Before dawn on September 17, 1862…. Maj. General Joseph Hooker’s men waited pensively in the woods North of Sharpsburg, Maryland. Neither Hooker nor his troops knew what awaited them on the other side of the Miller cornfield. Through the pre-dawn mist, Hooker could barely make out a small white building, that would be their target. Hooker was on his own that morning, tactics were left to his discretion; his commander was nearly three miles away, on the other side of the Antietam creek. Hooker’s men crossed the cornfield with military precision and entered a maelstrom.
“At daylight Gibbon’s and Hartsuff’s brigades were thrown forward, supported with the brigades of their respective divisions, while Meade followed them up in the center, instructed to spring to the assistance of either, as circumstances might require. We had not proceeded far before I discovered that a heavy force of the enemy had taken possession of a corn-field (I have since learned about a thirty-acre field) in my immediate front, and from the sun’s rays falling on their bayonets projecting above the corn could see that the field was filled with the enemy, with arms in their hands, standing apparently at “support arms.” Instructions were immediately given for the assemblage of all of my spare batteries, near at hand, of which I think there were five or six, to spring into battery, on the right of his field, and to open with canister at once. In the time I am writing every stalk of corn in the northern and greater part of the field was cut as closely as could have been done with a knife, and the slain lay in rows precisely as they stood in their ranks a few moments before. It was never my fortune to witness a more bloody, dismal battle-field” Maj. General Joseph Hooker, Commanding, First Army Corps
Many Presidential elections are decided… long before the votes are cast. Technology makes predicting election results an acceptable part of the modern campaign cycle. Historical analysis provides election scorecards on races prior to modern media technology. Despite all the prognostication, there are several key elections which defied expectations.
5. 1892– Grover Cleveland became the first candidate to be nominated by a party three times and was seeking his second (non-consecutive) term. Benjamin Harrison was a solid, but uninspiring incumbent who had narrowly defeated Cleveland four years earlier. Republicans spent millions in a campaign centered on currency policy. Harrison enlisted allies like Ohio Governor William McKinley but was unable to campaign personally because of the death of his wife in October, 1892. Cleveland overcame the powerful Republican campaign and the sympathetic figure cut by his opponent to win easily in what must be considered an upset.
4. 1960– John F. Kennedy was young and relatively inexperienced when he challenged two-term Vice President, Richard Nixon. The Cold War was the dominant issue of the day and no one seemed to have stronger anticommunist credentials than Nixon. Kennedy attacked the failures of the Eisenhower administration including the U2 incident and the fall of Cuba to Castro’s communists. He even went as far as to fabricate statistics to accuse Nixon and Eisenhower of allowing the Soviets to pull ahead in the arms race. Kennedy pulled out one of the narrowest victories of the 20th century. Illinois was the swing state and Kennedy’s victory there has long been disputed. Kennedy became the youngest man elected President and used current technology to secure the upset.
3. 1844– The first election to feature a dark-horse candidate, James K. Polk emerged from the pack and upset perennial challenger Henry Clay. Democrats were hoping to restore the Jacksonian policies that had them in power for over a decade. Finding a successor to Jackson had proven impossible, but Polk emerged from an uninspired field to win the nomination. The Whigs nominated their ideological leader, Henry Clay (his 4th presidential run.) The annexation of Texas and westward expansion dominated the campaign and Polk presented a strong expansionist platform. Clay was better known, but the American people were ready for expansion and embraced Polk’s fiery rhetoric.
2. 1824– Andrew Jackson rode the wave of his popularity to what seemed to be an election victory. Regional voting results divided the electoral count so no candidate secured a majority of the votes. Jackson won a plurality in the electoral and popular results. The matter was turned over to the House of Representatives where Henry Clay used his influence to secure the election for John Quincy Adams. In return, Adams named Clay as his Secretary of State. Jackson claimed collusion by his arch-enemy Clay and publicly denounced the “Corrupt Bargain.” Adams’ victory was a clear upset over the wildly popular Jackson.
1. 1948– Discussed in an earlier post, Truman’s victory was the greatest upset in Presidential election history. Thomas Dewey enjoyed comfortable leads in almost every national poll. This caused Dewey to run an uninspired campaign, rarely leaving his home state of New York. Truman launched an aggressive rail campaign across the country, taking the fight to all Republicans, not just Dewey. Truman won the key states of Ohio, Illinois, and California by less than 1%. The pro-Republican Chicago Daily Tribune made sure that Truman’s victory became iconic.
George Washington (1732-99) was born to a solid middle class gentry family. His father, Augustine Washington, had been married previously, fathered two sons and a daughter, was widowed, and remarried Mary Ball. They had five children together, George being the eldest.
