Category Archives: Slavery

James Monroe 4.28.13 Thought of the Day

“The best form of government is that which is most likely to prevent the greatest sum of evil.”–James Monroe

James Madison, Hamilton's major collaborator, ...

James Madison, Hamilton’s major collaborator, later President of the United States and “Father of the Constitution” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

James Monroe was born on this day in Westmoreland County, Virginia, USA in 1758. Today is the 258th anniversary of his birth.
Monroe’s was born to Spence and Elizabeth Monroe a moderately well to do couple of Scottish, Welsh and French Huguenot descent. His father was a planter and carpenter. Elizabeth tutored her children at home, and James didn’t start school until he was 11, when he went to “Campbelltown Academy between 1769 and 1774,” [Biography.com]

In 1774 his father died and Monroe inherited the family’s plantation and slaves.  His mother passed soon after. James and his brothers  be came ward of uncle.  the same  year he entered the College of William and Mary. William and Mary is in Williamsburg, Virginia, which was then the capital of the colony of the State. It was quiet an interesting time to be studying in the city. The Royal Governor  and his family had fled the city, the arsenal and Governor’s Palace had been looted and ‘revolution’ was in the air. Monroe was part of a group of men who raided the Governor’s Palace and liberated its cash of weapons. They used the weapons to form the Williamsburg Militia.

In Winter of 1776 he left school and volunteered with the Continental Army.  He was shot in the shoulder at the Battle of Trenton, New Jersey.  And he fought with distinction throughout the war.

He met Thomas Jefferson during the war, and Monroe studied law under the Virginia statesman when the Revolution drew to a close. After passing the bar he was quickly elected to the Virginia Assembly  (probably through Jefferson’s influence.)

Elected to the Continental Congress in 1783, Monroe worked for expanding the power of Congress, organizing government for the western country, and protecting American navigation on the Mississippi River. [Mille Center.org]

He was initially opposed to the ratification of the Constitution and fought to have senators and the President directly elected. He also fought for the inclusion of a Bill of Rights.

As a youthful politician, he joined the anti-Federalists in the Virginia Convention which ratified the Constitution, and in 1790, an advocate of Jeffersonian policies, was elected United States Senator. [Whitehouse.gov]

He lost the 1790 race for the US House of Representatives to James Madison, but “was quickly elected by the Virginia legislature as a United States senator.” [Biography.com] Jefferson, Madision and Monroe joined forces to oppose Federalist policies of Vice President John Adams and Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton.

James Monroe, fifth President of the United States

James Monroe, fifth President of the United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Monroe served as Minister to France from 1794-1796 and he helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase.

In 1816 he ran for  president with the blessing of his friend and  outgoing POTUS Madison. He won, becoming the 5th president of the United States. (4 of the first 5 US presidents were from Virginia, Monroe is the last of the “Virginia Dynasty”.)

His term started with a honeymoon dubbed the “Era of Good Feelings.” However, Economic depression and slavery disputes meant that the honeymoon didn’t last long.

The Monroe Doctorine is his legacy in foreign affairs. Foreign powers  must leave the American continents alone and “henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European Power.”[Whitehouse.gov]

During his presidence five states were admitted to the Union: Mississippi (1817), Illinois (1818), Alabama (1819), Main (1820), and Missouri (1821).

Monroe died on the Fourth of July, 1831.

James Monroe County (New York)


James Buchanan

“What is right and what is practicable are two different things.”– James Buchanan

English: I took photo of James Buchanan in Nat...
English: I took photo of James Buchanan in National Portrait Gallery with Canon camera. Public domain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

James Buchanan was born on this day in Cove Gap, Pennsylvania, USA in 1791. Today is the 222nd anniversary of his birth.

James Buchanan Log House

Although he was born in a log cabin Buchanan’s family was well to do. His father was a prosperous businessman. His father, James Buchanan, Sr. was a farmer, businessman and merchant, his mother, Elizabeth Speer, was intelligent and well-respected. James was the second of 11 children, 8 of whom lived to adulthood.

