June 3, 1844 – Birth of Garret Hobart, Vice President Under William McKinley

Garret Augustus Hobart, born on this day in New Jersey, was the 24th vice president of the US, serving from 1897 until his death in 1899. He was the sixth American vice president to die in office.

Hobart was a wealthy corporate lawyer before going into politics in the Republican Party. During the 1896 Republican National Convention, New Jersey delegates to the convention were determined to nominate him for vice president. Hobart’s political views were similar to those of William McKinley, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate. With New Jersey a key state in the upcoming election, McKinley and his close adviser, future senator and political kingmaker Mark Hanna, decided to have the convention select Hobart. McKinley and Hobart were elected.

While Hobart had never met McKinley prior to the election, they drew quite close in the following months. Hobart became so highly regarded by McKinley, Jules Witcover reports in The American Vice Presidency, “that he was utilized almost as the country’s assistant president.” In fact, according to the Miller Center, Hobart expanded the role of the vice president to such an extent that he was actually called the “Assistant President.”

Even though the vice president was not invited to cabinet meetings, McKinley and cabinet members regularly sought advice from the vice president. Furthermore, with McKinley’s wife suffering from epilepsy, Hobart’s wife Jennie helped McKinley with social obligations. The two husbands and wives became quite close, even vacationing together.

Jennie Tuttle Hobart

McKinley followed Hobart’s advice on such matters as declaring war on Spain in 1898 and retaining the Philippines after the war. In domestic matters, McKinley also depended on Hobart’s counsel, but Hobart had a serious ailment, and by April 1899 there was speculation that he would not be up to a reelection campaign. His condition continued to worsen, and he died on November 21, 1899.

The Miller Center notes:

Although he is better remembered for his early death and famous successor (Theodore Roosevelt), Hobart’s brief tenure included historically significant expansions of vice presidential power. . . . Additionally, Hobart’s more assertive oversight of the Senate represented a distinct change from his predecessors. Although his time in office was less than three years, Hobart was an able vice president and treated his office less as a ceremonial position than as a venue for more substantial consultation and influence.”

May 30, 1943 – Birth of Gale Sayers, “The Kansas Comet”

Gale Sayers, a native of Wichita, Kansas, played football for the Chicago Bears as a halfback (today this position is called running back) from 1965 to 1971. He was forced to retire after only 68 games because of injuries.

In 1977, Sayers was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame at age 34, and is still the youngest inductee in the Hall’s history. In 1994, the Bears retired his number 40 at Soldier Field. In 1999, despite the brevity of his career, he was ranked #21 on The Sporting News’s list of the 100 Greatest Football Players.

Sayers’ records include most touchdowns in a rookie season (22 in 1965), most touchdowns in a game (6, tied with Nevers and Jones), highest career kickoff return average (30.56), most kickoff return touchdowns (6, tied with four other players) and most return touchdowns in a game (2, tied with many players).

As the Washington Post reported in his September 23, 2020 obituary:

‘He was the best runner with a football under his arm I’ve ever seen,’ Mike Ditka, who played with Mr. Sayers and later coached Payton, told Sports Illustrated in 2010. Another former teammate, Hall of Fame linebacker Dick Butkus, told the magazine: ‘He had this ability to go full speed, cut and then go full speed again right away. I saw it every day in practice. We played live, and you could never get a clean shot on Gale. Never.’”

The video below shows highlights from Sayers’ game with six touchdowns (Bears against the 49’ers on December 12, 1965):

Gale Sayers died on September 23, 2020, at age 77. According to the Washington Post, his wife, Ardythe, revealed in 2017 that Mr. Sayers had dementia, a diagnosis that she attributed in part to his playing career.

May 27, 1911 – Birth of Hubert H. Humphrey, 38th Vice President, Serving Under Lyndon Johnson

Hubert Humphrey was born on this day in history in Wallace, South Dakota, but moved to Minnesota for college and remained there. He entered politics and in 1948, he was elected to the US Senate and successfully advocated for the inclusion of a proposal to end racial segregation in the 1948 Democratic National Convention’s party platform.

