Tag Archives: Abraham Lincoln

Hey, James K. Polk Ranks 11th

12 Oct

The other day, I bought a magazine that ranks all of the presidents, and I was pleasantly surprised to see James K. Polk of Columbia, Tennessee ranked 11th – behind John F. Kennedy and ahead of James Monroe. Polk is not a president that comes to mind when thinking of presidents, but he made a huge impact. Ever heard of California? He brought it into the fold.president-magazine

I wonder where the winner of this year’s election will rank. If I had to guess it will be toward the bottom. I, like a lot of people, am not crazy about either one of them. There are over 300 million people in the United States, and these are the two that made the finals.

Tomorrow, my colleague in history and I are taking part in a forum about the election and its historical significance. At least, I hope it is about the historical significance. I really do not want to get into a political debate with people arguing over the issues. The history of presidential elections is interesting as long as personal feelings do not get involved.

Anyway, the magazine lists Abraham Lincoln as the best president and James Buchanan as the worst. That is typical, but it is also interesting that they served back to back. It is also interesting that Buchanan served as Secretary of State for James K. Polk, who finds himself climbing the charts.

Sadly, they do not include William Henry Harrison, who died a month after taking office. I understand they he was not around long enough to do anything, but they should at least put him in a footnote. After all, he was president. On top of that, he was part of one of the most important campaigns in presidential history. In fact, my history colleague is writing a book about it. Have you ever “gotten the ball rolling?” Read the boo land find out why you do that.

I probably need to study up for tomorrow’s forum. I think I will start with the candidacy of Horace Greeley.

Forcing the Issue

28 Jun

I feel that my best posts are created organically. They pop into my brain and make their way onto the screen in a free-flowing manner. They are not forced.

Sometimes, I force myself to blog, and the resulting posts are not my best. This is when I fallback on my iPod and movie quotes. As you can see from the past few posts, I am in time of writer’s block. Nothing is coming to my mind, and I have a couple of options.

I could not write.

I could force something that I really do not like.

Of course, there is a third choice. I could drive myself crazy trying to think of a good idea and pretend it is free-flowing.

For example, I could write about whether anyone would protest if this flag was flying over a state capitol.Flag CSA

I could also write about the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. We talk a lot about the Bill of Rights, but this one has always fascinated me. In fact, I would bet that most federal lawsuits are based on this amendment because it deals with civil rights. Section 1 reads:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

This is the paragraph on which the Supreme Court based its decision concerning gay marriage.

The amendment was ratified in 1868. However, that process was fraught with problems. Most of the southern states refused to ratify it. I say most because Tennessee was the third state to pass the amendment, coming in behind Connecticut and New Hampshire. As a result, Congress, led by the Radical Republicans, passed the Reconstruction Acts. This meant that the remaining states of the old Confederacy had to pass the amendment in order to get back into the United States.

Oh yeah, those were the states that fought under that flag further up in the post. That was the first flag of the Confederate States of America. I bet a lot of people on both sides of the Confederate flag issue would not recognize it.

Interestingly, Abraham Lincoln did not think the states had the legal right to secede and planned on getting them back in with a pledge of allegiance from a certain percentage of each state’s voters. I wonder what would have happened with the 14th Amendment if he had still been alive. However, that is alternative history, and history is tough enough without thinking about what might have happened.

I could write about a song that I just downloaded, “Stole the Show” by Kygo. It also features Parson James. Anyway, it makes me think of how I used to handle relationships with women. However, that is too much information. Just know that I am happy to be married and have all of that behind me.

On second thought, I will put it this way. I always envisioned myself as Burt Reynolds driving into the sunset at the end of Gator. In other words, I was an idiot.

I could write about those things and a lot of other stuff that I have tried to cram into my mind. However, that will be forcing the issue, and I do not want to do that.

D.C. Road Trip – A Long Day at the Museum

25 Jul

Going into the trip, we had not settled on what day we would visit the Smithsonian, but the decision was made on the road to Lynchburg. Through social media, my wife found out that some old friends were going to be in Washington, D.C. on Saturday and were planning on taking their daughter to a couple of the museums. It would be the perfect day to see them and see some artifacts.

It turned out to be, in my mind, an imperfect day. We started with a visit to Starbucks and a cab ride to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, a place that we definitely wanted to see. Then, we were informed that it would take almost two hours to get in. I could sense that, by this time, my wife had tired of getting tickets and hanging around for a while to see something. When she asked if we should stay or go somewhere else, my gut told me that we should go somewhere else. It would not be the last time that my gut spoke to me that day.

