Wednesday, December 26, 2007

I'm Dreaming of a White House Christmas

Whether its by an expedition through the woods to chop down a spruce, or a last-minute run to the trailer in the parking lot; the Christmas tree, no matter how it's brought home has become an American tradition. And like any other Americans, the family living in the big white house on Pennsylvania avenue has tradition surrounding their holiday evergreen as well.

The tradition of a placing a decorated tree in the White House began in 1889 during the Presidency of Benjamin Harrison. Harrison, who gave turkeys and gloves to his employees for Christmas was the first president to have a tree.

And what began as a family gathering has become a national tradition. Through the years, the White House Christmas tree has personified the First Family, and has been an inspiration in representing both the times and tastes of the country.

In 1895, for example, Grover Cleveland's First Lady Frances Cleveland created a "technology savvy" tree, which donned electric lights (a white house first).

Thee ever-fashionable Jackie Onassis, started the tradition of Christmas tree themes in 1961 when her tree was decorated with toys from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite.

Today the tradition continues as each first lady selects her own theme which is usually a sign of the times. In 2001, current First lady Laura Bush chose "Home for the Holidays" which represented the family homes of many of the past Presidents.

In 1998 Hillary Clinton themed her tree a "Winter Wonderland" and trimmed the tree with snowmen, mittens and hats.

Pictured above, the Nixon's tree represented each of the 50 states with ornaments made by disabled workers in Florida.

So, don't be afraid to go all out on your Christmas tree theme. It is after all, an American tradition.

Merry Christmas!

For more information about Christmas at the White House and to see more Christmas tree pictures, go to


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Happy Birthday John Jay!

John Jay, the least recognized of the three authors of the Federalist Papers, who was also elected by George Washington as our our Nation's first Supreme Court Justice, was born on this date, December 12, 1745.

To me this wouldn't be news if it were not for the coincidence of one of his more famous causes and another significant historical event which shares this same day.

Let's set the scene with The Federalist Papers.

Written under the pen-name of "Plubius" John Jay is said to have authored 4 of the 85 articles written in support of the ratification of the Constitution approved by the Continental Convention on September 17, 1787. The first of these anonymous articles appeared in the New York Independent Journal on October 27, 1787.

At the time, a federalist was someone who supported "big government", while an anti-federalist believed the power should remain with the people. John Jay, along with Alexander Hamilton and James Madison were staunch proponents of the new Constitution.

They believed a centralized government was essential to expand the United States both commercially and geographically. Only a strong national government, they argued, could effectively negotiate with foreign countries, ensure free trade between states, and create a stable currency.

Thomas Jefferson, probably the most famous anti-federalist believed that big government would take too much power away from the people, which after all was the true meaning of democracy. It was these beliefs that laid the groundwork for our two party system.

Soon, steps were being taken to make sure that John Jay and Alexander Hamilton would win this battle.

It was December 12, 1787, John Jay's 42nd birthday when Pennsylvania became the second state to ratify the Constitution, 4 days after Delaware ratified the same document. Happy Birthday John Jay. I'm sure a pint or two was imbibed in celebration of Pennsylvania's ratification.

On a related note:
Despite both being selected to be in George Washington's cabinet, Hamilton and Jefferson would have to agree to disagree. Hamilton took the seat of Secretary of the Treasury setting a plan for a capitalist United States based on big government and big business. On the other hand Jefferson was chosen as Secretary of State and asked to deal with foreign powers. His first came during the French Revolution when he and Washington disagreed on how to handle the situation.


Saturday, November 24, 2007

FDR and Two Thanksgivings

Two Thanksgivings; a dream to some and a nightmare for others, depending on whether you're eating or cooking. In 1939 there really was two Thanksgivings.

At the beginning of Franklin Roosevelt's presidency, Thanksgiving was not a fixed holiday. At that time it was up to the President to issue a Thanksgiving Proclamation to announce what date the holiday would be. Most presidents would follow suit and announce the holiday as the last Thursday in November.

Many believe that the Pilgrims chose this day, but that is not the case. It was 1863 when President Lincoln began the observance of Thanksgiving in November, making it a national holiday. Lincoln's decision came in the middle of the Civil War and seems to be an awkward attempt to bring faith back into a war-torn country. Below is an excerpt from Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation:

I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and
also those who are in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.
Here's the full text of Lincoln's Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, from October 3, 1963.

Like all the presidents that preceded him, FDR kept tradition until he felt other circumstances would supersede tradition. What circumstances you ask? How about the economy and the Great Depression.

In 1933, FDR's first year in office, Thanksgiving fell on November 30th, the last day of the month and the 5th Thursday. Because statistics showed that most people did not do their Christmas shopping until after Thanksgiving businesses feared a loss in revenue. November 30th left only 24 shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Many business owners asked President Roosevelt to make Thanksgiving one week earlier. The requests were ignored until 1939, when Thanksgiving was once again due to fall on the last day of the month. This time FDR listened to the requests and moved Thanksgiving to November 23rd and not November 30th.

This simple date change seemed easy enough, but in actuality proved to be a short-sighted blunder. Thousands of letters poured into the White House from small businesses, calendar manufacturers and universities claiming that the date change will actually harm and/or disrupt their business or routine.

While some retailers were pleased to have the extra week of holiday shopping, smaller businesses claimed they'd lose business to the larger stores. Calendar makers had already printed some of their calendars years in advance making their future supplies now obsolete and out of date. Some Americans were simply upset with Roosevelt's attempt to alter the long-standing tradition just to help businesses make more money. And finally, schools with annual Thanksgiving day football games were now forced to reschedule, and so on and so forth.

Some of these letters can be found at the FDR Library:

With increased opposition, some states refused to honor the new date and kept November 30th as Thanksgiving day. Depending on which state you were from determined which date Thanksgiving was observed. So those living in Connecticut would not have the same day off as those living in New York and thus, family and friends were unable to celebrate the holiday together.

A stubborn FDR continued to observe Thanksgiving on the second to last Thursday of November for two more years/ The amount of public outrage eventually convinced Congress to pass a law on December 26, 1941, declaring Thanksgiving as the fourth Thursday of November every year.

For more Thanksgiving history, visit this timeline:


Monday, November 19, 2007

The Gettysburg Address - November 19,1863

On this day, 144 years ago, approximately 6 weeks after 7,500 men died in a 3 day battle, 1 man, bellowed 10 sentences and 272 words in 3 minutes. Little did he know that this short speech would eventually become the most quoted speech in United States history. And for good reason.

The speech rang true with many, even to this day as establishing "a new birth of freedom". It was a speech that would bring equality to all citizens, and create a unified nation where the rights of the states were no longer dominant. This man declared a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

What many probably don't know is that this speech almost didn't happen. The Abraham Lincoln Blog has a pretty cool primary document of a letter addressed to Lincoln asking him for "A Few Appropriate Marks", leaving Edward Everett, a popular orator of the time to be the main attraction.

Funny to think that the President of the United States was playing second fiddle and received the invitation less than 3 weeks before the scheduled event. The Abraham Lincoln Blog has the full text of the letter. (thanks for bringing this to our attention)

And without further ado ... Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address", November 19, 1863

"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 battle-field 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 can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not 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."
PS - A new photo of Abraham Lincoln at the Gettysburg memorial ceremony was found. It is the first such discovery since 1952. Here is the link...


