In this letter, published in the West Schuylkill Press-Herald on February 2, 1945 – a full month after it was written – Irvin Schwartz reflected on a holiday season spent amid the largest and deadliest battle in American history. Schwartz, an anti-tank gunner in the 26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Army Division, played an integral role in the Battle of Dom Bütgenbach.
Schwartz’s unit was rushed into the Battle of the Bulge on December 17, 1944, one day after a massive German assault tore into American forces in the Ardennes Forest on the border of Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany. Schwartz and his comrades in…
The election of 1892 was another Presidential rematch.
The Rematch Election
Sitting Republican President Benjamin Harrison was poised to seek a second term – against Democratic ex-President Grover Cleveland, who held the position from 1885-9.
Grover Cleveland, the opponent.
Grover Cleveland was generally well considered – even by Republicans. He was conservative, stable, of good judgement and character, and fairly accessible. His biggest problem was that he was a Democrat – and it was barely 20 years since the Civil War. The Democrats were still perceived to be the party of rebellion – and traitors. It was anathema to many that a Democrat could hold the highest office in the country.
So in 1888, the Republicans ran Benjamin Harrison, also conservative, stable, of good judgement and character, and fairly accessible. He was also a Midwesterner (Indiana), a Union Brigadier General, and possessed of a superb name and lineage. The Republicans…
Challenger: Henry Clay- United States Secretary of State, Former Speaker of the US House of Representatives
Challenged: John Randolph- United States Senator from Virginia, Seven term US Representative from Virginia
The Offense: On the floor of the US Senate, Randolph challenged the legitimacy of the John Quincy Adams administration and implicated Clay was part of the “Corrupt Bargain” which gave the presidency to Adams. Clay demanded public satisfaction and was ignored; he quickly challenged Randolph to a duel.
Background: The fiercely proud, frontier statesman, Henry Clay had already been wounded in a duel in 1809. Clay was arguably the most influential politician of the early republic period; guiding the country through the War of 1812, crafting the American System of economics following the war, and transforming the Speaker position to the powerful post we recognize today. John Randolph of Roanoke was brilliant, eccentric, and unpredictable. He defied Jefferson in 1807, opposed the War of 1812, and became a loyal Jacksonian; Randolph frustrated many in his native Virginia. It is believed he suffered from consumption and consumed liberal amounts of opium to manage his pain. Randolph was a crack shot and many powerful people in Washington approached him on Clay’s behalf- Henry Clay was too valuable to lose in a duel…..
The Field of Honor: Saturday, April 8, 1825- The duel was held in Virginia, Randolph declared that only Virginia soil could catch his blood. Dueling was illegal in Virginia, so both men would face criminal charges. Randolph’s Second, Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, tried in vain to settle the dispute; even after Randolph’s pistol discharged early because of a hare-trigger. Clay demanded a reload and his satisfaction. At 30 paces, the two men turned and fired….both missed. Clay shouted, “This is child’s play!” and pistols were reloaded. Clay fired first and hit Randolph’s coat, missing the mark again. The Code Duello demanded that Clay absorb his opponent’s charge. Randolph took his time, a very tense 2 minutes passed…..he aimed high and fired over Clay’s head. The two men met halfway and shook hands, Clay asked, “Mr. Randolph are you hurt?” “No”, Randolph replied, ” but you owe me a new coat.”
There is something absurd in our generic observances of “Presidents Day.” Do we truly wish to venerate Warren Harding, Zachary Taylor, and Franklin Pierce? Should Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump really be exalted in our collective memory?
President’s Day is a workplace convenience contrived by the government to limit available vacation days in February. Lincoln’s assassination necessitated observance of his birthday, yet it also caused the government to view Washington’s birthday as expendable.
The limited observance of Washington’s birthday has diluted his resonance in our national consciousness. Our understanding of his historic contribution to the national story cannot be told by “woke” children regurgitating foolish drivel from Howard Zinn.
George Washington is the essential man in our history. Without him, there would be no United States. His birthday should be celebrated and his legacy should be taught to our future generations. It is time to do away with President’s day.
Recent discussion about the Supreme Court prompted… some thoughts about the greatest men to sit on our nation’s highest bench. Four faces that best exemplify jurisprudence in American history. Here goes….
John Marshall: Chief Justice 1801-1835– The George Washington of justices, the first and possibly the greatest. Marshall established all future Court behavior in Marbury v. Madison – later he helped define Federalism with the McCulloch v. Maryland decision.
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.: Associate Justice 1902-1932– A man of action on the battlefield (wounded twice in the Civil War) and in the courtroom. Holmes is one of the most cited Justices and helped establish that free speech must be responsible speech in Schenck v. United States.
