Sunday, October 26, 2008

Presidential History Free Write: Part 1 - The Founding Fathers

In 1789 the electoral college voted twice, George Washington won unanimously their first vote, while John Adams placed second in a landslide. Adams was sworn in as the nation's first vice president in April 1789, and Washington was sworn in on April 30th in New York City. After taking the oath, the president started the first tradition following the oath by adding "so help me God."

Washington once again unanimously won reelection in 1792, as did Adams for the vice presidency. Washington then made another tradition by not seeking a third term as president. The election of 1796 would pit Vice President Adams, politically aligned with the Federalist Party's ideology, against the former secretary of state, Thomas Jefferson, part of the anti-Federalist faction. Adams defeated Jefferson. For the first time the nation had a president of one party and a vice president of another.

The election of 1800 was worse than four years before. It was the first and only time a sitting president ran against a sitting vice president. Not wanting to have the same scenario of 1796 play out again but reversed caused a Constitutional crisis. Jefferson ran for president with Aaron Burr as the vice president for the Democratic-Republican party. While Adams and his vice presidential candidate ran for their respected offices for the Federalists. However the Electoral College did not specify a vote for president and a vote for vice president. The person with a majority of electoral votes becomes president-elect and the person with next highest amount becomes vice president-elect. If there is no majority the top three choices go to the House of Representatives and if there is no majority the top two for the second place position it go to the Senate. Each state has only one vote.

Jefferson and Burr tied in the Electoral College, throwing the election to the House of Representatives. Jefferson was always the intended choice for president and Burr for vice. I believe it took thirty-six ballots to come to the final result of Jefferson for president, placing Burr in second. Burr would go on to shoot former secretary of the treasury, the guy on the ten dollar bill, Alexander Hamilton in a duel made famous in a "got milk?" commercial in the 1990s. Burr after fleeing was rumored to be making deals with the Spanish to become ruler of country west of the United State's new borders thanks to the Louisiana Purchase.

After the election of 1800 the way the Electoral College vote for president and vice president were to change. This change came in the form of the the 12th Amendment passed in 1804 taking effect in that presidential election. The 12th Amendment lowered the status of the vice presidency. Our nation's first two vice presidents under the original system were men vital to the political process that gave birth to our nation, just as Washington's role militarily was a vital part to the birth of our nation. Burr, even though elected under the original system, is really a first in a line of lame vice presidents, the unknown vice presidents. The men placed on the bottom of ticket were usually put there to balance the ticket geographically. I.E. the top guy is from the North, and the bottom guy is from the South.

The 12th Amendment states that the electors must vote once for a presidential candidate and one other vote for a vice presidential candidate. If there is a tie among the presidential candidates, the top three go to the House. If there is a tie among the vice presidential candidates, the top two go to the Senate. Each State has one vote.

Jefferson won the election of 1804 after having made the Louisiana Purchase the previous year. He ran with New Yorker George Clinton, the man who always wanted the vice presidency.

Jefferson's secretary of state, James Madison won the election of 1808. Clinton was reelected to a second, and the first to be elected with another president. Madison faced the War of 1812, our Second Battle for Independence. The British invaded, after Madison asked for a declaration of war when the British weren't respecting American ships. Madison was the last commander-in-chief to truly be that in the battle field. He had the northeastern Federalists as the major opposition to his war with the British. The northeast even threatened succeeding from the Union.

Madison eventually had to abandon the capital city of Washington. Dolley Madison was preparing dinner when she was told to evacuate. She ordered the portrait of George Washington to be taken down and taken with them. She saved other important documents. She escaped before the British arrived. Before they set the presidential mansion on fire, they enjoyed the meal left by the first lady. The Capitol and the Executive Mansion were set on fire, as was the Library of Congress.

The weather turned horrible creating a rain storm that put out the fire at the mansion preserving the limestone shell wall. The mansion would be rebuilt and the Madisons moved back in by 1818. Nicely painted white, the painters left a section of the burn marks from the fire.

The War of 1812 ended with no clear victor, but two weeks after the signing of the treaty, unknown because the communication of the time, General Andrew Jackson successfully defends New Orleans against the British.

Madison won the election of 1812 and passed on the presidency to his secretary of state James Monroe. In 1816, Monroe defeated the last candidate for president by the Federalist Party. Monroe, with the help of his secretary of state John Quincy Adams, in his annual message to Congress, establish what would become known as the Monroe Doctrine. Making sure the Old World kept out of the New World.

Monroe was president during an era of good feelings politically, so in the election of 1820 Monroe ran opposed. Instead of giving him unanimous vote in the Electoral College like George Washington, one elector cast a vote for John Quincy Adams.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The First African-American

John McCain's hero, the 26th president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt invited the first African-American to the Executive Mansion, aka the White House, for dinner in 1901.

That African-American was Booker T. Washington.

That dinner caused such a stir TR, the real maverick, caved to the criticism and never invited Washington or any other African-American back to the White House again. The criticism came from those that couldn't accept African-Americans as equals. But we in the 21st century must put ourselves in the shoes of our little than over a hundred years ago counterparts and understand that the Civil War had just ended 36 years prior to that historic dinner. Also the Supreme Court had just ruled five years earlier from that dinner on Plessy v. Ferguson, which established racial segregation or "separate but equal" as law of the land.

It would be almost more than half a century later when Plessy v. Ferguson would be over turned via the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education. And then a decade after that African-Americans would finally be considered equal with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and secure their right to vote with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

How far we have come from the days of slavery, abolitionism, segregation, and civil rights, to see that an African-American male has a true shot at the highest office in the land which once oppressed him. Barack Obama fought for the nomination of one of the two major political parties against a female and won. That scenario is unimaginable in our nation's history, but it occurred just eight years into the 21st century, where one hundred years prior dining with the president was considered blasphemy.

How far we have come from the day when Booker T. Washington dined with President Theodore Roosevelt. We have come a long way. While it would have been amazing to see President Roosevelt stand up to the bigotry of the times, he would be proud to see that an African-American would be seen as an equal in the eyes of his opponent. The equality between the two major political party candidates is seen simply in their candidacy. We have a lot more to over come, but with Obama's candidacy we have shown that we are taking a step forward.

How far we have come is certainly shown not only in Obama's nomination by a national party but by his certain victory as the 44th president of the United States. One hundred and eight years ago a president of the United States invited an African-American to dine in the White House. One hundred and eight years later we see the the certainty...that an African-American will sit at the head of the table in the White House.

How far we have come since the days of Theodore Roosevelt.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Missing Bush

The year I turned 18 was the first time I voted for president of the United States. The year was 1996.

My love of presidential history started years early. I was born when a peanut farmer lived in the White House. As a child of the 1980s, I only knew of Ronald Reagan as the president and thought it natural that the man that was his vice president would go on to become president.

William Jefferson Clinton came into my life as a high school student and I thought he should remain president through my college years.

The 2000 election was the first election that I truly paid close attention to and I cast my vote for the incumbent vice president. And like most Americans I thought he should be the commander-in-chief. The governor of Texas showed he wasn't anything special other than a son of a president. In the end, Vice President Al Gore gave an amazing concession speech on December 13, 2000 ending the race and the post-election race. I remember Bush's acceptance speech, or more specifically where it was delivered and nothing more. But Gore's I remember so much more: "While we yet hold and do not yield our opposing beliefs, there is a higher duty than the one we owe to political party. This is America and we put country before party. We will stand together behind our new president." Why didn't this Gore win? The Gore the country would really come to love was just beginning I guess.

And so our country moved forward. We had a new president. For the second time in our history a son of a president became president. And for the first few months of his presidency I believed history would repeat itself and George W. Bush would be just like that other son of a president, John Quincy Adams, a one term president. Then came September 11, 2001.

By September 12, 2001, I knew that George W. Bush would break history and become a two term president. By breaking history I mean the only one of the father-son combo of presidents and minority presidents, that is to win the Electoral College and lose the popular vote, to go on and win a second term. A national tragedy had occurred and as Gore had told his supporters ten months prior, we had to rally behind our new president. And I did.

Bush amazed me with his address in the National Cathedral on September 14 and then before a joint session of Congress on September 20. He was going after those that attacked us and they would be punished.

Then at the start of 2002, the drum beats of war began and the unified country returned to its election 2000 divisiveness. The war of choice was on and his reelection was still certain. While his poll numbers plummeted from the highs of September 11, 2001 straight down toward the election of 2004, I still knew no one would be able to defeat him.

Bush survived to serve another term. He received 51% of the popular vote, the only president since his father in 1988 to break the 50% barrier. The president had the audacity to claim a mandate. But his second term proved he had no such thing and like other second term presidents his was nothing to brag about. From a failed attempt at revamping social security to mishandling the response to Hurricane Katrina, Bush's second term was not something Americans should be proud of.

What it did provide was fodder for late night comedians. Our troubles of living under another four years of the Bush administration provided many laughs and inspiration for comedy writers.

At the start of 2001 when the Clinton administration came to an end I remember hearing the late night hosts saddened by the loss of material as the Clinton administration left office. They knew they were getting something special in Bush, seeing him on the campaign trail the previous year. Little did they know that the next eight years would provide more material that would out match the eight years of Clinton.

The scare tactics, fear mongering, incompetence, and arrogance will not be missed.

The year I turned 30 was the fourth time I voted for president of the United States. The year was 2008.

We'll see how things turned out.