Humphrey was warned that the plank calling for equality would cost the Democrats the election. But Humphrey countered, “There are those who say . . . we are rushing this issue of civil rights. I say we are a hundred and seventy-two years too late.” (Jules Witcover, in The American Vice Presidency, p. 379). The Humphrey plank led to a walkout of southern delegates, but the convention passed it, and Henry Truman won the nomination easily over Senator Richard Russell of Georgia.

Hubert Humphrey, 1965

Humphrey served in the Senate from 1949 to 1964, and was the Senate Majority Whip for the last four years of his tenure. During this time, he cosponsored a host of social welfare bills, including a health insurance plan for the elderly that later became Medicare. He was instrumental in passing the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963; was the lead author of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; introduced the first initiative to create the Peace Corps; and chaired the Select Committee on Disarmament. After Lyndon B. Johnson acceded to the presidency, he chose Humphrey as his running mate, and the Democratic ticket won a landslide victory in the 1964 election.

Jules Witcover argues that it was Humphrey’s loyalty to LBJ, especially with respect to the Vietnam War, that brought Humphrey down along with Johnson. Humphrey had in fact objected to extending the war, but that only resulted in Humphrey’s exclusion from meetings. Furthermore, Johnson enlisted him in selling the president’s war goals and policies to Congress and the public.

A Miller Center analysis observes:

His tireless support disappointed many of his liberal supporters and negatively affected his national popularity. In addition to representing the administration domestically, Humphrey also served as an ambassador-at-large. During his tenure, he made twelve trips abroad and visited thirty-one countries, traveling far more than any of his predecessors.”

On March 31, 1968, LBJ finally admitted defeat, announcing he would not run for president for another term.

In late April, Humphrey announced his bid for the presidency. HIs main rival for the office, Robert F. Kennedy, was assassinated on June 6, and Humphrey won the nomination easily, settling on Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine as his running mate against Richard M. Nixon and Governor Spiro Agnew of Maryland.

Left to right: Vice President Hubert Humphrey, former President Harry S. Truman, and Senator Edmund Muskie. Vice President Humphrey and Senator Muskie are running in the presidential election. They are on the porch of Truman home.The photo is from the Post Presidential Truman Papers. Donor: Wesley E. Gibson.
September 1968

In a close race, Nixon won 43.4% of the popular vote to 42.7% for Humphrey and 13.5% for former Alabama governor George C. Wallace, running as an American Independent. But Nixon also got 302 electoral votes compared with 191 for Humphrey and 45 for Wallace. In his memoir LBJ speculated that the failure of the Saigon regime to go to the Paris peace talks “cost Hubert Humphrey the presidency.”

Humphrey returned to the Senate in 1971 once again representing Minnesota, and sought the presidency again in 1972. But with the Vietnam War a focus of American politics, he lost the Democratic nomination to George McGovern. Still serving in the Senate, Humphrey died on January 13, 1978 at the age of 66 from bladder cancer.

Following his death on January 13, 1978, Humphrey was accorded the honor of lying in state in the Capitol Rotunda. In 2011 the Senate passed a special resolution to commemorate the centennial of Humphrey’s birth.

The Miller Center notes: “His career was one of great brilliance and disappointment, although his contribution to history was significant and valuable.”

May 24, 1905 – Samuel Gompers, President of the American Federation of Labor, Speaks Out for White Supremacy

As multiple sources note (see, for example, TimeToast):

Samuel Gompers [January 27, 1850 – December 13, 1924] was the first and longest-serving president of the American Federation of Labor (AFL); it is to him, as much as to anyone else, that the American labor movement owes its structure and characteristic strategies. Under his leadership, the AFL became the largest and most influential labor federation in the world. It grew from a marginal association of 50,000 in 1886 to an established organization of nearly 3 million in 1924 that had won a permanent place in American society. In a society renowned for its individualism and the power of its employer class, he forged a self-confident workers’ organization dedicated to the principles of solidarity and mutual aid. It was a singular achievement.”