Sunday, November 11, 2007

Justice in the Wild West, circa 1850

The blog entry title itself is a paradox. Justice, as we know it hardly existed during the gold rush era. This was an era of saloons, gun fights, brothels and posses. These were mean, ugly, vigilante people.

It is these lawless men who set the scene for the first several chapters of California Justice, a book by David Kulczyk chronicles the deadliest shootouts, lynchings and assassinations in California's history. From the death of a few innocent men in 1850 to the shocking assassination of Robert Kennedy by Sirhan Sirhan.

If you're a history teacher looking for a creative way to show the ways of the world in the wild west, this is your book. There are numerous examples of the chaotic towns filled with make-shift shacks and tents in the gold rush era, when men were more likely to take the law into their own hands then to listen to reason.

The stories are suspenseful, shocking and sometimes humurous, which will undoubtedly peak the interest of the passive reader. I do recommend this book for classroom use.

Two of the more famous assassinations highlighted in the book are those of Benjamin "Bugsy" Seigel and Robert Kennedy. The book can be a great introduction into a lesson about the Kennedy's or Robert Kennedy and the tumultuous racial issues of the 60s and 70s.

All in all it's a good book written in short story/vignette style. The best audience would be those interested in teaching or learngin about California history.


Saturday, November 10, 2007

Saluting America's Veterans

History: a continuous, systematic narrative of past events as relating to a particular people, country, period, person, etc., usually written as a chronological account;

The definition sounds simple enough, right? A narrative of past events. And what better way to record history then through first hand accounts of those that experienced these events, whatever they might be.

Wouldn't our history books be much better, had someone taken the time to interview Thomas Jefferson? Or what about a reality show on Ben Franklin. Wouldn't it have been awesome to have a panel of Revolutionary War heroes on Oprah? Imagine the stories these guys would tell. Imagine the information you would get. The dates and the timing of certain attacks. How they really felt about the red coats. History is much more vivid, when it comes right from the source. There is no telling how much richer our history would be, had these things been possible. Today they are possible.

With the recent broadcast of Ken Burns' "The War" on PBS there has been an increased awareness in the stories of this country's veterans. Without the help of many dedicated individuals many of these stories would go untold. Fortunately, is an organization dedicated to telling these stories.

In honor of Veteran's Day on November 11th, American Profile, is asking for veterans' stories. The site already has dozens of first hand accounts directly from the mouths of the soldiers who lived the pain and the glory of our american wars.

Still, they're looking for more.

Here is their press release, because frankly, it's best right from the source.


NEW YORK, NY (November 6, 2007) - "Saluting America's Veterans" is sounding a call for veterans' stories this Veterans Day, November 11th.

Launched last month in conjunction with the highly-acclaimed Ken Burns' documentary series on World War II, the website has attracted dozens of personal accounts, each one putting a human face on America's 20th-century conflicts. Friends, family and colleagues are invited to share their memories, appreciation, and recognition of veterans; and veterans are invited to share their own stories of tours of duty and beyond. Anchored by a profile of Burns and exclusive video excerpts from "The War," the living museum has attracted compelling and compassionate accounts. For example:

** A WWII infantry rifleman recalls a grizzled old man in a Philippine refugee camp who kissed each of his American liberators one by one.

** A WWII radioman shares journal entries written in the middle of a battle in the South Pacific, a bullet-by-bullet account during which he muses about what his wife might be doing right then.

**A San Francisco woman describes the shock she gave her boyfriend, a WWII Navy enlistee, when she wangled her way onto a Coast Guard boat and met his ship on its return from two years in the South Pacific.

**A WWII war bride recalls an anxious year spent awaiting word of her POW husband.

** A member of a Vietnam helicopter crew tells a nail-biting tale of rescuing a stranded marine by dangling his legs over the side of his hovering aircraft for the marine on the ground to grab onto.

In addition to posting, viewing, and commenting on personal accounts, visitors can read feature articles about American veterans on both the battlefront and the homefront, including profiles of Cpl. Matthew A. Commons, who was killed in Afghanistan, and Earl Morse, founder of the Honor Flight service that takes veterans free of charge to the war memorials in Washington, D.C.Visitors can help send veterans on Honor Flights not only by making donations directly to the organization, but also by submitting stories and photos; the more stories receives, the more veterans it will sponsor for trips to the war memorials in Washington.

"The extraordinary contributions of America's veterans extend beyond the battlefield, and publishing the personal accounts of service members, friends, family and colleagues is our way of showing our gratitude," said Charlie Cox, editor in chief of American Profile, which created the site. "Contributors to this living museum will help ensure that our veterans get the recognition and respect they deserve."


Sunday, September 02, 2007

Utah's State Bird: The California Sea Gull?

At my job, I am in contact regularly with a company from Utah. More specifically, I work with a woman, who's name will be "Tara" to protect her identity. Somehow in talking with her the conversation turned to Utah's State bird. And being the curious mind that I am, I inquired with "Tara" as to why Utah's state bird is the California Sea Gull.

She replied: "It has something to do with the Pioneers and their crops."

Fifth graders from Utah probably know the story, but I think the rest of our nation should be enlightened. That was enough for me to do some research to find out how the California Sea Gull played a part in our great American history.

Here are my findings.

The California sea gull has always been considered the state bird of Utah, even before its "official" inauguration.

The Gull gained this reputation in the summer of 1848, when swarms of crickets attacked the pioneer/Mormon food supply. When the crickets swarmed it is reported that flocks of the California Gulls arrived and settled in the area and "gorged themselves" on the attacking crickets. In return for saving the lives of Utah's earliest settlers, the California Sea Gull was rewarded handsomely.

The California Sea Gull officially became Utah's state bird in 1955, when a Bill, introduced in Utah's house of Reps, was approved and signed.

These birds now nest in large colonies in the islands and dikes of the Great Salt Lake and Utah Lake. A golden statue in Salt Lake City commemorates the event.


Friday, August 10, 2007

Presidents, Mustaches and Baseball

This question was posed to me the other day at work: Who was the last president to have facial hair?

Immediately I thought Theodore Roosevelt, circa 1900.

I immediately eliminated anyone from FDR to the present. No president in the so-called modern era would dare have facial hair for fear that they might be labeled a slacker or a liberal...*gasp*!

And then, to the best of my knowledge I tried to think about the era's that occurred after Teddy Roosevelt to eliminate any other possibilities.

The 20s brought us Wilson and Harding, and both of the images I've ingrained in my head don't include facial hair.

I couldn't picture what Calvin Coolidge looked like, but I knew Hoover didn't, so I eliminated Coolidge based on the fact that he was sandwiched between two non-facial-hair-wearing presidents.

So my 30 seconds of thinking, held true my idea that Teddy Roosevelt was the last president with facial hair. I was wrong. I forgot about William H. Taft, our President from 1909-1913, immediately following our good friend Teddy.

Taft is one of our more portly presidents, standing 6 feet 2 inches and weighing 350 pounds. It is rumored that he once got stuck in the White House bathtub, and then had a special tub installed that was large enough to hold four men.

Surely there is more to Taft's presidency than his being too large for a bathtub. There is... and we turn to our national past time of baseball to give Taft more dignity.

