October 14, 1912 To Kill a Bull Moose

The 9000+-member audience was stunned when the candidate announced “I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot—but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose!” Roosevelt spoke for 80 minutes, before going to a Milwaukee hospital for treatment.

The first “Progressive” era began as a local movement in the 1890s, largely in response to the corruption of the political machines, and the monopolistic excesses of the “gilded age”.  By the 1920s, Progressivism had come to dominate state and national politics, bringing with it the national income tax, direct election of Senators, and Prohibition, with the 16th 17th and 18th amendments, respectively.

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Great believers in the perfectibility of the public sphere, Progressives dismissed old methods as wasteful and inefficient, leaning instead toward the advice of academics and “experts”. A never ending quest for that “one best way” to get things done.

Progressive politicians covered both sides of the political aisle, with leaders such as Wisconsin Senator Robert M. LaFollette Sr. and Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes on the Republican side, and Woodrow Wilson, and the attorney, politician and orator William Jennings Bryan (he of the famous “Monkey Trial”), on the side of the Democrats.

When Theodore Roosevelt first appeared on the political scene at age 23, there was little to hint at the Progressive he would later become.  “TR” was sworn into office in 1901, following the assassination of President William McKinley.   At 42 he was the youngest man to ever take the oath of office, and possibly the most energetic.

As President, Roosevelt pushed executive power to new heights, attacking “Captains of Industry” with a two-pronged strategy of anti-trust legislation, and regulatory control.  TR was the “Conservation President”, creating the United States Forest Service (USFS) and establishing no fewer than 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, 4 national game preserves, 5 national parks, and 18 national monuments.  All told, Roosevelt protected approximately 230 million acres of public land.

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Roosevelt retired from politics after two terms to go on African safari, backing William Howard Taft for the Republican nomination.

Taft easily defeated Democratic candidate William Jennings Bryan in the 1908 election, but his presidency proved to be a disappointment to the Progressive wing of the party.

The more conservative Taft didn’t take the expansive view of his predecessor.  By 1910, Roosevelt had returned to a public speaking tour against his own hand-picked successor.

The federal government needed to assume a larger role in the lives of every-day Americans, argued Roosevelt, who, despite repeated assurances that he was done with politics, challenged Taft for the 1912 Republican nomination.  When asked if he was up to another campaign season, Roosevelt replied he was ready and felt as “fit as a bull moose”.

The final split came with the June Republican party convention in Chicago, when the party rejected Roosevelt’s “New Nationalism” platform, nominating Taft as its standard bearer for re-election.  Roosevelt and his reform-minded supporters broke with the party, forming the “Progressive”, or “Bull Moose” party, as the Democratic convention selected former Princeton University President and New Jersey Governor Woodrow Wilson, to be its candidate.  This was going to be a three-way race.

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1912 Election

John Flammang Schrank emigrated to America in 1885, at the age of 9.  His parents died a short time after, leaving him to work for an uncle, a tavern keeper in the Kleindeutschland, (“Little Germany”) section of New York.  Schrank’s aunt and uncle left him a sizeable inheritance on their passing, in hopes that he would live a quiet and peaceful life.  Schrank was heartbroken at losing this, his second set of parents.  When his first and only girlfriend Emily Ziegler died in the General Slocum disaster of 1904, John Schrank became unhinged.

He drifted up and down the east coast for several years.  In September 1912, he became obsessed with Theodore Roosevelt.  For three weeks, John Schrank followed the Roosevelt campaign, stalking the candidate across eight states.  On the afternoon of October 14, Roosevelt was in Milwaukee, dining with local dignitaries at the Hotel Gilpatrick, before a planned speech at the Milwaukee Auditorium.  As the former President was getting into his vehicle, he turned to wave to well-wishers. Schrank was four or five feet away when he fired his .38 caliber revolver, hitting the former President in the chest.

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John Flammang Schrank smiles as he’s taken into custoy for the attempted assassination of Theodore Roosevelt

The bullet pierced the fifty folded pages of Roosevelt’s speech and a metal spectacle case, before lodging in his chest.  The former President coughed once into his hand, to see if there was blood.  Seeing none, TR concluded that his lungs were fine, and decided to give the speech.  The 9000+-member audience was stunned when the candidate announced “I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot—but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose!” Roosevelt spoke for 80 minutes, before going to a Milwaukee hospital for treatment.

