Site search

Site menu:

Find Out More

Archives

Categories

Contact Us

Subscribe to Email Updates

Tag: Presidents

The Electoral College: Then and Now

Today’s guest post comes from Miriam Vincent, staff attorney at the Federal Register.

The founding fathers established the Electoral College in the Constitution as a compromise between election of the President by a vote in Congress and election of the President by a popular vote of qualified citizens. However, the term “electoral college” does not appear in the Constitution. Article II of the Constitution and the 12th Amendment refer to “electors,” but not to the “electoral college.” —from the Electoral College website run by the Office of the Federal Register

Why do we have the Electoral College? There was a concern that even qualified citizens (generally white, male landowners) wouldn’t have the information necessary to make a truly informed decision.  Alexander Hamilton argued in favor of an Electoral College in Federalist Paper No. 68, with an opposing view coming from an anonymous source in Federalist Paper No. 72. (You can find both online.) Our Founding Fathers decided to give the States the authority to appoint educated, well-read electors to vote on behalf of their citizens.

As the Constitution makes clear, the States elect the President and Vice President; individuals don’t.

Tally of the 1824 Electoral College Vote, 02/09/1825 (ARC 306207)

The Modern Day Electoral College: After only a few years, it became clear that that electing a President and Vice President from different political parties … [ Read all ]

Constitution 225: George Washington’s Constitution

 

Close up of Washington's handwritten note on his copy of Acts of Congress, courtesy of the Donald W. Reynolds Museum at Mount Vernon and Mark Finkenstaedt.

 

Today’s Constitution 225 post was written by Jim Zeender,  senior registrar in Exhibits at the National Archives.

Imagine George Washington’s first day on the job as President of the United States on April 30, 1789. What what his role? How was he to act? What were his duties and powers? Who should advise him? Who worked for him?

The Constitution described the role of the President in general terms, but spelled out only a few specific duties and powers. Since the democratic republic created under the Constitution was an entirely new form of government, there was no user’s manual. There were no previous presidents he could look to for advice. The Constitution, the proposed Bill of Rights, and Acts of Congress were the closest thing. After the first session of Congress, these documents were printed and compiled into a volume.

Visitors to the Donald W. Reynolds Museum at Mount Vernon will have a rare opportunity to see Washington’s personal copy of this rare volume.

Inside, his handwritten notes in pencil can be seen in the margins. The text was printed by Francis Childs and John Swaine and bound by Thomas Allen, all of New York. Washington received … [ Read all ]

An Egg-centric White House Tradition

In 1958 Bunny, Hazel, Fred (Skippy), and Darlene Johansen attend the Eisenhowers' White House Easter Egg Roll. (Eisenhower Library)

In 1958 Bunny, Hazel, Fred (Skippy), and Darlene Johansen attend the Eisenhowers' White House Easter Egg Roll. (Eisenhower Library)

Today’s an eggs-ellent day in Washington, DC, for young people! It’s the annual White House Easter Egg Roll, where hundreds of children gather to roll eggs and play games on the South Lawn of the President’s House.

But the tradition did not start at the White House. It began on the lawns and terraces of the Capitol after the Civil War. Children of all races and backgrounds rolled eggs and played games on the turf around the Capitol.

But in 1878, children who arrived at the Capitol on Easter Monday were turned away.

Congress had passed a law to prevent these young citizens from taking such liberties on the grounds, and it became the “duty of the Capitol police hereafter to prevent any portion of the Capitol grounds and terraces from being used as playgrounds or otherwise.”

It’s not clear how the party was rolled over to the White House, but a newspaper clipping in Rutherford B. Hayes’s personal scrapbook shows he was the first President to officially allow the Executive Mansion to be used for egg rolling. (There were informal egg rollings there as early as Lincoln’s administration.)

The good times and egg rolling continued through the following Presidential administrations with a few brief interruptions. In … [ Read all ]

Reverse the (Zero) Curse

President Reagan looking at "Get Well Soon Mr. President" photo while at George Washington Hospital. 4/8/81. (Reagan Library)

President Reagan looking at "Get Well Soon Mr. President" photo while at George Washington Hospital. 4/8/81. (Reagan Library)

When Ronald Reagan survived the attempt on his life on March 30, 1981, and went on to serve two full four-year terms, he broke what some people call “the year-ending-in-zero” curse.

It goes like this: Every President elected in a year ending in zero since 1840 had died in office.

William Henry Harrison, elected in 1840, died after one month in office of pneumonia; he also was our shortest serving President. On his inauguration day, then on March 4, he gave a two-hour speech without hat or topcoat, then rode through the streets of Washington. He was succeeded by John Tyler. (Remember Tippecanoe and Tyler too!)

Abraham Lincoln, elected in 1860, was assassinated a month into his second term, on April 12, 1865, by John Wilkes Booth. He was succeeded by Andrew Johnson.

President Harrison was the first President to be stricken by the Zero-Year Curse (111-SC-92615; ARC 530961).

President Harrison was the first President to be stricken by the Zero-Year Curse (111-SC-92615; ARC 530961).

James A. Garfield, elected in 1880, was assassinated in 1881 after only 199 days in office, succeeded by Chester A. Arthur. William McKinley, elected in 1896 and reelected in 1900, was mortally wounded in September 1901 and died eight days later, succeeded by Theodore Roosevelt.

Warren G. Harding, elected in 1920, died in 1923 of a heart attack … [ Read all ]

Facial Hair Friday: Happy Birthday, Grover Cleveland!

President Grover Cleveland (ARC 518139)

President Grover Cleveland (ARC 518139)

If Grover Cleveland were alive today, he would need to blow out 174 candles. And of course, he would need to be careful not to set his mustache alight as he bent toward the mighty blaze of his birthday cake.

Grover Cleveland’s election marked a turning point in Presidential facial hair. The beard was going out of fashion, and the mustache was rising to upper-lip prominence.

In fact, Lincoln was the first President to sport a beard (though Martin Van Buren was stiffly bewhiskered by sideburns). But after Lincoln’s death in 1865, his sucessor Andrew Johnson was clean shaven.  Grant, Hayes, and Garfield made their turn through the highest office with fine beards, but the tide turned with the appearance of Chester A. Arthur’s mustache and meager sideburns.

President Cleveland had embraced the look of the clean-shaved face when he entered office the first time in 1885, but he maintained a mustache. When he returned for a second term in 1893, he still had the mustache.

Cleveland is the only President to be elected to two non-consective terms. For his second term, he defeated the incumbent President Harrison, who was the last President to date to have a beard. Did this electoral defeat signal the end of a hirsute era?

Cleveland was also the only President to be married in the White House. … [ Read all ]