It was opening day, April 14, 1910 in a game between the Washington Senators and the Philadelphia Athletics at Griffith Stadium in Washington D.C. According to legend, after the managers had been introduced, umpire Billy Evans handed Taft the ball and asked him to throw over home plate. So he did.

As the big-wig owner of the Washington Senators, Clark Griffith had the opportunity to socialize with the upper crust of Capital Hill society including members of Congress, the Supreme Court, and the current administration. Taft, was an avid sports fan. He often played golf and tennis, and enjoyed watching baseball.

Griffith thought that by convincing Taft to throw out the ceremonial first pitch of the season, he would have the the presidential seal of approval, thus making it the official national pastime. I'm not sure if he knew he would establish a tradition of ceremonial first pitches.

And nearly every president since has thrown out the first pitch on opening day, with the exception of one. Bonus points if you know which President it is. The Whitehouse website has some pretty cool information about Presidents and Baseball.

Not only is Taft credited with being the first President to "throw out the first pitch", but legend has it that Taft inspired another baseball tradition on that same day, by accident.

As the game between the rival Senators and A's wore on, Taft's 350 lb. frame had become restless in his seat. The small wooden chairs at Griffith Stadium did not "sit" well with our porky President. And after the A's batted in the top of the 7th, Taft stood up stretch his legs. Thinking the President was making his exit, everyone else around the stadium stood up to show their respect for the Commander in Chief. After a few minutes, Taft sat back down, as did the rest of the crowd, and the "seventh-inning-stretch" was born.

For even more detail about this historic game visit

PS - Jimmy Carter is the only president since Taft not to throw out a first pitch.


Monday, July 23, 2007

The Postal System:

On July 26, 1775 the Second Continental Congress established the postal system. Yes, this is the same Continental Congress who deliberated and debated about independence from Britain.

With the revolutionary war in full swing communication was vital to the success of the United States. Congress needed to find a way to expediently relay information to and from the army.

The delegates to decided to put Ben Franklin in charge of the postal system.

The delivery of the mail at this time was not an easy task. Cities and towns were few and far between and were often separated by dense forests. The mail was rarely delivered successfully and was often times returned.

Franklin's efforts however, did bring the nation together and it worked well enough that the United States decided to keep it, even after the war. It has been running ever since...

"Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night...stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Ohio Gang and "the little green house"

A few weeks ago I received a comment on my US History Site Web site that reads:

I am editing a french version of _Propaganda_ , a 1928 book by Edward L. Bernays. At some point, he writes: «In some instances the power of invisible wirepullers is flagrant. The power of the invisible cabinet which deliberated at the poker table in a certain little green house in Washington has become a national legend.»

I am unable to find out what are this house, this Poker table and what he is referring to ( presumably most persons knew about this legend in 1928) Do you
have an idea?

At first I had no idea what he was talking about, but I wanted to help him out. So I did some research and... voila... I found exactly what he was looking for. Below is what I sent him, and like a good scholar, I even showed my sources.

Hi Normand,

Thanks for inquiring... I'm always up for some quick research and the sharing of knowledge...

The "Green House" in Washington seems to be kind of a meeting place where illegal activity would go on. In other words, mobsters, criminals, organized crime leaders etc, would meet certain congressmen in this house on K Street and bribe and negotiate for shorter sentences or for favorable legislation.

Warren G. Harding, a well known corrupt President of the US from 1921-1923, brought with him to washington grifters, blackmailers, and crooks, known as the "Ohio Gang"

... Some members of this "Ohio Gang" rented...
"what came to be known as "the Little Green House" at i6ï5 K Street, and it soon was a center of revelry almost twenty-four hours a day. For the right people, good liquor was available in unlimited amounts; much of it had been confiscated by the government, and sometimes it was delivered in official vehicles by armed guards in uniform. The Ohio Gang eagerly solicited bribes from bootleggers seeking immunity, men in jail who wanted to be released, men under indictment who wanted the proceedings dropped, and German owners of property sequestered during the war. Nobody knows what the take amounted to in the thirty months or so that the Ohio Gang was in the saddle, but it has been estimated that, in graft and waste, this group cost the country about two billion dollars."

to this day, K Street is a well known as being Washington's lobbyist corridor...

Here's more information...

luck with your editing. And if you end up using my name as a reference, I would love a copy of the book. Thanks.

Kevin Katz

As it turns out, Normand is going to put in a good word for me to see if my name might appear in the book. Granted, it is going to be a book written in French, but that's just the same.

Edward L. Bernays pioneered the scientific technique of manipulating public opinion, only he called it "engineering of consent." Basically he was a very influential and persuasive writer. Here is a link to his book, Propaganda.


Friday, July 06, 2007

I've Been Tagged

The date was July 4th. I was sitting in my office on an otherwise peaceful weekday morning. Leaning back and looking out my window I can see the wonderful buildings that make up the beautiful landscape of the most historical city in the United States, the fabulous Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

I'm disappointed we didn't do something more patriotic than walk to my Aunt Bobby's house to watch fireworks and listen to the concert at the Art Museum. Incidentally it was Philly's own Patti Labelle and Hall and Oates. But we're busy. My wife and I just moved into our new home on June 4th, and my dad and I spent the day putting a wooden deck floor on our previously fiberglass patio.

That said, my day was brightened when I found myself in the middle of a virtual game of tag. Hercules Mulligan of the Foundation Forum Blog, tug me. Which means I'm it, and I must do the following...

1. Let others know who tagged you.
2. Players start with 8 random facts about themselves.
3. Those who are tagged should post these rules and their 8 random facts.
4. Players should tag 8 other people and notify them they have been tagged.

Without further ado, here are my 8 random facts.

1. I am related to Moses. Yes, THE Moses. My father is Jewish. Our last, Katz, is a name of the Kohen or Cohen. In the Jewish faith this means that we are royalty and our lineage can be traced back to Aaron, the brother of Moses. (here's some validity from a reputable source)

2. I used to collect Pez dispensers and I have nearly 700 of them. Of these 700 I have 21 different Donald Ducks from the 1950s through the early 21st century. To the naked eye many of these look the same, however any Pez dispenser would soon notice that the countries of origin on their stems would make each of them unique.

3. I played college baseball and was hit by 19 pitches in 28 games as a junior. My coach was convinced that I led the nation in that category but it was not a stat that was quantified for rankings. I'm also proud to say that I batted .301 and led our team in runs scored. Unfortunately, my senior year was a bust and I lost my starting job about halfway through the year. I'm a little embarrassed by my senior year statistics, so I live vicariously through the stats of my junior year.

4. I can recite all 50 states in alphabetical order. This is not that interesting, but in the aforementioned rules, it is a random fact. This skill sometimes comes in handy during trivia.

5. I once met Yogi Berra at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. Yogi and a few of his friends were at the MOMA for an exhibit on baseball cards. He was leaving and was trying to sneak out of the museum through the Egyptian room. I approached his friend and asked if it was Yogi, even though I was 100% sure it was. I was just being polite. Yogi stopped to pose for a picture with me, and my girlfriend of the time snapped a great picture of me and Yogi with our arms around each other. The picture was later sent to Yogi and signed. It's a great shot.

6. My little sister, who is 9 months my former learned to ride a bike before me. My competitiveness kicked in and she only learned 1 day before me. I'll never forgive her.