Rarely in these laudatory articles on Gompers do we read about one of his most consequential contributions to the American labor movement: i.e., his deleterious influence on the sociopolitical culture of his era by virtue [sic] of his racism, and in particular, opposition to immigration on that basis.

[Ironically, given his fervent support of “Anglo-Saxon civilization,” Gompers was the son of Jewish immigrants and an immigrant himself. Alas, his story is not unlike this generation’s Stephen Miller, whose grandparents emigrated to the US to escape persecution for being Jewish, and who is credited [sic] with shaping the racist and draconian immigration policies of President Trump.]

Samuel L. Gompers

Arthur Mann, in “Gompers and the Irony of Racism,” The Antioch Review, Vol. 13, No. 2 (Summer, 1953), pp. 203-214, online here, writes that the drive for unionism that Gompers so successfully championed was fueled by the increasing mechanization of jobs previously done by workers, and concurrently, the reduced need for skilled workers. A preference for cheaper, unskilled labor led to greater employment of foreign-born workers. Mann observes: “The AFL solution was simple: prevent the introduction of machinery and loss of status by restricting, and if need be, by halting, immigration.” [It should be noted that, like current anti-immigration supporters, Gompers did take care to distinguish between “new” and “old” immigrants – i.e., immigrants of color versus white immigrants.]

Mann documented how “Gompers appealed to public opinion through frankly racist arguments, helping to forge the myth of Anglo-Saxon superiority upon which the present immigration laws rest.” “Racial purity”, Mann explains, was at the heart of Gompers’ arguments.

In Gompers’ view, all of labor’s troubles were due to the immigrant. An 1895 article in his journal, The American Federationist, called for “the immediate closing of our ports” because labor had all it could do already to protect itself from the introduction of machinery and the competition of women, children, and convicts.

In particular, Gompers was opposed to any more Asian immigrants. As Gompers put it in his Presidential Report of 1901: ‘There cannot be any honest division of opinion on Chinese exclusion.’”

A saintly Samuel Gompers, as depicted in The San Francisco Call (San Francisco, CA), July 23, 1902, via Library of Congress

Gompers argued both that “Asiatics” showed themselves to be incapable of self-government or economic improvement. (Both of these charges were patently and even observably false.) He charged they were congenitally immoral, wedded to gambling, lying, cheating, and murder. They “loved” to live in filthy surroundings. He also, noted Mann, “raised the sexual bugaboo, an always potent weapon in racial bigotry.” The Chinese, Gompers asserted, loved to prey upon young American girls and boys, who of course ended up with venereal disease.

They shared all these characteristics, in Gomper’s view, with African Americans.

In Minneapolis on this day in history, May 24, 1905, Gompers addressed workers from Minneapolis and St. Paul at the Mozart Hall in St. Paul:

I have stood as a champion of the colored man and have sacrificed self and much of the movement that the colored man should get a chance. But the Caucasians are not going to let their standard of living be destroyed by Negroes, China-men, Japs or any others.”

Gompers added, “If the colored man continues to lend himself to the work of tearing down everything that the White man has built up, a race hatred worse than any ever known will result.”

Gompers seems to have been unaware about who actually “built” all that made up the country, from roads to railroads to buildings, and it tended not, in the main, to have been whites. But truth never has impeded demagogues.

May 21, 1799 – Birth of Mary Anning, Pioneering Paleontologist

Mary Anning was born in 1799 in Lyme Regis, on the southern shores of Great Britain. Mary’s father Richard collected fossils from the cliffs at Lyme Regis to sell, as the area was (and still is) known for its rich deposits from the Jurassic period.

Mary Anning

By the time she was five or six, Mary and her brother Joseph were accompanying her father on his fossil-collecting trips. Richard taught them how to look for and clean the fossils they found on the beach, and often displayed and sold them from his shop.

Richard died suddenly when Mary was 11, and Joseph had to find a career to help support the family. Mary’s mother encouraged Mary to keep finding fossils to add to their income.

