Monday, July 19, 2010

#30: Coolidge, Calvin

Calvin Coolidge
July 4, 1872 (Plymouth Notch, Vermont) - Jan. 5, 1933 (Northampton, Mass.)

I get by with a little help from my friends
(or, more specifically, my mom and my nieces).

  • This bears direct transcription: "COOLIDGE, CALVIN (1872-1933), was a shy, silent New England Republican who led the United States during the boisterous Jazz Age of the 1920's. He was the sixth Vice-President to become President upon the death of a chief executive. Coolidge was vacationing on his father's farm in Vermont when President Warren G. Harding died in 1923. The elder Coolidge, a notary public, administered the oath of office in the dining room. Never before had this ceremony been performed by such a minor official or by a President's father." Coolidge was sworn in a second time eighteen days later by a justice of the Supreme Court, since the Attorney General questioned the validity of the first oath of office. When Coolidge was later asked to recall his first thought upon learning that he would become President, he replied: "I thought I could swing it."
  • Coolidge was known for his even temper. He was "solemn, frugal" in contrast to the boisterous masses... "a public that had largely thrown thrift to the wind," the nation's "flaming youth" as depicted by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
  • As President, Coolidge tried to heal the administration after the corruption scandals of Harding's presidency. He pursued a policy called "constructive economy," supporting American business at home and abroad. He declared: "The business of American is business." In 1924, he easily won reelection, facing no real competition.
  • In the White House, Coolidge's wife was gay and charming, happy to entertain. Coolidge stuck to behind-the-scenes details. "He enjoyed appearing unexpectedly in the kitchen to inspect the iceboxes and to comment on future menus. He once protested mildly because he thought 6 hams were too many for 60 dinner guests. Coolidge also liked to play practical jokes on the staff. He would ring for the elevator, then stride quickly down the stairs, or push all the buttons on his desk just to see all his aides run in at once."
  • While in office, Coolidge's sixteen year old son died from "blood poisoning." He'd developed a blister on his toe while playing tennis, which resulted in an infection that spread! What a way to go! Awful, awful.
  • Coolidge chose not to run again in 1928. He announced this decision by slipping a piece of paper to a reporter which read: "I do not choose to run for President in 1928." When asked to comment upon leaving the capital, he said: "Good-bye, I have had a very enjoyable time in Washington."
  • The stock market crash of 1929 distressed Coolidge, who felt he may have done more to avert it while in office. He was increasingly unhappy in the early 30s. In 1933, Mrs. Coolidge found President Coolidge lying on the floor of his bedroom. He had died of a heart attack.

#29: Harding, Warren G.

Warren G. Harding
Nov. 2, 1865 (Corsica, Ohio) - Aug. 2, 1923 (San Francisco, California)

"I'm tweaking into a whole new era, g-funk, step to this I dare ya."

  • From the sublime to the subprime... if World Book luvved Woodrow Wilson, it certainly does not luvv Warren Gamaliel Harding (and yes, that is seriously his middle name). According to World Book, "Historians almost unanimously rank Harding as one of the weakest Presidents." He was elected primarily as a repudiation of Wilson's ambitious foreign policy and aggressive social agenda. Harding campaigned on the slogan "Back to Normalcy," in the post-World War I era. It's unclear what "normal" was, but the American people were happy to elect a president who didn't have much of an agenda at all.

  • Warren G. Harding has perhaps only one thing in common with my father: they are both the eldest of eight children.

  • Before going into politics, Harding made his career as a newspaper man. When he was in his early twenties, he and his friends bought a bankrupt weekly paper in Marion, Ohio, for $300. He turned it into a prosperous daily, using his skills as an editor and orator.

  • Over the course of Harding's political career--from state senator, to lieutenant governor, to U.S. Senate--he became known for being "genial and popular," but not for getting things done. As a Senator he did not introduce a single bill. He voted in favor of woman's suffrage, but admitted to a group of suffragists that he was "utterly indifferent" to the issue.

  • Harding was chosen as the Republican party's nominee for the presidency at the 1920 party convention in Chicago. The convention was deadlocked after four ballots. Harding was selected as the compromise candidate in a smokey backroom at the Blackstone Hotel, in the wee hours of the morning. Talk about political kingmaking! Calvin Coolidge, the cool-as-a-cucumber governor of Massachusetts was selected as VP.

  • Harding's administration was marked by nepotism. He brought so many buddies with him from his homestate that they became known as "the Ohio gang." This, predictably, erupted into political scandal with the Teapot Dome incident: Harding's Secretary of the Interior accepted a bribe for leasing government-owned oil reserves to private companies. He was sent to prison. World Book speculates that this scandal contributed to Harding's early demise...

