Friday, May 29, 2015

Presidential Losers #15: Lewis Cass and Martin van Buren

Martin Van Buren
Lewis Cass
In 1848, Zachary Taylor was going to be a tough man to beat.  His contemporaries compared him to George Washington and Andrew Jackson, but the truth is, in terms of total yardage gained, his stats were better than those two combined.  He soundly defeated Santa Anna and his Mexican army, driving them out of Texas once and for all.  These days if Mexicans want to visit Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma, they can get a green card or sneak in across the river the way God intended.  


Remaining opposition divided on the slavery issue.  Anti-slavery Democrats didn’t trust Lewis Cass and split to form the anti-slavery Free Soil Party, nominating former Presidential Loser and Wizard-of-Oz look-alike, Martin van Buren.  But Marty didn't split the vote as much as hoped.

There were many reasons the election went the way it did: sectional divisions, anti-slavery sentiment, yadda-yadda-yadda, but the real reason in my humble opinion was the quality of the campaign songs.  

Here's what Zachary's camp came up with: "Then go it boys, strong and steady, and raise a shout for Rough and Ready, rum-a-dum-dum."  Makes you want to go right out and vote, doesn't it?  Especially the "rum-a-dum-dum."  That's just pure rhetorical gold. 

Now compare it to what Lewis Cass supporters sang: "Heed not disunion's croaking voice, expose each dark and damning plan; elect the leader of your choice - the gallant Cass of Mich-i-gan."  

Louie's guys should have known better than to start a campaign song with "heed not."  That's just asking for trouble.  Plus the whole thing is a plain downer.  Exposing dark and damning plans isn't as rousing as "going it," especially when the ones instructed to "go it" are "boys."  We know even before we get there we'll be going strong and steady for Rough and Ready, and we'll be raising shouts to boot.
War-Hero Zachary won handily with 163 electoral votes to Lewis’ 127, and poor Marty received – drum roll – ZERO!  That’s right, no electoral votes whatsoever, making him the precise opposite of George Washington who was elected by unanimous acclamation, van Buren was rejected by unanimous acclamation.


Zachary Taylor: 163
Lewis Cass: 127
Martin van Buren: 0

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Presidential Losers #14: Henry Clay

In the 1848 election, the hot button issue was the annexation of Texas. Some anti-slavery folks were concerned this would increase the number and power of the slave states, but Democratic candidate James Polk said, in effect, “No worries. We’ll take over Oregon, too, and make that a free state.” 

Even Clay, who had been against annexing Texas, had to twist his toe in the dirt, and say, alright, maybe we could annex Texas so long as it didn’t mean a war or cost too much. 

Polk’s platform of territorial expansion would come to be known as Manifest Destiny. The “Destiny” part meant that United States was destined to keep on taking land until it reached the Pacific Ocean. The “Manifest” part meant, “Just watch us do it.” 

That we were destined to take all the land occupied only by the Indians and Spanish (and some French) is incontrovertible by the fact we did do it, so Manifest Destiny turns out to have been a pretty sound theory after all. It operates on the same principle as if I’m sitting next to a big ol’ slice of strawberry cheesecake, and no one’s there to stop me, it’s Manifest Destiny sooner or later I’m going to eat it. 

One other candidate (not pictured) was Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon Church. Smith’s campaign was somewhat hampered by being in jail at the time; that and the fact he was assassinated before the election, effectively prevented his candidacy from getting off the ground. In the end, although the popular vote was a lot closer than the electoral, the former dark horse James Polk easily crossed the finish line first in electoral votes.


James K Polk: 170
Henry Clay: 105

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Presidential Losers #13: Martin van Buren

The election of 1840 was a real thrill ride, crazy-zany, cuckoo mess.  

Okay, actually it was boring as hell.  

Martin van Buren was electoral toast after the Panic of 1837 when 342 banks failed resulting in a wide-spread financial collapse.(Sound familiar?)  

It’s kind of a shame we don’t call these things “panics” any more – it adds a little zest and glamour to economics.  Back in the old days they had panics all the time.  It was like, “What do you want to do today?” and someone would say, “Let’s have a bank panic.”  They had a panic in 1819, 1857, and 1873.  Those worked out so well, they went and had panics in 1884, 1890, and 1893.  Then again in 1896, 1901, and 1907.  Then in 1911.  

Then we stopped having panics and instead had the Great Depression.  

See what I mean?  Which do you think sounds more entertaining?  A Panic sounds like you’d be running around hollering and waving your arms.  Depression sounds like you’re lying on the couch watching a chick-flick marathon and eating cookie-dough ice cream. 

The big sensation of the election was Harrison’s campaign song “Tippecanoe and Tyler too,” which admittedly has a toe-tapping feel.  The lyrics in part ran, “we'll beat little Van, Van, Van, Van is a used up man.”  The van Buren camp went negative, calling Harrison “granny” and suggesting he was ready to retire to a log cabin and drink cider.  