Young James attended school in the Mercersberg area, but his father’s business triumphs and his mother’s interest in education dictated better opportunities for the boy. At age sixteen, he entered Dickinson College in Carlisle, seventy miles from home. [the Miller Center.org]

After graduation in 1809 he went to Lancaster, PA, to study Law. He passed the bar in 1812.

Although he was against the War of 1812 (he thought it was unnecessary) He joined the light dragoon unit when the British invaded Maryland and helped defend the city of Baltimore. Although the Battle of Baltimore would later become famous because of Francis Scott Key’s poem The Star Spangled Banner, Buchanan’s unit didn’t see any action.

He returned to Lancaster after the war. At 23 he ran for Pennsylvania House of Representatives and won a seat as a Federalist.

Toward the end of his time in the legislature, Buchanan fell in love with Ann Caroline Coleman. … The young woman’s family opposed the match with Buchanan, however. … Ann Coleman sent him a letter breaking off the engagement. A few days later she died. The Coleman family turned its grief and guilt on the young lawyer and forbade him to attend the funeral. The experience severely shook Buchanan; he vowed he would not marry another, and he never became seriously involved with any other woman for the rest of his life, though he carried on many flirtations. He would be the nation’s first and only bachelor President. [the Miller Center.org]

He threw himself into his work and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1820.

He was elected five times to the House of Representatives; then, after an interlude as Minister to Russia, served for a decade in the Senate. He became Polk’s Secretary of State and Pierce’s Minister to Great Britain. [White House.gov]

Being out of the country during a contentious primary season helped Buchanan side step the bloody Slavery debate. “The overseas post enabled Buchanan to be unblemished by the political bloodshed that resulted from the disastrous Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.” [the Miller Center.org]  He became the Democratic Party’s nominee for President in 1856. He beat Republican John C. Frémont and took the White House on March 4, 1857 as the 15th president of the United States.

James Buchanan: Fifteenth President of the Uni...
James Buchanan: Fifteenth President of the United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first crisis of his presidency happened when the Supreme Court handed down the Dread Scott Decision…

Asserting that Congress had no constitutional power to deprive persons of their property rights in slaves in the territories. Southerners were delighted, but the decision created a furor in the North. [White House.gov]

More slavery woes were in store in the territory of Kansas. The choice in Bleeding Kansas was between two rival state constitutions, the Free-Soil (anti-slavery settlers) took Topeka as their capital, those who were pro-slavery picked Lecompton as the seat of government. The Free-Soil party was in the majority but the Lecomptons managed (through a number of shady means) to get their platform passed.

Buchanan decided to end the troubles in Kansas by urging the admission of the territory as a slave state. Although he directed his Presidential authority to this goal, he further angered the Republicans and alienated members of his own party. Kansas remained a territory. [Ibid]

By the mid-term elections Buchanan’s political star had fallen and the Republican took the House and Senate. He was the lamest of lame ducks and the government was at a stalemate. In the presidential election of 1860 the Democrats split with Buchanan taking the Southern states and Douglas taking the Northern states.

Consequently, when the Republicans nominated Abraham Lincoln, it was a foregone conclusion that he would be elected even though his name appeared on no southern ballot. Rather than accept a Republican administration, the southern “fire-eaters” advocated secession…President Buchanan, dismayed and hesitant, denied the legal right of states to secede but held that the Federal Government legally could not prevent them. He hoped for compromise, but secessionist leaders did not want compromise. [White House.gov]

South Carolina was first to secede (on December 20, 1860.) Six other states joined South Carolina and formed the Confederate States of America. “When Buchanan left office on March 3, 1861, to retire to his estate outside of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, he left the nation on the brink of civil war.” [Biography.com ]

James Buchanan
James Buchanan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He lived out the war at his home, Wheatland, in Lancaster, PA.

Rightly or wrongly, considerable blame for the Civil War fell upon him. His portrait had to be removed from the Capitol to keep vandals from damaging it, and posters captioned “Judas” depicted him with his neck in a hangman’s noose. A wave of second-guessing condemned Buchanan’s actions with regard to Fort Sumter. The Republican press attacked him while absolving the Republican Party and Lincoln from all responsibility for the conflict. Although Buchanan vocally supported the Union cause, many branded him an appeaser of the South and a lover of slavery.  [the Miller Center.org]

He died of respiratory failure in 1868. He 77.


