Posts Tagged ‘President of the United States’

The Election of 1836

May 3, 2015

At the end of his second term as president, Andrew Jackson was still popular enough that he could have run for a third term if he wanted. Jackson decided to abide by the two term limit precedent set by the previous presidents and instead promoted the candidacy of his vice-president and hand picked successor, Martin Van Buren. It was curious choice given how very different the two men were. Jackson was a rough and ready frontiersman who had worked his way up from an impoverished youth to become a military hero. Van Buren was a smooth politician from New York who was descended from an old Dutch family. Although they agreed on most of the issues, the two men didn’t really have a lot in common. The thing that actually brought them closer together and convinced President Jackson that Van Buren was just the right man to continue his legacy was the Peggy Eaton, or petticoat affair.

Peggy Eaton was a pretty young woman from Washington D. C. who had developed a certain reputation by her teens. In 1816, at the age of 17, Peggy eloped with a thirty-nine year old Navy Purser named John Timberlake. Timberlake died at sea in 1828 and Peggy married an old friend, Senator John Henry Eaton. This would not normally be considered scandalous, except that there were rumors that John and Peggy had been somewhat more than friends and that Timberlake had committed suicide because he learned of her infidelities.

At the beginning of his first term, in 1829, President Jackson had appointed Martin Van Buren as his Secretary of State and his friend Senator Eaton as Secretary of War, and that was when the scandal broke. Peggy Eaton was accused in Washington society of being an adulteress who had married Eaton indecently quickly after the death of her first husband instead of spending a proper time in mourning. In mean girls fashion, all of the wives of the men in Jackson’s cabinet snubbed John and Peggy Eaton and get their husbands to do likewise. Vice-President John C. Calhoun‘s wife Floride was the ringleader of this clique and this, along with their differences over state’s rights led to Jackson dropping Calhoun from the ticket when he ran for his second term, since Jackson, recalling the vicious gossip about his own marriage to his beloved Rachel, took the side of the Eatons, against his whole cabinet, except for Martin Van Buren, who being a widower did not have a wife to fear.

Because President Jackson became involved the petticoat affair caused a schism in his cabinet that made it impossible to govern. Jackson was unwilling to ask his friend Eaton to resign, so in 1831, he had everyone in his cabinet resign and began again with a new cabinet. Since Martin Van Buren was the only member of the cabinet who had treated the Eatons decently, Jackson made him his vice-president for his second term  selected Van Buren as his political successor.

With Jackson’s support, Van Buren easily won the Democratic nomination for president at the convention that met in Baltimore in May 1836. For his running mate, the convention selected Congressman Richard Mentor Johnson from Kentucky. Although Johnson balanced the ticket, being from the South, and something of a war hero from the War of 1812 and the conflicts against the Indians, he was a controversial choice because he had had a longstanding affair with a slave named Julia Chinn, who he treated as his wife.

The American Second Party System was still developing in 1836. There had been some opposition to Jackson from a variety of factions and these came together to oppose Van Buren. The National Republicans from the previous election joined with state’s rights supporters and the Anti-Masonic Party to form the Whig Party. The Whig Party was only united in their opposition to Andrew Jackson and they never did form a coherent party identity before breaking up over the slavery issue. In 1836, this disparate group could not settle on a site for a national convention or a single candidate, so they nominated three presidential candidates with each man appealing to a different region of the country. First there was Senator Daniel Webster from Massachusetts. He was a supporter of Henry Clay and could win New England and the Anti-Masons. Senator Hugh White from Tennessee could attract voters from the South. Finally, there was William Henry Harrison, a Senator from Ohio and the first governor of the Indiana Territory, he was most famous for leading the military force that defeated Tecumseh’s coalition of Indians at the Battle of Tippecanoe. Harrison, then, was a war hero who could really the West. The Whigs hoped that each candidate would be popular enough to defeat Van Buren in his region and since no candidate could gain a majority. The House of Representatives would select the new president from among the top three, presumably Whig, candidates. It was an unusual strategy that has never been tried again. Perhaps because it didn’t work.