Joseph had previously found a fossilized skull, and when Mary was 12, she dug out its whole skeleton. The mysterious specimen was studied and debated for years. It was eventually named Ichthyosaurus, or ‘fish lizard’ – though we now know it was neither fish nor lizard, but a marine reptile. It lived around 200 million years ago.

But perhaps most remarkably, Mary discovered that the skeletons she found were full of dark, lumpy pebbles. She eventually proclaimed these these stones, known as bezoars, were actually fossilized feces. Mary’s discovery helped scholars learn more about what dinosaurs ate.

She also researched long, thin, cone-shaped fossils that turned out to contain ink when water was added, hypothesizing that ancient aquatic creatures squirted ink to hide themselves from hungry predators.

In 1823 when Mary was 24, she was the first to discover the complete skeleton of a plesiosaurus, a prehistoric flying reptile.

Mary Anning’s sketch of her first plesiosaur via UK Natural History Museum

Even with all of this, Mary couldn’t join the Geological Society of London, because women weren’t allowed. She couldn’t attend lectures or take university classes because she was a woman. But when geologists, scientists, and scholars had questions about the Earth’s past, they went to Mary’s cottage. In 1844, even King Frederick Augustus II of Saxony visited Mary in her shop.

Male geologists did publish scientific descriptions of fossils Mary found, but neglected to mention her name. In a book about fossilists, The Dragon Seekers, Christopher McGowan reports that Anna Pinney, a young woman who sometimes accompanied Anning while she collected, wrote: “She says the world has used her ill … these men of learning have sucked her brains, and made a great deal of publishing works, of which she furnished the contents, while she derived none of the advantages.” [This book is available online here.]

The majority of Mary’s finds ended up in museums and personal collections, without credit being given to her as the discoverer of the fossils, needless to add.

Slowly, however, Mary’s achievements have been uncovered and acknowledged. In 2010, the Royal Society of London named Marry Anning as one of the ten most influential British women of science.

Detailed sketch by Mary Anning, via UK Natural History Museum

Review of “The Ghost at the Feast: America and the Collapse of World Order, 1900-1941” by Robert Kagan

At the end of the 19th century, the relationship between the United States and other nations of the world had changed dramatically because of the explosive growth of America’s power, measured in wealth, land and resources, population, relative economic self-sufficiency, and potential military capability.  This accumulation of power completely changed the way the rest of the world viewed the United States, as well as the way Americans viewed themselves. In The Ghost at the Feast, Robert Kagan, a neoconservative senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of several books on international relations, here argues that the United States failed to use that power in the 1920s in ways that could have spared the world a great deal of misery. He states:

. . . . It is the contention of this book that the United States had it within its power to preserve the peace in Europe after 1919, and at a manageable cost. But for reasons having little to do with capacity, Washington policy makers would not take the steps necessary. And while it is customary to focus on the collapse of world order in the 1930s, it was in the 1920s that the peace was truly lost. By the time [FDR] took office in March 1933, Hitler was already in power in Germany and the self-described “have-not” powers, which included Italy and Japan along with Germany, had already embarked on their determined attempt to undo the fragile order that Americans were half-heartedly attempting to establish.”

America, Kagan observes, stood apart in a number of additional ways from the rest of the world.  Its government was a democratic republic, while other countries were still dominated by hereditary monarchies and aristocracies.  Moreover, Americans “shared neither common blood nor an ancient rootedness in the soil.”  Their isolation and wealth gave them freedom from the constant fear of encroachments by other powers, although, as Kagan wryly observes, “Americans had never been very good at minding their own business.”  And their influence was resented abroad.  Their culture not only was spreading in unwelcome ways, but missionaries from America covered the globe “to better people’s lives” [as determined by Americans, of course].

Kagan writes that “the story of American foreign policy in the first four decades of the twentieth century is about the effort to . . . adjust the nation to its new position without sacrificing the principles developed in the past….” Beyond that, Kagan avers, “Americans had no grand international plan and no clear direction.”