  • Farm regions in the US suffered a serious depression in 1922. The following year, Harding decided to go on a speaking tour to "revive confidence in his administration." While he was traveling, Harding received news from Washington about a Senate investigation into the oil leases. This apparently disheartened him and he later fell ill when passing through Seattle. It's possible that he suffered some form of food poisoning. By the time the presidential trip made it to San Francisco, Harding was diagnosed with pneumonia. He died there on August 2, 1923. He was buried in Marion, Ohio. No autopsy was performed and the precise cause of death was never ascertained.

Too Big to Fail

I am facing down the last two weeks of my clerkship and still have over a dozen presidents to do... lordy, how did this thing get away from me?

Here's an interesting article about the two most recent presidents on the bloggity-blog to tide you over until I rally for the original Warren G.

Stop look so judgey, Woody... I'm trying to finish this project, I swear!

Monday, July 12, 2010

#28: Wilson, Woodrow

Woodrow Wilson
December 29, 1856 (Staunton, Virginia) - February 3, 1924 (Washington, D.C.)

Woodrow "Smudgey face" Wilson

World Book hearts Woodrow Wilson in a big way: "Before reaching the height of popularity as a world statesman, he had achieved success in two other careers. First, as a scholar, teacher, and university president, he greatly influenced the course of education. Then, as a political leader, he brought successful legislative reforms to state and national government. Wilson would have won a place in history even if he had been active in only one of his three careers. . . . Historians consider Wilson one of the three or four most successful Presidents."

Wilson had three daughters with his first wife. Wilson's first wife died while he was serving his first term as President. He was heartbroken. A year later he met his second wife, a widow of a Washington jeweler, and remarried.

We can thank Wilson for:
  • The residential college system at Yale (what what!)--he tried to put a "preceptorial system" in place at Princeton, but those snobs were too attached to their eating club system to accept it. Yale and Harvard adopted his vision of the "quad plan" with separate colleges, each arranged in a quadrangle around a central court, with its own dorms, eating hall, master and tutors;
  • Keeping us out of World War I for almost three years, for what that's worth (he was wedded to peace until the Germans started attacking American ships without warning in March 1917)--his adamant stance on neutrality earned him the nickname, the "human icicle";
  • Creating an independent Department of Labor and ushering in new labor laws like the Adamson Act (establishing the eight-hour work day) and the Child Labor Act (limiting the number of hours children can work);
  • The League of Nations (for what that's worth).
President Wilson was the first American president to cross the Atlantic Ocean while in office. He spent months abroad in 1918-19, enjoying a enthusiastic reception after WWI from European people who considered him a great statesman for helping negotiate the Treaty of Versailles. He had a hard time winning support for the peace agreement at home and an even harder time winning support for the League of Nations. In September 1919, Wilson began a speaking tour of the US to drum up support for the League among the American people (Wilson was an awesome orator). He suffered a paralytic stroke while traveling from Pueblo, Colorado to Wichita, Kansas, on October 2, 1919, and ultimately served the rest of his term as an invalid. He did not call a cabinet meeting until April 13, 1920. In the intervening months, the cabinet met "unofficially and carried on much of the routine work of government during Wilson's long illness."

Wilson's work in advocating for the League of Nations was quickly dismantled by his Republican successor: Warren G. Harding.

Wilson died in his sleep on February 3, 1924. He was buried in the Washington Cathedral. He is the only President interred in Washington, D.C.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

#27: Taft, William

[GUEST BLOG ENTRY!!!! from my dear friend Eric... As an aside, I am in San Francisco with a band of buddies, two of whom are from Ohio. These two Ohioans married each other last year in a lovely ceremony at the Taft Museum of Art, which was erected at the site where Taft accepted the Republican nomination for the presidency in Cincinnati. Says one Ohioan, "The Tafts are winners."]

