The First Woman President?

Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States...

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I have recently completed  a biography of Woodrow Wilson written by August Heckscher. There are many things that I could say about our 28th president from reading this somewhat lengthy tome, but I choose to confine my musings to just one topic.

Prior to reading this book I would have thought of probably three things when thinking of Wilson. They would be his efforts at establishing the League of Nations, his wartime presidency and his second wife, Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, whom he married on December 8, 1916.

The events surrounding Wilson’s stroke in 1919 and the subsequent effect on his life and his presidency have always been a fascination to me. For the first time I was able to read a detailed account of those events, by, I might add, a sympathetic biographer.

As most observers of presidential history know, Mr Wilson’s stroke occurred on October 1, 1919. This event took place shortly after his return from  a grueling trip to the western US  in a vain attempt to sell the League of Nations. The stroke probably was not a great surprise since warning signs had been clear both in the recent and more distant past.

Mrs Wilson was actually the person to find  Wilson  and  from now  to the end of his term, she and his physician Dr Cary Grayson were those most in the know. Grayson was generally   responsible for issuing the concerned but generally unspecific health bulletins, as well as having the medical responsibility.

Although the cabinet, a few trusted advisers and the vice-president knew of his  condition, no one was willing to certify as unable to perform his presidential duties, although he was. Thus began the most elaborate cover up in presidential history, at least to that point.

So, what of Mrs Wilson’s role?  Throughout she had one overriding goal. Her husband’s life was above the effective functioning of the government. Mrs Wilson said of her activities, “the only decision that was mine, was what was important and what was not.” Now if that were true, she would be in effect acting as a modern chief of staff and serving as the gatekeeper for the president. For that alone she was not qualified, much less some of her other duties. She was intelligent but with very, very little formal education. She was of course affected by her own prejudices, preferences, likes and dislikes.

The author asks and answers this question, Was she running the country? He said no, that the country was not running at all. I realize that I am disagreeing with one far more informed and knowledgable than I about the events, but will proceed to do so.

Here is his reasoning. She only had power in  determining who saw Wilson and what he would hear, as well as exercising control over what information went out. Even in that day, that was  significant indeed. Among other things she pushed aside long serving advisers such as Col  Edward House and  Joseph Tumulty. On the signature issue of that time, the League, evaluate this. When she received a letter from Senator Hitchcock about  a possible compromise, her response was no. Other questions submitted to him came back with a reply in Mrs Wilson’s handwriting. She often prevented letters he attempted to write from reaching the light of  and thus embarrassing Wilson. She was even influential in forcing Sec of State Lansing to resign.And Joshua Alexander who was  a sort of random pick as the new Sec of Commerce was actually interviewed by Mrs Wilson. Her influence was often felt in deciding where Wilson coud appear and for how long.

So on the two major issues that affected the entire course of the government, she had no effective opposition. The first, keeping hidden the true nature of  Wilson’s illness ( already  mentioned) and keeping Wilson  from resigning. And what strikes me as perhaps the most intriguing of all is this. Prior to their marriage, Wilson was sending the widowed Mrs Galt state papers of which he expected her to read and comment. The future even then foreshadowed ? Seems so, does it not?


June 4, 2011 Posted by | History, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Traveling with Mr Madison

stippling engraving of James Madison, Presiden...

In what I deem to be a significant accomplishment, I finally managed, on the third try, to complete a bio of our fourth president. The book is entitled, The Fourth President- A Life of James Madison by Irving Brant. Here I was thinking that this 642 page tome, written in 1969, was a tough read. This book is actually drawn from Brant's 6 volume, 3000 + page work. Guess I got off easy.

As always seems to be the case, I came away fascinated with Madison himself and all that he achieved, but also with the entire cast of characters with whom he interacted. Perhaps foremost among would be first lady Dolley, she who saved Washington’s  famous portrait just before the White House was burned in the war of 1812. She  was often described as glamorous and  arguably one of the best of our  first ladies. Or, as Brant wrote, ” Madison’s marriage had given him an effective sidearm.”