Frederick Douglas 2.14.13 Thought of the Day

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.

A sketch of Douglass, from the 1845 edition of...

Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey was born on this day in Talbot County, Maryland, USA in 1818. Today is the 195th anniversary of his birth.

The exact day and year of his birth is unknown, but he decided on February 14th, 1818.  He never met his father, a white man,  and almost never saw his mother.  He lived with his grandparents in their cabin west of the Tuckahoe Creek. In his first autobiography he wrote:

“I do not recollect ever seeing my mother by the light of day. … She would lie down with me, and get me to sleep, but long before I waked she was gone.” [Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American slave. Written by himself. (1851)

At seven he was sent to Wye House plantation near Easton, in Talbot County, Maryland. Soon he was sent to Hugh Auld a Baltimore carpenter. Auld’s wife, Sophia,  taught him to read until the master (her husband)  stopped her. Hugh Auld thought teaching slaves lead to rebellious slaves. Frederick practiced reading and writing in secret. When he was in Baltimore he heard about Abolition for the first time, and in 1831 he  read an article “on John Quincy Adams’s antislavery petitions in Congress” [Frederick Douglass Timeline]

At 13 he was sent to the shipping town of St. Michael’s, Maryland to work for Thomas Auld. When Auld discovered that Frederick was teaching other slaves to read he rented him out to a brutal slavebreaker, Edward Covey.”The treatment he received was indeed brutal. Whipped daily and barely fed, Douglass was “broken in body, soul, and spirit.” “ [PBS.org]

In 1838 he was back in Baltimore hired out to work as a caulker in a shipyard. He made his escape to freedom by…

Travelling by train, then steamboat, then train, he arrived in New York City the following day. Several weeks later he had settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts, living with his newlywed bride (whom he met in Baltimore and married in New York) under his new name, Frederick Douglass. [Ibid]

Douglass became active in the Abolitionist movement. He became a “licensed preacher for the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.” [Frederick Douglass Timeline] In 1841 he spoke at an antislavery meeting in New Bedford about his life in Maryland. The Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society hired him as a speaker.

English: Portrait of Frederick Douglass as a y...

English: Portrait of Frederick Douglass as a younger man (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some people didn’t believe that a former slave could speak so eloquently and assumed Douglass was a fraud. In response to that criticism he wrote Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. In 1845 he toured England and Ireland to raise money to buy his freedom. (Auld  manumitted him for $711.66.) Douglass used the remaining money from the Great Britain tour to buy a printing press and began to publish the North Star, a weekly Abolitionist paper. The paper later became the Frederick Douglass’ Paper and is joined in 1859 by the Douglass’ Monthy.

In 1855 he published his second autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom. During the American Civil War Douglass was a recruiter for the all African-American 54th Massachusetts Infantry.

After the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution (which outlaws slavery) Douglass continued to fight for civil rights and woman’s rights. A fringe political party, The Equal Rights Party nominated Douglass as its vice-presidential Nominee in 1872.

The title page of the 1845 edition of Narrativ...

The title page of the 1845 edition of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1881 he published his final autobiography, The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass.

He was appointed to the post of US Marshal of the District of Columbia and the Recorder of Deed of the District of Columbia before becoming Minister Resident and Consul General to the Republic of Haiti in 1889.

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Frederick Douglass died on February 20th, 1895 of heart failure.

The gravestone of Frederick Douglass located a...


Abraham Lincoln 2.12.13 Thoughts of the Day

President Abraham Lincoln was descended from S...

Abraham Lincoln was born on this day near Hodgenville, Harden Co., Kentucky in 1809. Today is the 204th anniversary of his birth.

I’m going to assume that you are all familiar with the 16th President of United States — the man who grew up in a log cabin, was a simple country lawyer and  went on to become president during this country’s darkest days. [For more information on his life might I suggest the White House.gov biography, Lincoln’s write-up on Biography.com , or the article on History.com ]  Frankly, there is little I can bring to the table that you don’t already know or couldn’t read about on more lofty websites… so instead I thought I’d bring you my favorite Lincoln quotes.

