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Tag: Presidents

Constitution 225: George Washington’s Constitution

 

 

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 the book in 1789, his first year in office as U.S. president, and brought it with him to Mount Vernon upon his retirement in 1797. Only … [ Read all ]

An Egg-centric White House Tradition

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 1917, during World War I, the egg roll was canceled until 1920 because of concerns of the waste of … [ Read all ]

Reverse the (Zero) Curse

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.

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 and was succeeded by Calvin Coolidge. Franklin D. Roosevelt, elected to his third term in 1940, died early in his fourth term in April 1945 and was succeeded by Harry S. Truman.

And John … [ Read all ]

Facial Hair Friday: Happy Birthday, Grover Cleveland!

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. He married the much-younger Frances … [ Read all ]