So, how can one describe the man who was the “father of the Constitution,” Secretary of State for 8  perilous years and the only president who served when his country was invaded? Brant used 3000 pages and  I will use fewer words than that. That is always a real dilemma when reading about a president, particularly an accomplished one, although his average ranking among presidents{ from 1948-2000) comes in around 12th. He just seems worthy of more. I kinda like him above Jefferson myself. His relationship with Jefferson himself was quite  was intriguing. They were rather close, although Madison want Jefferson’s puppet as he was accused of being. Nor was Jefferson controlled by Madison when he was Secretary of State. It was said that Madison often rescued Jefferson from some of his worst ideas.

Madison was often pilloried in the press, by the Federalist opposition and by  a somewhat belligerent Congress. It was amusing to hear him described by some of the above as well as the representatives of foreign governments. He was simultaneously weak nad timid but power mad. He was beholden to France , no he was in league with Britain. He wants war, why doesn’t  he  want war?

This quote from page 674 of Brant’s book in some ways summed up Madison for me. This was during some of the worst times of the war.

For more than four days the 64 year-old President had spent up to 20 hours in the saddle. Accused of fleeing to safety, he had been with the army at its farthest point of advance, followed it to battle, was under fire and came back to Washington  ahead of the army after the debacle. He found the  White House, (and) the Capitol………… a mass of gaunt and blackened ruins.

It often appeared that lies and falsehoods spread during his day were actually not refuted for many, many years leading to a less than flattering opinion of one to who, we owe much.

As he wrote in 1834 near the end of his life, the following,  which he desired to be  published after his death. ” The advice nearest to my heart and deepest in my convictions is that the Union of the States be cherished and perpetuated.” A man small  in stature and  by no means physically  imposing, what he wrote and championed secures his place among the Founding Fathers.

April 30, 2011 Posted by | History | , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Spinning a Yarn-Textile Style


My Dad explaining his job as a warper tender-from 1940s or 50s

The majority of my working life was spent  in the textile industry, although not actually in the plant. However, during  a span of several years. I worked next to 2 of our plants and visited the plants from time to time.

As is the case with almost all the textile industry in the United States, my company ( Fieldcrest Mills to Fieldcrest Cannon to Pillowtex)  is no more, having bit the dust in 2003 via the bankruptcy courts. The plants were scattered all over the southeastern U. S. but primarily in North Carolina, are no more.

This is still a bit poignant for me since  several my family members were employed at the company at one time or another, including my parents who were production workers in the Fieldcrest Mills Blanket Mill for  many years.

What is quite interesting to me is  that  the company is gone but the brand names live on, having ben purchased by various entities. One in particular  that comes readily to mind is Royal Velvet. I suppose that it would be correct to say that it was the flagship brand of the Bed and Bath Division. The towels sold under the Royal Velvet name were made in  aslant located in the small Virginia town of Fieldale. To say that this was a quality product would be a bit of an understatement. We are still using Royal Velvet products that were  purchased a number of years ago. The irony to me is that to get a towel equal in quality today, one would be required to spend a significant amount of money. The same holds true for bedding products( sheets, comforters, etc) .

Now, about all the former textile giants have in common is bankruptcy and imploded plants. But, as do many others, I remember some of those days when cotton went from the Card Room  to the Spinning Room to Yarn Preparation ( where my parents worked)  and finally to the Weave Room where a recognizable product surfaced.

It is in truth an industry that is gone but that will always be with us.

March 7, 2011 Posted by | Business, Family, History | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Dope Wagons and Bottles of Milk

One of the best perks of growing a bit older is reminiscing about days gone by and of course, emphasizing how much better it was then. This thought struck me today in a brief  conversation I had with an older customer on my mail route. And since last weekend when we traveled to my hometown and talked a  bit about days gone by, the past has been very present with me.

Let me hasten to add that there are no illegal substances referred to in the title of this post. Just wanted to clarify that.