With plans to tour the National Museum of American History with our friends, we bypassed that one and went to the one next to it, the National Museum of Natural History. This is one of the most famous Smithsonian buildings and begins with the iconic stuffed elephant.image-23

That proved to be the first of many stuffed animals. It was cool to see, but, honestly, I thought it was kind of creepy. We have a collection of stuffed animals on campus that I do not find creepy, and I kept trying to figure out the difference. It could be because the Smithsonian is in the business of protecting information about the world, and these animals were far from protected.

The Hope Diamond was the highlight of the museum. I thought it was cool and could tell that my family thought it was more cool.

When we walked out of the building, we were looking straight at the Smithsonian Castle.image-24

I could only think that the secret headquarters for Sigma Force were underneath. Never heard of Sigma Force? It is a team of government agents whose exploits are chronicled in a series of books by James Rollins. I have been reading them forever.

I do not need to be a secret agent to know that my next decision was my worst. I already had the feeling that my wife was done walking and sightseeing, and I suggested going to the National Museum of the American Indian. The decision was made for two reasons. First, I thought it would be a cool museum. Second, it was time for lunch, and the restaurant in the museum was supposed to be the best around. I had seen it on television, and our contact in our congressman’s office said it was great.

As we walked toward the museum, my gut spoke up. It told me that this was an awfully long walk, and no one else was happy about taking it. It also told me that we were next to the National Museum of American History, and we were getting further from it by the minute. Funny thing, my gut was speaking to me more than my wife. In fact, she was not speaking to me, at all.

We get to the museum, and the restaurant is packed. Apparently, everyone was the same television show that I had watched. On top of that, it was all traditional food of the American Indian. I do not think my family found it very appetizing. Luckily, our friends arrived as we finished eating. Hopefully, that would make the day go better.

We toured the museum, and, to me, it was a disappointing experience. There were not as many artifacts as I expected, and there looked to be a lot of wasted space. The worst part? They displayed pottery from the Santa Clara Pueblo in New Mexico. Everyone knows that they should have displayed pottery from the San Ildefonso Pueblo.

Then, we made the trek back across the Mall. I must say that it went quicker because we had more people to talk to. However, it did not make it any shorter. By the time we got to the museum, my family had done enough. They went through a few rooms but, eventually, found somewhere to sit. We saw some cool stuff, though.

Dorothy’s ruby slippers.

Archie Bunker’s chair.

Abraham Lincoln’s hat.

Thomas Jefferson’s writing desk, which we heard about at Monticello.

However, it was not enough. At some point, my wife and I discussed the idea that we should have left some things out. In my book, those things would have been the museums of the Smithsonian. Look, the Smithsonian is a national treasure, but it does not rank with the other places we visited. That could be because I am not a big fan of museums. I would rather visit the places where history happened rather than a place that holds objects. Sure, they have some interesting items, but George Washington never walked through their halls.

Also, we went to the Smithsonian after a couple of days of continuous activity. We were all tired and ready for something else. If I had it all to do over, then I would skip the Smithsonian and continued our trip to Virginia Beach. However, we live and learn. That is what history and historic sites are all about.

Listeria – Inspiration Point

24 May

In the last post, I wrote about the list by True West of historic sites “that will make you weep.” That article contains a couple of secondary lists. One of those is “10 Western History Shrines That Will Inspire You.” Following are the ones that I have visited.

1. The Arch, St. Louis, Missouri – It is impressive to see. Driving into St. Louis, anyone can see that it dominates the skyline. However, I never saw it as inspiring. That could be because I have never been in it. I have been at its base and in the underground museum about westward expansion. However, my dislike of heights has kept me from going to the top. By the way, its real name is the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.

2. The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas – In the last post, I wrote about my disappointment with the Alamo. Any place where people gave their lives is a place of inspiration. However, I cannot get over my initial feelings about the site.