Kagan then details how those first four decades played out, starting with the war with Spain that began in April 1898 and “is generally regarded as a great turning point in the history of American foreign policy,” making the US into a “world power.”

Europe in 1917 via OmniAtlas

When Germany knocked Russia out of World War I in 1917, that greatly disrupted the balance of power among the other European powers. Kagan contends, “The power of Germany had simply grown too great for the rest of Europe to handle.” America’s intervention in World War I was necessary for the Allies’ victory. Moreover, at the end of the war, the US stood alone among the world’s other powers since it had not suffered the immense destruction of industrial capacity and loss of life that the others had.

The Allies imposed stringent terms on Germany at the Versailles peace conference, harsh enough to cause the Weimar Republic to fail in just over a decade. But they did not enforce those terms on Germany once Hitler came to power. And as a British diplomat observed, “Fear that Americans might not honor any promises made in the Paris peace negotiations was ‘the ghost at all our feasts.’” That fear was largely realized as Americans, believing (perhaps correctly at that time) that they were invulnerable to foreign invasion, did nothing to help Britain and France establish a power bloc of democracies to maintain the peace. Kagan opines, “The ironic tragedy was that Americans had had an opportunity to achieve something approximating [the] ideal of a self-regulating, largely democratic liberal world order—in 1919 and the years that followed.”

But America did not take on that role. Kagan states:

[Americans’] ‘determination in the 1920s and ‘30s never to be drawn into a war in Europe again had the effect of depriving them of the means and the mentality necessary to avoid precisely that fate. Instead, disillusioned Americans withdrew from the peace and thereby destroyed what they alone had the power to create.’”

Europe in 1939 via OmniAtlas

Although it should have been obvious in the 1920s and ‘30s, Kagan maintains, that the balance of power was shifting away from European democracies in favor of dictatorships, “Americans continued to imagine that what happened in the world was mostly a matter of indifference to them.” So America abstained from “interfering” in Europe and events took their natural course based on the realities of power. “The result was that the United States would end up at war again, only under much worse circumstances.”

Kagan’s book makes a vigorous argument for a strong internationalist American foreign policy. Such a policy obviously entails risk, but the risks of isolationism have proven to be even greater, in his view.

Note: A number of excellent maps are included.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2023

May 17, 1948 – President Truman Writes About the “Very Dark” Situation in the Middle East

The formal declaration of the establishment of the State of Israel was made on May 14, 1948. It provided for the establishment of a Jewish state to be known as Israel, which would come into effect upon the termination of the British Mandate at midnight on that day.

The British Mandate, enacted by the League of Nations, established British administration of the territories of Palestine and Transjordan, both of which had been conceded by the Ottoman Empire following the end of World War I in 1918. After the League of Nations dissolved, the UN, in 1947, passed a Partition Plan for Palestine which called for the creation of separate Jewish and Arab states operating under economic union, and with Jerusalem transferred to UN trusteeship.

Pursuant to that plan, the British announced the Mandate would terminate on May 15, 1948. But immediately upon the UN announcement, the area’s Jewish residents and Palestinian Arabs started an informal civil war.

On the last day of the mandate, the creation of the State of Israel was proclaimed. A military coalition of Arab states, including Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, and expeditionary forces from Iraq, invaded the new state the next morning. Ten months of fighting ensued, ending on March 10, 1949. By that point, the State of Israel controlled the area that the UN had proposed for the Jewish state, as well as almost 60% of the area proposed for the Arab state. Israel also took control of West Jerusalem, while Transjordan took control of East Jerusalem and what became known as the West Bank, annexing it the following year, and the Egyptian military took control of the Gaza Strip.

The conflict also triggered significant demographic changes throughout the Middle East. Around 700,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled from their homes in the area that became Israel, and they became Palestinian refugees. A similar number of Jews moved into Israel during the three years following the war, including many from Arab states.

The Middle East has remained a hot spot of contention ever since.

