Monday, May 5, 2014

Mark Twain's Letter to His Wife - November 22, 1888

Hartford, Nov. 27/88
Livy Darling, I am grateful — gratefuler than ever before — that you were born, & that your love is mine & our two lives woven & welded together!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Theodore Roosevelt's Worst Valentine's Day - February 14, 1884

On this day in 1884, Theodore Roosevelt's mother and wife died. His wife, Alice Lee, had given birth to their daughter, Alice, two days prior to her passing.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Other Gettysburg Addresses

Seven score and ten years ago, Abraham Lincoln delivered a Gettysburg Address he thought the world would little note nor long remember.

The President's prediction could not have been more inaccurate; his 272-word speech reverberates through American political rhetoric endlessly as his stature casts the most difficult shadow in which any speaker can tread.

While nearly every president has visited Gettysburg, only a handful of Presidents have spoken at the hallowed ground.

With Lincoln’s scribe John Hay as his Secretary of State, Theodore Roosevelt appropriately became the first president bold enough to follow Lincoln’s remarks.

In the Soldier’s National Cemetery on Memorial Day 1904Roosevelt tied Lincoln to the current struggle for the expansion of civil rights and national supremacy of law.

Roosevelt called the Civil War “a great war for righteousness; a war waged for the noblest ideals, but waged also in thoroughgoing, practical fashion.” 

When Roosevelt summarized the battle, he connected soldiers’ sacrifices for a cause to an audience mostly too young to remember Gettysburg. 

He revered Lincoln’s words not only for voicing ideals but compelling a country to act upon them. He evoked Lincoln’s spirit without trying to mimic his speech.

Delivering a transcript to a journalist of a speech to be given at Lincoln’s birthplace in 1909, Teddy Roosevelt wrote of his desire to avoid direct comparison:

Thank Heaven that it can not be printed beside the Gettysburg address. A speech may be a pretty good speech of the hour, or of the day, or even of the year, and yet be ruined if put side by side with one of the two or three great classics of human eloquence—of that eloquence which shows forth its human soul.

However, Roosevelt fearlessly evoked Lincoln for political gain. Running for a third term as president, he spoke softly at a campaign luncheon on Memorial Day 1912 at the battlefield but used Lincoln as a big stick.

His speech mostly marveled at national unity between the North and the South as he divided the Republican Party and sought to build a Progressive coalition with southern Democrats. However, Roosevelt ricocheted questions about his imperialistic policies and unprecedented pursuit of a third-term by reminding reporters that Lincoln had been described as a dictator in his time.

Wilson beat Roosevelt in the 1912 election but he echoed the Bull Moose’s sentiments about unity at a
July 4, 1913 reunion.

Fifty years after the battle, before the first audience of Union and Confederate veterans assembled at Gettysburg, Wilson opens with a promise: “I need not tell you what the Battle of Gettysburg meant.” He delivers a cloud of fine words (“splendid valor,” “manly devotion,” “benign and majestic”) and makes no mention of Lincoln or the cause for which the soldiers fought. Wilson simply asks to commit a wartime spirit to times of peace, because “War fitted us for action, and action never ceases.” Only a little more than a year later, the world will remind Wilson that words of peace do not always cause war to cease.

When war came, Roosevelt would describe Woodrow Wilson as “unmanly,” comparing him unfavorably to Washington and Lincoln, who he said did not escape action by hiding “behind clouds of fine words.” 

Like his distant cousin, Franklin Roosevelt spoke twice at Gettysburg. During his first visit in 1934, his campaign speech would not mention Lincoln until his closing putting him alongside Washington, Jefferson, and Wilson.

More famously, as President, FDR spoke at the Eternal Peace Light dedication on July 3, 1938, unveiling a monument to “men who wore the blue and men who wore the gray.” He noted that we turn to the Civil War and Lincoln because “the fundamental conflict which events forced upon his Presidency invite us ever to turn to him for help.