Big whoop.  It’s not like van Buren was Mr Stud-Muffin.  Look at the picture, he looks like an understudy to play the Wizard of Oz.  

Back in the days of Jefferson and Adams there was real character assassination, and not just character assassination either, actual assassination: Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton, for crying out loud.  I guess people were just more patriotic back then.


William Henry Harrison: 234
Martin van Buren: 60

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Presidential Losers #12: Henry Harrison, Hugh Lawson White, Daniel Webster, and Willie Mangum

Daniel Webster
In 1836, Andrew Jackson, deciding not to seek a third term, gave his support to Martin van Buren.  Republicans, disaffected Democrats, rag-ends of the Federalist Party, and a few hold-outs from the Anti-Masonic Party formed a coalition party, the Whigs.  
Willie Person Mangum

The problem with the Whig coalition is it never really coalesced, and they wound up with not one, but four presidential candidates: William Henry Harrison, Hugh Lawson White, and Daniel Webster.  If it had been tag-team wrestling, the Whigs would have whipped some serious booty; unfortunately, it was a presidential race, so they only wound up splitting what support they had.  
Hugh Lawson White

Daniel Webster, a great orator, was best know for his speech, "The Second Reply to Hayne."  (Who can ever forget it?)  Evidently the first reply was good, but the second reply - whoa Nellie!  It went on for two days and had everyone on the edge of their seats.  Later he gave some good speeches, but never matched that one, and everyone was like, "Good speech, Dan, but why don't you do something like the Second Reply to Hayne again?  Now that was a speech."

Hugh Lawson White and Willie Person Mangum were career politicians known for firm and steadfast principles.  (BOR-ing!)  
William Henry Harrison

Harrison was a man of action and daring-do, a man’s man, no matter how sissy he might look in the picture, an old Indian fighter (the new ones were too tough) who had won himself the nickname of Tippecanoe after a decisive battle of the same name.  He’d gone to fight the fierce Indian warrior Tecumseh, and when he couldn’t locate him, he fought Tecumseh’s medicine man.  Whipped him, too.  Then he went and burned a deserted Indian village.  For this, the American people loved him.  Just not as much as Martin van Buren. 1


Martin Van Buren: 170
William Henry Harrison: 73
Hugh Lawson White: 26
Daniel Webster: 1
Willie Person Mangum: 1

1. Harrison got his chance in the next go-round, when he beat van Buren.  Determined to show he was as vigorous and manly as in his Indian-fighter days, he read his inaugural address in the rain, refusing to wear a hat or hold an umbrella.  The speech had been edited by Harrison's pal Daniel Webster, but it hadn't been edited near enough: it was four hours long.  Harrison set two records: longest inaugural address and shortest time in office; he died within a month.  Sometimes it turns out that whatever doesn't kill you makes you weaker and then you die later from complications.  

Friday, May 22, 2015

Why I am Such a Great Husband

I am a Remarkably Good Husband.  This is something I don't think gets pointed out nearly enough.  

There are many things that make me a superlative husband, but the primary one is the way my mother raised me.  I have learned to be grateful.

Take the matter of food.  Mother raised me to be very grateful for food.  She had a number of specialties, one of which was poached eggs.  Only recently have I learned what a real art poaching eggs is, and Mother was a past master.  She would get a big pot of water boiling, then start a whirlpool inside it with a wooden spoon, crack the eggs, and plop them in.  What came out were perfectly-formed poached eggs.  If you think this is easy, give it a try.  What you're likely to end up with is a kind of boiled egg confetti.  

Unfortunately, as a child, I did not see what consummate artistry a poached egg represented.  I saw a white lump with a half-molten yellow center, oozing water on my plate.  

The other breakfast Mother made was oatmeal.  Generally, I preferred oatmeal to poached eggs, but my heart did not soar on wings of joy in either case.  Mother's method of cooking oatmeal was laissez-faire.  She saved artistry for the poached eggs.  She'd get the water boiling, dump in oatmeal, and when we got to the breakfast table, dip it out.  The result was an al dente oatmeal plug with a core both gooey and resilient, like the firmest possible wad of mucous, just before it begins to dry out.

She made beef burgundy, as well.  Stew beef, cooked in a skillet and then doused with burgundy to form a distinctively purple gravy and served on noodles.  Her beef stroganoff was similar, but with sour cream instead of burgundy.  Once, I believe, she may have attempted beef stroganoff-burgundy, but I cannot swear to this.  

Other than that, the typical meal in the Martin household was a hamburger patty, cottage cheese, applesauce, and canned spinach.  On special occasions Mother would open up a can of asparagus and dollop on mayonnaise, swearing it was extremely gourmet.  I was a grown man before I could bear to look a stalk of asparagus in the face.