LIncoln logo

  • Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.
  • Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.
  • You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.
  • In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.
  • Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.
  • Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.
  • Whatever you are, be a good one.
  • Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.
  • The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who’ll get me a book I ain’t read.
  • No man has a good enough memory to be a successful liar.
  • I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends.
  • My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.
  • It has been my experience that folks who have no vices have very few virtues.
  • If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?
  • I want it said of me by those who knew me best, that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower where I thought a flower would grow.
  • The time comes upon every public man when it is best for him to keep his lips closed.
Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln (Photo credit: George Eastman House)

Lastly if you haven’t had a chance to see the Steven Spielberg film LINCOLN with Daniel Day-Lewis as the President, I recommend it. Why not Celebrate Lincoln’s birthday watching this tribute to the man’s indomitable spirit?

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UPDATE: Daniel Day Lewis won the Oscar last night for his amazing portrayal of Lincoln. Well deserved!

Daniel Day Lewis embodied Lincoln in last year's Oscar nominated the Steven Speilberg movie.

Daniel Day Lewis embodied Lincoln in last year’s Oscar nominated the Steven Speilberg movie.

Daniel Day Lewis won the BEST ACTOR OSCAR for his performance of Lincoln.

Daniel Day Lewis won the BEST ACTOR OSCAR for his performance of Lincoln.

Daniel Day Lewis embodied Lincoln in last year's Oscar nominated the Steven Speilberg movie.

Daniel Day Lewis embodied Lincoln in last year’s Oscar nominated the Steven Speilberg movie.

 


Samuel Mudd 12.20.12 Thought of the Day

English: Samuel Mudd

English: Samuel Mudd (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Samuel Alexander Mudd was born on this day in Charles County, Maryland, USA in 1833. Today is the 179th anniversary of his birth.

 

Mudd grew up on a tobacco plantation about 30 miles southeast of Washington DC. He was the fourth of ten children . He was home schooled until age 15 when he went to St. John’s boarding school in Frederick, MD. He went to college at Georgetown in Washington, and graduated from  the University of Maryland, Baltimore having studied medicine with an emphasis on dysentery. In 1856 he returned to Charles County and began a family with his long time sweetheart Sarah “Frankie” Dyer. Mudd’s father gave the couple a 218 acre tobacco farm called St. Catherine’s. He supplemented his income as a doctor with the sale of tobacco from the farm. (He grew the tobacco with the help of five slaves.)

 

Dr. Mudd's House

Dr. Mudd’s House (Photo credit: jimmywayne)

When the Civil War began Maryland was a border state. If Washington, with its large number of Union soldiers had not be located in its southern border along the Potomac River the state may have voted to succeed from the Union. When Maryland abolished slavery in 1864 ( a year after the Emancipation Proclamation) Mudd could no longer effectively run his farm. He began looking for a buyer and was introduced to a young, dashing, actor in the market for some property. That actor’s name was John Wilkes Booth.

 

Booth and Mudd met in November  at St. Mary’s Catholic Church  to discuss the purchase. Booth stayed overnight at the farm before returning to Washington. Unbeknownst to Mudd, Booth wasn’t interested in real estate at all, but was scouting out an escape path from the Nation’s Capital. The actor was planning on kidnapping President Lincoln to bring him to Richmond (the capital of the Confederacy). He would ransom Lincoln for a large number of Confederate POWS.

 

Portrait of John Wilkes Booth (1838–1865)

Portrait of John Wilkes Booth (1838–1865) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mudd and Booth met again shortly before Christmas 1964, this time in Washington. They met John Surratt and Louis Weichmann for drinks.

 

Before Booth could pull off his ill-advised and grandiose plan Lee surrendered at Appomatox, Virginia and the War was over. Booth was furious. He altered his plan and decided to kill the president instead of kidnapping him. Booth shot Lincoln in the head five days after Lee surrendered. The President and Ms. Lincoln were watching a play, Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC. After shooting Lincoln at point-blank range he jumped down from the Presidential Box to the stage to escape. He broke his leg in the fall but managed to get out the stage door and onto his horse and escape the city.

 

English: Interior of Ford's Theatre, Washingto...

English: Interior of Ford’s Theatre, Washington, D.C., where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. The presidential box is towards the right. The theatre is still in operation and the stage is set up for a current stage play (i.e., it is not set up as it was when Lincoln was shot). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

About four o’clock on the morning following the Lincoln assassination two men on horseback arrived at the Mudd farm near Bryantown.  The men, it turned out, were John Wilkes Booth–in severe pain with a badly fractured leg that he received from his fall to the stage after shooting the President–and David Herold.  Mudd welcomed the men into his house, first placing Booth on his sofa, then later carrying him upstairs to a bed where he dressed the limb. 

After daybreak, Mudd made arrangements with a nearby carpenter to construct a pair of crutches for Booth and tried, unsuccessfully, to secure a carriage for his two visitors.  Booth (after having shaved off his moustache in Mudd’s home) and Herold left later on the fifteenth, after Mudd pointed the route to their next destination, Parson Wilmer’s. [UMKC.edu]

Military investigators followed Booth’s trail to the Mudd farm and Dr. Mudd admitted to having seen a patient, but claimed…”‘I never saw either of the parties before, nor can I conceive who sent them to my house.” [Historynet.com]  When Lt. Lovett, the lead investigator on the Mudd end of the trail returned again to the farm Sarah “brought down from upstairs a boot that had been cut off the visitor’s leg three days earlier.” [Ibid.] Booth’s initials were in the boot’s cuff, but Mudd still denied knowing who it was.

 

Booth's boot, found at the Mudd's farm .[Image courtesy]

Booth’s boot, found at the Mudd’s farm . [Image courtesy UMKC.edu]

During the trail Mudd’s lie about not recognizing Booth, compounded by his not coming forward  about “suspicions … aroused by a broken-legged visitor who, during his brief stay the Mudd farm, shaved off his moustache” [Ibid] stained his character far more deeply than the circumstantial evidence of witnesses who claimed he knew of the conspiracy.

 

Defense Attorney Thomas Ewing argued to the Commission that it is no crime to fix  a broken leg, even if it were the leg of a presidential assassin and even if the doctor knew it was the leg of a presidential assassin. [Ibid}

Mudd was convicted by a Military Commission and sentenced to life in prison.

 

English: Broadside advertising reward for capt...

English: Broadside advertising reward for capture of Lincoln assassination conspirators, illustrated with photographic prints of John H. Surratt, John Wilkes Booth, and David E. Herold. Français : Avis de recherche avec prime de 100.000 $ pour la capture de John Wilkes Booth, le meurtrier du président Abraham Lincoln, et deux de ses complices, David Edgar Herold et John Harrison Surratt. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He, and the other conspirators who escaped the noose were sent to Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas 70 miles west of Key West,  Florida. He tried to escape once, but was quickly discovered. He and other prisoners were transferred to “the dungeon” a ground-level gunroom. They were let out six days a week to work, but were forced to stay inside the dungeon on Sundays and holidays. He wore leg irons while outside the cell.

 

Dr. Mudd as he appeared when working in the ca...

Dr. Mudd as he appeared when working in the carpenter’s shop in the prison at Fort Jefferson. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

.

 

In 1867, an outbreak of yellow fever overtook the Dry Tortugas, claiming the lives of fellow conspirator and inmate Michael O’Lauglin, as well as the prison doctor.  Mudd assumed the role as the new prison doctor. [Ibid]

Mudd was pardoned in March of 1869 by President Andrew Johnson. The Doctor returned to his Maryland farm and his wife (they had 4 more children.) He had always been interested in politics and in 1877 he ran (unsuccessfully) for the Maryland House Delegates. In 1880 his farm was destroyed by a fire. and by 1883, at just 49 years old, Mudd was dead of pneumonia.

 

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Lincoln’s death brought on a media circus the likes of which we are only all too familiar with in 2012. But then, when the nation need to be healed from its bloody civil war a swift and definitive trial was essential. Yellow journalism was in full swing. Certainly some of the men (and possible the one woman) on trial were guilty … but what do you think? Did was Dr. Mudd innocent or guilty?

 

English: John Wilkes Booth's escape route Türk...


Thought of the Day 11.9.12 Benjamin Banneker

“Evil communication corrupts good manners. I hope to live to hear that good communication corrects bad manners.”

“The colour of the skin is in no way connected with strength of the mind or intellectual powers.”

“Presumption should never make us neglect that which appears easy to us, nor despair make us lose courage at the sight of difficulties”

Benjamin Banneker

Woodcut of Benjamin Bannecker

Woodcut of Benjamin Bannecker (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Benjamin Banneker was born on this day outside Ellicott City, Maryland USA  in 1731. Today is the 281st anniversary of his birth.

His maternal grandmother, Molly Walsh, had been an indentured servant who came to colonial Maryland from Ireland. At the end of her seven years of bondage she bought a small farm and two slaves. Eventually she freed the slaves, marrying one of them, Bannaky. Their daughter Mary Bannaky married a slave named Robert (who may have been a fugitive; may have been freed after the wedding;  or may have been bought out of slavery after the wedding).  Mary and Robert had four children, Benjamin and his three younger sister.

All of the children had to help run the tobacco farm. They weeded the tobacco plants, picked worms and caterpillars off the leaves… by Benjamin’s calculation it took 36 chores to raise a crop of tobacco. He also cared for the farm animals, helped plant the corn, and did other farm chores with this father.

His maternal grandmother used a Bible to teach Benjamin (and her other grandchildren) how to read.

He learned to play the flute and the violin, and when a Quaker school opened in the valley, Benjamin attended it during the winter where he learned to write and elementary arithmetic. He had an eighth-grade education by time he was 15, at which time he took over the operations for the family farm. He devised an irrigation system of ditches and little dams to control the water from the springs (known around as Bannaky Springs) on the family farm. Their tobacco farm flourished even in times of drought. [Mathematicians of the African Diaspora]

It was at school that a teacher suggested he change his last name to the more anglicized Banneker, the rest of the family followed suit.

He loved to read and to do arithmetic . He taught himself advanced mathematics and eventually astronomy.

He would borrow books from his neighbors and friends. His close friends, the Ellicott brothers, lent him most of their books. [American Heroes: Benjamin Banneker]

A clock similar to the one Banneker made.

He loved puzzles and challenges too.

Sometime in the early 1750s, Benjamin borrowed a pocket watch from a wealthy acquaintance, took the watch apart and studied its components. After returning the watch, he created a fully functioning clock entirely out of carved wooden pieces. The clock was amazingly precise, and would keep on ticking for decades. As the result of the attention his self-made clock received, Banneker was able to start-up his own watch and clock repair business. [Famous Black Inventors]

He predicted the solar eclipse of 1789. He earned the nickname the “Sable Astronomer” He started to compile information into Almanac and Ephemeris of Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland best-selling almanacs. He even put a skylight in the ceiling of his cabin so he could watch the stars at night. He sent a copy of his almanac to Thomas Jefferson along with “a letter urging the abolition of slavery.” [Ibid]

When Banneker was 60 George Washington appointed him along with his friend Andrew Ellicott to survey what would become the District of Columbia.

A contemporary reprint of Andrew Ellicott's 17...

A contemporary reprint of Andrew Ellicott’s 1792 “Plan of the City of Washington in the Territory of Columbia” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Banneker and Ellicott worked closely with Pierre L’Enfant, the architect in charge. However, L’Enfant could not control his temper and was fired. He left, taking all the plans with him. But Banneker saved the day by recreating the plans from memory. [Mathematicians of the African Diaspora]

[For more on Pierre L’Enfant visit his Thought of the Day bioBlog HERE]

He published a treatise on bees, did a mathematical study on the cycle of the seventeen-year locust, and became a pamphleteer for the anti-slavery movement. [Mathematicians of the African Diaspora]

On October 9, 1806 Banneker died at his Ellicott City/ Oella farm.

The Banneker postage stamp. [Image courtesy: USPS]

In 1980, the U.S. Postal Service issued a postage stamp in his honor. [Benjamin Banneker Center]

Benjamin Banneker

Benjamin Banneker (Photo credit: crazysanman.history)


Thought of the Day 11.2.12 James K. Polk

“The Presidency is no bed of roses.”
James Knox Polk

President Polk, 1858 portrait, by George Healy

President Polk, 1858 portrait, by George Healy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

James Knox Polk was born on this day in Mecklenburg County in North Carolina, USA in 1795. Today is the 217th anniversary of his birth.

Polk was the eldest of 10 children of Samuel and Jane Polk. His father was a farmer and slave holder. The family moved to Maury County, Tennessee when Polk was 11. And Samuel became a land speculator, owned a mercantile and a county judge.  Polk was home schooled and a good student. At 17 he suffered from urinary stones that had to be removed surgically (with only brandy for anesthetic.)

He went to the University of North Carolina where he joined the Dialectic Society and learned to debate. After graduating with honors in 1818 he studied law in Nashville and clerked for the Tennessee State Senate. He passed the bar in 1820.

English: Picture of James K. Polk

English: Picture of James K. Polk (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He ran for state legislature in 1823 and became a Andrew Jackson supporter  when the latter ran for US Senator from Tennessee.  Two years later Polk ran for US House of representatives. He became chair of the House Ways and Means committee in 1833 and Speaker of the House in 1835.

In the House of Representatives, Polk was a chief lieutenant of Jackson in his Bank war. He served as Speaker between 1835 and 1839, leaving to become Governor of Tennessee. [Whitehouse.gov]

As Speaker he worked tirelessly to advance the agendas of both Presidents Jackson and Van Buren through the House. Polk issued the gag rule — a resolution that automatically tabled any petition having to do with Slavery without review — opposed by Northerners like John Quincy Adams* in the House. He left Congress in 1839 and ran for (and won) the office of Governor of Tennessee.

Polk ran for President of the United States in 1844. On March 4th, 1845 he was sworn in as the US’s 11th President.  (He is the only former Speaker of the House to become President.)

James Knox Polk (11th president of the United ...

James Knox Polk (11th president of the United States) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the highlights of his single term in office  was the acquisition of the Oregon Country (Oregon, Washington, Idaho and part of Montana), California, and New Mexico.

President Polk added a vast area to the United States, but its acquisition precipitated a bitter quarrel between the North and the South over expansion of slavery. [Whitehouse.gov]

He also reduced tariffs from 32% to 25% with a set of tariff rates known as the Walker Tariff in 1846.  and established a treasury system that lasted into the next century. During his tenure The U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland was opened,  as was The Smithsonian Institution on the Mall in DC.  Also in DC ground was broken for 555 foot tall, marble and granite obelisk, The Washington Monument.

The Mexican American War was fought under his administration. Although the US handily defeated the Mexican army the declaration of the war was much opposed in the North.

He was a President who “Said what he intended to do and did it” according to Harry S. Truman. That included increasing the US’s land mass by 1/3rd.

By the end of his term in 1949 Polk was in ill-health — he’d contracted cholera on a trip to New Orleans. He died on June 15, three months after leaving office. His will stated that his slaves were to be set freed upon the death of his wife, Sarah Childress Polk, but since she lived past the Civil War they were set free with the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment.

James K. Polk's tomb lies on the grounds of th...

James K. Polk’s tomb lies on the grounds of the state capitol in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

[CLICK HERE to see The Thought of the Day on John Quincy Adams and get a different perspective of this period in American History.]

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Programming Note:

At this point in the ritaLOVEStoWRITE blog history I’m finding a lot of references to previous Thought of the Day bios. I’d like to link back to them (to refresh the memory for those of you who have been around for a while and to introduce them to those of you who are newish to the blog.) But I don’t want to be intrusive. So yesterday I imbedded the links to Gwyneth Paltrow in the Toni Collette bioBlog, today I moved the JQ Adams link to the bottom.  I could also do something like [ see TotD LINK]  with a link imbedded. Would that be too intrusive? I feel there is value in knowing that the link is back to a previous blog from this serious and not to an external web site. What do you think? What’s the best way to handle this?  I really want to hear from you… Cheers, Rita


Thought of the Day 7.11.12

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

–John Quincy Adams

English: John Quincy Adams

English: John Quincy Adams (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

John Quincy Adams was born in Braintree, Massachusetts in 1767. Today is the 245th anniversary of his birth.

Eldest son of John and Abigail Adams, John Quincy grew up a child of the Revolution. His father was THE voice calling for  Independence from Britain in the Continental  Congress.  When he was 8 years old he watched the Battle of Bunker Hill from his parent’s farm.

