Monday, February 16, 2009

Another Presidential Ranking

It's Presidents day and time for another spurious ranking of U.S. Presidents by C-SPAN. Has it only been 9 years since the last one? The C-SPAN 2009 Historians Presidential Leadership Survey, which asked 64 "historians or professional observers of the Presidency" to evaluate the Presidents, came up with the usual suspects at the top: Lincoln, Washington, FDR, etc., etc.

The bottom five:

38. Warren G. Harding
39. William Henry Harrison
40. Franklin D. Pierce
41. Andrew Johnson
42. James Buchanan

Serving as President before (Pierce, Buchanan) or after (Johnson) Lincoln seems to destine one to be ranked near the bottom. It also seems that dying after a short term in office is a risk factor for being perceived as a poor President. William Henry Harrison died after 31 days in office, and Warren G. Harding after two years.

As expected, Franklin Pierce maintains his position among the bottom-dwellers.

Link to the 2009 C-SPAN survey

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Handsome Frank and Honest Abe

Today is the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth. As the nation honors a President famous for his honesty and wisdom, let us reflect on the life of an earlier President renowned for having good hair.

From the web site, American President: An Online Reference Resource:
Pierce settled in New Hampshire after his presidency. When the Civil War erupted, Pierce voiced support for the northern cause, as did many doughfaces—that is, northern men with southern principles. A loyal Democrat, Pierce did not support the new president, Abraham Lincoln. In fact, Pierce publicly blamed Lincoln for the war. This outspoken criticism cost the former President a number of longtime friendships.

By the end of the war, Franklin Pierce was all but forgotten, as reclusive as his wife had been in the White House. Always fond of liquor, he had returned to it. When Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865, an angry mob surrounded Pierce's home. Only a final display of the old lawyer's once-famed oratorical skills kept his house in one piece: he gave a speech urging the crowd to disperse peacefully, and they did. When Franklin Pierce died in the fall of 1869, little was written about him.
At least the hapless Pierce was able to talk his way out of the tight spot he had gotten himself into.

While I'm on the topic of people who didn't like Abraham Lincoln, here's a photo of me at the tombstone of Edgar Lee Masters in Petersburg, Illinois in 2005, and a closeup of the plaque on the tombstone.

The curmudgeonly Masters, author of Spoon River River Anthology, was a one-time friend and later a rival of Carl Sandburg, who had placed Lincoln on a pedestal in his biography, Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years. Masters tried his best to knock Abe off that pedestal in his own 1931 Lincoln biography, Lincoln The Man. I have a copy of the book but I haven't read it yet.

According to John Aloysius Farrell, writing in his U.S. News and World Report blog, Masters depicted Abe Lincoln as "... cold, and cunning, and devious, and a sexual misfit, and a blundering politician who helped bring on the Civil War, trampled on civil liberties, and was ever-beholden to Eastern financial and manufacturing interests."

Link to American Presidents: An Online Reference Resource

Link to Farrell's article, "Abraham Lincoln Myth Had Its Doubters, Like Edgar Lee Masters"

Link to more information about Franklin Pierce's hair

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Pierce On Jeopardy Again

The excitement was palpable on the set of Jeopardy tonight as the Double Jeopardy categories were revealed.

Not really, but I got interested when one of the categories was "The Gadsden Purchase."

Sure enough, the $800 answer was:

Deepak rang in, and gamely offered the question, "Who was Buchanan?"

Close, Deepak, but no cigar. You were one administration late. Neither of the other contestants tried.

The answer, of course, is none other than our obscure 14th POTUS, Franklin Pierce!

The Gadsden Purchase

The story of the Gadsden Purchase is pretty interesting. It was driven by the desire for a transcontinental railroad via a southern route. The story involves war, diplomacy, Indian raids, the slavery debate, the gold rush, etc. I'd love to recount it here, but it would be too much work, so I'll just refer the reader to a thorough Wikipedia article about the Gadsden Purchase.

Monday, February 2, 2009

An Early Example of the Dissing of Franklin Pierce

From the January 16, 2009 Chicago Tribune article, "10 Things You Might Not Know About Inaugurations:"

The outgoing president often gets little attention, but rarely has it been as obvious as in 1857, when James Buchanan succeeded Franklin Pierce. The swearing-in ceremony had to be delayed for 20 minutes because officials forgot to pick up Pierce at his hotel and had to go fetch him.