The Washingtons, raised in the Fredericksburg, VA area, owned property and prospered, but they were a far cry from the wealthy planters. The Dandridges, Martha Washington’s family, were in similar circumstances financially, albeit down in New Kent Country, some 100 miles away.
Daniel Parke Custis was the wealthy man.
Martha Dandridge married Daniel Parke Custis when she was seventeen, and he more than twice her age. It was a happy union lasting eight years until Custis’ death. He was one of the wealthiest planters in Virginia, and Martha and her two surviving children were his only heirs. She…
Vice Presidential nominee Senator Kamala Harris (D.Ca.) stated in the Vice Presidential debate of October 7, 2020, that Abraham Lincoln did not appoint a Supreme Court nominee close to his re-election because such a nomination would have been unfair. She badly mangles the relevant history in making this claim.
Chief Justice Roger Taney died on October 12, 1864. At 87 he still holds the record of oldest serving Chief Justice. His tenure as Chief Justice at 28 years was the second longest, surpassed only by that of John Marshall.
Nominated as Chief Justice by his friend President Andrew Jackson, his tenure is considered by historians to be highly significant for the Court. Although he had authored many important decisions, he is remembered today only for one: Dred Scott. Taney, a slave owner, had mirrored the tragic trajectory of the views of the South in regard to slavery in his own…
Theodore Roosevelt spelled out a clear foreign policy… built on strength, defending interests, and standing with allies. People rarely look past Roosevelt’s quoting an old African proverb to describe his foreign policy approach. However, TR not only carried a big stick, but altered American foreign policy forever. Later Presidents would use the example set in 1904 to help maintain America’s place in the world. Roosevelt explained it best:
“All that this country desires is to see the neighboring countries stable, orderly, and prosperous. Any country whose people conduct themselves well can count upon our hearty friendship. If a nation shows that it knows how to act with reasonable efficiency and decency in social and political matters, if it keeps order and pays its obligations, it need fear no interference from the United States. Chronic wrongdoing, or an impotence which results in a general loosening of the ties of civilized society, may in America, as elsewhere, ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation….”
On August 27, 1858- Abraham Lincoln stood before nearly… 12,000 spectators in Freeport, Illinois. For just under 60 minutes he lambasted the most powerful man in Congress- pushing the mighty Stephen Douglas nearly to his breaking point. The Freeport debate is considered the finest of the seven Lincoln/Douglas debates. Lincoln wryly exposing the inconsistencies in his opponent’s views- Douglas’ demagoguery pushed to new levels over 90 minutes as he counter-punched desperately. The answers Douglas offered, known as the Freeport Doctrine, doomed his 1860 Presidential hopes.
Laurel Hill Cemetery, 3822 Ridge Avenue in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is the second oldest rural cemetery in the nation. It was established in 1836 on 74 acres of land overlooking the Schuylkill River. Its lovely neoclassical gatehouse was designed in a Roman Doric style by architect John Notman (1810-1865). Laurel Hill was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1998.
Brig. Gen. Hugh Mercer (1726-1777) was a Scottish-American physician who settled in Fredericksburg, Virginia and was a personal friend of George Washington. He fought in the French and Indian War and in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, where he was killed at the Battle of Princeton.
Generals Grant and Meade: (photo via Wikipedia Commons)
Both George Meade and Ulysses Grant were West Pointers, and share a singular coincidental date in history.
Meade and Grant: Common Bonds
George Meade (1815-72), Pennsylvanian, came from a military family. His father was a naval officer, but died when his son was thirteen, leaving the family nearly impoverished. Young Meade entered West Point (for the free education) at sixteen, graduated mid-class and fulfilled his military obligations for a brief time. Never truly enjoying a military life, he resigned to pursue a career in civil engineering. But in 1842, he re-enlisted in the army, served as a junior officer in the War with Mexico, and spent the next decade in the Army Corps of Topographical Engineers, where he earned distinction.
Then came the Civil War, and Meade was named Brigadier General of a Pennsylvania Volunteer unit, with a glowing recommendation from Governor…
Professors Sihna and Kruse are quick to cite 2016 and 2000 as examples of our electoral process failing, most likely because they supported the two losing candidates. Where is their outrage at the election of 1876? A Democrat won the popular vote but not the election….
It is difficult to argue with the results of the election. Samuel J. Tilden would have been a disastrous President.
Opposition to the Electoral College runs through academia like the freshmen flu. Only selected candidates can receive such support from the intelligentsia. Attacking the Electoral College is intellectually lazy.