There is not much to say about the actual campaign. There was a great deal of personal invective from both sides. The Whigs assailed Van Buren for being merely a clever politician without character or principles who was evasive on where he stood on the issues. The Whigs in the Senate, over which Van Buren presided as part of his duties as Vice-President, tried to embarrass Van Buren and arranged for tie votes, which would oblige Van Buren to cast a deciding, and possibly controversial, vote. The Democrats portrayed Van Buren as a worthy successor to Jackson and attacked the honor and credentials of the three Whigs.

In the end, the Democrats proved to be far better organized than their opponents and proved to be far better at rallying their supporters. Van Buren won the majority he needed. He won 764,168 or 50.9% of the popular vote.  He won 170 electoral votes from states all around the Union. Of the three Whigs, William Henry Harrison proved to be the most popular with 550,816 or 36.6% of the popular vote. Harrison won the mid western states Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio, as well as Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and Vermont for a total of 73 electoral votes. Hugh got 146,109 or 9.7% of the popular vote carrying only Tennessee and Georgia with 26 electoral votes. Daniel Webster won only his home state of Massachusetts and 14 electoral votes. Webster received 41,201 or 2.7% of the popular vote.

The Election of 1836

The Election of 1836

There was one more Whig, Willie Person Magnum who got South Carolina’s 11 electoral votes. South Carolina was the only remaining state in which the electors which selected by the state legislature rather than by popular vote.

Willie Person Magnum

Willie Person Magnum

 

There was one other oddity about the election of 1836. This was the only election in which the Senate selected the Vice President, as provided by the twelfth amendment,

The person having the greatest number of votes as Vice-President, shall be the Vice-President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed, and if no person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President; a quorum for the purpose shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators, and a majority of the whole number shall be necessary to a choice. But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.

Van Buren’s running mate, Richard Johnson, proved to be very unpopular in the South because of his relationship with Julia Chenn, and 23 of Virginia’s electors who supported Van Buren refused to vote for Johnson. As a result he only received 147 electoral votes, one short of a majority. Johnson easily won the Senate vote which was along party lines 36 for Johnson to 16 for the Whig Francis Granger.

 

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Rand Paul for President

April 8, 2015

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has officially announced the opening of his campaign to be the next President of the United States. As CNN reports,

For Rand Paul, it’s all led to this moment.

Since riding the tea party wave into the Senate in 2010, Paul has carefully built a brand of mainstream libertarianism — dogged advocacy of civil liberties combined with an anti-interventionist foreign policy and general support for family values — that he bets will create a coalition of younger voters and traditional Republicans to usher him into the White House.

The test of that theory began Tuesday when the Kentucky senator made official what has been clear for years: He’s running for president.

“Today I announce with God’s help, with the help of liberty lovers everywhere, that I’m putting myself forward as a candidate for president of the United States of America,” Paul said at a rally in Louisville.

Paul immediately hit the campaign trail for a four-day swing through New Hampshire, South Carolina, Iowa and Nevada — the states that traditionally vote first in the primaries and caucuses.

In his speech, he called for reforming Washington by pushing for term limits and a constitutional amendment to balance the budget. He argued that both parties are to blame for the rising debt, saying it doubled under a Republican administration and tripled under Obama.

“Government should be restrained and freedom should be maximized,” he said.

In general, I like Rand Paul. He seems to be more clever than most of the  leading Republicans and he is willing to  move beyond the comfort zone of the GOP and reach out to people who haven’t generally been very responsive to overtures from Republicans and he is willing to take unorthodox positions. His mainstream libertarianism is likely to be appealing to the large number of Americans who simply want the government to leave them alone without seeming overly dogmatic or extreme. He seems to be having a somewhat antagonistic relationship with the mainstream media, in that he is not allowing the reporters who have interviewed him to corner him or put words in his mouth. Perhaps Rand Paul understand, as few Republican politicians seem to, that the media is the enemy and will never give any Republican candidate a fair chance. All in all, Rand Paul seems to be an excellent candidate for president.

