JOHN MCCAIN

I didn’t always agree with his politics, but, in my opinion, John McCain was a true American hero. Although he made some mistakes in his life (as we all do), I believe that, for the most part, he acted sincerely and in what he thought was in the best interests of the country.

John Sidney McCain III was born on August 29, 1936 at Coco Solo Naval Air Station in the Panama Canal Zone, where his father was stationed at the time, and which was considered part of the US at the time. He was the middle of three children, with an older sister and a younger brother.

McCain came from a military family with deep roots in America. Both his father and paternal grandfather were four-star Admirals, and an ancestor of his actually fought in the Continental Army under George Washington.

Like a lot of boys, McCain was an indifferent student. He applied himself to subjects that interested him, such as literature and history, but barely scraped by in those that did not, such as math. He did not always obey all the rules. He liked to party. At the Naval Academy, for example, he apparently did just enough to get by, graduating with a rank of 894 out of 899.

Somehow, he got into flight school, but he did not exactly distinguish himself there either. He developed a reputation as a subpar pilot who liked to “push the envelope.” At times, he could be careless, or even reckless. For example, on two occasions he crashed and on a third he collided with a power line. Miraculously, he was not hurt seriously any of those times. Although his piloting skills improved over time and he graduated, quite possibly, he benefitted from whom his family connections.

In any event, he was assigned to the aircraft carrier, USS Forrestal in the Gulf of Tonkin. During his time there the ship suffered a serious fire that killed 134 sailors and took 36 hours to put out. McCain escaped from his burning jet and while helping another pilot he was injured, but not seriously. Around that time McCain was one of a group of pilots who chafed under what they considered “micromanagement” of civilian policymakers from Washington labelling them “complete idiots who didn’t have the least notion of what it took to win the war.” Strong words, but as things turned out, prescient.

In October 1967 while on a routine bombing run over Hanoi McCain’s plane was shot down by a missile. He managed to parachute into a lake, but he was badly injured. Both arms and one leg were fractured, and he was badly beaten by the North Vietnamese who recovered him.

Eventually, the NV took him to the so-called “Hanoi Hilton,” where he was beaten and tortured repeatedly. Moreover, his wounds were not treated properly. Safe to say, the Geneva Convention protocols were not followed in the least.

At some point, the NV ascertained his father’s rank and importance and broadcast his bed-bound picture all over the world. Then, they offered to release him. McCain famously refused, for two reasons. Firstly, he correctly surmised such a release would have been solely for propaganda purposes. Secondly, the US military Code of Conduct stipulated that prisoners were only to be released in the order in which they had been captured. As accountants like to say – FIFO, or first in, first out. McCain remained a prisoner for some 5 1/2 years. He was finally released on March 14, 1973. His injuries never healed fully. For example, he was never again able to lift his arms over his head.

During his incarceration his wife, Carol, had suffered serious injury in an automobile accident. Soon after his return and while separated from his wife McCain began a relationship with Cindy Lou Hensley, a Phoenix school teacher whose father was a very wealthy and influential Anheuser-Busch beer distributor. He petitioned Carol for a divorce, which was granted in February 1980. John and Cindy married that April. John and Cindy had three children, one of which is Meghan McCain, a political commentator of some note.

Soon after his return McCain had retired from the Navy. In 1982 he decided to run for Congress as a Republican, and he won. He served in the House until 1986 when he ran for and won a seat in the Senate. He served six terms in the Senate, for the most part with great distinction. His forte was military matters and he rose to the chairmanship of the Armed Services Committee. During his career McCain became known affectionately as a “maverick.” That is, on occasion he did not “toe” the party line. He seemed to relish the occasional prospect of challenging the GOP leadership. For example, he led the fight to reform what he saw as the corrupting influence of large campaign contributions by wealthy and influential donors, especially so-called “soft money.” Along with Democratic Senator Ross Feingold he co-sponsored a bill to place limits on these contributions. Additionally, he broke with the party leadership over gun legislation, climate control, HMO reform, and the Bush tax cuts.

McCain probably had two reasonably good chances to become President. In 2000 he was a serious challenger to George Bush. He won the New Hampshire primary handily over Bush, 49%-30%, aided, in large part by independents who were able to vote in the primary. His campaign suffered a fatal blow in South Carolina, however, a significantly more conservative state with a sizeable evangelical constituency. Bush beat him 53%-42%, and that was that.

Then, in 2008 he won the GOP nomination and ran against Barack Obama. In the early stages the race was close and McCain had a reasonable chance to win. After all, he was a war hero and had a huge edge in experience with a reputation for being able to “reach across the aisle” to get things done. In the minds of many, including me, his fatal error was selecting little-known Alaska governor, Sarah Palin, as his running mate. Her introduction to the media and the public was severely mishandled. Furthermore, it became obvious that her vetting had been inadequate. Palin demonstrated an alarming lack of knowledge of the issues and committed several “gaffes” in interviews. Also, McCain’s health was an issue, and to many, the prospect of Palin ascending to the presidency was too scary to contemplate. McCain lost and returned to the Senate, where he remained until his death.

CONCLUSION

To be fair and balanced, I feel compelled to denote the following four negative events in which he was involved:

1. His involvement with Charles Keating in the Savings and Loan scandal in the late 1980s. Keating, who was at the epicenter of the multi-billion dollar S & L scandals, was a large donor of McCain’s. Eventually, McCain was cleared of any illegality, but cited for exercising “poor judgment.”

2. His inexplicable choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate, which, as I said, I believe sunk his campaign. To me, that showed very poor judgment and a lack of control over his own campaign.

3. Despite his promise to support the 2016 GOP nominee, whoever it was, he did not support Donald Trump. In fact, he tried to undermine him at every opportunity both during the campaign and after his election.

4. He left a hospital bed to cast the deciding vote to kill the bill that would have reformed the ACA for no reason I can discern except spite.

That said, as I stated above McCain was a legitimate war hero. How he was able to withstand 5+ years of physical, emotional and mental torture by the NV I will never know. Most of us cannot conceive of what he went through. Moreover, he served in the Congress for some 36 years with great distinction. He deserves all the accolades that have come pouring in during the last few days.

In July he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. Last week, he and his family directed doctors to cease treatment. After that, it was just a matter of days.

John McCain passed away on August 25. Rest in peace John. You were truly an American hero and you will be sorely missed.

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THE QUEEN OF SOUL

The Queen of Soul. Any serious music fan of the past 50 years would instantly know to whom that moniker applies. Actually, referring to her as the “Queen of Soul” sells her short. In point of fact, as you will see below, she was one of the true giants of her generation in the fields of soul, pop, and gospel, and even branched out into opera. Also, she was a strong advocate and role model for women, minorities, and the downtrodden, in general. Furthermore, she was one of the few individuals who was instantly recognizable by merely her first name.

Aretha Louise Franklyn was born on March 25, 1942 in Memphis, TN. Her father was a Baptist minister and a “circuit preacher,” that is, he travelled throughout the region to preach to congregations who did not have their own minister. It was from her mother, an accomplished vocalist and piano player, that Aretha inherited her musical talent.

Aretha did not have a happy childhood. Her father was a notorious philanderer, doubtlessly facilitated by his frequent absences from home on the “circuit.” Moreover, both of her parents had children with other than their respective spouses. By 1948, her parents had separated. Her mother had relocated to Buffalo with part of the family, and Aretha had gone with her father to Detroit. She saw her mother infrequently, and then when Aretha was nine, she died from a coronary.

Aretha demonstrated an affinity for music at an early age. By age six she was singing solos in church. By age 12 she was accompanying her father on his “gospel caravan” tours. At some point,, she met the renowned singer, Sam Cooke, who was to become a significant influence on her career. At 16 she went on tour with Martin Luther King and even sang at his funeral. As I said above, throughout her career she was a strong inspiration and advocate for women, minorities and the generally downtrodden. These attitudes were often reflected in her songs and served to enhance her popularity. For example, “Respect” became a symbol of empowerment for both women and African Americans, especially during the turbulent ’60s.

At the age of 18, aspiring to try a career in pop music, like Sam Cooke, she moved to NY and signed with Columbia Records. In 1966, not satisfied with her progress, she switched to Atlantic Records. From that point on, her career took off. She produced a series of “hits, including classics such as “Respect,” (perhaps, her signature “hit”), “Chain of Fools”, “Natural Woman,” “Think,” and “Spanish Harlem.”

Her versatility was astounding. She was the most charted female recording artist in Billboard’s history. She sold some 75 million records worldwide, making her one of the most prolific musical artists ever. She recorded in excess of 100 charted singles hits in both pop and R & B including 17 top-ten pop singles, and 20 R & B number one singles. Additionally, she won 18 Grammys.

Her personal life was, to put it kindly, complicated. She had her first son at the age of 12. The father was a classmate. She bore a second child at the age 14. Aretha was very reluctant to discuss this aspect of her life with the public, but it is known that they were raised primarily by her grandmother and a sister while Aretha concentrated on her career.

Aretha was married twice and had two additional children. In the mid 1970s she relocated again, this time to California. Then, in 1982 she moved back to Detroit to be with her ailing father and siblings.
During her career Aretha suffered from various health issues. For example, she was considerably overweight; she had a strong fear of flying, which limited her international appearances,; and from time to time she had to cancel performances due to “undisclosed medical problems.” Finally, earlier this month she was reported to be seriously ill with pancreatic cancer. She died on August 16 at the age of 76.

CONCLUSION

Aretha left behind a very strong legacy:
1. I already discussed her civil rights activism, particularly as reflected in many of her songs.
2. In 1987 she became the first female performer to be inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame.
3. In 2005 she was inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame.
4. In 2012 she was inducted into the GMA Gospel Hall of Fame.
5. Rolling Stone Magazine has included her as one of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time as well as 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.
6. Michigan has declared her a “natural resource” of the state.
7. She was the recipient of honorary degrees from various prestigious universities, such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton.
Various tributes have come rolling in. Below please find a sample:
1. Rolling Stone Magazine called her “not only the definitive female soul singer of the sixties, [but also] one of the most influential and important voices in pop history.”
2. Elton John – “We were witnessing the greatest soul artist of all time.”
3. Barbra Streisand – Not only was she a uniquely brilliant singer, but her commitment to civil rights made an indelible impact on the world.”
4. Billy Joel – “We have lost the greatest singer of our time.
Rest in peace, Aretha. You were not only a fabulous performer, but a unique individual and will be sorely missed.

SOCIALISM IN AMERICA

Who doesn’t like free stuff?  The short answer is “no one.”  (By the way, is there a greater word in the English language than “stuff?”  Very descriptive.  It can mean whatever one wants it to.)  Anyway, we all like freebies, especially if the other guy is paying for it.

That, my friends, is the essence of socialism.  Share and share alike.  You should not keep more than you really need, and you should give some to me.  You’re ambitious and work hard; I’m not and take it easy; and we both share in the proceeds.  As Wikipedia puts it, individuals don’t own property; everything is owned by the collective group, and the government controls production, distribution and virtually everything else.  To me, it is akin to communism.  (Think how things worked in the former Soviet Union.)

To take this point further, the philosophy is that any success you, as an individual, may have had is attributable, not to your hard work, intelligence, ingenuity, and determination, but to the government and the system.  Remember President Obama’s proclamation that “you didn’t build it.”  (As many of you know, his odd statement became the inspiration for the title of my blog.)   Under socialism, in essence, the “haves’ pay for and support the “have nots.”  Paradoxically, despite ample evidence that socialism has never been successful in any country, ever, its popularity is spreading, even to the US.  Ah, the lure of “freebies.”  More on that later.

The roots of socialism, with its basic tenant of common ownership of property, can be traced all the way back to ancient Greece and the philosophers Plato and Aristotle.  Socialism in America can trace its lineage to the early 19th century and utopian experiments, such as the New Harmony, the Shakers, Brook Farm and the Oneida Community, among others.  In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the movement was influenced by the philosophy of such as Karl Marx, Lenin and Trotsky.

The Soviet Union was the biggest socialism/communism experiment.  As those who follow history know, eventually, its economy imploded.  More recently, socialism has failed in Cuba, Venezuela, and elsewhere.  As we have seen time and again, inevitably a system that relies on common ownership and government controls while stifling free enterprise and individual incentives is doomed to failure.  Inevitably the government runs out of money to pay for all the services it provides.

Additionally, the claim of share and share alike is bogus.  In socialist countries a very small elite class always develops, which garners the lion’s share of resources, and the vast majority of the people are plagued by severe shortages of food and other necessities.  For example, according to Wikipedia, the food shortage in Venezuela is so acute that some 80% of the people claim they are unable to afford sufficient food to sustain themselves.  Those who have been to Cuba will note the desperate living conditions of the non-privileged, especially those residing outside the areas normally seen by tourists.

Some people point to the Nordic countries of Norway, Sweden and Denmark as socialist success stories, but that is misleading and premature.  Firstly, their open border policies have resulted in a flood of immigrants, which will, inevitably place a severe, and possibly fatal, burden on their social and economic structure and potentially bankrupt the government.  Secondly, given the high volume of immigrants relative to the size of the native population of these countries there is a real concern that their traditional cultural and social identities will be drastically altered, and not for the better.  There is ample evidence that this is already occurring, especially in Sweden, which is being plagued by increases in violent crimes, such as murder, rape and anti-Semitism.  Thirdly, they spend very little on the military.  Norway maintains armed forces of about 25,000; Sweden maintains around 20,000, including reserves; and Denmark only 5,000 when fully mobilized.  They rely on the US and NATO for defense.  Obviously, the US’s military needs are considerably greater and more expensive.

Furthermore, most of Western Europe has been turning increasingly socialist, in varying degrees and with varying results, mostly bad.  Those who have been following the news in France, Germany, Italy and the UK in recent years are cognizant of this.  The empirical evidence of the negative impact of socialism and open borders in these countries is plain to see for anyone who cares to look.  This is very instructive to Americans as the Democratic Party moves further to the left toward outright socialism and open borders.  Bernie Sanders, who admits to being a Socialist, almost won the Democratic nomination in 2016 (and probably would have if the “fix” had not been in for Hillary).  Don’t be fooled by the term, “progressive.”  In this case it is a misnomer, a more acceptable description of the Dems’ brand of socialism.

Do you doubt me?  Listen to the parade of speakers at the recent Netroots Nation conclave in New Orleans.  If you’ve never heard of Netroots, I suggest you research it.  I think they are very radical and dangerous.  They espouse programs like open borders, abolishing ICE, deposing President Trump (via impeachment or violence), universal free education pre-K through college, universal healthcare, and other similar nanny-state programs.  Sounds good, but they have no conception of how to pay for these goodies.  If you do the math you will quickly ascertain that there is no way to do so.  They don’t care.  They aim to entice voters with the prospect of freebies, and there is evidence that it is working.

In 2015 a Gallop poll disclosed that 47% of Americans would support a socialist candidate for president.  The movement seems to be particularly enticing to young people.  A November 2017 YouGov poll disclosed that a majority of Americans aged 21-29 prefer socialism to capitalism and believe that capitalism works against them.  I believe that many, if not most, of the Americans who support socialism don’t have the foggiest notion of what it is, its track record, or what it would mean for America.  But, their votes would still count.

If you think these people are a radical fringe outside the mainstream of the Democratic Party, think again.  The speakers at the Netroots convention who supported these ideas included Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Cynthia Nixon, and Alexandria Ocasio-Nixon, each of whom has expressed ambitions for political office, up to and including president.  Moreover, many of these same programs have been supported, or at least not contradicted, by Dem leaders such as Nancy Pelosi, Bernie Sanders, Chuck Schumer, and Maxine Waters.

CONCLUSION

Not only has the Dem Party been moving sharply to the left, many of its leaders have been advocating violence against those who disagree with them.  For example, Maxine Waters has been advocating confronting Trump supporters wherever you find them.  People have been accosted in restaurants, movie theatres and at a Congressional softball game.   Antifa thugs have routinely attacked speakers or peaceful demonstrators at rallies supporting moderate and conservative ideas.  To me, this is excessive and dangerous.  One Congressman has already been shot.  Eventually, someone who is minding his own business is going to be killed.  I understand that some people are unhappy with the direction of the country.  However, the American way to seek change is at the polls, not through name-calling and violence.

The socialist new left no longer seems open to dialogue or debate.  If you disagree with them you are branded as evil and racist, a misogynist, or a white supremist.  The “Nazi” label has been used so routinely that it does a real disservice to those who were murdered in the Holocaust by real Nazis.

In my view, the fact that moderate, responsible Dem leaders, such as Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer have not spoken out as voices of reason is most disconcerting.  Do they support these ideas, or are they afraid of hurting their political standing, or perhaps, a little of both?  Time for real leaders to stand up, guys.

Most of the media has chosen to ignore or downplay the aforementioned developments.   Consequently, many voters are unaware of what is happening and the consequences.  If left unchecked we could easily follow down the path of Western Europe.

Hopefully, these far left, socialist candidates will be roundly rejected at the polls.  If not, the country will be heading for trouble.

US HISTORY QUIZ

The following is another in a series of fun quizzes.  As always, no peeking at the internet, and no asking “Alexa.”

  1. Who was the first US vice president?

(a) Thomas Jefferson, (b) Aaron Burr, (c)  John Adams, (d) Alexander Hamilton

2.  Who was the only person to serve as both president and vice president without having been elected to either office?

(a) Gerald Ford, (b) Herbert Hoover, (c) James Madison, (d) John Quincy Adams

3.  Who was the only president to serve two terms, non-consecutively?

(a) Rutherford B. Hayes, (b) Grover Cleveland, (c) James K. Polk, (d) William McKinley

4.  The Battle of New Orleans was a pivotal battle in which war?

(a) French and Indian War, (b) Revolutionary War, (c) War of 1812, (d) Civil War,

5. What is the capital of Kentucky?

(a) Louisville, (b) Lexington, Nashville, (d) Frankfurt

6. How many presidents have died in office?

(a) 5, (b) 6, (c) 7, (d) 8

7. Which president served the shortest term?

(a) William Henry Harrison, (b) Zachary Taylor, (c) James K. Polk, (d) JFK

8. Which was the last of the 48 contiguous states to gain statehood?

(a) New Mexico, (b) Hawaii, (c) Arizona, (d) Colorado

9.  Donald Trump is the 45th president of the US.  How many vice presidents have there been?

(a) 45, (b) 46, (c) 47, (d) 48

10.  How many vice presidents have later become president?

(a) 10, (b) 14, (c) 16, (d) 25

11.  How many of them immediately succeeded the president due to death, disability or other reasons?

(a) 4, (b) 6, (c) 9, (d) 10

12.  Which state was NOT part of the Louisiana Purchase?

(a) Texas, (b) Wyoming, (c) Missouri, (d) Wisconsin

13.  What is the capital of Ohio?

(a) Columbus, (b) Oxford, (c) Cleveland, (d) Cincinnati

14.  Which of these states was part of the Gadsden Purchase?

(a) Oregon, (b) New Mexico, (c) North Dakota, (d) Texas

15.  How many vice presidents served under FDR?

(a) (a) 1, (b) 2, (c) 3, (d) 4

16.  Who was president when the US defeated the Barbary Pirates?

(a)  George Washington, (b) Thomas Jefferson, (c) Andrew Jackson (d) Dwight Eisenhower

17.  Which president is credited with ending the “Cold War” with the Soviet Union?

(a)  Jimmy Carter, (b) Harry Truman, (c) Ronald Reagan, (d) George W. Bush

18.  From which country did the US purchase Alaska?

(a) Canada; (b) England, (c) Mexico, (d) Russia

19.  Which famous Indian leader defeated General Custer at the Little Bighorn?

(a) Crazy Horse, (b) Cochese, (c) Geronimo, (d) Pocahontas

20.  Which President issued a “doctrine” warning European powers basically to “butt out” of the New World?

(a)  George Washington, (b) Thomas Jefferson, (c) James Madison, (d) James Monroe

Answers: 1. c;  2. a;  3. b;  4. c;  5. d;  6. d [William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, William McKinley, Warren G. Harding, Franklyn D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy];  7. a;  8. c;  9. d;  10. b;  11. c [John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Chester A. Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Harry S Truman, LBJ, and Gerald Ford];  12. d;  13. a;  14. b; 15. c; 16. b; 17. c;  18. d; 19. a; 20. d.

Well, that wasn’t too bad.  How did you do?

THIS MONTH IN HISTORY – AUGUST

Below please find a list of significant historical events that have occurred during the month of August.

August 1, 1838 –  Slavery in Jamaica, which had been introduced by Spain in 1509, was abolished.

August 1, 1944 –  Fifteen year-old Anne Frank, who was fated to be captured by the Nazis three days later and killed at Bergen-Belsen, wrote her final entry into her famous diary – “[I] keep on trying to find a way of becoming what I would like to be, and what I could be if … there weren’t any other people living in the world.”

August 2, 1776 – Most of the 55 signatories to the Declaration of Independence signed the original document (not on July 4, as is commonly believed).

August 2, 1923 –  President Warren Harding died suddenly and was succeeded by Calvin Coolidge.

August 3, 1492 – Christopher Columbus set sail from Palos, Spain seeking the elusive Northwest Passage to Asia.  Do you remember the names of the three ships in his convoy?  See below.

August 5, 1583 – Explorer Sir Humphrey Gilbert founded the first British colony in North America in present-day Newfoundland.

August 5, 1861 – President Abraham Lincoln signed into law an emergency war measure to levy a 3% income tax on income in excess of $800.

August 5, 1962 – Actress Marilyn Monroe (born Norma Jeane Mortenson), symbol of Hollywood glamor and sexuality, was found dead from an overdose of sleeping pills.

August 6, 1945 – The US drops an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, killing hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians, destroying the city, and hastening the end of WWII.

August 6, 1962 – Jamaica achieved independence, ending some 450 years of colonial rule first by Spain and then by England.

August 6, 1965 – President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law.

August 7, 1964 – Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which provided legal “cover” for the US’s entry into the Vietnam War.

August 9, 1945 –  The US drops a second atomic bomb (on Nagasaki).

August 9, 1974 – President Richard Nixon resigned as a result of the Watergate scandal.

August 11, 1965 – Six days of  racial riots began in the Watts section of LA.  The riots resulted in a reported 34 deaths, over 3,000 arrests and property damage estimated at $40 million.

August 13, 1961 – East Germany put up the Berlin Wall separating West and East Berlin.

August 14, 1935 – FDR signed the Social Security Act.

August 14, 1945 – V-J Day commemorating Japan’s surrender, which marked the official end of WWII.

August 15, 1969 – The Woodstock festival began in Bethel, NY.

August 16, 1896 – Gold was discovered along the Klondike River in Alaska, precipitating what became known as the Great Klondike Gold Rush.

August 18, 1920 – Ratification of the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote.

August 21, 1959 – Hawaii was admitted to the Union as the 50th state.

August 24, 79 A. D. – The volcano, Vesuvius, erupted destroying the cities of Pompeii, Stabiac and Herculaneum.

August 24-25, 1814 – During the War of 1812 the British attacked Washington D.C. and burned much of the city, including the White House and the Capitol.

August 26, 1883 – One of the most catastrophic volcano eruptions ever recorded occurred on the island of Krakatoa in Indonesia.  It produced tidal waves of 120 feet and killed 36,000 persons.

August 28, 1963 – Over 250,000 persons participated in the March on Washington in support of civil rights.  One of the many speakers was the Reverend MLK, who gave the famous I Have a Dream speech.

August 31, 1997 – Princess Diana died from injuries suffered in an auto accident while fleeing from pursuing paparazzi.

Birthdays – Francis Scott Key (wrote the Star Spangled Banner), 8/1/1779 in Maryland; Herman Melville (wrote Moby Dick), 8/1/1819 in New York City; Ernie Pyle (WWII war correspondent), 8/3/1900 in Dana, IN; Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong (Jazz trumpeter),8/4/1901 in New Orleans Quiz question #2 – Do you know the derivation of his very unusual nickname?); Raoul Wallenberg (saved 33,000 Jews from the Holocaust), 8/4/1912 in Stockholm; Barack Obama (44th US President), 8/4/1961 in Honolulu; Alfred Lord Tennyson (poet, wrote Charge of the Light Brigade), 8/6/1809 in England; Alexander Fleming (discovered penicillin), 8/6/1881 in Scotland;  Herbert Hoover (31st US President), 8/10/1874 in West Branch, IA; Alex Haley (wrote Roots), 8/11/1921 in Ithaca, NY; Cecil B. DeMille (directed The Ten Commandments), 8/12/1881 in Ashfield, MA; Annie Oakley (sharpshooter), 8/13,1860 in Ohio; Alfred Hitchcock (British film director, The Birds, Psycho), 8/13/1899 in London; Fidel Castro, 8/13/1927 in Cuba; Napoleon Bonaparte, 8/15/1769, on the island of Corsica; T. E. Lawrence, 8/16/1888 in North Wales, Quiz Question #3 – Who played Lawrence in the Oscar-winning movie, Lawrence of Arabia?); Menachem Begin, 8/16/1913 in Poland; Davy Crockett, 8/17/1786 in Tennessee; Meriwether Lewis, 8/18/1774 near Charlottesville, VA; Orville Wright, 8/19/1871 in Dayton, OH; William Jefferson Clinton (42nd US President), 8/19/1946 in Hope, Arkansas; Benjamin Harrison (23rd US President), 8/20/1833 in North Bend, OH, (Quiz question #4 – He was the grandson of another president. Who?); Leonard Bernstein (conductor and composer), 8/25/1918 in Lawrence, MA; Lyndon Baines Johnson (36th US President), 8/27/1908 near Stonewall, TX; Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu (aka Mother Teresa), 8/27/1910 in Yugoslavia.

Quiz Answers

  1.  Nina, Pinta, Santa Maria
  2.  The most likely story is as a youth Louis would dance for pennies in the streets of his home city of New Orleans.  To prevent other boys from stealing the pennies he stored them in his mouth, which would then become so stuffed as to resemble a satchel.  Someone dubbed him “satchel mouth,” which became shortened to “Satchmo.”  Many of his friends called him “pops.”
  3.  Peter O’Toole
  4.  William Henry Harrison

ULYSSES S. GRANT

US Grant was, in my opinion, one of the more intriguing and controversial figures in American history.  I would characterize his life as having been marked by a series of “ups” and “downs,” successes and failures.  On balance, while I would not place him on the “Mt. Rushmore” of historical figures, I think we should be mindful of and thankful for his historical contributions.

Hiram Ulysses Grant was born on April 27, 1822 in Point Pleasant, Ohio, the oldest of six siblings.  By all appearances his family was middle class.  His father was a tanner and a merchant.  He could trace his ancestry back to before the American Revolution.  Patriotism ran strongly in the family.  One of his great-grandfathers fought in the French and Indian War, and a grandfather fought in the American Revolution.

The derivation of Grant’s name is interesting.  Supposedly, at a family gathering prior to his birth various possibilities were discussed, and the name, “Ulysses,” was drawn out of a hat.  Later, his parents added “Hiram” to placate his mother’s father, who had advocated for that name.  Following Hiram’s secondary education his father got Representative Thomas Hamer to nominate him for admission to West Point.  Supposedly, Hamer erroneously had submitted the name as “Ulysses S. Grant,” and once it had been submitted officially, the Army could not (or would not) change the name.  In any event, from that point on Hiram was known as Ulysses S. Grant (nicknamed “Sam,” of course).

Grant was quiet and shy and made few friends, traits that were to impact him his entire life.  Furthermore, he was an indifferent student, graduating in 1843 with a ranking of 21 out of 39, but he did demonstrate an affinity for riding and handling horses.  In fact, while at the academy he set a high jump record that stood for some 25 years.

Grant was not exactly a “gung ho” soldier, more like indifferent.  He once described military life as having “much to dislike, but more to like.”   Originally, he had planned to resign his commission at the conclusion of his mandatory four-year enlistment, however, when he became engaged in 1844 his outlook changed.  With a wife to support, he decided to remain in the army.

Grant fought in the Mexican War and distinguished himself at various battles, such as Vera Cruz, Resaca de la Palma, and Monterrey.  Later, he served in Panama, California, and the Oregon Territory.  He found peacetime army life to be tedious and boring.  His postings were no place for a wife and family, and he missed having them with him.  Likely, his shyness added to the tedium.  Perhaps, it was at this time that he began to imbibe.  Drinking and drunkenness were not uncommon among soldiers, given the long stretches of isolation and tedium, especially in peacetime.  Some historians have postulated that Grant, who became known as an excessive drinker, was not any worse than many others; he was just unable to “hold” his liquor as well.  In any event, his drinking would remain a stain on his reputation.

It was during his posting in the West that he became sympathetic to the plight of Native Americans.  This was a rarity among soldiers and white settlers, in general, at the time.  It was to become a significant issue later on.

Grant finally resigned his commission in 1854 to be with his family.  He bounced around unsuccessfully.  He tried farming, but like many farmers, he was wiped out in the Panic of 1857.  Plus, his wife was not happy with that existence.  Finally, he caught malaria, and that finished him as a farmer.  Eventually, he went to work in his father’s leather goods business.

Grant’s mundane and forgettable existence changed radically with the advent of the Civil War in April 1861.  Grant was very patriotic and wanted to fight for the Union.  Like the rest of his family, he was strongly anti-slavery even though his wife’s family owned slaves.  (His father held such strong anti-slavery sentiments that he had actually boycotted Grant’s wedding.)   After several attempts to become recommissioned as a senior officer, through the efforts of a Congressman he managed to obtain a commission as a colonel.

Grant was a very successful commander, winning several battles, and rose quickly through the ranks.  Despite his many faults, he is generally considered to have been a military genius, and many of his strategies are still featured in contemporary military textbooks.  A series of decisive victories in Tennessee, particularly at Shiloh, brought him to Lincoln’s attention.  As we know, in the early days of the war the Union Army had been plagued by a series of incompetent Commanding Generals who had displayed a frustrating reluctance to fight.  This passivity was allowing the Confederacy to maintain the initiative, and against all odds, it appeared to be winning the war.  In a stroke of genius, Lincoln overruled his advisors who had been critical of Grant, and put him in charge.  He famously intoned “I can’t spare this man.  [At least], he fights.”  When cautioned about Grant’s excessive drinking his response was that maybe he should direct all his other generals to drink whatever he [Grant] was.

As we know, Grant led the Union forces to victory after victory.  He showed the defeated rebels no quarter.  His terms of surrender were always unconditional, earning him the moniker “Unconditional Surrender Grant.”  First, he captured Vicksburg to gain control of the vital Mississippi Valley.  Then, under his command, General Sherman “marched to the sea,” devastating all in his wake, including the major city of Atlanta.  Finally, he defeated General Lee in Virginia, which led to the end of the war.

Afterwards, Grant was a legitimate war hero.  He was feted in Washington DC.  In a quirk of history, President Lincoln had invited Grant and his wife to accompany him to Ford’s Theatre on the night he was assassinated.  The Grants would probably have gone, but Mrs. Grant insisted that they decline the invitation as they had prior plans to travel to Philadelphia.  Had they attended, who knows what would have happened.  Would they have been assassinated as well, or, perhaps, would Grant, an experienced military officer, have thwarted the assassination attempt and saved President Lincoln’s life?  Arguably, that innocuous decision changed the course of history.  We will never know, but it makes for interesting speculation.

In the wake of Lincoln’s assassination and the resultant turmoil, the Republican party nominated Grant for the presidency, unanimously, and he was elected.  On March 4, 1869 he was sworn in as the 18th President of the United States and the youngest up to that time.  Grant served two terms, and even considered running for a third term.  (At the time, there was no legal prohibition to do so, but all prior presidents, respecting the example established by George Washington, had declined to seek a third term.)

For many years, historians had ranked Grant as one of the worst presidents.  His tenure was besmirched by cronyism, corruption, scandals, and fraud, and he was derided as a drunkard.  Many of his friends, supporters, close advisors and even family members were guilty of these transgressions, and Grant, while not personally implicated, was criticized for failing to reign them in.  Additionally, he was unable to deal with the Panic of 1873, which had been caused, in part, by corruption and cronyism.  The dichotomy was that he was able to win a second term in 1876 anyway.

It should be noted that Grant did have some positive accomplishments.  For example, he established the Department of Justice, supported Native Americans, advocated for the prosecutions of the KKK, and created the Civil Service Commission.

Following his tenure in office he and his wife embarked on a 2 1/2 year tour of Europe, and Asia, meeting with world leaders, such as Queen Victoria and Otto von Bismarck and dignitaries, such as the pope.  He became the first president to visit the Holy Land.  This was not entirely personal.  President Hayes encouraged Grant to assume a diplomatic role, which he did successfully, demonstrating to the world that the US was an emerging world power.

CONCLUSION

By 1884 Grant knew he was dying of throat cancer.  The family was nearly broke, and Grant wanted to provide for them after he was gone.  So, he began to write his memoirs.  He was assisted in this endeavor by the illustrious Mark Twain.  They were a big commercial success and actually helped establish standards for future presidents’ memoirs.

Grant died on July 23, 1885 at the age of 63.  Soon afterward, his reputation and legacy came under attack for the aforementioned corruption, cronyism, and scandals that had plagued his presidency.  As successful as he had been as a general, most historians viewed him as one of our least effective presidents.  It should be noted that one early supporter was historian, Louis Arthur Coolidge, who wrote in 1917 that “Grant’s success as president [was] hardly less significant than his success at war.”

More recently, Grant’s legacy has been rehabilitated.  Many historians have come to recognize Grant’s personal integrity, efforts to treat the vanquished South fairly during Reconstruction, and sympathy towards native Americans, as well as the accomplishments noted above.  Historian T. J. Stiles noted that a recent biography by Ronald White “solidifies [Grant’s] positive image amassed in recent decades blotting out the caricature of a military butcher and political incompetent.”  A 2017 positive biography by Ron Chernow continued Grant’s rehabilitation and drew praise from former president Bill Clinton, with respect to Grant’s “significant achievements” during and after the Civil War.

Grant has been the recipient of a plethora of honors and memorials, such as Grant’s Tomb in NYC, the US Grant National Historical Site in St. Louis, and the Grant Memorial in Washington, DC.  In addition, his likeness has been on the $50 bill since 1913.  One may argue as to his effectiveness as president, but his significant contributions to the preservation of the Union at a crucial point in our history cannot be denied.  Like I said, I am not advocating that we carve him a place on Mt. Rushmore, but I do believe he deserves to be remembered as a true hero of the Republic.