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Roosevelt x-ray

Theodore Roosevelt lived the rest of his life with that bullet in his chest.  Six more years. As for John Schrank, he claimed in a letter found on his person, that the ghost of William McKinley had instructed him to avenge his death with the assassination of his former Vice President.  He would live out the rest of his days at the Central State Mental Hospital for the criminally insane, in Waupun, Wisconsin.

Schrank letter

Woodrow Wilson easily defeated his opponents to become the 28th President of the United States, garnering 435 electoral votes to his opponents’ combined total, of 96.

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Fifty pages long and folded in half, Elbert Martin holds the speech that saved TR’s life

March 22, 1790 Jefferson

“Ladies and gentlemen, I want to tell you how welcome you are to the White House. I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone”. President John F Kennedy, addressing a White House Dinner honoring Nobel Prize recipients, 1962.

In April 1962, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy addressed a White House Dinner, to a group of Nobel prize winners.  Some of the greatest intellects of the era were assembled in that room.  The President began:

Ladies and gentlemen“, he said, “I want to tell you how welcome you are to the White House. I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone“.

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Jefferson himself knew how he wished to be remembered.  He left specific instructions.  Three accomplishments the founding father himself saw as his own legacy, inscribed on the stone which marks his grave:

Here was buried
Thomas Jefferson
Author of the Declaration of American Independence
of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom
& Father of the University of Virginia

Thomas Jefferson served two terms as President of the United States, but didn’t put it among his top three accomplishments.  That’s how much he couldn’t stand politics.

The public life of Thomas Jefferson reads like a timeline for the founding of this nation.

220px-Official_Presidential_portrait_of_Thomas_Jefferson_(by_Rembrandt_Peale,_1800)(cropped)In a time when colonists considered themselves to be Englishmen, Jefferson sought to disestablish the Anglican communion of the Church of England, seeking from the earliest days of his public career to establish a freedom from state-sponsored religion.

The preamble to the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom written in the man’s own hand, states “that our civil rights have no dependance on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry“.

Jefferson expanded on the principle decades later, in a letter to the Baptist church of Danbury, Connecticut.  Referring to the United States Constitution, Jefferson writes:

I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State“.

Jefferson drafted no fewer than 126 bills in three years as Virginia state legislator and later governor, introducing measures for public education and religious freedom. Alarmed at the growing power of the landed aristocracy, Jefferson took aim at laws of entail and primogeniture, that permanent, hereditary and near-feudal system of increasingly large plantations worked by white tenant farmers and African slaves.

Assigned to a committee of five to write the Declaration of Independence, it is Jefferson’s hand we see on our national birth certificate.

Jefferson fled when the Patriot turned traitor Benedict Arnold burned the city of Richmond at the head of a British Army, and narrowly escaped a cavalry force under “Bloody Banastre Tarleton”, sent for his capture.

Martha Jefferson
A 1965 oil portrait of Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson by artist George Geygan, based on contemporary descriptions of her physical attributes and executed 183 years after her death. H/T Firstladies.org

Martha Skelton, née Wayles, became Mrs. Jefferson in 1772, following the death of her first husband.   The marriage lasted ten years until her death in 1782 and produced six children, two of whom lived, to adulthood.

Jefferson was inconsolable on the death of his wife and withdrew for weeks, from the public eye.  He later burned their correspondence, leading some commentators to describe the relationship as “enigmatic’.

I don’t think so.  On his death some forty years later, Thomas Jefferson still wore a locket about his neck, containing a lock of Martha’s brown hair.

Jefferson was minister to France in the early days of the French Revolution, and witnessed the storming of the Bastille.  He was a regular companion of the Marquis de Lafayette and contributor to Lafayette’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.  It’s here in 1787, that Jefferson is believed to have begun a sexual relationship with one of his slaves, sixteen-year-old Sally Hemings.  Modern DNA analysis has demonstrated a connection along the male Jefferson line, with at least one of Hemings’ children.

Thomas Jefferson became the nation’s 1st Secretary of State on this day in 1790, serving the first administration of  President George Washington.

