Buchanan Did Nothing, but Meant Well…

In his fourth annual message to Congress, President James Buchanan addressed the crisis of Secession and how he intended to handle it… the results were underwhelming and have forever relegated him to the “worst Presidents” list.

 

“The course of events is so rapidly hastening forward that the emergency may soon arise when you may be called upon to decide the momentous question whether you possess the power by force of arms to compel a State to remain in the Union…”

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Buchanan offered a timid, ineffectual answer that has forever stained his one term in office…

“After much serious reflection I have arrived at the conclusion that no such power has been delegated to Congress or to any other department of the Federal Government. It is manifest upon an inspection of the Constitution that this is not among the specific and enumerated powers granted to Congress, and it is equally apparent that its exercise is not “necessary and proper for carrying into execution” any one of these powers. So far from this power having been delegated to Congress, it was expressly refused by the Convention which framed the Constitution.”

 

Ol’ Buck showed no backbone and capitulated to the slave interests one final time.  Secession is wrong, but I won’t stop you.  That’s leadership?

 

 

 

 

 

April 12, 1864: Fort Pillow

Almost Chosen People

Fort Pillow

 Northern casualties were more than 63 percent, and the number of black soldiers killed was disproportionately high. There is no doubt there was a massacre of some kind. But I think he (Forrest) did everything he could to stop it. Next day, when the Federals came in and shelled the place, he sent a captured Union captain and a Confederate soldier back with a white flag to tell ’em to stop shootin’ their own wounded men because that’s all that was left at the fort.

Civil War historian Shelby Foote on Fort Pillow

Easily the most controversial engagement of the Civil War, the storming of Fort Pillow by forces under Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest and what happened in the aftermath have been hotly contested for the past one hundred and fifty years.  Fort Pillow was a Union fort on the Mississippi 40 miles north of Memphis, Tennessee.  It was garrisoned…

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Civil War Grub: Feeding Billy Yank and Johnny Reb 

Presidential History Blog

“An army travels on its belly.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

First…Some Numbers and Perspectives

Sometimes it is difficult to comprehend plain-old numbers. 

Like …more than 1,000,000 Union soldiers who fought in the Civil War – and more than 600,000 Rebels. Jiggling it into a more comprehensible picture: New York City, with the largest population in the country, had about 1 million residents (according to the 1860 census).

Like …a division or a corps vastly outnumbered many of the local populations where fighting took place. With around 80,000 soldiers, the Army of Northern Virginia (CSA) easily dwarfed the 38,000 Richmond residents. And Richmond was the third largest city in the South! (Charleston had around 40,000 – and they both paled in comparison to New Orleans with nearly 170,000.)

Like …Gettysburg, a small crossroad town of 2400. The combined armies had 60 soldiers for every civilian.

Feeding the boys in blue and gray…

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Jefferson’s Birthday

 

Further proof that the trend of combining different commemorations into banker’s holidays… is truly foolish, look no further than Thomas Jefferson.

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Upon entering the executive mansion… citizens began petitioning him for the use of his birthday as a holiday, he gently reminded them, ‘The only birthday I ever commemorate, is that of our Independence, the Fourth of July.’

When a formal request arrived from the Mayor of Boston… Jefferson explained it like this,  “it is clear, disapproving myself of transferring the honors and veneration for the great birthday of our republic to any individual, or of dividing them with individuals, I have declined letting my own birthday be known, and have engaged my family not to communicate it. This has been the uniform answer to every application of the kind.”

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Truman and Civil Rights

Harry Truman announced a bold plan to guarantee civil rights to all Americans regardless of race. He made the declaration to a special session of Congress on February 2, 1948.

His plan divided his party’s convention that summer.

“Today, the American people enjoy more freedom and opportunity than ever before. Never in our history has there been better reason to hope for the complete realization of the ideals of liberty and equality.

We shall not, however, finally achieve the ideals for which this Nation was founded so long as any American suffers discrimination as a result of his race, or religion, or color, or the land of origin of his forefathers.

Unfortunately, there still are examples—flagrant examples—of discrimination which are utterly contrary to our ideals. Not all groups of our population are free from the fear of violence. Not all groups are free to live and work where they please or to improve their conditions of life by their own efforts. Not all groups enjoy the full privileges of citizenship and participation in the government under which they live.

We cannot be satisfied until all our people have equal opportunities for jobs, for homes, for education, for health, and for political expression, and until all our people have equal protection under the law

The legislation I have recommended for enactment by the Congress at the present session is a minimum program if the Federal Government is to fulfill its obligation of insuring the Constitutional guarantees of individual liberties and of equal protection under the law.

Under the authority of existing law, the Executive branch is taking every possible action to improve the enforcement of the civil rights statutes and to eliminate discrimination in Federal employment, in providing Federal services and facilities, and in the armed forces.

I have already referred to the establishment of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. The Federal Bureau of Investigation will work closely with this new Division in the investigation of Federal civil rights cases. Specialized training is being given to the Bureau’s agents so that they may render more effective service in this difficult field of law enforcement.

It is the settled policy of the United States Government that there shall be no discrimination in Federal employment or in providing Federal services and facilities. Steady progress has been made toward this objective in recent years. I shall shortly issue an Executive Order containing a comprehensive restatement of the Federal non-discrimination policy, together with appropriate measures to ensure compliance.

