Monday will be a day of sales, with pictures of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln used to sell furniture, bedding and everything in between. The day was set aside as a national holiday because it came between Lincoln’s birthday (Feb. 12 and Washington’s (Feb. 22), but it was meant to honor all of our presidents – now totaling 42 (43 if you count Grover Cleveland, both the 22nd and 24th president, twice. I have room to write about only a few.
Washington (president, 1789-97) was, of course the first, twice elected unanimously, after he had earlier led American forces to victory over the British and acted as chairman of the Constitutional Convention. He established the cabinet departments, overseeing an administration that included the Federalist Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, who wanted the nation to become an urban, industrial power; and Anti-Federalist Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, who foresaw an America of small farms and shops. Washington’s greatest legacies were his refusal to be considered for a third term and his farewell warning against “entangling alliances,” both precedents that survived a century and a half.
Lincoln (1861-65) led the nation through the Civil War. As the first president elected from the anti-slavery Republican Party, his election caused 11 Southern states to secede. In 1864, many thought he would not win re-election, but he did, and in his Second Inaugural Address he asked victorious Northerners to act “with malice toward none and charity for all,” but he survived less than two months of his second term before an assassin shot him to death.
In between were 14 presidents.
John Adams (1797-1801), was elected from Hamilton’s Federalist Party. Washington’s vice president became the first president to live in the new capital city of Washington,. When he lost for re-election in 1800, he returned to his farm in Massachusetts, but not before he appointed dozens of federal judges, meaning his party would continue to influence the government even though it never elected another president or controlled another Congress.
The election of Thomas Jefferson (1801-09) marked the first transfer from one party to another and put the author of the Declaration of Independence in the White House. Jefferson, who had opposed the creation of a strong federal government, strengthened the presidency by buying the vast Louisiana territory from the French and seeking money from Congress to pay for the Lewis and Clark expedition to explore the territory. After Jefferson retired, he and Adams, who had helped him write the Declaration of Independence, began a correspondence, untilboth died on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration, July 4, 1826, each thinking the other was the survivor.
Madison (1809-17), Jefferson’s secretary of state, had been the secretary of the Constitutional Convention. He had joined with Hamilton in writing the Federalist Papers to convince people to vote for theConstitution and later, in the First Congress, was instrumental in writing the Bill of Rights.
James Monroe (1817-25), like Washington, Jefferson and Madison came from Virginia, and like.Jefferson and Madison was a former secretary ofstate. When European nations threatened to influence Latin American nations, his secretary of state, John Quincy Adams, wrote the Monroe Doctrine, saying nations outside the Western Hemisphere should stay out of the Hemisphere. By the time Monroe ran for re-election in 1820, theFederalists had disappeared; so Monroe ran unopposed. One elector votedagainst him; so Washington would be the only unanimously elected president.
J.Q. Adams (1825-29), another secretary of state turned president, was the son of the second president. After his defeat, he won election to the House of Representatives, the only former president to hold elective office.
After four presidents from Virginia and two from Massachusetts, the presidency went to Kentucky frontiersman Andrew Jackson, (1829-37). During Jackson’s presidency, the construction of white columns to the front of the executive mansion gave it the name White House. Jackson’s opponents called their party the Whigs. after the British party the had opposed the king.
Martin Van Buren (1837-41), a New Yorker who had been Jackson’s vice president, would become the last vice president elected president for 152 years. Van Buren had the bad luck to preside over a depressed economy, and was turned out after one term.
William Henry Harrison (1841), a war hero nominated by the Whigs to oppose Van Buren, died after a month in office. He had been cursed by the Indians he defeated at the Battle of Tippacanoe. This curse was blamed for the deaths in office of the presidents elected in 1840, 1860, 1880, 1900, 1920, 1940 and 1960.
John Tyler (1841-45), Harrison’s vice president set a precedent by being sworn in as president, rather than acting president.
After James Knox Polk (1845-49), a strong Democrat who encouraged westward expansion, declined to run for a second term, Zachary Taylor(1849-50), the second general nominated by the Whigs, died after drinking too much milk at Fourth of July ceremonies in 1850. Millard Fillmore (1850-53), served out Taylor’s term.
After the Whigs had elected Gen. Harrison and Gen. Taylor, both of whom died in office, they nominated Gen. Winfield Scott, who lost in 1852. This time the general lived but the party died.
Franklin Pierce (1853-57), a Democrat, was the only president denied renomination by his own party. Instead, the Democrats nominated and elected James Buchanan (1857-61), generally considered one of the weakest presidents for his failure to deal with the split in the nation that led to the Civil War.
Evan Smith is Enterprise Forum editor.
Johnson was a Tennessean who tried to carry out Lincoln’s program of
integrating the former confederate states back into the union. This
offended radical Republicans in Congress who impeached him and came
within one Senate vote of removing him from office.
Ulysses S. Grant (1869-77) a Republican who had won the Civil War, was,
as president, unable to control corrupt underlings.
The election of Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-81), a Republican, is still
questioned over irregularities in Southern.states.
James Garfield (1881), a Republican was assassinated by a disappointed
office-seeker. The accession of Chester Arthur (1881-85) inspired
someone to exclaim, “Chet Arthur president of the United States; good
Cleveland (1885-89 and 1893-97), the first Democrat elected since the
Civil War lost to Republican Benjamin Harrison in 1888, then defeated
him in 1892. Harrison (1889-93) was the grandson of William Henry