She wanted us to be adventurous eaters, and would sometimes bring home special gourmet treats, saying "Open your mouth and close your eyes, and I will give you a big surprise." We'd close our eyes and she'd pop something in our mouths.  It might be chocolate covered cherries, it might be smoked squid.  You never knew what you'd get and that was half the adventure.

This is just one of the things that make me such a wonderful husband.

When we'd been married only a week, Nancy spoke to me sharply, "You don't have to say 'mmm' after every bite!"  

I think she thought I was being obsequious, or even sarcastic, but that wasn't it at all.  I was just grateful.  More than grateful, I was in awe.  One night we'd had meatloaf.  Then we'd had macaroni and cheese.  Then pork chops.  Then baked chicken.  It seemed as if wonders would never cease with this woman.  

I did not say "mmm" after the next forkful, but I had to vocalize my delight in some way, so I went "Beep-beep!"  After the next bite, I went, "Zoom!" then "Cock-a-doodle-doo!"

At any rate, as you can see I am a superlative husband.  Nancy is a lucky, lucky woman.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Presidential Losers #11: Henry Clay and William Wirt

Henry Clay
Henry Clay, who’d been walloped by Andrew Jackson in a four-way race back in ’24, came back for another try in spite of the fact Jackson’s popularity had only increased during his presidency; the Indian Removal Act proved to be a huge success that exceeded everyone’s expectations.  

If you ever want to be reelected as president, a good way to do it is take a bunch of land from people who can’t vote and give it to people who can.  Jackson was fond of pointing out in speeches that the government was undertaking the removal at its own expense; it wasn’t as if the Cherokee had to pay to leave.  You have to wonder what Clay was thinking to run against such a visionary and magnanimous chief executive.  

William Wirt
The third party in the race was the Anti-Masonic Party, which in my personal opinion is really cool.  I think it’s great to have a party whose sole purpose is to be against a men’s philanthropic organization.  Why can’t we have an Anti-Rotary Club Party, too, and an Anti-Elks Club Party?  

Anyway, the Anti-Masons were fed up with those damn red fezzes and those secret handshakes and what-not, and weren’t going to take it any more.  (There had also been a small matter of possible homicide when a Mason threatened to reveal his lodge’s secrets, but I think it was mostly a matter of the red fezzes, like I said.)  

The Anti-Masonic candidate was William Wirt, who himself was a Mason, which indicates a certain amount of confusion on the part of the nominating committee.  Apparently, during his acceptance speech, William Wirt praised the good work of the Masons, which perhaps explains why his party didn’t do better than it did.  If you’re going to take a stand, by golly, take it – don’t shilly-shally.  Where would Andrew Jackson have gotten if sometimes he’d been for Indian rights and sometimes against them?  No, he had his principles and he stuck to them.1


Andrew Jackson: 219
Henry Clay: 49
William Wirt: 7

1. William Wirt's tomb was later robbed, and the skull sold to a private collector.  The skull was eventually returned, though.  It could be identified because the purchaser had written "William Wirt" on it in gold letters.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Presidential Losers #10: John Quincy Adams

In the rematch against Jackson, the Siamese Twin Party of the Democratic-Republicans finally split into the Democrats (Andrew Jackson) and the Republicans (John Quincy Adams). 

The odds against John Quincy were long from the start; he’d only gotten into the White House on the last go-round thanks to the support of Henry Clay, speaker of the House and fourth-place finisher in the race of 1824. Andrew Jackson was often underestimated by his opponents who thought his only significant accomplishment was killing some British in the Battle of New Orleans, but in fact, he also later killed a good number of Seminole Indians. 

Many important issues were raised during the campaign of pressing national interest. For example, it came to light that John Quincy Adams had used public funds to install gambling equipment in the White House, specifically a chess set and pool table, which caused many people to question the judgment of a man they had so admired.  Andrew had troubles of his own. It turned out, his wife Rachel, whom he’d thought was divorced, was not really completely divorced, and so she’d had to obtain a real divorce and remarry Andrew. 

Andrew also had a habit of getting into duels, which made some people wonder if he was really the right timber for the presidency. Aaron Burr, the vice president under John Quincy’s dad, had been in a duel as well, but it wasn’t the same thing really.  Dueling is like playing chess, it’s acceptable once in a while, but you don’t want to make a habit of it. 

The Republicans, with the razor-sharp wit that has been their signature ever since, called Jackson a “Jack-ass” (Get it? Jackson/Jack-ass? Ha-ha-ha! That just slays me!) and in the fullness of time, the jackass became the official symbol of the Democratic Party. (Take that, you liberals!) The Democrats, unable to come up with a riposte as devastatingly apt as Jackass Jackson, just called John Quincy an "ass." In the end though, there was no doubt whose ass got paddled.

The Result

Andrew Jackson: 178
John Quincy Adams: 83