Back to 1948, it was clear the situation was highly unstable. Two days after the start of the war, U.S. President Harry Truman wrote a letter on this day in history to an old friend from Missouri, Rabbit Samuel Thurman. The Shapell Foundation, an educational organization dedicated to the research, collection, and exhibition of original manuscripts and historical documents, has reproduced this letter along with background about what inspired it. The web site notes:

Truman had agonized over his decision to recognize Israel, torn between his two trusted advisors – Marshall and White House Counsel Clark Clifford. Beyond existential concerns, Marshall feared that American recognition might inspire Arab states to seek Soviet help, and maybe even to restrict Western access to oil. Clifford emphatically supported recognition. He went so far as to recommend that Truman publicly announce that the United States would recognize Israel even before its official announcement of statehood. But Truman refused because, in that case, the United States may look like a sponsor of Israel. So he waited for a formal request from Israel. Once he got it, Truman announced that the United States recognized the new state.”

Shapell documents three reasons Truman made this decision. In his memoirs, Truman cited humanitarian concerns as his primary justification, feeling a deep sympathy for Jewish displacement after the Holocaust. He also faced heavy domestic pressure. Finally, Truman wanted to secure votes for the upcoming presidential election.

Truman was the first world leader to officially recognize Israel as a legitimate Jewish state only eleven minutes after its creation.

On this day, Truman wrote a letter to Rabbi Samuel Thurman of the United Hebrew Congregation in St. Louis, Missouri. They had been members of the same Masonic Lodge, and were longtime friends. Notably, Truman invited Rabbi Thurman to deliver the invocation at his inauguration in January, 1949, the first rabbi in American history to participate in a presidential inauguration. (You can read his prayer here.)

In his letter, after exchanging pleasantries, Truman wrote:

It looks as if the Palestine situation is very dark this morning although we recognized the Jewish free state as soon as they organized a Government and asked us for recognition.

I shall remember your offer of service and expect to make use of it if the going gets any rougher.”

You can read the letter here.

U.S. President Harry S. Truman holds a copy of the Torah, presented to him by Chaim Weizman, right, in Washington, May. 25, 1948. The two leader met to discuss Palestine matters. (AP Photo)

May 14, 1969 – Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas, Under Threat of Impeachment, Submitted Resignation to Chief Justice Earl Warren

Abraham Fortas was born on June 19, 1910 in Memphis, Tennessee. He graduated from Rhodes College and Yale Law School, becoming the youngest law student at 20 years old. According to the website Oyez, “His work ethic caught the eye of William O. Douglas, who was a professor there at the time, and Douglas quickly took Fortas as his protégée. Fortas graduated in 1933 second in his class.

Fortas then became a law professor at Yale. He also served as an advisor to a number of US government agencies. Fortas worked at the Department of the Interior under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and was appointed by President Harry S. Truman to delegations that helped set up the United Nations in 1945.

Fortas represented Lyndon Johnson in a primary electoral dispute, forming close ties with LBJ. He also represented Clarence Earl Gideon in what became a landmark Supreme Court case, decision Gideon v. Wainwright (372 U.S. 335, 1963) holding that a criminal defendant who cannot afford to hire a lawyer must be provided one at no cost.

Fortas was nominated by President Johnson to the Supreme Court in 1965, and was sworn in as an Associate Justice on October 3, 1965. The seat Fortas occupied on the Court had come to be informally known as the “Jewish seat,” as his three immediate predecessors—Goldberg, plus Felix Frankfurter and Benjamin Cardozo before him—were also Jewish.

On the court, Fortas promoted civil liberties, upholding, inter alia, the the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the invalidation of the poll tax.

In 1968, after Chief Justice Earl Warren’s resignation, Johnson nominated Fortas for his position. Southerners, who had rejoiced over Warren’s retirement, were appalled at the prospect of any Chief Justice who might continue Warren’s policies, which they saw as corroding the [white supremacist] fabric of society.

Abe Fortas with LBJ, 1965, via Wikipedia

Critics charged that Fortas’ closeness to Johnson violated the separation of powers. Kent Courtney, national chairman of the Conservative Society of America, charged that “Justice Fortas ruled with the Communists, with Communist individuals on behalf of the Communist conspiracy, and voted against the Congress of the United States.”