7. I once participated in a parade as a juggling clown. That's all I have to say about that. And yes, I can juggle.
8. I am a karaoke king. I once had girls dancing on tables to my rendition of Garth Brooks' "Aint Goin' Down 'til the Sun Comes Up". Seriously.

So there you have it... 8 random facts about yours truly. If you have any questions or would like to learn more, please feel free to comment.

I humbly tag the following:

A. Lincoln Blog - A site I reference periodically for anything and everything about Abraham Lincoln. The blog producer is an author and a professor.

American Presidents Blog - incite into our great, and not so great Chiefs of Staff.

HistoryMike - sometimes history, sometimes current events, sometimes irreverence, always amusing.

History is Elementary - a super blog, by a super teacher. I was a high school history teacher, and any teacher deserves to wear a badge of honor. This really is an enlightening site.

Civil War Bookshelf - if its news about the Civil War.. it's on this blog.

I'll tag 3 more at a later date...


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

July 4, 1826: Goodbye to Adams and Jefferson

I'm a few days late with this one...but I was busy... with a new house and some handy work to be done, we can't always be on time for something we're not paid to do....

Without further ado, I bring you some interesting fodder about the 4th of July and a few of our founding fathers.


How cool is it that Thomas Jefferson, the author of so much of what we call "America", in word and spirit, died on the 50th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence on the 4th of July in 1826.

And how about the fact that John Adams died on that exact same day!
A coincidence like that certainly leads you to believe that perhaps both of them loved this country so much that they held on to life to pass on the anniversary of the greatest day in American history.

Both members of the all important the Continental Congress of 1776, Adams and Jefferson both adamantly promoted and defended the Declaration of Independence and the echoing words "all men are created equal."

From this, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson grew very close and developed a mutual respect and affinity for each other. However, the Declaration of Independence may have been the only political agenda on which they agreed.

Adams became president after the Great George Washington stepped down. Incidentally, Thomas Jefferson became Adams' Vice President. During the fledgling years of the United Stats, the Vice President was the presidential nomination receiving the second highest vote total. During this administration, Adams and Jefferson disagreed on almost everything.

In the election of 1800, Jefferson defeated Adams to take the presidency, and despite their mutual respect for each other's views and their teamwork in declaring independence from Britain, Adams and Jefferson became bitter rivalries. Additionally, the fact that political parties started to form around each of their views only widened the gap between their ideologies.

Fortunately, their respect for each other trumped their political ties and upon retirement they became the best of friends.

Many believe that on his death bed, John Adams uttered the words. "Thomas Jefferson survives." Little did he know that Jefferson had actually passed away a few hours before him.

Here is a great site describing and validating Adams' last words via first hand accounts from the woman who was with him during his passing and from a diary from his son John Quincy Adams.

It is also rumored that upon Adam's death a messenger dispatched to carry the terrible news to Jefferson's Virginia home passed a messenger dispatched from Jefferson's home bring the same terrible news to John Adams. Though is it even possible to have knowledge of such an event, considering both messenger were probably lone riders on horseback traveling the countryside. This story might be more believable had Jefferson and Adams died in the same town, so I highly doubt this rumor.
So there you have it... two of the greatest men our country will ever know, fittingly passed on the anniversary of the greatest day in American history. A day that would not have been possible without them. Thank you gentleman, for your determination, fervor, sacrifice and most importantly, your courage.


PS: On July 4th, in 1831 James Monroe, our 5th President, also died on this fitting day.
In 1850 our 12th President, Zachary Taylor participated in July 4th activities at the Washington monument. It was a cold and blistery day and the president became ill. He died five days later on July 9th.

One more Presidential fact about the Fourth of July. Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President, was born in Vermont on July 4th, 1872.


Monday, June 25, 2007

Custer's Last Stand: The Battle of Little Big Horn

On June 25, 1876, George Armstrong Custer and some 265 men under his command died in the Battle of Little Big Horn, often referred to as Custer's Last Stand.

We've all heard of Little Big Horn and Custer's Last Stand...but can we remember the story?

In 1874 Gold Was discovered in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Naturally, many white farmers fled their homes into the Black Hills territory, which had been ceded to the Sioux Indian in the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie. This treaty was a result of an odd congressional committee who set out to make peace with the natives of the western lands.

The Indian Peace Commission was established to end the wars and skirmishes and prevent future Indian conflicts. The United States government set out to establish a series of Indian treaties that would force the Indians to give up their lands and move further west onto reservations. One of the defining moments of Manifest Destiny... makes you proud to be an American, huh?

The Treaty clearly described that these lands belonged to the Sioux tribe. But, in the winter of 1875 the U.S. ordered the Sioux to return to their reservation. Communication was not a strong point of the primitive Sioux, so there were many Indians who did not get the message who were considered "hostile". So the U.S. Army prepared for battle to force the Sioux back to the reservation.

Custer headed a division charged with locating and routing tribes organized for resistance under Chief Sitting Bull. Custer's original plan was to team with General Alfred H. Terry and entrap the Lakota Sioux and the Cheyenne tribe at the mouth of the Little Big Horn and force them back to their reservations.

However, Custer found Sitting Bull encamped on the Little Big Horn River in Montana. Against orders, Custer waged an immediate attack. Bad idea. In less than an hour, the five companies under Custer's immediate command were slaughtered. For several days the few U.S. soldiers who remained continued to fight for their lives in hopes that relief would come. Smooth move by Custer. Disobeying orders and making an executive decision really worked out for him here.

When reinforcements came, on June 27, the Indians retreated. General Terry, arrived at Little Big Horn to find the bodies of nearly one third of Custer's 7th Cavalry, including Custer and his brother.

This, however was a short lived victory for the Native Americans. The Battle of Little Big Horn alerted the public to the savagery of Native Americans and federal troops were ordered to the Black Hills area to show the Sioux and the Cheyenne what manifest destiny was really about.


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A Turning Point of the Revolutionary War

What's interesting about the Civil War is that there is so much information written about the men, the battles they fought and the decision making of their leaders. Through primary source documents like letters and journals and maps, we will never be at a loss for information about the Civil War.

The Revolutionary War is different. Why is it that there isn't a lot of information written about the specific battles and the executive decisions of the leaders of the Revolutionary War? Is it because we are pre-occupied by the passion and fervor of our founding fathers that there isn't a desire to know about the nuances of the war?

John Ferling, author of Almost a Miracle: The America Victory in the War of Independence, discussed a specific turning point of the Revolutionary War on his blog several weeks ago. The story was one that I was not familiar with but I'm glad it was brought to light. You can read the entire article at

The Southern Strategy

After a devastating loss at Saratoga in 1777, Great Britain was certain they could not win the war in the North.

Incidentally, Saratoga is considered by many historians to be the turning point of the war. The battle proved to the entire world that the United States was a force to be reckoned with. As a result of this victory, the French took an interest in the American's cause and began to support them, particularly because they now thought they might win.

This caused Great Britain to shift strategy and switched to what became known as the Southern Strategy.

Great Britain realized that the retention of the Southern colonies, as crucial to winning the war. Britain thought they could capitalize on the cash crops of tobacco and rice and believed the southern region was teeming with loyalists. That said, Britain turned their focus to the reconquest of Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia. This would surely lead to a large profitable empire that would stretch from Canada, through the trans-Appalachian west (west of the colonies of New York and Pennsylvania) into the aforementioned southern colonies and into Florida, which was already a British Colony as a result of the Seven Years War. This on top of some sugar islands in the Caribbean, some of which by the way are still under British rule.