John Marshall Harlan: Associate Justice 1877-1911– A former slave owner who became the voice of reason on a Court determined to protect segregation. Harlan’s lone dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson became the foundation of all future Civil Rights cases.
Earl Warren: Chief Justice 1953-1969– Much ink has been spilled over Warren’s legacy, but it is an essential one. Warren’s decisions ended public school segregation, reaffirmed “one man-one vote,” and expanded due-process protections. He is largely responsible for the role the Court plays in modern American politics.
James Monroe came to office with more executive, legislative and diplomatic experience than any previous POTUS.
JM: The Fellow In A Tricorn
James Monroe (1758-1831) was the last of the Virginia Triumvirate: three-in-a-row two-term Presidents serving between 1800-1824.
Considered the earliest image of James Monroe.
Born in Westmoreland County, VA, he was orphaned early but had the good fortune to be mentored by an uncle, who remained a mainstay throughout his life. That included a solid education, including attending the College of William and Mary for a year that coincided with the American Revolution. James Monroe, along with most of his classmates, were quick to leave the academic world for military service.
Athletic and a superb horseman, he became a scout for fellow Virginian General Washington, earning praise and promotion, and a rare letter of commendation from GW himself. A Colonel by twenty-one, he was wounded, and returned to…
After three bloody days of fighting around Gettysburg, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee retreated southwest toward the Potomac River and Virginia. The main army slowly settled into defensive works around Williamsport, Maryland, while a rearguard was stationed…
The election of 1800 definitively shows that politics… do indeed make strange bedfellows. Because of vagaries in the original constitutional language, Aaron Burr tied Thomas Jefferson with 73 electoral votes. Burr had reneged on his word to stand as Jefferson’s running mate as many states divided their electoral votes between the two candidates. The matter was passed on to the lame-duck House of Representatives still filled with bitter Federalists. Jeffersonians had swept the Federalists from power in the election, but the previous Congress would decide the Presidential contest.
Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson… were political opposites. Their bickering in Washington’s cabinet had formed the nation’s first political parties. Washington feared the daily conflicts “How unfortunate, and how much is it to be regretted then, that whilst we are encompassed on all sides with avowed enemies and insidious friends, that internal dissensions should be harrowing and tearing our vitals.” Despite the rivalry, only Hamilton stood between Aaron Burr and the newly constructed Executive Mansion. The Federalists in Congress seemed to favor Burr to their ideological opponent, Jefferson.
Hamilton did not savor the prospect of a Jefferson… presidency, but he would not have slept at night knowing he didn’t prevent Burr’s ascent to power. Hamilton and Burr were bitter enemies in New York politics. Hamilton understood Burr too well, ”a man of irregular and insatiable ambition … who ought not to be trusted with the reins of government.” 35 ballots were cast in the House, each one inching closer to a Burr victory. Hamilton confronted his fellow Federalists and convinced enough of them to elect Jefferson on the 36th ballot. This should rank as one of Hamilton’s greatest accomplishments. He prevented one of the most dangerous people in our history from becoming President and he assured that the Jeffersonian revolution would proceed. Strange indeed….
99 men signed the Declaration of Independence and Constitution… a group we consider the Founders. Plenty has been written about what set this generation apart- today, it seems most writers attempt to separate them for alleged transgressions. Today we accuse them of being greedy aristocrats determined to maintain their vast fortunes- we forget what actually made the Founders different. Of the 99 signers- only eight had fathers who attended college…
By all accounts, Peter Jefferson was a significant… part of early Virginia society. A wealthy planter, surveyor, and political leader- he had married into the powerful Randolph family. Jefferson was part of the vanguard of planters pushing into western Virginia. He was a self-made man whose hard work and ambition propelled him into the upper crust of Virginia society. But, he did not read Latin, he couldn’t play the violin, he wasn’t fluent in all the Romance languages, and he never questioned the religious or slave owning hierarchies in Virginia. The generation his son excelled in was very different- Thomas Jefferson was exceptional- yet, somehow, we have come to forget it today.**
**Gordon Wood explains this quite well in “Revolutionary Characters”
It’s an old story told thousands of times, but still rings true.
FDR: The President on Two Fronts
In 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt accepted the Democratic nomination for an unprecedented third term in office. Despite being crippled by polio, details assiduously withheld from the general public, his winsome grin and outgoing optimism had endeared him to the American voter. He won easily.
FDR cemented his relationship with the public via his Fireside Chats…
FDR had managed to tread the waters of the Great Depression for eight tumultuous years. Nothing completely cured the chronic unemployment and energy-sapping hard times, although the finger-in-the-dike, plug-up-the-holes, fight the fires “alphabet soup” programs had helped to a degree. But the people truly believed the President cared, and was trying to help them. He was.
…and everybody listened.
Coinciding with the still dragging Depression was a new and ominous threat from overseas. The rise of…