Both of my parents were long time  employees of what was then Fieldcrest Mills, Inc, an Eden,Nc based textile manufacturer. Both were production employes in  what was  known simply as the Blanket Mill. She was  a spooler hand and he was a warper tender. Their careers began around  the 1930’s or 40’s and in those days there were no canteens  or break rooms as we know today to take a few moments for  a soft drink or cup of coffee. If my memory is at least partly accurate, the snacks/drinks etc were delivered by a pushcart that made its rounds through the  plant. Again, this next is my recollection of what I was told. The carts were known as dope wagons since they also distributed a variety of headache remedies, a virtual necessity.  Or they might have been called by that name since  a Coke was  at one time known as  a “dope.”Cant prove but I  bet that Goodys, a Richard Petty favorite,  was a popular choice. I actually  have a  hazy memory of touring the plant as a child and being overwhelmed by the pungent aromas coming from the bleachery department.

Part deux of the title  is from a delightful memory I have of home delivery of our  milk by the Pet Milk  man. The empty glass bottles were placed on the porch the night  before I think with  a note “ordering” the milk /juice to be delivered that morning. For many years I thought that Pet was the only milk available . To this day however, I believe that  milk  should  be available only in glass bottles simply because it is  a”proven” fact that it tastes better.

February 28, 2011 Posted by | Culture, History | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Self-appointed Kitchen Cabinet

It is no secret  what “objective” journalist Chris Matthews thinks of President Obama. I almost hate to mention the “tingles” episode that occurred during the 2008 campaign, although I have seen the word used quite well as  a nickname for Matthews. Not so long after Obama took office, Matthews proudly admitted that it was his job to make sure that Obama succeeded.( Remember for a moment that Rush was roundly criticized for hoping that Obama failed.) I cannot  recall any approbation at what  Matthews said.

But  at least  Matthews is consistent. He remains firmly on the Obama/Democrat bandwagon. In a  recent interview with Democrat senatorial candidate Joe Sestak ( from  Matthews’ native state of  Pennsylvania) who is running against Republican Pat Toomey, Matthews openly longed for Sestak and the Democrats to do well in November by saying this.” I hope your party gets organized and wins this thing.”

But, there is even more. Matthews seems to be moving beyond the cheerleading/publicizing phase into the advising stage. I actually watched the video clip with Matthews providing this advice, so I am not making this up. His first piece of advice was to replace Def Secretary Robert Gates with, guess who? You will never get this one, so I’ll just tell you.  It is  Hilary Clinton. Wait, there is more. He has two options for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg; either Treasury Secretary of Chief-of-Staff. No mention of who would succeed Mrs Clinton ( Bill maybe) or what would happen to the current hatchet man,Rahm Emanuel.

This advice brought to mind something used by a number of former presidents, the “kitchen cabinet.”  I believe Truman actually coined the phrase for his group of informal advisers, although it was quite popular with Jefferson and Jackson among others. Guess the only difference is that Matthews is self-appointed. But just think of the benefits. The Democratic National Committee could pay Matthews annual salary  of  $5 million and he could continue his tv show just like it is and work for the White House on the side. Better than Obama accepting Michael Moore’s offer to replace Emanuel, huh?

September 4, 2010 Posted by | History, Media, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

British Musings

Cover of "Londonistan"

Cover of Londonistan

Several days ago, I wrote about Europe and Great Britain in particular vis-a-vis Islam and terrorism and some of its implications. At the time I was attempting to read Londonistan by Melanie Phillips. I have finally managed to complete that self-assigned task. I might add that the fault is not that of the author but rather my unfamiliarity with her style and the complexity of the subject matter.

Moving forward, my intent is not to review the book but rather make reference to some  things that intrigued me and speculate  about what these things might or might not  mean.  As always dissent/disagreement is welcome. My comments do not follow the book from beginning to end since some areas were more pertinent for me than others. The  author has an excellent notes section if one desires to trace her source material and pursue things further.

There are many references to people in the book with the majority of those names probably being Arabic. I won’t refer much to those individuals. Upfront i will assert that neither the author  nor this writer  are anti- Muslim ‘ She does however, make use of the term  Islamaphobia which also appears in the American media. It refers of course to those who harbor an irrational view of the Islamic faith. An accusation of such is used at times  to stifle  even legitimate criticism of Islam. ( That didn’t work so well for Salmon Rushdie did it? )  She makes the point that adherents of the Muslim faith can often be sensitive to criticism( as are Christians) and  use that to justify or explain away certain actions. Her starting point, the London bombings of 2005 was such  a thing. Muslim leaders condemned the attacks but added that since the bombers were un-Islamic ( native Brits) they  could not have been real Muslims. And  this next that  they added which is a relatively prominent reoccurring theme, is  a concept she calls moral inversion. In general Muslims regard Western values as an assault on their principles  so they present  their own aggression as legitimate self- defense. Or, a country’s support of Israel or the Iraq war is ample cause for some sort of attack. Current example is related to the furor over the New york mosque/cultural center. The chairman of those efforts Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf was interviewed by CBS just after 9/11. He opined that the United States did not deserve what happened but that its policies ” were an accessory to the crime.”