If the British were to be victorious in this strategy, it would leave the United States with only 9 states, all of which would be surrounded by the British Empire, meaning the United States' chance for survival in the near or distant future would be slim.

By the summer of 1780, it appeared that the British strategy would be successful. Britain retook Savannah, GA. The British crushed Charleston, South Carolina, killing or capturing nearly 7,000 Americans in the process. And then finally, Camden, South Carolina became the 3rd city to fall in less than 2 years. Things did not look good for America...

But then, something happened that will ignite American pride in every patriot in this great land... something that is made for the big screen of Hollywood... something that is the perfect subject of a book.... see John Ferling above.... something unexpected that changed the course of history...

Citizens of South Carolina came out of the woodwork... well, actually, they came out of the "dark swamps" and the "thick woods" of the back country and ambushed the British troops guerrilla style.

John Ferling says it best:

"The Southern rebels who reached for their arms in 1780 were driven by myriad hopes and fears. Some fought to save the American Revolution, which they believed offered the promise of liberating political, social, and economic change. Others were Scotch-Irish Presbyterians who long had loathed Great Britain and its state church. Some were adventurers or opportunists. Many sought revenge against the heavy handed actions of the British, who had jailed suspected rebels, liberated their slaves, and even burned churches. But nothing had stirred the South Carolinians as much as the bloody attack led by Colonel Banastre Tarleton against a force of Continentals in the Waxhaws north of Charleston late in May. Tarleton’s American Legion, a loyalist force, had overwhelmed the Continentals, and then massacred up to 75 percent of them as they tried to surrender.

Some South Carolina rebels joined with guerrilla bands led by the likes of Thomas Sumter, Francis Marion, and Andrew Pickens. These guerrilla warriors emerged from dark swamps and thick forests to strike enemy supply lines and ambush British forage parties. Others, in small vigilante packs, terrorized Loyalists, hoping to keep them from aiding the British."

The result of the South Carolina attacks put a huge damper on the Southern Strategy. For the next 6 months, Cornwallis and his troops suffered many defeats and had no choice but to turn their strategy back to the north, to try and meet up with some British troops in Virginia. From their, he would head to Yorktown where he eventually surrendered.

PS - Thanks to Kate Klenfner of Oxford University Press, for bringing this great article to my attention.

Click here to bye John Ferling's Book

American Revolution Lesson Plans
Revolutionary War Lesson Plans


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

D-Day: A Veteran's Thoughts on Omaha Beach

"As I write this it is 4:27AM DST. It is already 10:27 on the beaches of Normandy. 63 years ago some of the greatest people ever to pull on a helmet paid the ultimate sacrifice. Thousands of other lay in hospitals. Thank GOD many made the hill. I was not one of them.

When I fell out for detail at *:00 AM in Kingston Bagby, England. Our First Sergeant announced this fact and I said a silent prayer. Why I didn't get the call, only GOD and the US Army know.

But I am asking you to join me for all of those 11 million that served and especially those 10,000 plus that lay in peace under white crosses at the top of OMAHA BEACH."

Joe Vetter, World War II Army Veteran


Monday, May 28, 2007

The History of Memorial Day

Originally known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day was a day set aside to honor the nation's Civil War casualties by decorating the soldier's graves.

Memorial Day was first widely observed on May 30, 1868 to commemorates the sacrifices of the Civil War soldiers. General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of former soldiers and sailors proclaimed the following:

"The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit."

At first observance of Decoration Day, in 1868, General James Garfield (it would be another 14 years until he would be President) spoke at Arlington National Cemetery. Afterwards, some 5,000 attendees helped to decorate the graves of the more than 20,000 soldiers from both the Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.

Many Northern and Southern cities and towns claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. Some of these include Columbus, Miss.; Macon, Ga.; Richmond, Va.; Boalsburg.; and Carbondale, Ill. However it is Waterloo, New York who officially holds this honor.

In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson, declared Waterloo, N.Y., the official birthplace of Memorial Day. Waterloo was chosen because it had first celebrated a similar holiday on May 5, of 1866, and had made the day an annual community-wide event, where businesses would close and the townsfolk would decorate the graves with flowers and flags.

After World War I, the observances of the day began to honor those who had died in any and all of the American Wars. In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday which was to be celebrated or observed on the last Monday in May. Veteran's Day, a similar observance is celebrated on November 11 each year. I'm not exactly sure what the difference is.

Today, like the original observance in 1868, Memorial Day is celebrated with a big to-do at Arlington National Cemetery. Small American flags are placed on each grave, and it is tradition that the president or vice-president to give a speech honoring the dead. A wreath is layed at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. About 5,000 people attend the ceremony annually.

Additionally, many Southern states set aside another day honoring the dead of the Confederates. It's usually called Confederate Memorial Day. I'm not sure why this day would be any different from Memorial Day or Veteran's Day, but it must not be that important because I've lived in Georgia for two years and have never noticed April 26 as being Confederate Memorial Day.

Mississippi and Alabama celebrate the day on the last Monday in April. North and South Carolina it is May 10. Louisiana and Tennessee, June 3. Texas is January 19. And finally, Virginia takes the cake by celebrating Confederate Memorial Day on the same day as the Federal issued Memorial Day, on the last Monday in May.

That is it that the famous Virginian, Robert E. Lee said? Something about my state before my country. State before the country is the reason the Articles of Confederation failed... but that is for another time.

Even if you don't agree with our current conflict in Iraq, or if you were against our involvement in Vietnam. If you're still confused about our involvement in Korea, or agree with isolationism in World War I. Or have sour taste in your mouth about World War II. Even if you're a pacifist through hand through... today is a time to honor those that have died. Some are heroes, some are schleps. Many were suckered into going to war. Many were too scared to dodge the draft. Some want to be there. Some don't.

All of them are to be honored.

Thank you to each and every person who's had a hand in protecting the freedoms of Americans, the Vietnamese, the Koreans, the Iraqis. Those that rid the world from Hitler and Mussolini. The ones who died protecting southern culture, or fighting for the equality of all men.

Thank you.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Lincoln On Leadership: Circulate Amongst the Troops

I'm in the process of reading a pretty good book for executives and historians alike. It discusses executive strategies in leadership using Abraham Lincoln's approach. You'll learn a lot about the person underneath the Stovepipe hat and even more about the person reading the book (Yes, you!)

The first chapter's advice is to " Get out of the Office and Circulate among the Troops".

Lincoln surely did this. Often times Lincoln would be found with the troops, riding his horse through the ranks, amidst a background of cheers and applause. Lincoln found that casual contacts with "subordinates" was as important as formal meetings. He believed that people would feel less intimidated and be more open when in a relaxing atmosphere, as opposed to closed up in a meeting room.

Lincoln was known for motivating the troops by telling them his long term vision of the United States. From this, the troops would see the big picture and understand their role in that picture. Giving someone a sense of importance is a motivating factor which is very effective.

The picture to the right shows Lincoln who came to Antietam after the Battle of Bull Run to fire General McClellan. The picture shows Lincoln amongst the troops after the battle. Surely, Lincoln could have fired McLellan via telegram. But Lincoln is a stand up guy and probably used this as a way not to show panic amongst the troops.
The picture to the left is Lincoln talking to McClellan.