William Taft
September 15, 1857 – March 8, 1930

Glad to lend a hand to my favorite blog about drawing and researching the Presidents! I used my parents' 1985 World Book set, which remains within easy reach in their front hallway coat closet an astounding 25 years later! For my drawing, I used pen and paper; I got a little carried away with the hair and moustache.
  • World Book mentions Taft's infamous heft a quite a few times. My favorite reference: "A newspaperman wrote that he looked 'like an American bison--a gentler, kind one.'" (neither newspaper nor newspaperman specified) Let's just say you could fit at least two Obamas in this guy.
  • Taft didn't really want to be President. His mother thought he would be happiest as a judge, but his wife thought he was better fit for the Presidency. "In the end, Taft's mother proved to be right." In 1913, Taft told incoming Prez Woodrow Wilson, "This is the lonesomest place in the world." So emo!
  • Here are some things that happened during his Presidency (1909-1913): New Mexico and Arizona became the 47th and 48th states. The 16th Amendment became law, giving Congress the legal power to levy income taxes. The Post Office began parcel-post service. Imagine where Zappos would be today if this hadn't happened!
  • Like his predecessor, Taft was all about the trust busting. "Nearly twice as many 'trust busting' prosecutions took place during Taft's four years in office as had occurred during Roosevelt's administration of almost 8 years."
  • Taft had a ridiculously impressive political trajectory: 1890: Solicitor General, 1892: Federal Judge (6th Circuit Court of Appeals), 1901: Governor of the Philippines (!?), 1904: Secretary of War, 1908: Prez, 1921: Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. World Book points out that becoming Chief Justice was his proudest accomplishment. I would like to point out that becoming Guv of the Philippines was his weirdest accomplishment, or at least the last possible thing you would guess he did for a living if you saw a picture of the guy. (Unless your only reference is my drawing, in which he looks ambiguously ethnic, and maybe could pass for Filipino) WB: "Taft's career in the Philippines was an example of the best in colonial government." Hmm...
  • His son, Robert Alphonso Taft, "...became a famous U.S. Senator from Ohio.' (never heard of him)
[ed. -- Thank you Eric! You're a champ.]

Thursday, July 1, 2010


Earlier this week, a team of construction workers unearthed the crypt of Michigan’s first governor, Stevens T. Mason, in Capitol Park in Detroit. The plan is to move the remains to a more prominent location. According to, this is the third time Governor Mason’s remains have been moved: “Mason died in 1843 in New York, but his body was moved to Detroit's Capitol Park in 1905. His remains were moved to another location in the park in 1955.” However, no records of the 1955 move exist.

Stevens T. Mason, the “Boy Governor,” was elected territorial governor of the Michigan Territory at age 22 and then elected governor of the State of Michigan at age 24, in 1835. According to Wikipedia, “Mason is the youngest state governor in American history.” I tell you this for several reasons. First, it is an interesting historic tidbit and, while obviously a modest detour from the task at hand, I’m all about interesting historic tidbits. Second, Michigan being my home, I am proud that we had such a youngling for a leader in the early heady days of statehood. Admittedly, his youth makes me feel vaguely inadequate in much the same way that Beyonce’s age (seven and a half months my junior) makes me feel like an utter failure. Nevertheless, personal insecurities aside, this Mason fellow is fairly impressive. And finally, there is something grimly fascinating about old bones (or maybe ashes?) being uncovered a few blocks from my workplace.

Ok. Interlude over. A dear friend is working on a guest entry (!) for President Taft, so that’ll be up soon.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

#26: Roosevelt, Theodore

Theodore Roosevelt
Oct. 27, 1858 - Jan. 6, 1919

Hello friend. I haven't forgotten about you or this little project. Work has gotten a bit more stressful (and my level of efficiency has sadly not improved). Nevertheless, here we are with President #26--Teddy Roosevelt, who was the youngest man ever to become president. He was 42 when McKinley was assassinated. He served two terms, from 1901 to 1909. He was a big bear of a man who "regarded public life as a great stage" according to World Book.

Things Roosevelt said:
  • He practiced what he called the "strenuous life"--boxing, horseback riding, swimming, hunting, hiking...
  • He said as president, "I did not usurp power, but I did greatly broaden the use of executive power."
  • Of his foreign policy: "Speak softly and carry a big stick."
  • Of his time as President: "I do not believe that anyone else has ever enjoyed the White House as much as I have."
  • During the run-up to the Spanish American War, when Roosevelt was Assistant Secretary of the Navy, he said President McKinley had "no more backbone than a chocolate eclair."
Things Roosevelt did:
  • Busted trusts (big business monopolies)!
  • Regulated railroads!
  • Passed laws to protect people from harmful food and drugs after reading Upton Sinclair's novel The Jungle!
  • Supported a revolutionary government that took control of Panama so he could get his #@$!$ canal! He later visited Panama and was the first President to travel to a foreign country while in office.
  • Added over 125 million acres to the national forests in the interest of conservation!
  • Ran for a third term in 1912, after the Republicans lost confidence in the then president William taft! He ran on the Bull Moose ticket, so named because after Teddy was asked how he felt, he answered, "I feel as strong as a bull moose." He lost that election to Woodrow Wilson.
Roosevelt died in 1919 from complications of a jungle fever he'd contracted while exploring in Brazil. Around the same time, he admitted that he had been blind in his left eye since 1905. He had lost the sight while boxing with a military aide in the White House!

Monday, June 7, 2010

#25: McKinley, William

William McKinley
Jan. 29, 1843 (Niles, Ohio) -- Sept. 14, 1901 (Buffalo, New York)

(His face is shiny because I didn't wait for it to dry before taking the picture. I'm sleepy.)