3. Custer National Cemetery, Little Big Horn National Historic Battlefield – Before you get to the welcome center or the battlefield, you pass the cemetery. Like other military cemeteries, this one makes you think about all of those who gave their lives for their country. Our nation has not always gone into a fight for a just reason, but that does not lessen the sacrifices of those who served.Montana 2012 and Other Stuff 123

4. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho – The last time I was in the park was with my dad, my brother and my nephews. We did not go into the heart of the park but walked around the Mammoth Hot Springs and the Yellowstone River. The natural wonders are amazing, and the power of the earth is inspiring. Everyone should see Old Faithful at least once.Montana 2012 and Other Stuff 275

5. The Palace of the Governor’s, Santa Fe, New Mexico – I could have been there this week but had other things to do. It is the oldest government building in the United States. Today, it is a museum, but it has witness great events in history. It has been under Spanish rule and American rule. Heck, it has also been under Confederate rule. Governor Lew Wallace finished his novel, Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ, within its walls.SONY DSC

6. The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California – My wife and I drove across the bridge on our honeymoon. It is a cool feeling to drive across one of the most famous bridges in the world. However, I did not expect all of the people walking and cycling across it. Just thinking about the power of the currents underneath is enough to inspire.image-25

8. Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Keystone, South Dakota – This is truly an amazing site. Looking up at George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln is an inspiring view. However, I cannot help but think that the Black Hills were taken from the Native Americans to get at its gold.

9. Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer, South Dakota – This one is also in the Black Hills and is the Native American answer to Mount Rushmore. Crazy Horse was a famous warrior, but I wonder what he would think about a mountain being carved into his likeness. There are no known photographs of Crazy Horse, so we have no idea if this looks like him. On top of that, they have been carving the mountain for decades, and it is nowhere near finished. When I see it, I cannot help but think that the Native Americans are getting shafted again.

There is another list called “10 Western Sites That Will Make You Misty.” Next time, I think I will skip that one and move on to another subject. I do not find it very interesting or misty.

Listeria

11 Jul

I was at the pharmacy buying legal drugs and had to wait the required 20 minutes for them to fill my prescription. There were five druggists and one customer, so I’m not sure why it should take that long. Maybe, they were sampling their merchandise. Anyway, I entertained myself by looking at greeting cards; checking out the new wave of condoms; and, in the end, heading over to the magazine stand. There, in the middle of the too-much-about-celebrities and the too-little-about-sports, I found TIME: The 100 Most Influential People of All Time.

I know what these “list” magazines are. They are a way for magazines to make some extra money and maybe get new subscribers. They are pointless because the lists are totally subjective, and there is no way of knowing how they came up with the names. Besides, what makes 100 so special anyway? It’s just a round number. Despite all of that, I am a sucker for these types of things. I even bought Rolling Stone: 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and made sure I had all of the songs on my iPod. This, despite the fact that “Like a ROLLING STONE” by Bob Dylan was ranked Numero Uno, and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by The ROLLING STONES came in second. Talk about subjective lists with self-promotion.

As you can probably imagine, I bought the history list, too. I am a historian who likes lists. What can I say? Now, I’m not going to go through the entire list, but a few things stood put to me.

1. There are a few people on the list who are subject to speculation in their actual existence. There’s Abraham, Jesus Christ, Confucius. Heck, some people even doubt the reality of William Shakespeare. Yet, they are on the list. Let me set this straight. I am not saying that they did not exist. They, or the inspiration for them, probably did. Also, there is no doubt of the impact that they and their followers have had on the world. I only think it is interesting that the list includes people who may not have actually been people.

2. There are four U.S. presidents on the list – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. I have already written about what I think of our presidents, so I won’t go into great detail. However, this brings some thoughts to mind. First, these four did a great job and left an impact on the world. Second, the other forty haven’t done much. I mean, these guys are always called “the leader of the free world” and are said to hold “the most powerful office in the world”. If that’s true, then why are there not more on the list?

I’ll tell you why. None of that is really true. There are a lot of leaders of “the free world”, and the presidency is not even supposed to be “the most powerful office” in the United States. The three branches – executive, legislative and judicial – are equal. It’s a team effort, and the president is supposed to run the day-to-day operations. Obviously, this job description has been skewed through the years by the people in office (definitely by the four on the list), but the fact remains that the presidency is supposed be no more powerful or influential than the other areas of government.

3. One of the presidents, Roosevelt is on the list along with Winston Churchill. Undoubtedly, they made it because of their efforts against Adolph Hitler (who is also on the list) during World War II. In my opinion, all three of those people deserve their listing. I’m sure a lot of people object to Hitler’s presence, but the list is about influence, not humanity. He started a war that shaped the rest of the 20th Century – from technology to the Cold War.

