L is for Lincoln

Most Americans probably know Abraham Lincoln better than any other President. He’s the only one, other than John Kennedy, whose birth day (February 12, 1809) and date of death (April 15, 1865) I know by heart.

So why are historians endlessly fascinated by the 16th President to a degree that there are over 2500 biographies of the man? Maybe it’s because the simple narrative of Honest Abe, born in a log cabin, who saw slavery as an issue worth fighting a Civil War over is instinctively such an incomplete narrative.

2009 was the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth, and there were a number of pieces on PBS (public broadcasting in the US) about the man shed new light on him for me, and possibly for you as well.

Bill Moyers discussed THE LINCOLN ANTHOLOGY: GREAT WRITERS ON HIS LIFE AND LEGACY FROM 1860 TO NOW is a collection of more than 90 authors from across the years who create a constantly evolving portrait of the man whose shadow keeps lengthening across our history.

Moyers also highlighted Lincoln through the eyes of critically acclaimed, veteran dance artist Bill T. Jones. “In a groundbreaking work of choreography called FONDLY DO WE HOPE…FERVENTLY DO WE PRAY, Jones reimagines a young Lincoln in his formative years through dance.”

Jones said: “Lincoln was, in some people’s mind, always Honest Abe on a pedestal, but Lincoln had a sexuality. Lincoln was a politician. In the debates, Lincoln is the one that said to Douglas that, no, I would never marry a black woman. But I don’t — just because I don’t want a black woman for a wife doesn’t mean I must have her for a slave. And he even said, I’m not sure if all — if blacks and whites are equal, you know. But he said, people have the right to certain liberties. They have certain rights because they are in America. He was a man of his era.”

Also, from a conversation with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.:

What made Lincoln such a unique president?

Lincoln had a tremendous capacity for personal growth – more than any other American President. He was essentially a man of his times, resolute in his belief in the inequality of the races. But within the cauldron of the Civil War, he began to see that there could not be a United States without freedom for the black man. He came to embrace blacks, particularly those that fought so valiantly for the Union, as fully deserving the basic human right of freedom. He was slow to the cause to be sure, but once he got there, he was unshakable. Now, we will never know how far he might have gone had he lived. That’s part of the mystique that still surrounds him: the question “what if?”

Why is Lincoln’s legacy so contested?

Because Lincoln is so closely identified with what it is to be American, everyone wants to claim him, to rewrite his story to satisfy their own particular needs. For my own people, it was important to imagine him as the Great Emancipator, the Moses who led us out of slavery. For others, it was Lincoln the humble man who rose to greatness, or Lincoln the great Commander, or Lincoln the martyr. Every generation since his death has conjured up their own Lincoln. There were many Lincolns — enough for people to love and hate.

That explanation of the third US President (of eight) to die in office, but but the first (of four) to be assassinated, resonates with me. We project onto Lincoln, who was only 56 when he died, who he was and who he might have become. This might explain the release just last month of the generally positively-reviewed novel Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. No, really.

Finally, this story retold in Living Water.

The Debt
When he was an attorney, Abraham Lincoln was once approached by a man who passionately insisted on bringing a suit for $2.50 against an impoverished debtor. Lincoln tried to discourage him, but the man was bent on revenge. When he saw that the man would not be put off, Lincoln agreed to take the case and asked for a legal fee of $10, which the plaintiff paid. Lincoln then gave half of the money to the defendant, who willingly confessed to the debt and paid the $2.50! But even more amazing than Lincoln’s ingenuous settlement was the fact that the irate plaintiff was satisfied with it.*

More Lincoln photos here.

ABC Wednesday
The largest of over 100 places in the US named Lincoln is in Nebraska.

Presidents Day

My wife purchased a group of plastic place mats a few months ago. On one of them is a roster of all the Presidents, including Barack Obama. For no particular reason, I started noting the frequency of their first names.

Number one was James, who showed up six times (4, 5, 11, 15, 20, 39). In second place was a surprise: John with five (2, 6, 10, 30, 35). Ah, but you say #30 was Calvin Coolidge, and so it was. But the mat noted, and stated here that he was born John Calvin Coolidge. In third place was William with four (9, 25, 27, 42). Best wishes for a speedy recovery for #42. In fourth place, with three is George (1, 41, 43), which, as with John was aided by a father-son Presidency.

There’s a tie for fifth place: Andrew (7,17), Stephen (22, 24) and Thomas (3,28). Of course, Stephen is a cheat since it’s the SAME GUY, but I didn’t determine the numbering schema; wait, we know him better as Grover Cleveland. You might wonder about #28, but he was born Thomas Woodrow Wilson.

Peculiar that none of these naming anomalies show up on the White House list of Presidents. It’s interesting to me that we’ve had as many Presidents named Richard and Benjamin and Ronald as we have named Millard and Lyndon and Barack.