Rand-Paul-announce-620x362

I have some reservations, though. Paul doesn’t have much experience in politics, just one term as the junior Senator from Kentucky. The last time we elected a one-term junior Senator, it didn’t work out too well. A more serious objection to a Rand Paul candidacy is the fact that his father, Ron Paul, is a lunatic and I am afraid that the nut doesn’t far fall from the oak tree. My most serious concern with Ron Paul is his extreme isolationism. There are a lot of people, including Rand Paul, who have been labeled as isolationist because they have expressed the position that the United States need not get involved in every conflict in the world and should exercise more discretion in intervening in foreign affairs, particularly in matters that do not affect our interests. This is a perfectly reasonable position to take. Ron Paul, however, seems to be of the opinion that the United States should not be involved in foreign affairs at all. We should mind our own business and in return the world will leave us alone. This is a dangerously naive position to take. For one thing, America is simply too big and powerful to mind its own business. Everything we do, even not doing anything, affects everyone in the world. A small country like Switzerland can keep to itself. The US does not have that option. Also, our present period of relative peace and prosperity depends very much on American leadership and power. If America falters, things could get very bad, very quickly. President Obama’s reluctance to assert American leadership has already caused much vexation among our allies and in the world generally. A truly isolationist administration would be a disaster.

Rand Paul seems to be more reasonable about foreign policy than his father and it may be that he will find a middle ground between extreme isolationism and excessive interventionism. It may also be that his father’s extreme positions will prevent his election or even nomination as the Republican candidate. It remains to be seen. The election of 2016 is still a long way off and it is probably premature to make any predictions or make any decisions about the candidates.

Rating the Presidents

February 18, 2013

While shopping at Goodwill yesterday, I came across a book called Presidential Leadership, published by the Wall Street Journal. This book features a collection essays assessing the historical legacy of each of the presidents from George Washington to George W Bush. The writers seem to be conservative commentators, so perhaps the collection has a rightward tilt. Still, I am sure the book will be interesting to read, although I have not had time to do more than skim through the book. Towards the end, after the essays about the presidents are essays about presidential leadership and appendices of various scholars’ attempts to rank the presidents. Since today is President’s Day, I thought I would write a little about the Presidents.

The three Presidents generally ranked the greatest are George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. George Washington probably wouldn’t be considered much of a president today. He wasn’t an activist executive and he deferred to Congress. He might be considered a do-nothing president by today’s standards. Still, there is no question that he was one of our greatest presidents. He was the first and he had to work without any clear precedents or guidelines. Abraham Lincoln was also one of the greatest. A lesser man might have given upon the Civil War and let the South go. Lincoln had a clarity of vision that eludes most politicians and was willing to sacrifice his popularity and chances of reelection to do the right thing.

I am not sure Roosevelt deserves to be considered one of the greatest presidents. His New Deal policies probably prolonged the Depression. That was not his intent and he does deserve credit for raising the nation’s morale in a difficult time, yet it has become clear that he really didn’t have any idea what he was doing. Roosevelt was an effective war time leader. In general, he picked the right men for doing the job, especially George Marshall as Army Chief of Staff. His only fault in the handling of that war was his trust of Joseph Stalin. Roosevelt seemed to be unaware that Stalin was just as vicious and evil as Hitler and believed that Stalin could be handled like any other politician. In this, Roosevelt may have been badly advised by the members of his administration who were Communists, or Communist sympathizers. To the extent that Roosevelt was unaware of the treacherous leanings of some of his staff, he deserves the blame for the concessions he made at the Yalta Conference. I also believe that Roosevelt did poorly in running for  a third and then fourth term. He reversed the long standing precedent that a president should only serve two terms. It may well have been that Roosevelt felt that no one else could do the job effectively, but the foundation of a republic rests on the concept that no one man is indispensible. In any event, by 1944 Roosevelt was in failing health and must have know he would not have live to finish another term.