To this note, it is well known that Lincoln changed Civil War generals several times before sticking with U.S. Grant. Some say Lincoln was too involved in the decisions of the war, or that he was micromanaging. The fact remains, he did what needed to be done to keep the Union together. This could be an entirely new entry, so I'll leave it at that.

Honest Abe had an open door policy and would rarely turn anyone away. According to some observers he would spend 3/4 of his time out of the office taking what Lincoln referred to as "public opinion baths". Literally bathing himself in the thoughts of the common man. Lincoln himself said, "I have little time to read the papers and gather public opinion that way... as a whole [it] is renovating and invigorating."

Obviously, in this day and age, it is a lot harder for a president to 'circulate' amongst the common man without causing chaos. Lincoln would often refuse protection and was comfortable with his ability to relate to everyone. His amiability was one of his best qualities. A quality which allowed him to gain trust from the common man. He was self-deprecating in social settings, in such a way where his stories, would keep people entertained, but at his own expense. This, might be a result of his melancholy and a way to hide his true feelings of depression. Regardless, he was very like-able in these situations.

During the War, Lincoln could usually be found sitting next to the telegraph machine waiting for the latest battle update. This, instead of waiting across the street in his office for a messenger to deliver the news. This strategy, of looking over the decoder's shoulder, allowed Lincoln to read the telegram quickly, and immediately write a response to be quickly relayed back to the appropriate party. It allowed him to make quick decisions, something that is vital in times of war.

Future leaders can learn from Lincoln's example of getting wide acceptance of a philosophy by demonstrating it in your everyday actions. By entering your subordinate's environment, you establish a frequent human contact which develops a sense of commitment and community. With this comes trust and access to vital information that might otherwise be spread behind your back.

There is no question that Lincoln's style was effective.
PS - The book is: Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times. It is a quick read which gives you great insight into how Lincoln operated.


Monday, May 14, 2007

Separate is Not Equal: Brown v. The Board of Education

In 1954 on May 17th the Supreme Court made a decision that would change the way people lived in the United States forever.

It was on this day that the Supreme Court overturned the decision of Plessy v. Ferguson. For 50 years, the Supreme Court upheld precedent which permitted racial segregation in public facilities.
Separate bathrooms, separate water fountains, separate schools, separate rail cars etc... It was determined that "separate was equal."

However, it is well known that these separate schools were hardly equal. The black schools were the ones that were worn down. The black schools had the old books. The black schools were further away. The black bathrooms weren't cleaned as often. The black rail cars were not close the platform... this is not equal.

It was this way until a little girl and her family fought back.

The case was actually a class action suit filed against the Board of Education of the City of Topeka, Kansas, made up of 13 Topeka parents fighting on behalf of their 20 children.

Linda Brown, a 3rd grader, was denied enrollment in a white school just seven blocks from her home, and was instead instructed to go to her designated black school, which was across a set of rail road tracks and over 1 hour away This, is not equal.

Future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall led brown’s legal team. Marshall was sensitive to issues like this. Incidentally, Marshall applied to go to the University of Maryland Law School, but was denied admission because he was Black. Instead, Marshall went to Howard University Law School where the new dean instilled a desire in the the students to apply the tenets of the Constitution to all Americans.

Marshall, was reluctantly living the life of the Plessy v. Ferguson era. Going to a black school, having been denied acceptance into the white school. He would, however get his just deserts, as his first major court case came in 1933 when he successfully sued the University of Maryland to admit a young African American. That is justice.

In the Brown case, Presiding Cheif Justice Earl Warren wrote the unanimous decision stating that racial segregation was unconstitutional… (totally different world to think that anyone would think the opposite.)

The decision's basis was that "separate is inherently unequal…" Our Constitution's 14th Amendment clearly states that no citizen of the united states should be denied the right to life or liberty.

"All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
I don't see any ambiguity in this one... No State, shall make any Law which shall abridge the privileges of its citizens. Period.

This case, paved the way for civil rights and should be celebrated as one of the greatest victories in American History...
Excellent resource for classrooms:


Thursday, April 26, 2007

Abraham Lincoln's Corrupt Bargain

James Gordon Bennett, was the founder, editor and publisher of the New York Herald from 1835 until 1866 when the reigns were handed to his son.

Though Bennett will tell you that his newspaper was officially independent, he made it well known that he opposed Abraham Lincoln.

Consider this excerpt from an 1864 Herald, editorial:

President Lincoln is a joke incarnated. His election was a very sorry joke. The idea that such a man as he should be President of such a country as this is a very ridiculous joke. . . His inaugural address was a joke, since it was full of promises which he has never performed. His Cabinet is and always has been a standing joke. All his State papers are jokes. . . His intrigues to secure a renomination and the hopes he appears to entertain of a re-election are, however, the most laughable jokes of all.

Surely, first amendment rights take precedent, but allowing this in the paper is hardly the act of an 'independent' newspaper.

To win the 1864 nomination, Lincoln needed to win New York and needed support from Bennett and the Herald in order to do that. So Lincoln did what any good politician would do... he asked Bennett to name his price. Bribery? From Lincoln? This can't be...

Bennett, a newspaper tycoon, didn't need the money and simply wanted "attention" and "recognition".

A newspaperman before anything else, Bennett agreed to give Lincoln's administration "a thorough exposition in the columns of the Herald," provided that Lincoln and his advisers "occasionally... make known to him [their] plans."

It's important to note that the Herald was known for lacking in morals and respectability and Bennett was barred from polite New York society because he was "too pitchy to touch".

Lincoln, needing the votes, appointed the totally unqualified Bennett as minister to France. Bennett, who wanted the social recognition, accepted the position.

The bargain was done. The Herald no longer criticized the President, and New York's 33 Electoral Votes went to Lincoln.

Donald, David. Lincoln Reconsidered. 2nd ed. New York: Alfred a. Knopf, Inc., 1956. 74-75.


Sunday, April 15, 2007

We The People... Must Pay Taxes

Traditionally, April 15 is tax day. It is a day that lives in infamy as the one event that many Americans see as the Government's way to take advantage of the common man. Still others see it as a necessity to allow the government to take care of things we normally wouldn't want to do on our own, i.e. deliver mail, put out fires, fix the potholes, police our streets, dispose of waste, or mow the grass at the park.

In order for our government to establish Justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty... We the People, must pay taxes. Plain and simple.

However, it wasn't always this way.

The fledgling United States did not originally have an income tax. The original tax was brought about because of the great debt the states were in after The Revolutionary War.

Coincidentally, The Revolutionary War was ended on April 15, 1783 when the Continental Congress ratified preliminary articles of peace with Great Britain.

There shall be a firm and perpetual peace between his Britannic Majesty and the said States,…wherefore all hostilities both by sea and land shall then immediately cease.

Originally, monies collected from Whiskey and tobacco taxes provided much of
the government's early revenues. However, financing the Revolutionary War was expensive and the young United States, under The Articles of Confederation, struggled to raise funds from the thirteen states.

The Articles of Confederation (AOC), left the power to the states, leaving the federal government and the executive branch very weak without the power to levy taxes.