After the War he travelled with his father to Europe, acting as his secretary. He attended Harvard and became a lawyer and at 26 was appointed Minister to the Netherlands. He became a US Senator in 1802 and when his term was up he was appointed as Minister to Russia by President Madison.  His international service to the US included the negotiation of numerous treaties including the Treaty of Ghent (that ended the War of 1812.) While Secretary of State under President Monroe he nailed down America’s border with Canada as far as the Pacific Ocean and was instrumental in forming the Monroe Doctrine and acquiring Florida from Spain.

The Presidential election in 1824 was decided in the House of Representatives. Since no candidate had garner a majority of the electoral votes  in the popular count it  was a three-way run off between JQ Adams, Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay. Clay’s platform was similar to Adams’ so he ceded his support to Quincy. Adams in turn named Clay as Secretary of State. Jackson, left out in the cold, raised angry cries of “corrupt bargaining” and began an aggressive campaign to gain the White House in 1828.

As President, Quincy started the first system of interstate roads and canals (breaking ground for the C&O Canal in 1828), he worked to modernize the US economy and paid off much of the National Debt,  encouraged the arts and sciences with a national university, scientific expeditions and an observatory. But he was thwarted on many of his initiatives by an uncooperative Congress.

In 1828 he was defeated in his bid for a second term after a bitter and messy campaign against Jackson and returned to his beloved Massachusetts only to be unexpectedly elected to the US House of Representative in 1830. He is the only  man to have served first as President and then in the House of Representatives, but his 17 years in the House were far more successful than his 4 years in the White House. Ever a stalwart proponent of civil liberties, Adams now became a leading voice against Slavery. He fought against the “gag rule”   — a resolution that automatically tabled any petition having to do with Slavery without review — by attempting to use parliamentary procedures to circumvent the rule. Eventually enough Congressmen from the North came down on the side of  antislavery and freedom of expression, and Adam’s argument gained favor. In 1844, after 8 years of fighting against it, the House rescinded the “Gag Rule” on a motion made by John Quincy Adams.

In 1840 Adams, “Old Man Eloquent,”  argued successfully for the defendants in the  Amistad case in front of the Supreme Court.

JQ Adams suffered a stroke while on the floor of the House of Representatives. He was taken to the Speaker’s Chambers and died four days later.

John Quincy Adams portrait. "John Quincy ...

John Quincy Adams portrait. “John Quincy Adams”. Metropolitan Museum of Art . . Retrieved September 4, 2009 . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Thought of the Day 7.2.12

“None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody – a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns – bent down and helped us pick up our boots.”

Thurgood Marshall

Thurgood Marshall was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1908. Today would have been his 104th birthday.

The grandson of a slave, Marshall knew first hand the long arm of a segregated society.  In 1930, after graduating cum laude from Lincoln University,  he applied to the University of Maryland Law School, but wasn’t accepted because of his race. Marshall went instead to Howard University Law School where he graduated magna cum laude. He later successfully sued UofM to admit Donald Murray to the Law school.

He moved to New York and became a special counsel for the NAACP. He helped draft  the constitutions for Ghana and Tanzania on the behest of the United Nations.

Marshall argued in numerous Supreme Court cases, most revolving around segregation. The landmark decision of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas demolished legal “separate but equal” segregation in the United States.

In 1961 Marshall was appointed by President Kennedy  as a circuit judge.  In 1965 President Johnson appointed him Solicitor General, and in 1967 Thurgood Marshall was appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States. He served on the Court until 1991.

He saw the Constitution as  living document , noting in 1987 on the bicentennial of the Constitution that:

“the government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and major social transformations to attain the system of constitutional government and its respect for the freedoms and individual rights, we hold as fundamental today…Some may more quietly commemorate the suffering, struggle, and sacrifice that has triumphed over much of what was wrong with the original document, and observe the anniversary with hopes not realized and promises not fulfilled. I plan to celebrate the bicentennial of the Constitution as a living document, including the Bill of Rights and the other amendments protecting individual freedoms and human rights.”

 

Thurgood Marshall, appointed by Kennedy to the...

Thurgood Marshall, appointed by Kennedy to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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