President: Zachary Taylor

12th President of the United States, 1849-1850

Biography Read: “Zachary Taylor” by John Eisenhower

Key Facts: Whig Party. Nickname “Old Rough and Ready”. He was born on November 24th, 1784 in Orange County, Virginia and died in 1850 while in office.

Notable Observations:

  • He was a “gentleman farmer” and slave owner.
  • His Dad, Richard Taylor, was granted land near Louisville, KY for his service in the Revolutionary War where Zachary ended up being raised.
  • He was taught to read and write by his mother. He was nearly illiterate.
  • He joined the army in 1808 at age 23.
  • In 1810 he married Margaret Mackall Smith.
  • In 1811 he was given command of Fort Knox.
  • In 1819, he dined with President James Monroe and Major General Andrew Jackson in Louisville. No one knew at the time that three present and future Presidents were in the room.
  • In 1832, Taylor’s eldest daughter married against his wishes and died of malaria before a reconciliation could occur.
  • When Mexico refused to sell land to the United States (President Polk), war was launched to take the land. Taylor lead troops into Mexico for battle. He strongly supported this war.
  • After achieving success in the war, his popularity grew. The Whig Party nominated him with Vice President Millard Fillmore and they won, but barley.
  • Taylor remained a General in the Army after becoming the President-Elect.
  • Taylor added the Secretary of the Interior position to the cabinet.
  • He coined the term “First Lady” at the funeral of Dolley Madison.
  • Taylor used to walk around Washington since he had no secret service detail to deal with.
  • The Potomac River was right next to the White House in Taylor’s time making it a swampy landscape.
  • Taylor went to the ceremony laying the cornerstone for the Washington Monument. Afterward he walked around town in the heat eating fruit. That evening he got sick and later died (16 months into his Presidency).
  • Many believe that the Civil War could have been avoided had Taylor lived. As a Southerner and a slave owner, he may have been able to reason with the South, but we will never know.
  • President Zachary Taylor died July 9th, 1850 at 10:35 PM in the White House.

Casey Ryan Richards

President: James K. Polk

11th President of the United States, 1845-1849

Biography Read: “James K. Polk” by John Seigenthaler

Key Facts: Democrat. Boring in 1795 near Charlotte, North Carolina. Died in 1850 in Nashville.

Notable Facts:

  • Polk was “intense, partisan, humorless, and driven”
  • He was mentored by Andrew Jackson
  • In August 1843, he lost the election for Tennessee Governor for a second time (a job he held previously). This caused Martin Van Buren to reject him as a Vice Presidential Running Mate.
  • Martin Van Buren was the 8th President, lost to John Tyler, ran again as a Democrat the following year and lost the nomination to Polk, and then came back and ran as a Free Soil Party and was beat by Taylor.
  • Polk became the 11th President and youngest President to that point because he realized the the Nation wanted to support the annexation of Texas. Both Clay (Whig Party) and Van Buren were against bringing Texas into the Union, but Polk supported it.
  • Polk was born in 1795 to Same and Jane Knox Polk. Born in the deeply Christian South, he wasn’t baptized because his father refused to affirm his Christian faith.
  • He was a Methodist and believed in the separation of church and state.
  • Polk had no children and wasn’t likely able to due to a childhood surgery. He had the surgery at age 17 for Kidney Stones.
  • After the surgery he started school and eventually landed at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  • Polk became a lawyer in Tennessee and argued a case to the Supreme Court (one of seven Presidents to do so).
  • At age 26, he married Sarah Childress (she was 8 years younger).
  • Polk was convinced John Quincy Adams won the Presidency through a corrupt bargain (trading the Secretary of State position for votes). When elected to Congress, he attempted to change the Constitution to stop the House from ever deciding an election.
  • Polk made Congressional inquires on behalf of President Jackson into the National Banks.
  • Polk was the Speaker of the House for the 25th Congress. The Congressional makeup was 108 Democrats, 108 Whigs, and 24 others.
  • Many people tried to get Polk into a duel, but he always controlled his anger and never fought.
  • In 1830 a bill was introduced to ban the lash as a punishment against slaves, Polk voted against it.
  • Polk was a slave owner (as were all Presidents up to this point except the Adams)
  • He promised to serve only one term as President.
  • He was responsible for acquiring the Oregon Territory (Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Wyoming) from the British.
  • Polk disliked Zachery Taylor who was a Whig, but served under him in the War against Mexico for California.
  • Polk signed the Treaty with Mexico that ended the war and transferred $25 million to Mexico in exchange for New Mexico and California.
  • After leaving office, James and Sarah returned to Nashville to live at a home in view of the State House. Polk died 6 weeks later at age 53. Sarah lived another 41 years.

Casey Ryan Richards

President: John Tyler

10th President of the United States, 1841-1845

Biography Read: “John Tyler: The Accidental President” by Edward Crapol.

Key Facts: Whig Party. Attended William and Mary College. Born March 1790 in Virginia. He died in 1862 during the second year of the Civil War

Notable Facts:

  • John Tyler died the second year of the caviler war (the same year as Martin Van Buren – 8th President). His death wasn’t recognized by President Lincoln because he betrayed the USA by supporting the Confederate States.
  • Tyler had a strong belief in religious freedom and separation of church and state. He applied this belief to all religions.
  • John Tyler was called “His Accidence” because he was the first Vice President to succeed the Presidency. He became the 10th President when William Henry Harrison died in office in 1841.
  • Tyler was ambivalent about slavery, believed in white supremacy, and subscribed to American Exceptionalism.
  • He was born in Virginia on a slave plantation to a wealthy family. He was in the political and social elite.
  • He was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates at age 21.
  • He was later elected to the House and Senate. He also served a Governor of Virginia.
  • In 1826 he presented the eulogy upon Thomas Jefferson, whom he knew.
  • He voted for Virginia to succeed from the Union.
  • He had 15 Kids (the most of any President).
  • Charles Dickens felt Tyler had good manners and regal bearing.
  • Tyler was opposed to a National Bank.
  • Tyler set the precedent for Vice Presidential succession. Since that time it has been used eight times. These include Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy (assassinations) and Harding, Roosevelt, Harrison and Taylor (death).
  • John Tyler owned over 50 slaves.
  • He pushed for American Expansion and wanted to acquire Texas, California, and Oregon.
  • John Tyler’s father was roommates with Thomas Jefferson at the College of William and Mary.
  • When visiting Niagara Falls, he refused to cross into Canada to view the falls because it was British Territory.
  • He believed in “diffusion” as the answer to slavery. As more land was acquired, slaves would be less densely populated making it easier to end slavery.
  • When he was elected as a Senator to Virginia, he tried to sell a slave he owned to raise money to travel to Washington.
  • It is rumored that John Tyler father two boys with his female slaves and then sold them.
  • John Tyler actively fought against recognizing Haiti because it was a black nation formed from a slave uprising.
  • Although it didn’t go anywhere, John Tyler was the first President in US History to face impeachment proceedings.
  • The Tyler administration was the first to recognize the independence of Hawaii.
  • Tyler dedicated the Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown.
  • He was the first to send a delegation to China. This resulted in a treaty which opened up trade between the two nations.
  • Tyler coerced postmaster to purchase and distribute campaign biographies about him.
  • Julia Gardiner was Tyler’s second wife. They married on June 26th, 1844. He was 54 years old and she was 24 years old. They later had 7 children.
  • Tyler was responsible for bringing the Lone Star Republic (Texas) into the Union. He accomplished this by dropping out of the Presidential election and throwing his support to Democrat Polk (Tyler was a Whig officially). Polk supported Texas and gave Tyler the needed votes.
  • Tyler, Texas is named after him.
  • John Tyler believed he might be chosen for the Democratic nomination in 1860. The Democrats has a split party with both sides supporting slavery. Meanwhile, the Republican Party choose Abraham Lincoln who felt slavery was evil. The Republican platform called for a banning of the expansion of slavery.
  • John Tyler emotionally pledged on the grave of his Virginian ancestors to protect the south against Republican abolitionists.
  • When Lincoln won, Tyler supported succession and the Civil War. On December 20th, 1860, South Carolina seceded followed by Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas. Virginia (Tyler’s home state) soon followed at his urging.
  • John Tyler was a noted racist (even given the time period) and a white supremacist.
  • During the Civil War, the Union Army looted Tyler’s estate.
  • He died during the War and remains the sole Traitor President.