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Thomas Jefferson at 78

As President of the United States, Jefferson personally tutored Corps of Discovery Meriweather Lewis of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, in the sciences of mapping, botany, natural history, mineralogy, and astronomy and navigation, and gave the man unlimited access to his library at Monticello, at that time the largest collection of geography and natural history books in the world.

In 1819, the 76-year-old Jefferson founded the University of Virginia, personally organizing its state charter and planning for the course curriculum, while designing the architecture for ten Roman and Greek pavilions forming a quadrangle connected by colonnades and surrounded by serpentine walls.

As if that wasn’t enough, the man cut 791 verses from the King James bible with a razor, and rearranged them into the 46-page volume The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, commonly known as the Jefferson Bible.  He then translated the thing into French, Greek, Latin and back to English.  It interested him to do so.

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The University of Virginia, Jefferson’s “Academical Village” H/T Wikipedia

On the subject of slavery, the man remains an enigma.  Jefferson referred to the “execrable commerce …this assemblage of horrors” while he himself owned slaves.  As many as 600, over the course of his life.

In an ending no fiction writer would dare to contemplate, Jefferson and fellow founder John Adams died on July 4, 1826, fifty years to the day from the birth of the Republic they had helped create.

It is fashionable today, to judge the past by the standards of our day.  As if the present were somehow exempt from the just scorn of future generations.

The founder’s ideal of freedom Of religion has somehow morphed into an imagined freedom From religion.  Candidates argue for abolishing the Electoral College, transforming this self-governing Republic to a Democracy.  Somehow the image of five wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch, comes to mind.

A week ago, a member of the United States House of Representatives criticized the third President, for believing African slaves to be 3/5ths of a person.

I would not condone the odious practice of one human being “owning” another, any more than I’d endorse those places where the practice continues, to this day.  I don’t know anyone who does.  It’s worth mentioning though, Spanish and Portuguese settlers brought the first African slaves to the new world, 275 years before the “Shot Heard ’round the World“.   Every New World economy from Canada to Argentina was engaged in slavery.  The first English colony to legally adopt the practice was Massachusetts, with the ironically named “Massachusetts Body of Liberties,” of 1641.

The 3/5ths compromise of the United States Constitution was a political concession.  The young nation was broke in the wake of the late Revolution, in need of new forms of taxation.  Southern states argued that slaves should be counted as persons for purposes of apportionment.  More seats meant more votes in Congress, more electors in the Electoral College.

6-three-fifthsThe more industrialized states to the north saw such a measure as placing a disproportionate burden of taxation, on themselves.  The 3/5ths compromise kicked the can down the road, passing the Gordian knot to be settled by another generation, in rivers of blood.

The connection between Jefferson and the 3/5ths compromise stems from the election of 1800.  Jefferson defeated Aaron Burr through disproportionate electoral support from the southern states, though it took 36 ballots, to do so.  The Congressman’s claim seems a bit of a stretch:  the third President was away in France while the Constitution was being written.

In a perfect world, our self-appointed ruling class would have cracked a book.  Candidates for political office would better understand our shared history.   The real thing is so much more interesting than the pop culture and political varieties.

 

A Trivial Matter
While a brilliant writer, Thomas Jefferson received no such gift when it came to public speaking. It’s not that his speeches were’t well written and meaningful, he was just a lousy speaker. His voice was halting and often inaudible, barely better than a mumble. John Adams once said, “During the whole time I sat with him in Congress, I never heard him utter three sentences together.” Unlike his predecessor, President Jefferson delivered the State-of-the-Union address in writing, beginning a practice which would continue until Woodrow Wilson’s first term, in 1913.

August 8, 1974  A Third-Rate Burglary

Watergate prosecutor James Neal was convinced that the President hadn’t known in advance, and the later release of Oval Office tapes seem to bear that out.  At one point, you can hear the President ask “Who was the asshole who ordered it?”

The time was not yet 1:00am on June 17, 1972, when security guard Frank Wills noticed tape covering several door latches at the Watergate Complex in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Washington, DC.  Wills removed the tape and thought little of it, but came back an hour later to see that the doors had been re-taped. This time, Wills called the police.