Mentioning the Cold War leads me to the issue with this grouping. Where is Joseph Stalin? He was one of the Big Three who fought against Nazi Germany. In fact his nation was actually invaded by German troops. Want to know an interesting statistic? More Soviet women died in combat than American men. On top of that, his policies shaped the 20th Century as well.

4. I also find it interesting that my area of historical study, the American West, is also included. I just can’t figure out why. Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and Sacagawea make the list for their journey through the Louisiana Territory. It’s important for the United States, but I am not sure about its influence on the world. First, someone had already made the trek through Canada. Second, most of their travels went through lands already ventured into by Europeans. Third, Native Americans had been there for a long time.

Speaking – actually, writing – of Native Americans. Sitting Bull is on the list. This is one of my favorite people from history, and I will visit the Battle of Little Big Horn, the site of his greatest victory, in a few weeks. However, I don’t see how the killing of George Custer makes him one of the top 100. Sitting Bull didn’t even lead forces into battle because he was recovering from the Sun Dance. He is tattoo worthy, though.

As written earlier, I will not go through the entire list, but I will mention my favorites from each category.

In “Beacon of Spirits”, I like the inclusion of Socrates and Plato.

“Explorers and Visionaries” has Charles Darwin and Alexander Graham Bell, with whom I share a last name. Unfortunately, we are not related.

Queen Elizabeth I and Simon Bolivar are listed under “Leaders of the People”.

“Architects of Culture” includes Michelangelo and Louis Armstrong.

That’s it. If you were on the committee, then who would you put on the list?

I Promised Myself That I Would Not Write This Post

4 Jul

When I started this blog, I promised myself that I would stay away from politics. It is supposed to be a light-hearted blog with a few instances of seriousness from everyday life. I come to the blog world to escape from the other world, and I believe a lot of other readers to that as well. Except for a few attempts at humor at the expense of government officials, I have kept that promise to myself.

However, the Supreme Court’s decision on health care has led a lot of Internet people to provide their thoughts and opinions concerning the law and the state of politics in the United States. I have read a quite a bit; agreed with some; and, disagreed with others. Finally, I decided to break the promise I made to myself and espouse my opinions on the subject at hand.To prevent myself from going on a tangent, I will simply number my thoughts.

1. A lot of people bemoan the divisiveness of politics these days and wonder where we lost our civility. I am not sure we ever had it. Vice-president Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel. Senator Charles Sumner was almost beaten to death in the Senate chamber. Oh, and there was the time where the country thought it was a good idea to split and fight a war against itself. Compared to that, I think the screams of talking heads are relatively mild.

2. I theorize that today’s divisiveness began when Hillary Clinton got on television and stated that her husband’s affair with an intern was a “vast right-wing conspiracy”. I agree that he should have never been impeached, but no Republican forced him to unzip his pants for Monica Lewinski.

With that as a backdrop, George W. Bush won the 2000 election, and those on the left could not get over it. He stole it, and it was a travesty of America’s election system. Well, he wasn’t the first person elected to the presidency without winning the popular vote. On top of that, Al Gore lost the election more than Bush won it. Everyone focuses on Florida but forgets that Gore could not win his “home” state. He forgot where he came from, but those of us in Tennessee did not forget. If he had not taken Tennesseans for granted, then Florida would not have mattered. Besides, if I was running for president and my brother was the governor of a state, then I would expect to win that state, too.

3. This brings me to the hatred of our presidents. I know a lot of people who hate- HATE I say – George W. Bush. I also know people who hate -HATE I say- Barack Obama. Depending on who you talk to, each of them is, at most, the Devil himself or, at least, the worst president in history. Here is a fact, all – I say ALL – presidents do good things AND bad things. Nobody is perfect, and nobody can make everyone happy.

I don’t believe a president can be judged accurately until a generation has passed since their time in office. There is simply too much emotion involved for an unbiased -wait, that’s impossible in history too – a close to unbiased appraisal. In the old days, people hated Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and probably even George Washington.

Personally, I believe a person who is willing to take on the stress of that job deserves more than our vitriol. It doesn’t matter if we think they are a dumb frat boy who can’t speak English or a foreign-born Muslim who is a communist.

4. I do not like the health care law for several reasons. First, I believe it places more burden on small businesses during economic times when we should be lifting burdens to help them succeed. We need jobs before anything, and they create jobs.

Second, I believe that the federal government should stay out of our day-to-day lives as much as possible. This country was built on independence, not dependence. This means that they should stay out of our pockets with big taxes and realize that it is our money and not theirs. In fact, a flat 10% tax should work fine. It also means that they should stay out of the bedrooms of consenting adults and out of the decisions of pregnant women.