The worst presidents are generally regarded to be Franklin Pierce, Andrew Johnson, Warren Harding, and James Buchanan. These seem to be fair assessments, except for Warren Harding. He did possess remarkably poor judgment in selecting his subordinates, which led to a series of scandals late in his administration, yet Harding ended Woodrow Wilson’s more egregious civil rights violations, released the anti-war protestors and Socialist that Wilson had jailed, and did his best to return the country to normalcy. I kind of suspect that Harding’s low rankings have as much to do with ending “progressive” policies as any thing else.

I think something similar could be said of Ulysses S. Grant. He also exhibited poor judgement in some of his appointments and there were a series of scandals in his administration. Grant, like Harding, tried to return the country to normalcy after the horrendous Civil War and the impeachment of Andrew Johnson. He fought for the rights of the former slaves and used military action to suppress the Ku Klux Klan. He even believed that the Indians should be treated decently.  I think that the low ranking Grant is usually given reflects the ire of Southern historians who were outraged that anyone should defend the Blacks, not to mention Grant’s key role in winning the Civil War.

John F Kennedy is almost certainly the most overrated president. For all his charisma and sympathy from the intellectual class, he didn’t actually do all that much. He does deserve some credit for his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, but it should be remembered that that crisis would not have arisen at all if he had handled the Bay of Pigs invasion. He ought to have either given the rebels his full support or cancelled the operation entirely. By allowing it to go ahead but withholding air support, he assured its failure and made himself look weak and foolish. Kennedy’s reputation would not have been  so favorable if he had not been assassinated. As it is, his ranking has gone steadily downward over the years.

Thomas Jefferson is another overrated president. He was an accomplished man, in many ways, but he was not a very good president. His second term was a disaster.

Richard Nixon is an unusual case. By all respects, he should have been a successful president. He got us out of Viet Nam without actually losing the war. He negotiated the SALT agreement with the Soviet Union and opened up relations with China. Nixon was the president who created the EPA and large scale Affirmative Action. Yet, Nixon is often regarded as a failure. This is, of course, because of the Watergate scandal. Watergate was, in itself, not so large a deal as has often been reported, previous presidents have done far worse. The intense and increasing partisanship in American politics caused the scandal to assume an outsized role and ultimately led to Nixon’s resignation. I wouldn’t regard Nixon as a great president, however. He was at least partly to blame for the enmity held against him.

The greatest president you have never heard of is James K. Polk. He may have been the only president to have actually fulfilled all of his campaign promises. He served only a single term but did more than most presidents have in two terms. Polk expanded the territory of the United States by provoking and winning the Mexican War while negotiating a peaceful settlement with Great Britain over the boundaries of the Oregon Territory.

Another great but forgotten president is Grover Cleveland. He was an honest and strong man who fought to keep the government honest. He favored a strong money policy over those who wanted the government to expand the money supply and create inflation, ostensibly to help the cash poor farmers of the West. He also limited government spending.

Presidential reputations change over time, sometimes due to changing ideas about what a president should be, and sometimes because new information about a president is revealed. I have already noted Kennedy’s declining reputation. It seems that the more one looks beyond the myth of Camelot, the tawdrier the whole thing appears. Dwight Eisenhower, on the other hand, has become more respected over the years. Eisenhower was a popular president, but the general feeling has been that he was a rather relaxed chief executive who didn’t do much. As more has been learned about his administration, historians have discovered that he was a very active president indeed. Eisenhower was not much concerned with getting credit for his actions and so was underestimated. Another president whose reputation has improved is Harry S. Truman. Truman is well thought of today, but he was a very unpopular president. He left the office with a job approval rating of 22%, lower that Richard Nixon’s and about the same as George W. Bush’s. Somehow, Truman’s blunt, uncompromising personality looks a lot better in hindsight, and history seems to have vindicated his policies on the Cold War. Perhaps the same will be true of Bush.

There is a lot more that I could say about the presidents. I have barely scratched the surface in rating some of the presidents and here are so many that I haven’t even mentioned. This post is starting to get overly long, however, so I think I will end it here. The presidents do make a fascinating subject and I am sure I will find more to right about.