I’m utterly fascinated by the Whig Presidents. There were 4 of them (9, 10, 12, 13) out of 44, or over 9%, though this will inevitably shrink, barring the party’s resurgence, but they served only 8 years out of almost 211, or less than 4% of the time. That’s because William Henry Harrison caught pneumonia from his way-too-long Inauguration speech in March 1841 and died a month later, succeeded by his Vice-President, John Tyler. Then Zachary Taylor, elected in 1848, died in 1850, succeeded by HIS VP, Millard Fillmore.

My focus on them comes in no small part from when I first learned to recite the all the Presidents in order from memory, and I can still do so, the hardest stretch involved that unimpressive group Taylor, Fillmore and Pierce. Sounds like a law firm, doesn’t it? My particular interest in Millard Fillmore derived in no small part from a high school friend’s obsession with the 1945 Joan Crawford film Mildred Pierce. Not only did I confuse Millard with Mildred, but the Pierce that followed amplified it.

Hey, coin collectors: The Millard Fillmore Presidential dollar will be available this month!

Happy Presidents Day!

P is for Presidents

When I (mostly) finished collecting the state quarters (I STILL need a Kentucky D and some of the 2009 quarters), I decided to start collecting the new United States Mint Presidential One Dollar Coins. Actually, they are not that new. The series actually began in 2007 with the first four Presidents, then in 2008 with Presidents 5 through 8. The most recent one I have is for James K. Polk, #11, with Zachary Taylor still to come in 2009.

It occurred to me that, for some of these Presidents, these coins may be be their first appearance on American money. Apparently, the government and/or the people were resistant to putting real, specific people on its currency and coinage. Prior to 1909, when Abraham Lincoln first appeared on the penny (one cent), in commemoration of the centennial of the 16th President’s birth, there was an “Indian head” penny. Likewise it was the buffalo head nickel (five cents) prior to 1938, when it changed to 3rd President Thomas Jefferson; Lady Liberty dime (10 cents) before 1946, when Franklin Roosevelt, the 32nd President, appeared the year after he died; and Standing Liberty quarter (25 cents) before 1932, when the bicentennial of George Washington’s birth was celebrated.

The portraits that appear on paper currency were adopted in 1929. Initially, it was determined to use portraits of Presidents, but the Secretary of the Treasury altered the plan to include Alexander Hamilton ($10 bill), who was the first Secretary of the Treasury; Salmon P. Chase ($10,000), who was Secretary of the Treasury during the Civil War and “is credited with promoting our National Banking System”; and Benjamin Franklin ($100 bill), who was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. U.S. bills are sometimes known as dead Presidents; while one must be dead to appear on U.S. money or stamps, not all of them have to be Presidents. Not incidentally, denominations of $500 and higher were discontinued in 1969, in large part because of fears about counterfeiting.

NOT a President
The Presidents

1. George Washington – quarter, $1 bill
2. John Adams – as far as I can determine, the Presidential $1 coin is his first appearance. This was one of the founders. Why didn’t HE show up on the $2 bill instead of his sometimes rival?
3. Thomas Jefferson – nickel, $2 bill, which was discontinued for a time, and not widely found
4. James Madison – $5000 bill
5. James Monroe, 6. John Quincy Adams – just the 2008 Presidential coin
7. Andrew Jackson – $20 bill, though there are some who would like to see him off the bill
8. Martin Van Buren – just the 2008 Presidential coin
9. William Henry Harrison, 10. John Tyler, 11. James K. Polk, 12. Zachary Taylor – just the 2009 Presidential coin
13. Millard Fillmore, 14. Franklin Pierce, 15. James Buchanan – just the 2010 Presidential coin
16. Abraham Lincoln – penny, $5 bill, Illinois state quarter. There is also a 2009 Lincoln commemorative silver dollar in honor of the bicentennial of HIS birth, separate from the Presidential coin coming out next year.
17. Andrew Johnson – just the 2011 Presidential coin
18. Ulysses S. Grant – $50 bill
19. Rutherford B. Hayes, 20. James Garfield – just the 2011 Presidential coin
21. Chester A. Arthur, 23. Benjamin Harrison – just the 2012 Presidential coin

22 & 24. Grover Cleveland (won in non-consecutive terms) – $1000 bill
25. William McKinley – $500 bill
26. Theodore Roosevelt – just the 2013 Presidential coin. Although, now that I think of it, since TR, along with Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln, appear on Mount Rushmore, and Rushmore is on the South Dakota state quarter, I suppose that should count in each of their tallies.
27. William Howard Taft – just the 2013 Presidential coin
28. Woodrow Wilson – $100,000 bill; this note never appeared in general circulation, and was only used in transactions between Federal Reserve Banks

29. Warren G. Harding, 30. Calvin Coolidge, 31. Herbert Hoover – just the 2014 Presidential coin
32. Franklin D. Roosevelt – dime (10 cents)
33. Harry S. Truman – just the 2015 Presidential coin
34. Dwight D. Eisenhower – $1 coin, 1971-1978
35. John F. Kennedy – half dollar (50 cents)
36. Lyndon B. Johnson – just the 2015 Presidential coin
37. Richard M. Nixon, 38. Gerald R. Ford, 39. James Carter, 40. Ronald Reagan – just the 2016 Presidential coin. BUT the Carter coin will be postponed unless he had died two years before its issuance. This is also true of the Class of 2017:
41. George H. W. Bush, 42. William J. Clinton, 43. George W. Bush, 44. Barack Obama
Here’s an interesting link to Presidents on postage stamps.