Telling us that we have to buy something is, in my opinion, interfering with our personal decisions. People say that it is good because everyone needs health insurance, but the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Telling us we have to buy a product is a slippery slope. What happens next? Will we have to buy an electric car from GM? Will a prohibition be placed on unhealthy activities such as smoking, drinking alcohol and eating fast food? You may think this is crazy, but we had prohibition once before. And, it was a disaster.

Simply, I do not like the health care law because the government should not be able to tell us what to do. It sets bad precedent.

I guess that’s all I have to say. I thought about going through all of the presidents and writing about the things they did while in office. That would take forever though. One day during a meeting, I got bored and listed the presidents. I then marked my opinion of them by putting a + by the ones I thought did a good job and a – by the ones I thought did a bad job. Maybe, I will put that list on the blog one day.

Cheeseburgers, Clocks and Albert Einstein’s Wife

21 Mar

Sometimes we have to search for something to write about, and other times subjects just appear. Today, I was struggling with ideas for tonight’s installment until I realized that it was happening right in front of me.

In my morning class, I brought out an activity that I have been using through the years to break up the monotony of lectures – for both me and the students. I ask them to list five people from history that they would like to have dinner with. When they are finished with their lists, I go around the room and ask who they wrote down. Then, we discuss one from each list. The parameters of choices are pretty wide. They can pick someone dead or living (living people have affected history too). In short, they can pick anyone famous. I allow this to show that history is not made up only of political leaders and other people who deem themselves important. Everyone takes part in the story of history. I also allow this to see what they are interested in.

As we went around the room, the usual suspects popped up. Jesus and Adolph Hitler have always been popular choices. (I wonder how often those two names have been used in the same sentence.) George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln came up as well. I also get a lot of celebrities and athletes, but I was surprised to have a girl who wanted to meet Megan Fox. Some new names emerged, like William Shakespeare, Charlie Chaplin and Super Tramp (you know, the band).

However, I was really surprised to hear someone say Albert Einstein’s wife. I know that there was a stunned look on my face as I asked, “Why Albert Einstein’s wife?” The following conversation took place.

“Because she is the one who did all of the work. No one would listen to her because she was a woman, so she put everything in his name. He was dumb. He didn’t even know how to tie his shoes.”

“I have never heard that. Where did you see this?”

“A friend told me. It’s like a conspiracy.”

“I’ll have to look into that. It is true that women did not have as many opportunities in those days, and I am sure she was an intelligent lady.”

I quickly moved on to someone else because I had nothing else to say. I did not want to quash a student’s interest in the subject, but I have never heard this theory before. Instead of making the student look bad, I said that was a very interesting idea that I wanted to investigate and would like them to investigate as well. Diplomatic, huh? I haven’t looked into this yet, but if you guys have ever heard about this please let me know. In the meantime, here is a picture of Albert Einstein’s wife along with Albert.

That was fun, but, as they say, the fun wasn’t over yet. I was starving when I left school. Rotary had corned beef and cabbage left over from a St. Patrick’s Day party. It was served with potatoes, and I wondered if the Irish started eating this beef and cabbage stuff when their potatoes went bad. If so, then serving them together is pretty ironic. Anyway, I was hungry and went into a drive-thru. The following happened.

“What can I get you today?”

“I would like a cheeseburger with ketchup, mustard, pickle and lettuce. I would also like fries and a medium Coke. (In the South, all soft drinks are called Coke.)”

“I have a cheeseburger with ketchup, mustard, pickle and lettuce. Fries and a medium Coke. Would you like cheese on your cheeseburger?”

Silence as I pondered that question and the origins of the universe which Albert Einstein’s wife theorized about.

“Sir?”

“I’m here.”

“Would you like cheese on your cheeseburger?”

“Yes. That would be good.”

“Drive to the first window please.”

After getting my cheeseburger with cheese, I headed home. At a red light, an old school station pulled ahead of me, and I noticed something strange in the rear window. There was a clock – a round clock that should be hanging on a wall. And it was keeping time. Next to the clock was a sticker that said, “I’m a Lover.” Perhaps, he was timing himself because he was, as The Dominoes would sing, a Sixty Minute Man.

I went home; ate my cheeseburger with cheese; thought about Mrs. Einstein and the Sixty Minute Man; and knew I had my blog post.