McKinley succeeded Grover Cleveland in 1897. He was the third President to be assassinated and the fifth to die in office! That's a lot given that he was only #25.

"Others sometimes regarded [McKinley] as cold an pompous, perhaps because of his rigid bearing, piercing eyes, and his tight, thin lips. He went to church regularly and lavished great care and affection upon his invalid wife." She suffered from shock and grief after both her daughters died at a young age. She later developed epilepsy. "McKinley was devoted to his wife and constantly cared for all her needs. When he was governor of Ohio, he would turn before entering the state house in Columbus, then remove his hat and bow to his wife in their hotel room window across the street. He waved to her from a window at 3 o'clock every afternoon." Later during his campaign for President, McKinley refused to leave his wife for long campaign tours. Therefore, McKinley's friend and political patron, Marcus A. Hanna, a Cleveland millionaire, "arranged to have thousands of visitors travel to Canton[, Ohio]" where McKinley would give short, rehearsed speeches from his front porch. He was elected and became president in 1897.

McKinley campaigned on raising tariffs (good ol' American protectionism) and enacting a new gold standard for currency. I have to be honest that the last few presidential entries in this historical romp through the 1981 World Book have involved lengthy passages about currency scandals, the silver standard, the gold standard, crazy inflation, and so forth. I don't understand any of it so I haven't been including it... not necessarily the best approach, I admit.

At the beginning of McKinley's first term, a Cuban revolt was raging against Spanish rule. In 1898, a U.S. ship exploded in Havana harbor (nobody ever figured out why). Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt, urged McKinley to declare war. McKinley waffled. Roosevelt called him a "white-livered cur" who had "prepared two messages, one for war and one for peace, and doesn't know which one to send in." McKinley finally declared war on April 11, 1898. The Spanish-American War lasted only 113 days, but in the end the U.S. acquired Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico. (In McKinley's second term, the Supreme Court affirmed that the residents of these new dependencies did not have the rights of citizens and that Congress could impose tariffs on their trade). Roosevelt, who had returned a hero from the Spanish-American war, was selected as McKinley's running mate for his second term.

McKinley was assasinated six months into his second term. He was appearing at a public reception during the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo. Hundreds of people waited to shake his hand. Leon F. Czolgosz, an anarchist, approached him, grasped his hand, then shot him twice with a revolver he'd concealed with a handkerchief in his left hand. According to World Book, "McKinley slumped forward, gasping, 'Am I shot?' The crowd pounced on the assassin and began beating him. McKinley pointed to Czolgosz, imploring, 'Let no one hurt him.' He whispered to his secretary: 'My wife--be careful, Cortelyou, how you tell her--oh, be careful.'" Czolgosz was later electrocuted.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Net Worth

Fascinating stuff, courtesy of bruns (thank you thank you):

The Net Worth of The American Presidents: Washington to Obama

Saturday, May 29, 2010

#23: Harrison, Benjamin

Benjamin Harrison
August 20, 1833 (North Bend, Ohio) - March 13, 1901 (Indianapolis)

I drew this absent-mindedly over a failed drawing of Grover Cleveland. Harrison looks a bit like a hartebeest, another featured creature of the "H" volume.

Benjamin Harrison is the only president to be the grandson of another president: William Henry Harrison (#9), hero of the Battle of Tippecanoe. Harrison won the 1888 campaign against Grover Cleveland with the help of a Republican campaign song: "Grandfather's Hat Fits Ben." Like his grandfather, he only served one term, failing to be reelected in 1893.

As president, Ben Harrison presided over some serious federal legislation, including adoption of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. He also launched a program to build a two-ocean navy and expand the merchant marine (by the time of Harrison's presidency the West had essentially been won--North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Washington, Idaho and Wyoming all joined the Union during his term). In the first part of his term, both houses of Congress were Republican (like Harrison) allowing him to enact an ambitious legislative program and also spend a lot of money. Democrats were elected in great numbers during the mid-term elections in response to this spending. The new Democratic Speaker of the House, Thomas Reed, allegedly exclaimed: "This is a billion-dollar country!"

In the last days of Harrison's presidency, Queen Liliuokalani lost her throne in Hawaii in a revolution led by American planters. Harrison tried to rush a treaty of annexation to the Senate before leaving office--making Hawaii a U.S. territory--but when Cleveland returned to the presidency he withdrew it before the Senate could act. Cleveland called "the whole affair dishonorable to the United States."

Harrison's wife died two weeks before the national elections in the fall of 1892. Harrison was beat by Cleveland and in 1893 he returned to Indianapolis, where he had practiced law before entering politics. He remarried--his widowed niece (in law, I presume/hope). He died at home in 1901.