So what were the policies to which he referred? If you say support for Israel go the head of the class. That attitude in Britain, she writes, is even more prevalent. In Britain the prevailing wisdom regarding the Middle East is that of a territorial dispute. Before May 14, 1948 all was well between Arab and Jew  and would be again if Israel  acceded to legitimate Palestinian  demands. The problem, that is not factual. This cannot be totally addressed here but  factor in this one truth . Palestinians could have had a separate state in 1936, 1948 or 2000. Also, many Arab writers and leaders have often spoken of  the inherently evil  Jew out to conquer the world  and they are demonized as the source of all evil in the Middle East. Let me hasten to add that Israel is not always right in its actions/methods  but neither are they behind every conflict on earth as Palestinian Authority imam Ibrahim Mudayris said in 2005.

But let me continue. Let me refer to some of her conclusions but  encourage the reader to interpret them on their own. Britain is a hub of Islamic jihad and has been.In Britain there continues the long-standing policy of appeasing terrorism which has now been combined with the prevailing doctrine of multiculturalism and  ” victim culture.” She asserts that Britain is at a crossroads and could ease further down the road of appeasement. So the country that is the global leader of English speaking culture no longer champions those values. ( Sound  a little like American education?)

She wonders if her native country will reverse its  sleepwalk towards  “cultural oblivion ” or  sink further into disarray and drag the West down with it. Serious things to consider.

August 20, 2010 Posted by | History | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Words of Wisdom

There were so many quotes that I liked from the Adams bio that it was  a challenge to narrow them down. I ultimately chose three. The first two were  words of advise to his grandson John, son of John Quincy, and his granddaughter Caroline, daughter of  Abigail Adams Smith.

The words to John sound odd to us, but they should rather be a warning to our me-first culture. ” The Lord deliver us from all family pride,” he said, adding for emphasis,” No pride,John, no pride.”

Granddaughter Caroline was in a quandary over the riddles of life. He responded to her thusly. “The longer I live, the more I read, the more patiently I think, and the more anxiously I enquire,the less I seem to know…Do justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly. ( These phrases came from the Old Testament book of Micah, chapter 6,verse 8.) This is enough… So questions and answers your affectionate grandfather.”

And his own fundamental creed. He had reduced it to a mere sentence, but one with great import. ” He who loves the Workman and his work, and does what he can to preserve and improve it, shall be accepted of Him.”

July 8, 2010 Posted by | History | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Adams and Jefferson Declare

The Independence Day weekend seems like an ideal time for my  second installment on John Adams. We celebrate profusely on this weekend, some even to excess, believe it or not. And for the document itself, we owe gratitude to  a number of people who labored diligently to produce the document that we call the Declaration of Independence.

Jefferson was of course the author but the work involved many others of whom Adams may have been the most important. He was seemingly everywhere at once and at one point served on 26 separate committees. There were 54 other men who put their names to the document  and  chose to ” mutually pledge to each other our lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” All knew they would have to pay a high price and that they did.

Perhaps the famous  part of the document was Jefferson’s lines eloquent lines from paragraph two that affected  the human spirit as neither he nor anyone else could have forseen. They speak to us still, some 234 years later.

                             We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

What did Adams have to say about the final result ? This  he wrote to Abigail.

                     The second day of  July 1776 will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the Day of Deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.

So he have his days confused? Not at all . The original vote did occur on Tuesday, July 2 with 12 states in favor and New York  abstaining in order to make the vote unanimous. They voted again 2 days later  with the day of celebration occurring on July 8. The actual signing  did not take place until August 2.