Yeah, I know it came out a bit ago, that Presidential ranking story.

Anyway, I’m not going to talk about GWB; too soon.
It seems that Kennedy is higher than I would have thought. Lot of potential for greatness, but the uptick is surprising.
Polk, with his unnecessary war mongering (Mexican War), also seems high.
Jackson’s Trail of Tears alone lowers him.
What caused Grant’s rise? Nothing comes to mind. But at least he wasn’t Hayes, whose end of Reconstruction gave rise to the Ku Klux Klan and Jim Crow, and whose downturn is well warranted.
Jimmy Carter seems low, not because I thought he was a great President, but because even his component scores seem low. 14th in honesty?
Really can’t argue the top 4 or the bottom 10 too much.

President’s Name Score Overall Ranking
2009 2000
Abraham Lincoln 902- 1/ 1
George Washington 854- 2/ 3
Franklin D. Roosevelt 837- 3/ 2
Theodore Roosevelt 781- 4/ 4
Harry S. Truman 708- 5/ 5
John F. Kennedy 701- 6/ 8
Thomas Jefferson 698- 7/ 7
Dwight D. Eisenhower 689- 8/ 9
Woodrow Wilson 683- 9/ 6
Ronald Reagan 671- 10/ 11
Lyndon B. Johnson 641- 11/ 10
James K. Polk 606- 12/ 12
Andrew Jackson 606- 13/ 13
James Monroe 605- 14/ 14
Bill Clinton 605- 15/ 21
William McKinley 599- 16/ 15
John Adams 545- 17/ 16
George H. W. Bush 542- 18/ 20
John Quincy Adams 542- 19/ 19
James Madison 535- 20/ 18
Grover Cleveland 523- 21/ 17
Gerald R. Ford 509- 22/ 23
Ulysses S. Grant 490- 23/ 33
William Howard Taft 485- 24/ 24
Jimmy Carter 474- 25/ 22
Calvin Coolidge 469- 26/ 27
Richard M. Nixon 450- 27/ 25
James A. Garfield 445- 28/ 29
Zachary Taylor 443- 29/ 28
Benjamin Harrison 442- 30/ 31
Martin Van Buren 435- 31/ 30
Chester A. Arthur 420- 32/ 32
Rutherford B. Hayes 409- 33/ 26
Herbert Hoover 389- 34/ 34
John Tyler 372- 35/ 36
George W. Bush 362- 36/ NA
Millard Fillmore 351- 37/ 35
Warren G. Harding 327- 38/ 38
William Henry Harrison 324- 39/ 37
Franklin D. Pierce 287- 40/ 39
Andrew Johnson 258- 41/ 40
James Buchanan 227- 42/ 41


The Missing Presidents

I know an astonishing amount of information about the 43 men who’ve served as the 44 Presidents of the United States: party affiliation, terms of office, even, for many, major Cabinet officers.

But I know almost nothing about these fellows:
* Samuel Huntington (March 1, 1781– July 9, 1781)
* Thomas McKean (July 10, 1781–November 4, 1781)
* John Hanson (pictured) (November 5, 1781– November 3, 1782)
* Elias Boudinot (November 4, 1782– November 2, 1783)
* Thomas Mifflin (November 3, 1783– October 31, 1784)
* Richard Henry Lee (November 30, 1784– November 6, 1785)
* John Hancock (November 23, 1785– May 29, 1786)
* Nathaniel Gorham (June 6, 1786– November 5, 1786)
* Arthur St. Clair (February 2, 1787– November 4, 1787)
* Cyrus Griffin (January 22, 1788– November 2, 1788)
Hanson became the first President of Congress to be elected for an annual term as specified in the Articles of Confederation, although Huntington and McKean had served in that office after the ratification of the Articles. There’s even a website seling coins of The Forgotten Founders.

I fully recognize that the powers of the Presidency were far different (i/e., weaker) under the Articles of Confederation than under the Constitution. still, I don’t think they should be totally forgotten.
The 44 Presidents

12 Things You Don’t Know About the White House. Actually, I knew four.
Barack Obama’s historic victory probably ended any chance that someone born during the 1930s will become president. This makes it the only decade from the 1730s to the 1940s that failed to produce either a president or vice president.
The 1940s already have given us two presidents — Bill Clinton and George W.Bush — and four vice presidents — Dan Quayle, Al Gore, Dick Cheney, and Joe Biden…Presidential contenders from the 1930s included John McCain, Michael Dukakis, Ted Kennedy, Ross Perot and Gary Hart.
U.S. Grant obit from the New York Times
During the frenzy over whether Barack Obama was a “natural born citizen, I came across this, FWIW: Chester Arthur was a British subject at the time of his birth.
Presidents of the United States: Resource Guides
Debunking the Presidents


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