Foreshadowing the future conflict in Europe, Roosevelt told his audience Lincoln’s greatness came from understanding that sometimes “a fight must be fought through to a decision so clear that it is accepted as being beyond recall.”

However, the most surreal and haunting decision surrounding presidential speeches at Gettysburg involved Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Eisenhower.

That year on Memorial Day, Vice President Lyndon Johnson spoke at Gettysburg, connecting the Civil War to the fight for civil rights. He solemnly said the “heroic deeds” at Gettysburg should encourage freed men to persevere. He called to the country’s conscience, remarking, “Our nation found its soul in honor on these fields of Gettysburg one hundred years ago. We must not lose that soul in dishonor now on the fields of hate.” 

Just as the North and South had united, Johnson urged that Americans to listen to "the voice of those who died here and the great man who spoke here" to come together to fulfill emancipation as fact rather than just proclamation.

That following fall, President Eisenhower, the first soldier turned president since Colonel Teddy Roosevelt, became the last president to speak at Gettysburg, where he had been living in retirement:

We read Lincoln's sentiments, we ponder his words - the beauty of the sentiments he expressed enthralls us; the majesty of the words holds us spellbound - but we have not paid to his message its just tribute until we - ourselves - live it. For well he knew that to live for country is a duty, as demanding as is the readiness to die for it.

No matter how eloquently delivered, horrific actions days later overshadowed Eisenhower’s speech in the cemetery on November 19, 1963.

Though he had visited Gettysburg that year in March, President Kennedy declined park service guide an invitation to speak at the 100th anniversary of the speech. He sent this note as he settled a political dispute in Dallas:
Let us remember those thousands of American patriots whose graves at home, beneath the sea and in distant lands are silent sentries of our heritage.
With clear parallels to Lincoln’s tragedy, Jacqueline Kennedy requested to consecrate her husband’s gravesite with an eternal flame in Arlington modeled after the Gettysburg monument he visited with his family.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Dwight Eisenhower

"Peace and justice are two sides of the same coin."

-Dwight D. Eisenhower

"Don't join the book burners. Do not think you are going to conceal thoughts by concealing evidence that they ever existed."

-Dwight D. Eisenhower

"You don't lead by hitting people over the head - that's assault, not leadership."

-Dwight D. Eisenhower

"I tell this story to illustrate the truth of the statement I heard long ago in the Army: Plans are worthless, but planning is everything. There is a very great distinction because when you are planning for an emergency you must start with this one thing: the very definition of "emergency" is that it is unexpected, therefore it is not going to happen the way you are planning."

-Dwight D. Eisenhower, in a speech to the National Defense Executive Reserve Conference in Washington, D.C. (November 14, 1957)

"If a political party does not have its foundation in the determination to advance a cause that is right and that is moral, then it is not a political party; it is merely a conspiracy to seize power."

-Dwight D. Eisenhower, at the Fourth Annual Republican Women's National Conference on March 6, 1956

"I can think of nothing more boring for the American people than to have to sit in their living rooms for a whole half hour looking at my face on their television screens."

-Dwight D. Eisenhower

"Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe."

-Abraham Lincoln

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Woody Guthrie 100th Birthday

“Life has got a habit of not standing hitched. You got to ride it like you find it. You got to change with it. If a day goes by that don't change some of your old notions for new ones, that is just about like trying to milk a dead cow.”

-Woody Guthrie

"I hate a song that makes you think that you are not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim too ugly or too this or too that. Songs that run you down or poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or hard traveling. I am out to fight those songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood.

I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built, I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work.

And the songs that I sing are made up for the most part by all sorts of folks just about like you. I could hire out to the other side, the big money side, and get several dollars every week just to quit singing my own kind of songs and to sing the kind that knock you down still farther and the ones that poke fun at you even more and the ones that make you think you've not any sense at all. But I decided a long time ago that I'd starve to death before I'd sing any such songs as that. The radio waves and your movies and your jukeboxes and your songbooks are already loaded down and running over with such no good songs as that anyhow."

-Woody Guthrie