The AOC, adopted in 1781, reflected the American fear of a strong central government, something Thomas Jefferson fought against. This fear of a strong central government left much of the political power in the hands of the States. Therefore, the national government had few responsibilities and no nationwide tax system, relying on donations from the States for its revenue. Under the Articles, each State was a sovereign entity and could levy tax as it pleased.

In other words, the States didn't have to pay the Nation.

To pay for the war, the post Revolutionary War era brought about many new taxes. To pay the debts of the Revolutionary War, Congress levied excise taxes on distilled spirits, tobacco and snuff, refined sugar, carriages, property sold at auctions, and various legal documents.

The government however, also decided to use taxes for social influence. In Pennsylvania for example, there was an excise tax on liquor "to restrain persons in low circumstances from an immoderate use thereof." Much like the tax on cigarettes today.

So what about the income tax? When did this come into play? The income tax was not issued until the Civil War. However there was talk of using it sometime before that. There was never a thought to use taxes to equalize income and wealth, or for the purpose of redistributing income or wealth. Although Thomas Jefferson had his opinions on such an idea.

Jefferson, to "promote the general welfare" once wrote:

To take from one, because it is thought his own industry and that of his father
has acquired too much, in order to spare to others who (or whose fathers) have
not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first
principle of association, "to guarantee to everyone a free exercise of his
industry and the fruits acquired by it."
This sounds unfair doesn't it. It throws Darwinism out the window, like a colonial chamber pot. Which is why men would always walk on the building side of the sidewalk, so that they would receive the brunt of the mess, should someone decide to dispose of last night's eliminations at that juncture.

Today, we have the tiered tax system to "promote the general welfare". Sure, you can say its not fair, but that is how it is done. There are all sorts of arguments for a fair tax plan, and ideas to only tax consumer goods and do away with the income tax altogether. Who knows what is best? Who knows if the Fair Tax Act would actually work? I'll save the discussion for another time.

The income tax, as we know it today, was first exercised during the Civil War. When the Civil War erupted, Congress passed the Revenue Act of 1861, which in addition to restoring earlier taxes, also imposed a tax on personal incomes. Any person making more than $800 a year was levied a 3 percent tax. The tax was not enforced until the following year.

In the spring of 1862, it was now clear that the war would not end quickly, as originally thought, and the government would need additional revenue to pay for its $2 million daily growth in debt.

To remedy this Congress passed new taxes on playing cards, gunpowder, feathers, telegrams, iron, leather, pianos, yachts, billiard tables, drugs, patent medicines, many legal documents and once again... whiskey.

The 1862 law also introduced the first tiered tax system. Incomes up to $10,000 were taxed at 3 percent, while anything higher was taxed at 5 percent. There were standard deductions and taxes were withheld at the source by employees.

When the war ended, the need for a continuous Federal revenue stream declined and most taxes were repealed in 1868. The income tax was abolished in 1872.

By 1913, 36 States had ratified the 16th Amendment, which authorized an income tax. The new income tax law had rates beginning at 1 percent and rising to 7 percent for taxpayers with income in excess of $500,000. Less than 1 percent of the population paid income tax at the time. They used the 1040 form, which is something we all know and love.

World War One greatly increased the need for federal revenue generated through taxes. An act in 1916 raised the tax rate. It was raised again in 1918. The Roaring Twenties allowed the economy to boom, and Congress cut the tax rate 5 times.

Even after the crash of 1929, another tax hike was enacted in 1932, and so on and so forth. Each new war brought more money needed, more taxes, different taxes, sneakier taxes, etc...

We the People, in order to form a more perfect Union... must pay taxes.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Here's To You Mr. Robinson

On this date, April 10, 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African-American player to sign a major league contract.

Like the good businessman he turned out to be, Robinson signed a one-year contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Dodger's general manager Branch Rickey personally recruited Robinson from the Negro Leagues to play with his ballclub. Robinson left baseball early, after 10 years of service to pursue other endeavors. He became the Vice President for Chock Full o' Nuts and then tried his hand in politics.

On April 15, 1997, the 50th anniversary of Robinson's entry into Major League Baseball, Commissioner Bud Selig announced that Robinson's #42 would be retired throughout baseball and would never again be issued to on-field personnel. (players currently wearing the number were grandfathered in and allowed to wear the number until retirement)

This year, to mark Robinson's 60th Anniversary, Major League Baseball will honor Robinson once again by allowing players to wear his retired #42 jersey. The idea apparently came as a result of a phone call that Reds' right fielder Ken Griffey Jr. made to baseball commissioner Bud Selig, requesting permission to wear it on the anniversary.

Each of the 15 games throughout Major League Baseball on April 15th will feature festivities to honor Mr. Robinson. The national celebration of Jackie Robinson Day will take place at Dodger Stadium with many VIPs, an on-field ceremony before the game Among those participating in the festivities will be Rachel Robinson, Jackie's wife and founder of The Jackie Robinson Foundation; their daughter, author Sharon Robinson; several of Jackie's former teammates; baseball executives and civic and industry leaders; Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholars; and winners of the Breaking Barriers Essay Contest. (info. courtesy of

In his rookie season of 1947, Robinson won Rookie of the Year. He as the league's Most Valuable Player in 1949, and led the Dodgers to 6 pennants in his 10 seasons. For more information visit the Baseball Almanac for all of Jackie Robinson's Career Stats.

More than a great ball player, Robinson personifies courage, determination and perseverance. He, like so many black ball players after him had to endure a lot of hardship to play the game they loved. I applaud Jackie Robinson not only for his athletic prowess, but for his courage to be the first to step foot on a major league ball field. He could have said no, and left the name calling and death threats to someone else. But he didn't.

Like Robinson, I've all the respect in the world for Hank Aaron as well. He too received death threats and threats to his family if he dared to break the great Babe Ruth's home run record. Well, he dared. And he succeeded.

American history is perseverance. American history is courage. American history is baseball. American history is Jackie Robinson.


For historians, researchers, baseball fans and curious minds, check out ABNER, the National Baseball Hall of Fame Online Library Catalog...


Saturday, April 07, 2007

Too Proud to Fight: U.S. Involvement in World War I

On April 6, 1917, the United States formally declared war against Germany and entered The Great War in Europe.

Already in the war since the summer of 1914, Britain, France, and Russia welcomed news that American troops and supplies would be directed toward the Allied war effort, under the command of Major General John Pershing. Though the United States was already involved in the war and was already helping the Allied war effort.

What was supposed to be none of our business, quickly became our business when a British Cruise liner, the Lusitania, was sunk in the Atlantic Ocean. Of the 1,962 civilians on board, 1,198 of them died, 124 of whom were Americans.

An atrocity!! America claimed that the Lusitania was carrying innocent cargo and vacationers on a cruise ship... very brave vacationers I might add. The United States home front was stunned and demanded that Wilson go to war. But Wilson stood firm and continuously declared neutrality. What a crock! Wilson's actions were never neutral, and I secretly think he always wanted to go to war for economic reasons, but was looking for an excuse to enter the war. He would eventually get his excuse.

This, like many American conflicts was our own fault. President Woodrow Wilson had promised to stay neutral, but he hardly followed through with this promise. In fact, despite his comments, the United States was never neutral, and the Lusitania did not have 'innocent cargo'.

The United States had been shipping war materials to Germany's enemies for some time. The sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 by Germany was justified.

After warning of "unrestricted submarine warfare" to ANY ships found in the Atlantic Ocean in an around Europe, the Germans had every right to torpedo the Lusitania.

Germany had already sunk a number of merchant vessels. Their ban of ships in this area was a simple war time tactic. They feared the US would supply their enemies with supplies on the sly.

Germany, sandwiched between France, Russia and Britain had almost no shot at winning the war. To remotely have a chance, Germany needed to make sure that Russia was not being sent supplies from the US or Britain for that matter. Taking Russia out of the war would eliminate the entire Eastern front and Germany could then focus on the West. Russia did eventually leave the war due to their troops' morale being low as a result of food and supplies not being replenished and the rapidly decreasing economy of their homeland. Russia's surrender was a big reason the United States joined the war... Wilson could not justify staying out of the war and allowing Germany to win.

The Lusitania's cargo, according to Howard Zinn contained the following:

1,248 cases of 3-inch shells
4,927 boxes of cartridges (1000 rounds per box)
2,000 cases of small-arms ammunition.

...hardly an innocent cargo.

Both Britain and the United States then lied about the cargo on-board, falsifying the manifests.

We were asking for it. Germany asked us not to get involved. Germany issued a warning that any ship in the area would be sunk. America claimed it was remaining neutral. As far as I'm concerned, shipping supplies to other countries is not staying neutral.

Perhaps Wilson was looking for an excuse to join the war, despite claiming that "There is such a thing as nation being too proud to fight." How about a nation, too proud to fight for the wrong reasons?

Wilson believed Germany's demands were intruding on the rights of American citizens to sail on the high seas. I believe that Wilson knowingly put American and British lives in danger by ignoring the unrestricted submarine warfare warnings.

This war was not about the United States. It was about European Alliances. It was about Nationalism, Imperialism and Militarism. The United States did not need to be involved. But there is an obvious contradiction to this neutrality with the delivery of supplies. This contradiction leads many to believe that Wilson was looking for a reason to get involved in the war.... but the US interest in the war was more about the future of the US Economy and less about the immediate defense of its citizens.

The United States would not stand to see Britain defeated by Germany. The United States' economy relied heavily on foreign markets to the tune of $3.5 billion. Britain was seen as a country that needed loans and the American companies like JP Morgan and Company were just what Britain needed.

Additionally, industrialists realized that involvement in the war would mean increased production and sale of their resources. Tycoons of steel, railroads, gun powder, automobiles and banks were sure to benefit from the US involvement in the war.

There is no doubt that a war is a good way to pull an economy out of a depression or a recession, but why can't our administrators be honest about why we go to war? It was not about the innocent lives of Americans but rather our posterity.

More to Explore:

World War I Lesson Plans/Primary Source Documents
Woodrow Wilson Lesson Plans/Primary Source Documents


Friday, March 30, 2007

1848: America's Coming Out Party...

In last week's TIME magazine there was an article written by novelist Kurt Andersen which discusses America in the late 1840s, particularly in 1848.

Andersen writes that the United States was "coming of age" in 1848 where miraculous transformation in all facets of human life occurred improving the way in which people lived.

In January of 1848, gold was discovered in Northern California. The Gold Rush was upon us and stories of fortunes and failure would become a part of the "American Way".

The beginning of February brought the end of the Mexican War, which extended the United States from Texas all the way to the Pacific. That's a pretty big chunk.

Meanwhile in London, a German Philosopher would frown upon the petty American citizens and their belief of the "bizarre phenomenon" of striking it rich. Karl Marx and his buddy Friedrich Engels were published The Communist Manifesto, causing riots in Europe. Marx and Engels believed that getting rich from gold was something that "was not provided for in the Manifesto" because the philosophy does not believe in the creation of "large new markets out of nothing". Think again gentlemen!

California's Gold Rush turned San Francisco into the largest city west of Chicago. This due in large part to the prospect of fortune.

There were several improvements of speed in 1848. The first being the telegraph. 1848 marked the first year that country was wired. From Boston to New York City to Washington to Chicago and New Orleans, the country could communicate much faster than it could before. What used to take weeks and then days, would now only take seconds. The world was now much smaller.

The same year, in upstate New York, an unprecedented gathering of women demanded suffrage and women's rights.

With the increased speed of the printing presses, newspapers were popping up all over the country and truly came of age in the late 1840s. The Associated Press was formed in 1846.
Andersen claims that "railroad mania" really took flight in the late 1840s. Four times as much railroad track was laid than in 1847.

It was also the late 1840s when Pioneers began their trek across the wilderness in search of a better life.

The 1840s also saw the first department store, the first 'national brand', and the first presidential campaigns. "Tippecanoe and Tyler too!!" Forget the selling of Richard Nixon as president. The US was suckered into electing William Henry Harrison. The Whigs remade Harrison into a great war hero, though he was nothing more than a boring, uninspired military leader. (see the poster on the left)
With an expanded voting base, both parties, the Whigs and the Democrats were prepared to appeal to these new masses and set out on national campaign efforts. Eighty Percent more people voted in this election then in the previous one. The election of 1836 had 1,503,534 total votes, while 1840 had 2,411,808 total votes. William Harrison had nearly as many votes in 1840, 1,275,390, as the entire candidate pool from 1836.

Andersen claims that 1848 saw the country's first theatrical "mega hit", A Glance at New York, which featured dialogue spoken in the vernacular sense. But let's be honest, this came into vogue in the Renaissance as well and was nothing new.

The main fan base of these shows were the heart and soul of the mean streets of the city, forming the first American youth sub-culture. These "Bowery Boys and Girls" were foulmouthed and rambunctious, and according to Andersen, enjoyed physical violence. A precursor to today's youth hip-hop culture.

The article continues in stating that PT Barnum began his traveling show in the late 1840s and such authors as Walt Whitman and Nathanial Hawthorne began their work on the classics Leaves of Grass and The Scarlet Letter respectively. Though I always associated this work by Whitman with the Civil War.

Henry David Thoreau's On Walden Pond experience began in the late 1840s... on this same note, Andersen fails to mention that environmentalist, naturalist, preservationist and writer John Muir journeyed across the Atlantic from Scotland in 1848.

Muir who's works are still read to this day, later founded the Sierra Club. He befriended Teddy Roosevelt in the early 1900s and convinced him that the parks were being mismanaged by the states and the misuse of resources and urged Roosevelt to do something about it. A 'woodsy' guy himself Roosevelt went on to establish the nation's first national bird reserve, which eventually became the Wildlife Refuge System. Roosevelt also charged congress with creating the United States Forrest Service. (Muir and Roosevelt are pictured to the right)

Roosevelt set aside more land for national parks and nature preserves than all of his predecessors combined, 194 million acres. In all, by 1909, the Roosevelt administration had created an unprecedented 42 million acres of national forests, 53 national wildlife refuges and 18 areas of "special interest", including the Grand Canyon.

Perhaps, modern thought, modern communication, modern transportation and modern American life did begin in the late 1840s. It was time unequalled in its aggressiveness towards speed, change and modernity.

Though the some, like Walden, distanced themselves from it. And many still today try to follow in his footsteps to find a balance. If this is you... I suggest reading the works of Thoreau as well as John Muir, it truly is an enlightening, relaxing experience that takes you away from whatever stresses you have.