There would however be yet another fateful day in July for Adams and Jefferson. By 1826, July 4 was ensconced as the nation’s day of birth. It also marked a momentous day for the two stalwarts of independence. Both men were gravely ill, Jefferson at Monticello and Adams at Quincy, Ma. Jefferson briefly stirred after a 2 day coma but died at around 1:00 pm. Meanwhile Adams. quiet as well, stirred for a moment and sometime in the afternoon, said “Thomas Jefferson lives.” It was just a little while later at 6:20 pm that he too passed away.

July 3, 2010 Posted by | History | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

John Adams

Just finished the David McCullough bio of John Adams and enjoyed it thoroughly. Hard to do justice to such a lengthy book about such  a towering historical figure. Some initial thoughts. The author commented  in his intro that we cannot learn enough about our funding fathers, a sentiment with which I very much agree. Makes me once again wish that I had majored in history in college. My presidential reading continues to remind me of my lack of historical education. I shudder to think of how American history is taught or not in public schools today.

It was delightful to read the many excerpts from the letters of Adams and his wife Abigail. Their correspondence numbered well over a thousand missives of which about half have been published. It is quite remarkable how enduring was their relationship in light of the quantity of time they spent apart. Over the course of their first 14 years of marriage they had been apart over half that time. Of course with communication and travel in those days being what it ways, even their communication was difficult. Letters from the United States to France or England of Holland took months and sometimes never made it at all. There as at  least one incident in which  a packet of her letters was lost at sea when an American diplomat about to be captured by the English threw them overboard along with other sensitive documents.

i observed to my wife after finishing the book that I probably knew more about the Adams’ family and its manner of living than of my own parents, thanks to their prolific correspondence. In contrast, Adams’ contemporary,Thomas Jefferson,destroyed all such family correspondence. His was  somewhat limited however,since his wife Martha died at age 33.

There is much to write about in reflecting on the ” colossus of independence” as Jefferson called him and I will attempt to do some justice to our second President, who seems  to me as somewhat overlooked in the pantheon of early American leaders.

June 27, 2010 Posted by | History, Literature | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

So Long, Mr Coolidge

Thought I would share a bit more about  our  old friend Calvin Coolidge before bidding him adieu. Plus , it allows me to avoid  talking more about the Etheridge fiasco, which is playing out as I feared. Perhaps more in a day or so.

The Coolidge book was  different in its frequent use of lengthy quotes, both from and about him, than many bios. I would love quote a number of them but shall refrain. I thought that I would just  mention  just a few vignettes that struck me as interesting. What made them so was not necessarily their significance but more so the insight that they provided. Bear in mind that I am taking some chronological liberties as well.

The author calls Coolidge an enigma, perhaps borrowing from a New York World article  on September 13, 1919 that called him a sphinx or an enigma  referring to his habit of saying little. The article commented that it  was his silences that seemed to speak the loudest. Further on  was a comment about him seldom smiling or shaking hands, atypical for a politician even then.

Most of the pictures in the book show an individual that seemed to ” fear” the camera as much as it feared him. Now, couple that with a poor voice and style for public speaking and one wonders how he got anywhere. Food for him that television was in the future. He did, however do well on the radio with a type of fireside chat, without the  cool name. That would come along with some other guy.

Although  a proven vote getter in Massachusetts who  won virtually all his elections, he was not a popular choice  as Harding”s running mate. He was colorless, little known etc, but ended up as sort of  a compromise choice. And even when time came to run again in 1924, the Republican Party was not so enthused. He won of course by a  nearly 2-1 margin over  John Davis , the largest plurality ever for  a Republican.

There are several more stories that were worth  a mention, particularly the tragic death of his son, Calvin, Jr  at age 16. The young man developed a blister while playing tennis and soon he had blood poisoning. He died just five days later on July 7, 1924.  Many people felt that Coolidge was never the same , as one can readily understand.

I shall close with a bit of an amusing story that took place at the end of his term when he went quail hunting in Staunton, Virginia. Coolidge wo was not overly  amusing becomes just that in the author’s description. Sobel says that he posed for photographers with his normal dead-pan face. And a great quote on which to close. ” Coolidge,who was not  a sportsman, took many shots, but the quail had little to fear: he didn’t  hit one.”

June 15, 2010 Posted by | History | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment