The vote was unanimous to continue the strike. 

There Were Many Players in the Montgomery Bus Boycott

The rest, as the saying goes, is history.  It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t clean.  There was violence and bogus arrests.  Edgar Nixon’s home was bombed, dozens of Blacks were arrested under on old city ordinance that prohibited boycotts.  Blacks who rode the bus suffered threats of violence and violence from other African-Americans.  But, on November 13, 1956 the US Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that struck down the desegregation laws of the Montgomery Alabama bus system and on December 21, 1956, African-Americans in Montgomery, Alabama returned to the city busses.  While the Supreme Court ruling actually stemmed from Colvin’s arrest,  the story of Rosa Parks was born and soon hers would be elevated to mythical levels and while the myth perpetrated in popular culture got the end correct, the created perceptions leave the uninitiated to believe the story was something that it was not.  The truth is that the story surrounding Rosa Parks revolved around the NAACP, the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, the Women’s Political Council and the Voters League and the principals were all connected through these organizations.  It’s pretty clear  that the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the story of Rosa Parks was largely orchestrated and not a case of a simple woman refusing to give up her seat on a bus.   Nevertheless, I suppose the outcome is all that really matters.

Snowfall through 8pm 12.4.10

Louisville Weather Bottom Line:  It would appear that I was pretty prophetic.  Over in Frankfort, snow totals ran over 4 inches while around Louisville it was more like 1-2 inches and in Southern Indiana it was more like 1 inch.  Now comes the cold, which will be the story for the rest of the week.  We may not get above 40 until the end of the week with wind chills wreaking havoc through Sunday.  By next weekend, we could be talking snow again because the pattern will be generally the same and another system should be diving down from the northwest.

1st Thanksgiving Had No Pilgrims and Was More Famine than Feast
December 4, 2010

The Bird Was Safe On The First Thanksgiving

The Bird Was Safe On The First Thanksgiving

FDR Wanted Everyone to Cut the Turkey A Week Earlier Than Abe Proposed

On This Date in History:  Thanksgiving has come and gone and Black Friday is in the record books.  I”m not sure how the day after Thanksgiving has turned into such a big deal.  I suppose that its been coming for some time.  Previously, I had outlined the genesis of Thanksgiving and related how President Franklin Roosevelt had once tried to move Turkey Day to a week earlier in an attempt to add an extra week to the holiday shopping season.  Sorta a disguised depression era stimulus plan. It didn’t work and the experiment was scrapped after one year.  I’m not sure what is taught now, but when I was a kid, we were taught in school about how the Indians hooked up with the Pilgrims near Plymouth Rock to have a big feast in 1621.  Today, we sit around stuffing ourselves with Turkey (not the vegetarian Snow White) and watch football games with our eyes closed and belts loosened.   Trouble is, the Puritans on the Mayflower didn’t call themselves Pilgrims; they referred to themselves as “Saints” which seems a bit presumptuous considering not too many years down the road they were burning “witches” at the stake.  The other thing is that the real first Thanksgiving was on this date in 1620 and it was in Virginia.

1st Colonists in Jamestown

The first permanent English settlement in the New World was Jamestown in 1607 in the Virginia Colony and it wasn’t doing too well. The settlers didn’t know what they were doing and the winters were harsh…remember this was during the mini-ice age. Anyway, by the spring of 1610, the colonists were coming off a tough winter and only 60 of the original 409 were left. Sounds like a good time for prayers to me! And that’s what they did and when help arrived in the form of a ship with food and supplies from mother England, they gave thanks with a prayer service. I guess they weren’t a sentamental lot because they never did anything to commemorate the event.

Fast Not Feast On 1st Thanksgiving

Fast Not Feast On 1st Thanksgiving

Two other groups came to Virginia. They were supposed to arrive in Virginia but one(the Mayflower) ended up in Plymouth in 1620. The other (the Margaret) made it to Virginia on December 4, 1619 and their charter read “Wee ordaine that the day of our ships arrival…in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually keept holy as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God.” On December 4, 1620 they commemorated their first year in the colony, not with a feast, but instead they did the opposite and fasted as they prayed. Guess we got that part wrong too. The colonists who landed at what they called Berkeley Hundred didn’t get a chance to mark their second anniversary…some were all killed by Indians and the rest retreated to Jamestown. Maybe they were upset that they weren’t invited to the First Thanksgiving.

ETA Thinks You May Need a Snow Shovel

GFS Thinks It Will Just Be a Pretty Weekend

Weather Bottom Line:  We have another pretty good shot at some snow and this time it will probably be more substantial than what we got on Thanksgiving night.  The long wave pattern is such that there is a dominant and persistent trof in the Eastern half of the US.  The reason why its persistent is because there is a big fat high, or ridge, in the middle of the Atlantic.  There is also a big trof on the front side of that ridge.  That forms a pattern that looks like the greek letter Omega, which is why its called an Omega Block.  Typically,  the Omega pattern is one that puts the breaks on progressive change in the long wave pattern; hence the name Omega “block.”    So, England has been getting slammed with big time snow along with much of the rest of western Europe.  And on this side of the pond, there is the persistent trof with the storm track running from the northern plains throgh the Ohio Valley to the Carolina Mountains.  So, we have another strong shortwave zipping down the storm track through the area.  We have some moisture to work with too.  The heaviest snow will be to the left of the core of that shortwave or “upper low.”  It will be impossible to forecast exactly who gets the biggest snow until about 12 hours before its arrival.  The ETA advertises some 4-5 inches for our area.  The GFS has the track about 50 miles farther east or northeast and so it only has about 1-2 inches.  Take your pick.  My guess is that both will be true for the area, but not for everyone in the area with folks over toward Frankfort having a better chance of 4 inches than the people in Lanesville, Indiana.  After that, the cold air will spill in behind and it will remain chilly for the forseeable future until the Omega Block decides to move.

When War Closed the NYSE for Nearly 5 Months
November 28, 2010

Silent Cal Knew About America's Business

On This Date in History:  When World War I first broke out, the United States was officially neutral.  Calvin Coolidge would later say as President that the business of America was business and that idea had already taken hold at the outset of the Great War.  America not only wanted to stay out of the war, but also expected the beligerants to adhere to international law and allow Uncle Sam to conduct business as usual.  That meant allowing the United States to continue to participate in free trade.  Well, the Brits weren’t about to give up their advantage on the high seas by allowing Germany to get supplies, even food, from overseas.  Any supplies that Germany got would add to its ability to make war.  So, the Royal Navy used its huge numerical advantage to use with a naval blockade.  The US was not happy that its ships were being stopped and searched or its ships were denied entry to certain ports.  But, typically, American merchants were simply escorted to British ports by the navy and their cargo was searched.  A process was also set up for damage reparation claims.  Fearing that good were getting to the Axis powers in an indirect way, the British expanded the blockade to include neutral Baltic states.

Sinking of Lusitania Changed American Attitude

The Germans did not have a surface fleet sufficient to blockade goods from the Allies so they went below the waves.  The Germans used their U-Boats, or submarines, to sink ships that were supplying the Allies, mainly through England.  The difference between the two was that the U-Boats dispensed with the dangerous, more acceptable practice of stopping and searching ships and simply began torpedoing ships without warning.  If the ship was suspected of supplying the Allies, the fish went in the water and down went the ship.  Activity such as this began to gain the ire of the Americans with the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915.

Solid Line Nominal Prices; dashed "real" prices

Most of the time, people think that war is good for business.  But, in this case, a compelling argument can be made that both before and after US entry into World War I, American business was adversely affected.  One casualty of the war was the stock market.  When war first broke out in 1914, the financial world was fearful of what would happen in international markets;  perhaps European stock holders would sell their equities and the market would crash.  So, in July 1914, the New York Stock Exchange closed and stayed closed for about 5 months.  The thinking was that, with the major stock exchanged closed in the US and others overseas disrupted by war, then it would be much more difficult for anyone to dump their stocks.  But, almost immediately, a curb or street exchange developed with traders working about a block from Wall Street matching up buyers and sellers for securities.  It provided some much needed liquidity and was referred to as New Street.  However, Uncle Sam ran into a problem.  The government needed money and raising taxes wasn’t enough.  They needed to sell bonds but without a market to sell its debt, then it was in trouble.  So, on this date in 1914, the only US exchange reopened on a limited basis.  Equities were still not traded but bond markets were re-opened.  A few days later, stocks resumed trading.  And, there was no crash.  But, there also wasn’t a war boom.  For the most part, the stock market went sideways except when one figures in the effect of inflation.  In that case, the real stock value was decidedly downward. 

Most of the time, we think of the US as being a wild west show when it came to financial markets prior to the Great Depression; that before 1929 there was no government regulation.  But, as this story illustrates, the Federal Government was indeed involved in trying to control market results.  In this case, it had the largest exchange in the world shuttered until the government needed it.  Talk about insider trading.  But, it was all about business and the declaration of Silent Cal was true before he was president and 80 years after his administration.  The business of America is business.

Abraham Lincoln Was But An Afterthought to the Organizers of the Gettysburg Battlefield Dedication
November 19, 2010

Not Many Photos Exist From Gettysburg

Not Many Photos Exist From Gettysburg

Closer Look at only photo of Lincoln at Gettysburg

Close up of above photo with only known image of Lincoln at Gettysburg

On This Date in History: I have a few words concerning the events of November 19. 1863 but anything that I could say would pale in comparison to the speech reprinted below. It is the the Gettysburg Address and it was delivered 146 years ago today. The president was not invited until about two weeks prior to the ceremony. He was not the main speaker. Edward Everett, a noted statesman from Boston and Harvard President, was given two months notice to work on his speech, which took about two hours to deliver. Mr. Lincoln’s speech was but 270 words. It has been accepted that Lincoln wrote the address on a scrap of paper while on the train to Pennsylvania because it was reported that way in a novel. However, historian Stephen B. Oates points out in his biography, With Malice Toward None, A Life of Abraham Lincoln that the train was too crowded and noisy for him to work on it. Instead, Oates says that he wrote part of it on White House stationery before he left and finished the rest on the morning of the event in Gettysburg.

Verbiage in Invitation to Lincoln Very Interesting

It has been reported that the president was sick. While I find nothing to confirm that he was ill during the proceedings, I suspect that people have made the assumption, perhaps accurate, because after he returned to the White House, he was diagnosed with varioloid, which has been described as a mild for of smallpox. I’m not sure about that one because it seems to me that a “mild form of smallpox” is akin to being “a little pregnant.” Also, it is widely reported that his speech was panned in newspapers across the land. The Chicago Times and paper from Harrisburg, PA certainly show that there were some. However, not all papers were non-plussed by his remarks. In fact, the Chicago Tribune was sharply in contrast to its rival and even Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune recognized the greatness of the speech. I believe I recall a quote from Edward Everett who remarked afterward, “Mr President, you were able to say in a few minutes what I could not in two hours.” This is probably not a direct quote but something reasonably close.

Last Lincoln Portrait Apr 4, 1865

Words of Nov 19, 1863 Long Remembered

Harrisburg Patriot and Union: “We pass over the silly remarks of the President; for the credit of the Nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them and that they shall no more be repeated or thought of.”

Chicago Times: “The cheeks of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat, and dishwatery utterances.”

Chicago Tribune: “The dedicatory remarks by President Lincoln will live among the annals of man.”

Horace Greeley: “I doubt that our national literature contains a finer gem than that little speech at the Gettysburg celebration, November 19, 1863… after the close of Mr. Everett’s classic but frigid oration.”

Leaving Gettysburg For the Cemetery

Leaving Gettysburg For the Cemetery

I think what may be lost regarding the speech is what it shows. It is an early indication of where Mr. Lincoln was heading in terms of after the war. Even on a battlefield well north of Washington, Lincoln was confident of victory. What often gets overlooked is that on the same day, US Grant had forced the capitulation of Vicksburg which essentially gave the Union full control of the Mississippi River and effective cut the Confederacy in two. The victory at Vicksburg arguably sealed the deal for the outcome of the war. Mr. Lincoln was aware of that that and if you read carefully, you can see the hints of what his notions were regarding his intentions. He does not give a rah-rah victory speech with talk of retribution. He does not discriminate between the allegiances of the soldiers and speaks of the “unfinished business” and a “new birth of freedom.” Clearly he is talking about concluding the war but he is also referencing a nation of freedom for all. This speech is not just one of honor but also one of reconciliation. It has always eluded me of how differently our nation’s history might have been had the 16th president been allowed to conclude the “unfinished business.” How would he have handled Reconstruction and the reconciliation of the former enemies. John Wilkes Booth lives in infamy as the man who deprived the nation of “what might have been.” There are 5 known drafts of the Gettysburg Address. Each seems to have some variance. Here is a version of the Gettysburg Address:

THE GETTYSBURG ADDRESS: Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us–that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion–that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

Unfortunately, it seems that the youth of America seems to be as uninspired by Mr. Lincoln as did the organizers of the dedication at Gettysburg or some scribes who critiqued the President’s message.  Recently, I was at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC and I spotted several student groups.  It appeared as if the students thought that they were at some social gathering. Most were not paying attention to the tour guides, instead generally talking and cutting up while playing what my old football coaches used to call “grabass.”  There was no sense of reflection or respect for the memorial or the man to whom it was built.  It was only older visitors who took the time to read the words of the Gettysburg Address and the text of the President’s second inaugural speech which are etched forever in the marble.  Maybe I’m getting old, but that ain’t right.

Weather Bottom Line:  After a rather dreary and damp day, look for early fog to give way to loads of sunshine that will persist through the weekend..save for periods of darkness.  Conditions will be quite pleasant so get out and enjoy the great weekend weather.

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