The President is not Our Father

February 7, 2013

Way back when Rush Limbaugh had his television show, he liked to show this video from one of the 1992 Presidential debates.

I am as nauseated by this man stating that we are symbolically the President’s children as I was when I first saw this. I might have hoped that this sentiment might have lessened over time, but I guess with Obama it is as strong as ever. Here is a more recent video of Chris Rock saying the President and First Lady are our father and mother.

No, no, no. No, Ponytail guy, the president is not our father and we are not his children. No, Chris Rock, we are not obligated to support the President’s policies.

The Russian peasants used to refer to the Czar as “our little father’, little only in so far as God was the Great Father. This usage is appropriate for slaves and serfs of a despotic monarch. It is utterly wrong for free born Americans to refer to our leaders in such a way. We are not serfs. The President is not our master any more than he is our father. Rather, he and all the other politicians are our servants. The sooner we get that into our heads and treat them as particularly undependable servants, apt to steal the silver when not supervised closely, the better and freer we shall be.

Serious Questions

August 19, 2012

 

With the economy going downhill and an increasingly dangerous world we live in, it is nice to know that the media is willing to ask President Obama the tough, hard-hitting questions.

 

Well, maybe not.

 

President Obama’s Latest Vacation

August 19, 2011

The president left for his vacation at Martha’s Vineyard yesterday. I really don’t begrudge the man a vacation especially since presidents don’t really get vacations. Even when they are at Martha’s Vineyard, Camp David, or at the ranch, they are still the President and are still on the job. I have to wonder though, whether anyone in his staff has considered the optics of a vacation at a place famous as a getaway for the rich and famous, especially with a President who rails at “fat cats” and their corporate jets. Does anyone realize how it looks to be vacationing there when the economy is in a free fall? Does he even want to be re-elected?

It would seem that Obama’s choice of a vacation spot has some critics on the Left.

Can This Presidency be Saved?

June 17, 2011

Walter Russel Mead asks the question.

Can the Obama Presidency still be saved?

To some, the question may seem premature or even insulting.  President Obama’s personal popularity remains high and the most recent RealClearPolitics poll average has him at a more than respectable 47.6 percent approval; while the President’s popularity is drifting lower, congressional Republicans have been losing ground to their Democratic rivals in recent polls, and the Republican primary field remains both uninspiring and polarized.  Small government, libertarian and Jeffersonian Paulites, globalist ‘great nation’ conservatives, conservative social activists and Jacksonian hyperpatriots are united only in their antipathy to the Obama administration and it is not yet clear whether a GOP candidate can unify this agitated but inchoate mass of energy into a strong and focused campaign.

Nevertheless it seems increasingly clear that the Obama presidency has lost its way; at home and abroad it flounders from event to event, directionless and passive as one report after another “unexpectedly” shows an economy that refuses to heal.  Most recently, the IMF has cut its growth forecast for the United States in 2011 and 2012.  With growth predicted at 2.5 percent this year and 2.7 percent next, unemployment is unlikely to fall significantly before Election Day.  On the same day, the latest survey of consumer sentiment shows an “unexpectedly sharp” dip in consumer confidence.  The economy is not getting well; geopolitically, the US keeps adding new countries to the bomb list, but the President has fallen strangely silent about the five wars he is fighting (Iraq, Afghanistan, tribal Pakistan, Libya and now Yemen).

The problem is only partly that the President’s policies don’t appear to be working.  Presidents fail to be re-elected less because their policies aren’t working than because they have lost control of the narrative.  FDR failed to end the Depression during two terms in office but kept the country’s confidence through it all.  Richard Nixon hadn’t ended the Vietnam War in 1972 and George W. Bush hadn’t triumphed in what we still knew as the Global War on Terror in 2004.  In all these cases, however, the presidents convinced voters that they understood the problem, that they were working on it, and that their opponents were clueless throwbacks who would only make things worse.

Barak Obama was elected largely because he was a blank slate on which the electorate could project their hopes and dreams. He was a good campaigner who took full advantage of that fact. He has not been so good at actually governing or leading. He seems to be in far over his head, which is no surprise since the presidency is the first job he has held in which he has actually had to manage anything. He is more inclined to blame the country’s problems on the previous administration than to create new policies to resolve them. And, as Mead has been writing, what he calls the “Blue Social Model” has been breaking down and it is not entirely clear what will replace it. The times call for strong leadership and we are not getting it.

Americans are realistic enough to understand that the breakdown of the blue social model is a messy process and that perhaps no president can deliver a pain free transition to the next stage.  But what they aren’t hearing from President Obama is a compelling description of what has gone wrong, how it can be fixed, and how the policies he proposes will take us to the next level.

What they hear from this administration are defensive responses: Hooveresque calls for patience mingled with strange-sounding attacks on ATMs and sharp, opportunistic jabs at former President Bush.  The White House has responded to strategic challenges at home and abroad with tactical maneuvers.

Voters sense that we live in historic times that demand leadership of a different kind.  What does President Obama think about the fiscal squeeze forcing trade-offs between state employee benefits and services to the poor?  How much trouble is the American middle class in — and what changes are needed to save it?

The President of the United States has to own this conversation.  His vision, his initiatives must dominate the political scene.  His opponents may fight him and defeat his proposals in Congress — that is not the worst thing that can happen.  Harry Truman did very well running against a ‘do-nothing’ Congress in 1948.

At a time of historic anxiety and tension like the present, the President of the United States cannot be an administrator, a fence-sitter, a finger-pointer.  He must first and foremost stand for something — and he must be able to make that something resonate with the voters.  The President’s job is to lead.

So, can this presidency be saved? Do we really want to? My answer to both questions is no.

Why Barack Obama May be Heading for Electoral Disaster in 2012

June 5, 2011

From the Telegraph. I really, really hope that this is true. Nile Gardiner seems to have good reason to believe that 2012 will be a close race with a strong possibility that Obama will not be re-elected, despite the opinion of many in Britain.

On a recent visit to London I was struck by how much faith many British politicians, journalists and political advisers have in Barack Obama being re-elected in 2012. In the aftermath of the hugely successful Special Forces operation that took out Osama Bin Laden and a modest spike in the polls for the president, the conventional wisdom among political elites in Britain is overwhelmingly that Obama will win another four years in the Oval Office. Add to this a widespread perception of continuing disarray in the Republican race, as well as a State Visit to London that had the chattering classes worshipping at the feet of the US president, and you can easily see why Obama’s prospects look a lot rosier from across the Atlantic.

I don’t know why they would think that. It seems to me fairly obvious that if the economy has not substantially improved over the next year, Obama will have a very tough race, even with the mainstream media in his corner. But even more than the state of the economy, the increasing anxiety many Americans (myself among them) are feeling about the future of this country will act against him. This is, I think, the whole reason the TEA party movement came into being. People are worried. They don’t like the direction things are moving in.

They were worried back in 2008 too and this is a part  of the reason a one term Senator with no executive experience was able to win the White House. But people know Obama now and too many don’t like what they see.

Gardiner finishes with some poll results that I think are worth quoting.

Unsurprisingly, the polls are again looking problematic for the president. The latest Rasmussen Presidential Tracking Poll shows just 25 percent of Americans strongly approving of Obama’s performance, with 36 percent strongly disapproving, for a Presidential Approval Index rating of minus 11 points. In a projected match up between Obama and a Republican opponent, the president now trails by two points according to Rasmussen – 43 to 45.  The RealClear Politics poll of polls shows just over a third of Americans (34.5 percent) agreeing that the country is heading in the right direction, with nearly three fifths (56.8 percent) believing it is heading down the wrong track. That negative figure rises to a staggering 66 percent of likely voters in a new Rasmussen survey, including 41 percent of Democrats.

This race is really the Republicans to lose. Knowing them, I’m sure they will find a way to do just that.


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