During the recent war and in the years since its close we have made much progress toward equality of opportunity in our armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin. I have instructed the Secretary of Defense to take steps to have the remaining instances of discrimination in the armed services eliminated as rapidly as possible.”

March 20, 1917: Lansing Memorandum

Almost Chosen People

On March 17, 1917, President Wilson met with his Cabinet to consider the question of whether the US should enter the Great War.  Fortunately for historians of this period, Secretary of State Robert Lansing drafted a detailed memorandum of the meeting:

The Cabinet Meeting of today I consider the most momentous and therefore, the most historic of any of those which have been held since I became Secretary of State, since it involved, unless a miracle occurs the question of war with Germany and the abandonment of the policy of neutrality which has been pursued for two years and a half….

The corridors of the State Department and Executive Office swarmed with press correspondents seeking to get some inkling of what would be done from passing officials. It was through these eager crowds of news-gatherers that I forced my way at half-past two Tuesday afternoon under a bombardment of questions…

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President Ike and the Interstate Highway System

Presidential History Blog

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Ike – the WWI tank officer

POTUS Ike: The Early Advocate

Dwight D. Eisenhower was a Lt. Colonel in the US Army in 1917, when US participation in The Great War began. He was deeply disappointed that he was not assigned to active military service abroad; instead he was posted to the transportation sector, particularly its newest technology: tanks.

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A typical road circa 1920.

Realizing that military needs and public safety were intricately tied to our increasingly mobile society, the Army undertook a cross-country transportation maneuver from Washington DC to California.

It took 62 days involving 81vehicles of various description, a task-force of 24 officers and 258 enlisted men, and an average speed of 6 miles per hour, or just under 60 miles a day. It was a huge and grueling undertaking. Ike went along, and was charged with writing one of the reports. He indicated that while the infrastructure…

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Lost Dog of the American Revolution: General Howe & George Washington

THE CHRONICLES OF HISTORY

The story begins on a bloody battlefield one cold foggy morning in October. A huge battle rages all around in a small place called Germantown. Men by the thousands are engaged in the fighting. Chaos is everywhere among the muskets and canons. Washington has eleven-thousand men against the British’s nine-thousand soldiers. A little dog is lost in the aftermath…

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Governor Lincoln?

Almost Chosen People

Abraham Lincoln’s life had many twists and turns in it which ultimately led him to the White House in 1861 and immortality.  One of the more interesting “what ifs” in Lincoln’s career was in 1849 when he was offered by the Taylor administration the governorship of the territory of Oregon.  Lincoln was an important man in the Whig party in Illinois and he had been one of Taylor’s most ardent advocates in that state.  Lincoln was out of office at the time, and the prospect of a territorial governorship might well have been attractive to him.  However, Mary Lincoln had no desire to assume residence in the wild west, and she warned her husband that removal to the far off land of the Oregon Territory would remove any hope that he might have of rising to national prominence.  More to the point, Lincoln had already recommended fellow Whig and Illinoisan…

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Britain Lost the War of 1812

Why did the British lose the War of 1812… consensus history teaches that the Napoleonic wars kept mighty England from crushing the upstart Americans.  As expected, consensus historical lessons are wrapped too tightly, strangling the complexities from our past.  America won the war, but Britain lost it just as much.  We cannot pin this all on the French.

  • Poor strategy and execution– As in the Revolutionary War, Britain attempted a ‘divide and conquer’ strategy.  Simultaneous invasions would divide American forces and allow the British to defeat the disorganized American armies.  Unfortunately, the invasions were far from timely; poorly organized and executed, British forces were unable achieve any strategic success during the invasions of upstate New York and Maryland.  The third invasion at New Orleans ended in disaster.  The first graduates from the American military academy (like Winfield Scott)  were able to rally American forces, including the unreliable militiamen, to resist the uncoordinated assaults.
  • Political disunity– The government of Spencer Perceval had taken a stand against American attempts to trade with France their during the war.  Perceval’s ministers enacted the Orders in Council and did little as the tensions with America continued to rise.  Diplomats serving in Washington did a poor job communicating Britain’s positions on key issues.  Perceval’s assassination on May 11, 1812 brought to power Lord Liverpool, who sought to ease tensions with America.  The repeal of the Orders in Council just two days before America’s declaration of war was not accepted by all British ministers.  The disunity in  Liverpool’s government continued as the hostilities escalated.
  • Swatting flies– The British military machine was not built to fight an enemy like the United States.  The British army was recruited and trained to fight on the sweeping fields of Europe, not the wilds of North America; geography proved to be a keen enemy in both wars Britain fought in America.  The small, but powerful American fleet did not give the Royal Navy its Trafalgar of the west.  The power frigates of the US fleet held their own in ship to ship combat.  These small victories boosted American morale during the dark days of the conflict.  The British dependence on its Indian allies on the frontier proved as detrimental as in the Seven Years War.  The United States used its home field advantage to keep the British war machine from operating efficiently.

But it is said that we are not prepared for war, and ought therefore not to declare it. This is an idle objection, which can have weight with the timid and pusillanimous only. The fact is otherwise. Our preparations are adequate to every essential object. Do we apprehend danger to ourselves? From what quarter will it assail us? From England, and by invasion? The idea is too absurd to merit a moment’s consideration. –Henry Clay, 1811