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Five men were discovered inside the offices of the Democratic National Committee.   These were Virgilio González, Bernard Barker, James McCord, Eugenio Martínez, and Frank Sturgis.  All were arrested and charged with attempted burglary and attempted interception of telephone and other communications.

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Subsequent investigation incriminated Committee to Re-elect the President (CRP) General Counsel G. Gordon Liddy, and former CIA officer E. Howard Hunt.  A grand jury indicted the lot of them for conspiracy, burglary and violation of federal wiretap laws.

During the investigation and ensuing trial, it became clear that all seven had ties to the 1972 CRP.  President Richard Nixon stated that his chief counsel John Dean had conducted a thorough investigation of the matter, though it later became clear that there had been no investigation at all.

Press Secretary Ron Ziegler dismissed the break-in as “a third-rate burglary attempt”.

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On September 29, it was revealed that John Mitchell had controlled a secret fund while serving as Attorney General, used to finance Republican campaign intelligence gathering operations against Democrats.  On October 10, the FBI reported that the Watergate break-in was only part of a comprehensive campaign of spying and political sabotage conducted on behalf of the Nixon re-election committee. The Nixon campaign was never affected by the revelations.  The President was re-elected in one of the biggest landslides in American political history.

The Media wouldn’t let it go, particularly the connection between the break-in and the campaign.  Relying on anonymous sources, Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncovered information suggesting that there was wide-spread knowledge of the break-in and the attempt to cover it up, knowledge running through the Justice Department, FBI, CIA, and all the way to the White House.

woodward-and-bernsteinThe animosity between the media and the White House grew as Nixon and administration officials discussed plans to “get” hostile media organizations.

The scandal blew apart, the following March.  Judge John Sirica, presiding over the burglary trial, read aloud in open court a letter from one of the burglars.  The letter written by John McCord claimed that trial testimony had been perjured, and that defendants had been pressured to remain silent.  The accusations led to the formation of a Senate select committee to investigate the Watergate burglary and subsequent cover-up, and the ultimate discovery of a secret taping system in the Oval Office.

Demands for the tapes were met with claims of Executive Privilege and refusal to hand them over.  Litigation made it all the way to the Supreme Court.  On July 24, 1974, the unanimous decision in United States v. Nixon voided all claims of executive privilege.

watergate_montage_2Within six days, the House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment:  obstruction of justice, abuse of power and contempt of Congress.

The President’s support in Congress collapsed after the release of the “Smoking Gun” tape, demonstrating that the President himself had entered into a criminal conspiracy with the goal of obstructing justice.  On August 8, Richard Nixon announced his intention to resign from office, effective at noon the following day.  The first American President in history to resign from office.  The Justice Department pondered an indictment, but that discussion ended a month later with a pardon from President Gerald R. Ford.

It isn’t clear whether Nixon had prior knowledge of the break-in.  Watergate prosecutor James Neal was convinced that the President hadn’t known in advance, and the later release of Oval Office tapes seem to bear that out.  At one point, you can hear the President ask “Who was the asshole who ordered it?”

Years later, the shoe was on the other foot, as the House considered impeachment proceedings against President Clinton for suborning perjury and obstruction of Justice.  Representative John Conyers said in a September 30, 1998 Time Magazine article that “We’ve been advocating the Watergate model (of prosecution).  I support it”.  Contradicting himself in the next paragraph, Congressman Conyers went on to say “The notion that this review should be open ended like Watergate, as the Speaker continues to insist, is preposterous”.

Tourists Reading Nixon Resignation Headline

At the time of the Watergate hearings, Jerry Zeifman was serving as Chief Counsel of the House Judiciary Committee’s permanent staff.  Zeifman has since claimed to have fired a junior member of the temporary Impeachment Inquiry staff for dishonesty and unethical behavior, though there remains some doubt as to whether he had that authority.   That staff member would continue on with the committee until its dissolution, in 1974.

Irrespective of the degree of his early involvement, Nixon himself was an active participant in the cover-up.  In the end, that would prove more damaging than the burglary itself.  One hopes that any such betrayal of public trust will always be worse than the underlying crime, but time will tell.   Years later, that junior member of the temporary Impeachment Inquiry staff would famously ask, “What difference, at this point, does it make”?

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