TR: Marching With Kings

Presidential History Blog

Thousands of people watched the funeral parade of King Edward VII.

The POTUS and the King

President Theodore Roosevelt

The nearly eight years Theodore Roosevelt spent as President coincided with the reign of Edward VII (1841-1910) of England. TR was only 42 when he became POTUS; The King acceded to the throne when he was nearly sixty.

King Edward VII of Great Britain

The King had spent more than four decades as the Prince of Wales during the 63-year reign of his mother, Queen Victoria. Despite a well-deserved reputation as a rakish playboy, he surprised most people by honing his natural good nature and pleasant disposition into some serious diplomatic skills.

Naturally the new President was eager to solidify a growing close relationship with the once-Mother Country. The President and the King began a cordial and regular correspondence. Personal visits (at that time) were not according to protocol.

Deciding that…

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Review of “James Madison: A Life Reconsidered” by Lynne Cheney

My Journey Through the Best Presidential Biographies

Lynne Cheney’s “James Madison: A Life Reconsidered” was published in 2014, about a year after I read four biographies of the fourth president in my quest to uncover the best biography of Madison. Cheney is the author of more than a dozen books, including several written for children such as “We the People: The Story of our Constitution” and “America: A Patriotic Primer.” Lynne Cheney is the wife of the 46th vice president of the United States.

This 458-page biography of Madison is comprehensive, chronologically-organized and frequently full of insight relating to the early years of the “great American experiment”. It begins with an excellent 10-page prologue which promises a gripping, colorful, and penetrating narrative of one of our most important Founding Fathers. Unfortunately, the ensuing eighteen chapters – judged as a biography – are largely disappointing.

To its credit, this biography tackles Madison’s…

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Book Review- “Most Blessed of Patriarchs”

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Peter Onuf, Annette Gordon-Reed, Most Blessed of Patriarchs: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of Imagination, New York, Norton & Co., 2016  ISBN-13: 978-0871404428

 

Two intellectuals dabble in history to satisfy their personal desires which radically alter the public’s view of history to advance present day human rights. 

 

Professor Peter Onuf occupied the position at the University of Virginia once held by the likes of Dumas Malone and Merrill Peterson.  Here is where the similarities end.  He has teamed with law professor, turned “historian” Annette Gordon-Reed to produce the most scurrilous work on Jefferson since Fawn Brodie.

Both claim to understand Jefferson’s “sense of himself;”  a remarkable accomplishment considering that renowned scholars like Malone and Peterson never attempted such pretension.  Onuf and Gordon-Reed present conjecture and innuendo as indisputable fact.  Readers are presented with what the authors believe about Jefferson; we’re just supposed to take their word for it-  historical evidence be damned.

Gordon-Reed continues to promote the highly debatable “fact” that Jefferson fathered all of Sally Hemings’s children.  The tiny clique of scholars operating Monticello unquestionably agrees, but Gordon-Reed isn’t satisfied with this historical canard being accepted.  She doubles-down with an unbelievably irrational and irresponsible “discussion of white male insecurity.”  No historical citations here as she tells us about Jefferson….

“He said nothing, however, about black men’s organs of regeneration, and the widespread belief that black males had larger p..s than white males…White males’ sexual anxieties also played an integral role in their competition with and fears about black men … ” and Jefferson “evinced much more concern about black men having sex with white women than about white men having sex with black women … These deep feelings expressed themselves most often in fantasies of what black men might do if not controlled and in the spreading of canards about their basic nature.”

Notice she was clever enough to explain Jefferson never said this, but she wants readers to believe it is what he really felt.  Someone clearly feels this way on the topic- there’s absolutely no evidence it was Thomas Jefferson.

The authors claim a “mountain of evidence” defends their highly suspect assertions.  It is strange how few of the citations are from Jefferson himself, a man who left over 20,000 letters.  Rather than acknowledge the gaps in the historical record, the authors substitute their own personal views for historical facts.  Jefferson did not want his deepest, most personal feelings known; Onuf and Gordon-Reed offer little beyond inflammatory speculation and historical innuendo.  The realm of imagination is clearly theirs.

A better one-volume of Jefferson’s life is Peterson’s epic “Thomas Jefferson and A New Nation.”

 

 

 

Review of “American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant” by Ronald C. White

My Journey Through the Best Presidential Biographies

Ronald White’s “American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant” was published in 2016, two years after I spent eight weeks reading six other biographies of Grant. White is a well-known historian and the author of nine books (including one of my favorites on Abraham Lincoln). He is currently working on “Abraham Lincoln’s Diary” which is a collection of notes and reflections left behind by Lincoln (due out in 2020) and a biography of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (due in 2021).

There is no shortage of compelling biographies of Ulysses Grant – at least eight have been published in the last two decades alone. But ever since I completed my initial round of reading on Grant (in late 2014) I’ve been looking forward to reading this biography of the 18th president. Based on my experience reading White’s “A. Lincoln: A Biography” I had high expectations for “American…

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Abraham Lincoln and Smallpox

Presidential History Blog

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Abraham Lincoln suffered from variola (smallpox) when he was in the White House.

November, 1863

Almost as an afterthought, President Lincoln had been invited to make “a few appropriate remarks” at an event in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

In July, a massive three-day battle had been fought at the tiny town of Gettysburg. Thousands of soldiers, North and South had died. Thousands more had been injured.

The only known photo of Lincoln at Gettysburg.

 Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin, a Republican, mounted a vigorous campaign to make part of that battlefield into a national cemetery. The effort was enthusiastically supported, and on November 19, the dedication ceremony for the sobering memorial was scheduled. Former Congressman Edward Everett, considered the country’s premier orator, had accepted Curtin’s invitation to be the keynote speaker. As a courtesy, an invitation for the President to be on the program was issued – nothing more.

Abraham Lincoln: Health…

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Is it the Fourth?

Can we endure without the man who gave us our creed?

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Americans, largely through the efforts of a lewd media, used the Fourth of July 2019… to denigrate and trivialize Thomas Jefferson’s memory.  Salacious accusations disguised as legitimate archaeology and scholarship dragged the author of our Declaration of Independence down into tabloid scandal-mongering.  We have fallen to the point where Jefferson’s name cannot be mentioned without alleged slave mistresses.  We forget what he gave us- focusing instead on trifling conjecture.  We have forgotten what the Fourth of July truly means….

 

“I thank heaven that the 4th. of July is over. It is always a day of great fatigue to me”

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Jefferson said… “And even should the cloud of barbarism and despotism again obscure the science and liberties of Europe, this country remains to preserve and restore light and liberty to them. In short, the flames kindled on the 4th. of July 1776, have spread over too much of the globe to be extinguished by the feeble engines of despotism. On the contrary they will consume those engines, and all who work them.”

 

Remember what Jefferson gave us…….. never forget what he gave mankind. 

Jefferson and Freedom

A Man for His Time

If Jefferson was wrong, then America is wrong…  This was the foundation for a generation of Jefferson scholarship.  James Parton to Dumas Malone to Joseph Ellis-  all were able to succinctly explain the Jeffersonian contradictions regarding slavery by following this simple guideline.

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“Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free.”

Modern scholars see America as wrong…. therefore, Jefferson was wrong.  Not only was he wrong, but his attitudes and actions were utterly repugnant and hold no place in our national conscience.  The sooner we expunge his legacy, the sooner we can move closer to a true America.  Jefferson has no place in the history of our country’s quest for civil liberties…..they want you to believe this, from Leonard Levy to Fawn Brodie to Annette Gordon-Reed and Paul Finkelman.

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Jefferson did say this about slavery… in the only book he ever published:

“The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other…Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever.”