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Archive for December, 2012

Facial Hair Friday: The Curiously Facial Hairless Members of Lincoln’s Cabinet

In the late 1700s, as Americans fought for their independence, most men were clean-shaven. As we moved into the 1800s, however, facial hair—elaborate facial hair, at that—came back into style.

Despite this shift, many men remained clean-shaven. A smooth face was often considered more professional and refined, but facial hair denoted ruggedness.

It is not a huge surprise, therefore, that many of President Lincoln’s cabinet members had no facial hair.

Montgomery Blair, 1860–1865, ARC Identifier 528437.

Montgomery Blair was an abolitionist despite his upbringing in a prominent slave-holding family in Franklin County, Kentucky. He was also one of the founders of the Republican party. President Lincoln appointed Blair as his Postmaster General in 1861, then replaced him in 1864, following Blair’s own suggestion. Blair told his wife that the President “acted from the best motives” and that “it is for the best all around.” He campaigned for Lincoln’s reelection and remained close with Lincoln’s family.

Simon Cameron, circa 1860–1865, ARC Identifier 528097.

Simon Cameron was orphaned at age nine and apprenticed to printer and editor Andrew Kennedy. He entered into journalism, and later rail line construction and banking, among other business enterprises. He was first elected to the Senate as a Democrat in 1844, but eventually switched to the Republican party. Although Cameron was nominated as a presidential candidate in the 1860 election, he gave … [ Read all ]

The Election isn’t over yet…

If you thought the Presidential election was over and all the votes were counted, you’re wrong.

The formal election is Monday, December 17, when “electors” meet in their respective state capitals to cast their votes for President and Vice President.

Although the names Barack Obama and Mitt Romney appeared on the November ballot, you were really voting for a slate of “electors” who pledged to vote for their party’s candidates on December 17. But, based on the popular election results, it’s no mystery how the electoral votes will go.

Collectively, the electors are known as the Electoral College. They were created by Article II of the Constitution to choose the President and Vice President. At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, the Founding Fathers didn’t think the voters (then only white males) were informed enough to make wise decisions.

No Federal law requires electors to vote according to the results of the popular vote in their states. Some states require electors to cast their votes according to the popular vote.

Today, it is rare for electors to disregard the popular vote by casting their electoral vote for someone other than their party’s candidate. Electors generally hold a leadership position in their party or were chosen to recognize years of loyal service to the party. Throughout our history as a nation, more than 99 percent of … [ Read all ]

Emancipation Proclamation: Flight to Freedom

Today’s blog post comes from National Archives social media intern Anna Fitzpatrick.

Page 1 of Writ of Habeas Corpus in the Case of U.S. ex. rel. John Wheeler v. Passmore Williamson, 07/19/1855; Records of District Courts of the United States, 1685 – 2004, Record Group 21; National Archives at Philadelphia. (National Archives Identifier: 2641488)

Before the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves, many men and women in bondage ran away from their owners to freedom. These escape attempts were dangerous, and not all of them were successful. Abolitionists sometimes helped slaves in their flight to freedom, like these two men in the case of the escaping slave Jane Johnson and her children.

Jane Johnson and her two young sons were enslaved by John Hill Wheeler, the U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua. While on his way to South America, Wheeler brought Jane and her sons to New York and Philadelphia. Once the three slaves were in Philadelphia, abolitionists William Still and Passmore Williamson helped Johnson and her two sons escape to Boston.

Wheeler petitioned the court to have Williamson return his slaves. In the Writ of Habeas Corpus commanding Williamson to return Jane and her sons, Williamson stated that he was unable to do so:

Passmore Williamson the defendant in the within writ mentioned for return thereto respectfully submits that the within named Jane, Daniel and Isaiah .

[ Read all ]

Facial Hair Friday: Gideon Welles, Bearded and Bright

Not only is Hon. Gideon Welle’s beard pretty fabulous—look at that head full of luscious curls! Circa 1860–1865, ARC Identifiers 525398 (left), 526505 (right).

Since the new film Lincoln has spent a few weeks in theaters, we thought it’d be interesting to learn more about President Lincoln’s fantastically hairy cabinet.

First up is Gideon Welles, who served as President Lincoln’s and then as President Johnson’s Secretary of the Navy from 1861 to 1869, the longest anyone had held the position. Born to an esteemed Connecticut family, Welles had facial hair almost as prodigious as his political presence.

Gideon Welles graduated from what is now Norwich University in Vermont with a degree in law. However, he found he had a knack for journalism and became editor and part owner of the Hartford Times in 1826. That year, he was also elected to the legislature. As a Jacksonian Democrat, Welles supported wide-spread enfranchisement and President Jackson’s anti-bank campaign. In 1836, Jackson appointed Welles as the postmaster of Hartford, Connecticut, until William Henry Harrison removed him in 1841.

When the “slavery issue” emerged in the 1850s, Welles became a major figure in the newly formed Republican party, serving as Republican national committeeman and member of the party’s national executive committee. He also helped establish the Hartford Evening Press to support the party. He was a strong advocate for … [ Read all ]

The 1941 Christmas Tree: A Bright Light in Dark Times

 

Roosevelt addresses the crowd at the Christmas tree lighting ceremony from the White House South Portico on December 24, 1941. Churchill can be seen on the right. (FDR Presidential Library)

The Roosevelts had planned for a “more homey” lighting of the National Christmas tree on December 24 in 1941. FDR had directed that the tree be moved from the Ellipse to the White House grounds, just next to the South Lawn Fountain.  But after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, there was some doubt that the ceremony would take place at all. With firm backing from the President, the tree-lighting went forward, and thousands came to the White House to share a bright moment of hope during dark and uncertain times.

Plans for this “more homey” event had been set in motion the previous December. A few days before the ceremony, the Roosevelts had an idea. At the 1940 tree-lighting ceremony, FDR raised the issue to the crowds gathered on the Ellipse, “Next year the celebration must take place on the South End of the White House, where all can see the tree,” and “all you good people” would be invited to the gardens of the Executive Mansion to hear the President deliver his message.

A few months later, FDR wrote a memo to Col. Edward Starling,  the head of the … [ Read all ]