Casey Ryan Richards

President: William Henry Harrison

9th President of the United States, 1841-1841

Biography Read: “The Life of Major-General William Henry Harrison” (1840) by Isaac Rand Jackson

Key Facts: Whig Party Member. Born Feb 9th, 1773 in Virginia. Died one month after becoming President.

Notable Observations:

  • William Henry Harrison’s father was Benjamin Harrison, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
  • Benjamin Harrison served as governor of Virginia and other offices. In 1791, he was unanimously elected to the Legislature and died the next day.
  • William Henry Harrison was 16 when his father died.
  • He went to Hampden Sydney College.
  • At age 19 he joined the army to “defend our frontier from the invasion of the Indians.”
  • He referred to Native Americans as either “Indians” or “Savages” which was the common term in his day.
  • He married “the daughter of John Cleves Symmes, the celebrated founder of the Miami Settlements.” The book doesn’t give his wife a name or a name to any females. However, his wife’s name was Anna.
  • George Washington appointed him Secretary of the northwestern Territory.
  • Western lands were for sale at the time in 4000+ acre lots. This made land available only to the wealthy. When Harrison was elected to Congress at age 25, he formed a committee that introduced a bill to reduce the size of the sections to 640 acres with quarter and half sections available. This is the grid system which is still used in most of the Western USA today. It also cause the movement of millions to the West.
  • Harrison was the first Governor of Indiana (the territory which included Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa).
  • Harrison was a slave owner, but also claimed to be against slavery. (Not from the book)
  • Harrison’s Grandson was the 23rd President of the United States. (Not from the book)
  • Harrison believed the following about the Presidency:
    1) It should be confined to a single term.
    2) There should be no control over “the public treasures”.
    3) There should be no attempt to influence elections.
    4) That the Veto should be used only for Unconstitutional Bills and those that encroached on the rights of the State or Individual.
    5) That the Executive Department shouldn’t make laws.

This biography was interesting because it was actually written the year before he was elected President. The desire of the author was clearly to campaign for William Henry Harrison for President and the language used to describe his life was overly bombastic. It made me question the accuracy of the information and it is safe to say at a minimum that the author didn’t attempt to cover any potential negatives about the future President.

According to the previous biography on Martin Van Buren, President Harrison died one month after taking office. He died after getting sick giving an Inaugural speech.

Casey Ryan Richards

President: Martin Van Buren

8th President of the United States, 1837-1841

Biography Read: “Martin Van Buren” by Ted Widmer

Key Facts: He started the Democrat Party. He was the first President born after America’s Independence. He was born December 5th, 1782 in Kinderhook, NY. He died on July 24th, 1862 during the Civil War.

Notable Observations:

  • Van Buren was 5’6″ tall making him the 2nd shortest President to date (behind Madison). They called him the Little Magician or Red Fox.
  • He grew up speaking Dutch and was the first President not from an English-speaking family.
  • He never went to college or served in the Military. The only other President with this claim is Cleveland.
  • The “Little Magician” came from a poor background like Andrew Jackson.
  • In 1830, the USA had 23 miles of train tracks. By the time Van Buren left office in 1841, we had over 2816 miles of track.
  • Van Buren was the 5th longest-living ex-President after Hoover, Ford, Adams, and Carter.
  • He was born in Kinderhook, NY in his father’s tavern. The town was a small Dutch community where inbreeding was common. Both his father and grandfather were married to relatives.
  • His father (Abraham) owned six slaves. Martin grew up living near them in the same tavern building where he was born.
  • Van Buren quit school at age 13. He later studied law in NYC which put him in contact with Aaron Burr (Vice President under Jefferson who shot Hamilton). It is rumored that Burr was his real father.
  • In 1807, Van Buren married Hannah Hoes (a first cousin once removed). She died in 1819 before he was elected and he never remarried. Little is known about her.
  • In 1821, he was elected to the US Senate.
  • He helped start the Democratic Party, but also took the middle ground on controversial issues such as Slavery (supported by the party).
  • After working to get Jackson elected, he was rewarded with the Secretary of State job.
  • Van Buren became President in 1837. 13 days into his administration “The Panic of 1837” began. It was the worse financial crisis in US history until this point.
  • Despite being from the North, Van Buren was a slave owner (a single man named Tom) and tried to avoid the slave debate which was popular at the time.
  • In the Fall of 1837, Van Buren’s former Vice President Calhoun presented six resolutions supporting slavery in Congress. Most Democrats supported the measures implying Van Buren approved. John Quincy Adams fought against slavery in the House.
  • In the famous Amistad case (where John Quincy fought in the Supreme Court to win the freedom of several escaped slaves that took over the slave boat and landed in Long Island), Van Buren issued an executive order demanding the slaves be returned to their Spanish owners.
  • Van Buren lost re-election to Harrison in 1840. 80% of voters turned out voting 1.1 million for Van Buren and 1.3 million for Harrison.
  • The term “OK” was popularized during the campaign. It meant “oll korrect” or “all right” and was used by Van Buren’s supporters that wanted to brand him “Old Kinderhook” (Ok). Before this it wasn’t used commonly in the English language.
  • After losing the election, Van Buren went on a tour where he was the first former (or current) President to visit Chicago. During his trip he got stuck in a snow storm and spent the night in Rochester, IL where he met a young Abe Lincoln and talked to him all night. Lincoln wasn’t a democrat, but a Whig.
  • In 1844, Van Buren tried to run for President again, but he lost the nomination to James Polk. This is because he came out against accepting Texas in the Union.
  • In 1848, the Democrat Party split. Van Buren organized former Whigs and Northern Democrats into the Free Soil Party. This party was strongly against Slavery and while it didn’t win, it laid the foundations for what would become the Republican Party.
  • Van Buren later supported the Pro-Slavery Democrat Party again, but this time he openly expressed his forming anti-slavery views. However, he didn’t attack slavery openly since it was accepted by the party (particularly the Southern Members). Former Free Soil Party members that refused to accept slavery went on to start the Republican Party.
  • Van Buren died July 24th, 1862 during the civil war. President Lincoln had the Navy and Army wear black crapes on their left arms in tribute to him.

Casey Richards

President: Andrew Jackson

7th President of the United States, 1829-1837

Biography Read: “Andrew Jackson” (1966) by Robert V Remini

Key Facts: Born in 1767 in South Carolina and Died in 1845. He was the first President from the West and he didn’t go to College.

Notable Observations:

  • Andrew Jackson had a HUGE temper. Also, in many ways he seems similar to Donald Trump. I couldn’t help thinking of many things Trump is currently doing when reading about Jackson’s more outrageous moves.
  • His father died before he was born.
  • He was a terrible speller (like me), but he was eloquent and persuasive in his speeches.
  • In 1780 he was taken prisoner by the British (age 14). He was order to clean the British Commander’s boots, but he refused and was hit with his sword giving him a head and hand wound.
  • He was taken to Camden and held in the prison camp along with his brother in poor conditions. His mother rescued him with a prisoner swap (along with his brother). His brother died days later of disease leaving Andrew the only remaining child (his oldest brother had died of heat exposure during the war).
  • Shortly after his rescue, his mother died of a diseases acquired while helping other POWS. At age 14, Andrew Jackson was an orphan having lost most of his family at the hands of the British.
  • At age 17 he became a school teacher despite having little schooling himself.
  • He became bored with this and decided law was the way to go. He worked for a lawyer and picked up enough to pass the bar at age 20.
  • He was now a lawyer, but had no work, so he convinced a lawyer friend to hire him as the Prosecutor for the Western District of North Carolina. He moved to Nashville to take the job. This was several years before the founding of Tennessee.
  • Multiple times Jackson participated in old west style duels.
  • Jackson’s arrival in Nashville was 8 years after its founding and it was a dangerous place to live due to the Native American threat (called Indians in the book). At the time, the town consisted of two stores, two taverns, a distillery, and various cabins, houses or tents.
  • He married his wife Rachel twice because the first time she was still legally married to another man.
  • By the time Nashville became a state in 1796, Jackson had large amount of land that he acquired through his law work. Jackson was elected to attend the state constitutional convention.
  • Jackson was the first Congress Man for the State of Tennessee.
  • Jackson challenged his rival for the Office of Major-General of the militia to a duel. When John Sevier refused, he published a statement in the paper calling him a coward.
  • He was also a slave owner and on several occasions aided in the slave trade. All presidents until this point were slave owners except for both Adams.
  • He had no children, but he did adopt a son named Andrew Jackson Jr.
  • After a Native American attack of a white fort, Andrew Jackson lead an army that slaughtered many villages. However, when he found an infant in his dead mothers arms, he tried to turn the child over to the remaining tribe. They refused and said the kid should be killed since his family was dead. Instead, Jackson took him home and raised him until he died of disease at age 17.
  • During the War of 1812, he was a General and lead the US to Victory at the Battle of New Orleans. 2057 British died at the battle and only 13 Americans.
  • Andrew Jackson lead an assault into Florida (owned by Spain) which eventually caused them to sell the territory to the USA. Jackson served as Florida’s first Territorial Governor.
  • He lost his first run for President to John Quincy in a vote by the House.
  • Four-years later he was back and won with the help of his newly formed “Democratic Party.”
  • His wife Rachel died the same year he won the Presidency.
  • He was the first President from the West.
  • He believed a national debt was “incompatible with real independence.”
  • Martin Van Buren (8th President) was Jackson’s Secretary of State.
  • Andrew Jackson was responsible for the “trail of tears” forced migration of Native Americans to lands West of the Mississippi.
  • He was the first President to use the Power of Veto for reasons not related to the Constitutionality of the Law.
  • Jackson killed the Second Bank of the United States (precursor to the Federal Reserve). He thought it was to much centralized power controlling the economy with no oversight. He called it a “monster” and wanted to stop its “power to control the Government and change its character” through the power of spending money “as a means of operating upon public opinion.” He called this early version of the Fed a “vast electioneering engine.”
  • “It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes. Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government. Equality of talents, of education, or of wealth can not by produced by human intuitions. In the full enjoyment of the gifts of heaven and the fruits of superior industry, economy, and virtue, every man is equally entitled to protection by the law; but when the laws undertake to add to these natural and jest advantages artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratitudes, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society- the farmers, mechanics and laborers- who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their Government. There are no necessary evils in government. Its evils exist only in its abuses. If it would confine itself to favors alike on the high and the low, the rich and the poor, it would be an unqualified blessing.”
  • This battle with the Bank played out during the re-election year of 1832. At the time there were 3 parties (The Democrats, National Republicans, and the Anti-Masons). This is an area where Andrew Jackson seems to compare to Trump. He was dead set in the evils of the bank and fought against it despite public opinion or advice from his cabinet.
  • The Whig Party was later formed in opposition to Andrew Jackson’s killing of the Second Bank.
  • On May 6th, 1833 the President was assaulted aboard a steamship by a dismissed Naval Lieutenant. This is an example of the love/hate feelings he engendered in the country and another point of comparison with Trump.
  • The first attempted Presidential assassination in US History was against Jackson. The attempt was made by shooting him twice at point blank range (with two guns). Luckily, guns weren’t very good in 1835 and the assassin failed. He was attacking Jackson because he felt that he was the rightful heir to the British Crown and that Jackson was attempting to keep him from it. He was taken to the insane asylum.
  • On Jackson’s last day in office, he recognized Texas Independence from Mexico.
  • Jackson was the “first, last, and only” President to pay off the national debt.
  • Jackson, the First Democrat President, now found himself with a surplus of cash. He paid it to states and became a “Santa Claus” like figure to the people. This helped to insure his party would stay in power with the election of his pick to replace him, Martin Van Buren.
  • After Van Buren’s election he returned to Tennessee. He died at the age of 78.

Casey Richards
May 11th, 2018

President: James Monroe

5th President of the United States, 1817-1825

Biography read: “The Last Founding Father” by Harlow Giles Unger

Key Facts: Born April 28th, 1758 in Virginia. Attended William and Mary College. Died on July 4th, 1831 making him the 3rd Founding Father/Former President to die on Independence Day.

Notable Observations:

  • He held more public posts than any other American in history including: state legislator, US Congressman, US Senator, French Ambassador, British Ambassador, Spanish Minister, Governor of Virginia, Secretary of State, Secretary of War (held at the same time as Secretary of State), and the fifth US President.
  • Monroe established the first state-sponsored schools.
  • Monroe engineered the Louisiana Purchase.
  • He saved Lafayette’s son’s life by smuggling him out of France.
  • Monroe turned the deficits of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison into surpluses, abolished personal income tax, and issued in an era of good feelings.
  • As a child, James Monroe carried a musket to school every day.
  • Monroe went to school with John Marshall the future Chief Supreme Court Justice. Despite a 3 year age difference (11 and 14) they became friends.
  • Monroe fought in the revolution alongside Washington despite being a teenager. He agreed to serve for no pay.
  • Monroe had certificates for 100,000 acres of Western lands. He earned them through services or won them from gambling.
  • In 1784 Monroe joined Jefferson as a Virginia delegate to the Confederate Congress. At the time he was broke.
  • Monroe (28 years old at the time) married Elizabeth Kortright (17 years old).
  • “I shall always believe that the exercise of direct taxation by one body, over the very extensive territory contained within the bounds of the United States, will terminate either in anarchy and a dissolution of government, or a subversion of liberty.”
  • Monroe voted against ratifying the Constitution.
  • While serving as the French Ambassador, Monroe allowed his wife Elizabeth to travel to the Plessis Prison in Paris and rescue Adrienne de Lafayette, the wife of heroic Marquis (who helped Americans gain independence). Then he made a fake passport for Marquis’ 14 year old son George Washington Lafayette and smuggled him to safety in America where he stayed with his godfather (George Washington). This was during the French Revolution. Monroe later argued for Congress to provide a financial reward to Lafayette when he was broke.
  • On August 30th, 1800 Monroe (then Virginia’s Governor) learned of a planned slave revolt called Gabriel’s Rebellion. He caught the organizers of the revolt and hung 28 of them in Richmond. Monroe then issued an edict requiring all blacks in town to carry passes and leave by dark.
  • Monroe’s Louisiana Purchase brought one million square miles for $15 million (4 cents per acre). The tract was larger than Great Britain, France, Germany, Spain, and Portugal combined.
  • New Englander’s were against the purchase predicting it would leave them a commercial backwater.
  • “The Last Found Father” contradicts “Madison’s Gift” in regards to the New England convention in 1814 to succeed. Did Vermont attend or not?
  • Monroe got Congress to fund $100,00 in 1819 to transport slaves to Monrovia (named after him) in Africa.
  • Monroe formed the “Monroe Doctrine” which called for an end to colonization in the Western Hemisphere and threatened war with any violators.
  • Andrew Jackson and Monroe were responsible for acquiring Florida from the Spanish.

The author of this book seemed to be very fond of Monroe and I think it may have colored his reporting and historical representations at time. Although I am no expert and cannot be sure. However, I found contradictions specifically around Madison between this and the previously read “Madison’s Gift.”

Casey Richards
April 9th, 2018

President: James Madison

4th President of the United States (1809-1817)

Biography Read: “Madison’s Gift” by David Stewart

Key Facts: Madison graduation from The College of New Jersey (now Princeton). He lead the fight to radify the Consitution and the Bill of Rights. He was born in 1751.

Notable Observations:

  • When Madison was 28, he fell in love with Kitty Floyd. She was 15 years old. The affair ended when she married another man.
  • 59 counties or towns are named after Madison, more than any other President.
  • He is the only President with a major NYC street named after him.
  • His father was a wealthy Virginia planter.
  • His mother was nineteen when he was born and lived until the age of 97. James died at the age of 85, meaning his mother was alive and a part of his life for all but the last seven years of his life.
  • Madison’s father was murdered at the age of 36 by one of his slaves that poisoned him.
  • He took notes at the Constitutional Convention because he was curious about how governments were formed. His wife later sold many of those notes to Congress for $30,000.
  • The “checks and balances” in the constitution were his idea.
  • Madison and Hamilton wrote the Federalist Papers. They were published individually in newspapers to support ratification of the Constitution.
  • Madison personally argued and won ratification from Virginia. It was the 10th state to ratify.
  • Delaware was the first state of ratify and New Hampshire was the ninth which was the minimum needed to form the United States.
  • Madison helped Washington behind the scenes gaining his trust despite being 20 years younger.
  • Madison and James Monroe (5th President) were friends and purchased 900 acres together in NY.
  • Madison wrote the Bill of Rights which were formulated from state convention recommendations.
  • Madison and Jefferson (3rd President) were friends. They discussed many topics together including science. They would record observations of weather, wildlife, and plant growth so that they could compare climate patterns between locations.
  • Madison strongly opposed the first version of the Federal Reserve (First Bank on the United States) being pushed by Hamilton. He found it unconstitutional which is ironic since he helped to form the Constitution, and argue for its passage, which is the document that ultimately allowed the federal government to takeover the financial system. Also, as President he supported the Second Bank of the United States.
  • Madison believed in a strict interpretation of the Constitution. If it wasn’t in there, the power was reserved for the States and the People.
  • In the 1789 Virgnia Congressional contest, Madison ran against Monroe. This is the only time in history that two future Presidents ran against each other for a lower elected office.
  • Despite running against each other, Madison and Monroe remained friends. In 1799, Madison nominated Monroe for Governor of Virginia. He won by a two-to-one margin.
  • Monroe convinced Napoleon to sell its land to the US for 4 cents per acre. This doubled the size of the United States. Thomas Jefferson was President at the time and Madison was Secretary of State. He drew up the treaty.
  • Republicans (Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe) were against a national army during peacetime as an overreach of government.
  • This backfired in 1812 when Madison declared war against Britain despite not having a standing army. The result was the war of 1812. The British burned DC including the White House.
  • Many mocked Madison for fleeing Washington while it burned. They considered him a coward.
  • In 1814 Massachusetts tried to organize a dissolving on the United States by inviting all New England states to a convention. NH and VT refused to attend and ultimately the state simply recommended changes to the United States.
  • Madison predicted that the constitution would change over time as the meaning of words changed. He also predicted the Civil War.
  • Madison was a charter member of the American Colonization Society. They shipped freed slaves to Africa (modern day Liberia) in an attempt to end slavery. Madison wanted to sell Western Lands and use the proceeds to purchase slaves and ship them to Africa.
  • When Madison died on June 28th, 1836 he was the last living person that had been at the Constitutional Convention in 1787.

“Madison’s Gift” is written in five sections detailing his relationships with Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, Monroe, and Dolley . It was a good read and contained lots of interesting details on the 4th President.

Casey Richards
Dallas County, Texas
March 28th, 2018

President: John Adams

2nd President of the United States, 1797-1801

Biography Read: “John Adams” by David McCullough

Key Facts: Born in 1735 and Died in 1826. Father of four. He was a lawyer and farmer. He graduated from Harvard College.

Notable Observations:

  • John Adams didn’t come from a wealthy background. He gained notoriety through his practice of law.
  • He was a delegate to the Continental Congress and the 2nd cousin of Samuel Adams.
  • In 1751 (at the age of 15), John was accepted into Harvard which is very impressive by today’s standards. However, back then this was the only college. It had four buildings, seven professors, and near one hundred students. John’s father (Deacon John) sold 10 acres of land to pay his tuition (the only time he ever sold land).
  • John Adams was concerned he would never amount to anything.
  • He was mentored by Colonel Quincy (an officer in the militia and the wealthiest man in Braintree) which is where he met Hannah Quincy, the girl he wanted to marry, but it didn’t workout. Instead he married Abigail Smith, the daughter of Reverend William Smith of Weymouth.
  • Adams defended the soldiers accused in the Boston Massacre in court. He won most of the cases (8 soldiers, 1 captain) at trial. This didn’t make him popular.
  • John Dickinson was a wealthy and powerful man in Philadelphia that started a campaign to shun Adams when he refused to sign on to brokered peace with the British.
  • Unlike Jefferson, Adams had no debts and didn’t own slaves. He hated the idea of both.
  • No one pushed harder for independence than Adams.
  • New York was the only colony not to vote for independence.
  • John Adams was strongly against slavery and the first draft of the Declaration of Independence took issue with the king blaming him for slavery (this was written by Jefferson, a slave owner).
  • Adams was appointed commissioner to France and sailed out during the winter of 1778 with his 10 year old son John Quincy.
  • He wrote the Commonwealth of Massachusetts constitution which is the oldest still in use today.
  • Amsterdam was the location of America’s first embassy in a house purchased by Adams.
  • Adams later became the first diplomat from the US to meet with King George III (who was the subject of the Declaration of Independence) whom said to Adams “I would be the first to meet the friendship of the United States as an independent power.”
  • Adam’s penned the line “all men are by nature free and equal.” He later explained that to mean no equal in fact, but “entitled to the same justice.”
  • He was the first Vice President despite a campaign against him. He found the position to be boring and useless.
  • Adams always signed his name with a period or coma at the end.
  • When Adams was elected President, the runner up (Jefferson) became his Vice President.
  • The first lady once intervened to get a black “free man” into school when local whites objected.
  • Adam’s signed the Alien and Seditions Acts.
  • Hamilton (upset that Adams wouldn’t go to war with France) distributed a book against Adams causing him to lose re-election. Hamilton and Adams were in the same party.
  • Before losing, he was the first president to stay in the unfinished White House.
  • Adam’s was live to see his son John Quincy elected 6th President of the United States.
  • John Adams, the voice of the Declaration of Independence, 2nd President of the United States, and member of the Federalist Party died on the same day as his life long friend and political opponent Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was the author of the Declaration of Independence, 3rd President of the United States, and member of the Democratic-Republican Party. That day was July 4th, 1826, the fiftieth birthday of the United States.