Dirt diggers brought to light that Fortas had accepted money from friends and clients for teaching a nine-week summer seminar at American University Law School. Fortas received $15,000 for the seminar, roughly 40 percent of his regular salary. Previous teachers had been paid $2,000. Fortas was also compensated for developing teaching materials. Private donations solicited by Paul Porter, Fortas’s old law partner, paid for his salary. The donors consisted of two directors for Braniff Airways, two department store magnets, along with the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange. Fortas now had a possible conflict-of-interest problem, since it was inevitable that issues important to those entities would come before the Court.

In May 1969, Life magazine cataloged Fortas’s tangled relations with financier Louis Wolfson, who had been convicted of stock manipulation. Further investigation by the Justice Department revealed Fortas had entered into a $20,000-a-year lifetime arrangement to advise the Wolfson Family Foundation.

As the National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH) observed, “the appearance of impropriety overwhelmed the fact Fortas had done nothing ethically wrong. There was no evidence to support the criminal charges either. Nevertheless, Fortas decided to resign.”

Associate Justice Abe Fortas

Fortas resigned from the bench in 1969 but denied any wrongdoing. He founded another firm and practiced law until his death in 1982.

Now newly elected President Richard Nixon had the opportunity to settle a campaign debt with the vacancy. NEH reports, in exchange for delivering delegates, he swore to Thurmond and other Southern congressmen that he would appoint a strict Constitutionalist and a Southerner to the Supreme Court.
Nixon’s first two nominees, Judge Carswell, and Judge Haynsworth, were rejected.

Nixon abandoned his quest to appoint a Southerner and nominated Harry Blackmun, a conservative appellate judge from Minnesota, in April 1970. Blackmun’s hearing lasted three hours and five minutes. The Senate confirmed his appointment 94-0.

May 9, 1830 – Birth of Harriet Rebecca Lane Johnston, Acting First Lady of the US During Administration of her Uncle, James Buchanan

Harriet Lane, born on this date to a prosperous family in Pennsylvania, was the only person to have served as First Lady to a bachelor president, and one of eleven women who served as First Lady but were not married to the president. Nevertheless, she had considerable influence, and used it to promote causes that interested her.

Harriet Lane via Wikipedias

She lost her mother and father at an early age, and requested that her favorite uncle, James Buchanan, be appointed her legal guardian. Buchanan, then an unmarried US senator from Pennsylvania, enrolled Harriet and her sister in boarding schools near D.C. When he became Secretary of State, he introduced Harriet to fashionable and political circles.

In 1854, the 24-year-old Harriet joined her uncle in London, then serving as minister to the Court of St. James’s, where she had a number of admiring suitors. Queen Victoria gave “dear Miss Lane” the rank of ambassador’s wife.

In 1857, when Buchanan became US President, Harriet was a popular hostess. A White House history website reports that she “filled the White House with gaiety and flowers, and guided its social life with enthusiasm and discretion, winning national popularity.”

Women copied her hair and clothing styles, parents named their daughters for her, and a popular song (“Listen to the Mockingbird”) was dedicated to her. While in the White House, she used her position to promote social causes, such as improving the living conditions of Native Americans in reservations. She also made a point of inviting artists and musicians to White House functions. For both her popularity and her advocacy work, she has been described as the first of the modern first ladies, and her popularity at the time is compared to that of Jacqueline Kennedy in the 1960s.

Lane eventually married Baltimore banker Henry Elliott Johnston at the age of 36. They had two sons but between 1867 and 1885 her uncle, her husband, and her children had all died.

When Harriet died in 1903, she left funds for a new school on the grounds of Washington National Cathedral. This bequest founded the prestigious boys’ school that today is called St. Albans School, which opened in October 1909. In addition, she had dedicated a generous sum to endow a home for invalid children at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. It became an outstanding pediatric facility, and the Harriet Lane Outpatient Clinic serves thousands of children today. Additionally, several Navy and Coast Guard ships have been named in her honor.

Harriet Lane via White House Historical Association

Review of “The Balkans: From the End of Byzantium to the Present Day” by Mark Mazower

In this short (151 pages) book that won the 2001 Wolfson History Prize, Mark Mazower seeks to dispel the gross characterization of the Balkans as a region of unusual violence and ethnically-based racial hatred. Instead, he portrays a nuanced view of the relationships and conflicts among the various ethnic groups that have lived in Southeast Europe.

He begins with a discussion of the idea of the Balkans, observing that “at the end of the twentieth century, people spoke as if the Balkans had existed for ever. Two hundred years earlier, they had not yet come into being.” The region was, by contrast, known as “Turkey in Europe.” But when nation-states emerged during the nineteenth century simultaneously with diplomatic conferences whittling away Ottoman territory, “the Balkans” (named for the mountain range passing from central Europe to Constantinople) started to become common currency for the area.

He uses a a perceptive quote from Friedrich Nietzsche to point out:

The reputation, name and appearance, the usual measure and weight of a thing . . . . all this grows from generation unto generation, merely because people believe in it, until it gradually grows to be part of the thing and turns into its very body.”

The area as a separate entity also was useful to describe the “intermediate cultural zone between Europe and Asia – in Europe but not of it.” (This distinction is value-laden; Europe was seen as the “civilizing force” operating to modernize the “Oriental” base of rigid religious practices and the prevalence of agrarian poverty. Turks, even now, have never really been accepted as Europeans.)

Historically, life in the Balkans under Turkish rule differed considerably from life in the rest of Europe. There were no separate “nations” under the Ottomans. Christians paid higher taxes than Muslims did, but they were allowed to practice their religion freely. Although there were economic and political incentives to renounce Christianity and convert to Islam, Balkan peasants mainly clung to their ancestral identity as Christians. Nevertheless, religious toleration was much more prevalent under the Ottomans than it was in Western Europe. Mazower maintains that religious peasants tended to mix Muslim, Orthodox, and Jewish practices. Peasants cared little about doctrinal differences and by and large were hardly aware of them, using any available religious rite as a kind of insurance against evil.

Ideas of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution began to penetrate the Balkans in the 18th century. At the same time, partially under the influence and example of the Russians, various groups began to assert their desire to have their Orthodox religious practices conducted in their own language. Serbian, Bulgarian, Romanian, and Albanian Orthodox churches that did not recognize the authority of the Patriarch of Constantinople arose by the early 19th century. Moreover, as Ottoman power waned, various ethnicities, led by the Serbs, began to assert their independence. The defeat of the Ottomans in WWI led to the formation of several small independent language-based countries.

Mazower avers, not always convincingly, that for centuries, “life in the Balkans was no more violent than elsewhere.” He agrees with Arnold Toynbee that the source of the violence was the introduction of the Western notion of the nation-state, which resulted in the ethnic cleansing of 1912-13 in the Balkans, of 1921-22 in Anatolia, and of 1991-95 in Yugoslavia. He claims those outrages were “not…the spontaneous eruption of primeval hatreds but . . . represented the extreme force required by nationalists to break apart a society which was otherwise capable of ignoring the mundane fractures of class and ethnicity.” It seemed to me like a specious distinction. He curtly dismisses wartime massacres in the Balkans against minority groups, writing ingenuously they “represented a fusion of older and newer mentalities and technologies.” In fact, he argued, ministerial orders had . . . been issued forbidding the display of decapitated heads…”. Besides, he adds, “there were no Balkan analogues to the racial violence displayed by Lynch mobs in the United States between 1880 and 1920 or to the class violence which labour protests elicited there are elsewhere.” Massacred Jews might beg to differ, if they could still talk….

Evaluation: This book is remarkably short for all of the information and the panoramic perspective it packs on its pages. It begins with maps and a chronology to help readers put the rest of the material in perspective. While I didn’t agree with all of what he wrote, he brings some important insights into the fascinating history of an area not well known to many Americans.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2000