David McCullough did an amazing job with this book. The details were unbelievable (which explains why he won a Pulitzer). It really made me feel like I was back in 1776 watching everything unfold.

President: George Washington

1st President of the United States (1789-1797)

Biography Read: “His Excellency” by Joseph Ellis

Key Facts: General Washington was born in 1732 and died in 1799. He was a forth generation Virginian born on the banks of the Potomac River. He picked the location for and designed Washington D.C. while serving as President. He was a Federalist.

Notable Observations:

  • Father Augustine Washington died in April 1743 “leaving his widow and seven children an estate that included ten thousand acres divided into several disparate parcels and forty-nine slaves.” (It was common in this area to distribute your estate un-evenly amongst your children to build a dynasty).
  • In 1751 he traveled to Barbados and this was his only trip outside of North America.
  • While serving in the Virginia Regiment, he became upset with the British King. “It rankled him that neither he nor his troops were paid the same rate as British regulars.”
  • He order the executions of deserters and “suffered no sleepless nights after endorsing the executions, even when a condemned man made a special plea based on previous bravery in combat.”
  • He was in love with another women (Sally Fairfax), but married Martha Dandridge Custis “probably the wealthiest widow in Virginia.”
  • Washington owner slaves and “more than double the size of his slave population from under fifty to over a hundred.”
  • He would not sell his slaves IF it broke up families.
  • In 1766, he broke financial ties with London. He decided to grow wheat, construct a mill, and sell it as flour in Virginia. This was partially in financial protest.
  • During the formation of the Continental Army he allowed blacks to enlist and serve alongside whites. The next time this occurred in US history was in the Korean War.
  • Washington backed a plan by Lafayette (French) in 1783 to emancipate slaves in exchange for military service. It never occurred.
  • He agreed with friend and advisor Knox that “Indians being the prior occupants possess the right of the Soil… the dispossess them.. would be a gross violation of the fundamental Laws of nature and of that distributive Justice which is the glory of a nation.”
  • Washington lead an army against “a defiant collection of aggrieved farmers emboldened by their conviction that the excise tax levied by Congress was every bit as illegitimate as the taxes levied by the British ministry.” This was the only time a sitting American President lead troops into combat and it was against fellow Americans.
  • Washington supported the “Alien and Sedition Acts” which deported foreign-born residents that supported the French and shutdown newspapers which spoke poorly (“falsely”) of the US Government.
  • Washington unwittingly supported Hamilton’s plans to march an army through Virginia to scare Republicans (the opposition party.. Madison and Jefferson).
  • Towards the end of his life, he struggled to free his slaves. “Morality, in Washington’s mind, needed to negotiate its way against the harsh realities of the world as it is, rather than as it ought to be.”

Joseph J Ellis write a good biography that is highly readable. At times it was hard to put down. He has another book entitled “American Sphinx” that I might just have to read when we get to Jefferson.

Casey Richards
Rutland, Vermont