Being President Doesn’t Make You Master of the House

Gerald Ford locked out of White House

If there was ever a man who was unchanged by the power of the Presidency, it was Gerald Ford. Thrust unexpectedly into the Oval Office upon the resignation of Richard Nixon, Ford always seemed to be just a regular guy. Nothing illustrated this better than his relationship with his dog. Continue reading

Happy Birthday to the Chief

Presidential birthdays November 2

Birthdays are always a time of celebration, whether you live in a small shack or the White House. How much do you know about Presidential birthdays?

  • February may be the month in which President’s Day is celebrated, and most people remember the February birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, but two other Presidents were born in that month: William Henry Harrison and Ronald Reagan.
  • Only one date has the distinction of two Presidential birthdays: November 2 for James K. Polk and Warren G. Harding.
  • October has the most Presidential birthdays: John Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, Chester A. Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Jimmy Carter.
  • September has the fewest birthdays: William Howard Taft.
  • From the birth of George Washington in 1732 to Barack Obama in 1961, a POTUS has been born in every decade except for the 1810s, 1930s and 1950s.
  • All of the last five Presidents elected (George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump) were born during the summer months.
  • Nineteen of the forty-five Presidents were born in the 19th century.

When Someone Tells You, “You Can’t Do That”

FDR Wheelchair "I've done a lot of things I can't do"

If anyone knew what it meant to overcome adversity and achieve greatness despite obstacles, it was the 32nd President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

When he was paralyzed by polio at the age of 39, most experts concluded that his promising political career had come to a screeching halt. Undeterred, Roosevelt defied the pundits and rose to the top of his profession, eventually holding the presidency longer than any person before or since.

His attitude toward obstacles can be summed up with his response to a person who said, “Mr. President, you can’t do that.” Roosevelt replied, “I’ve done a lot of things that I can’t do.”

A Grave Omission

Thomas Jefferson Tombstone

How do you briefly describe a life when the life is that of Thomas Jefferson? In his 83 years Jefferson succeeded in leaving an indelible impression on the nation he helped create. To begin to list his accomplishments is to invite omission.

Fortunately, Thomas Jefferson left explicit instructions regarding the monument to be erected over his grave.  In this document Jefferson supplied a sketch of the shape of the marker, and the epitaph with which he wanted it to be inscribed:

“…on the faces of the Obelisk the following inscription, & not a word more:

‘Here was buried
Thomas Jefferson
Author of the Declaration of American Independence
of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom
& Father of the University of Virginia’

Because by these,” he explained, “as testimonials that I have lived, I wish most to be remembered.”

Jefferson either forgot — which was unlikely — or simply didn’t consider it important enough to mention that he also happened to be the third President of the United States.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Andrew Jackson moved Treasury Building to block his view of Capitol

President Andrew Jackson’s relationship with Congress was not always cordial. In fact, it was often outright combative, and he disliked being reminded of that every time he glanced in the direction of the US Capitol Building.

Despite the fact that Pierre L’Enfant designed the city of Washington to provide an unobstructed view down Pennsylvania Avenue between the President’s home and the Capitol Building, Jackson used the expansion of the US Treasury Building as a convenient excuse to put that troublesome house of Congress out of sight. His plans for the Treasury Building got rid of the straight line of Pennsylvania Avenue and put the third-oldest building in Washington, DC directly in the line of sight between the White House and the Capitol.



Translator Wanted — Knowledge of the Language Preferred

President Jimmy Carter reviews the troops in his first visit to Poland as President. photo: Bettmann/Corbis

When a fake sign language interpreter managed to get the job of interpreting during the funeral for Nelson Mandela, President Jimmy Carter must have had flashbacks to a time that his life was complicated by an interpreter who was not up to the task.

The occasion was the 1977 visit of President Carter to Poland. Steven Seymour was hired to interpret the President’s remarks from English to Polish. It was not exactly a match made in heaven:

  • The President said, “I have come to learn your opinions and understand your desires for the future.” Seymour’s version of it came out as telling the Polish people that the President really liked them and that he desired them sexually.
  • When the President remarked that he had left the United States that morning to come to Poland, Seymour interpreted it as the President saying that he had left the USA permanently — never to return again.
  • Later, the President expressed just how happy he was to be in Poland. This didn’t quite come through in the translation to the astonished crowd, who heard the President express his desire to grasp the private parts of Poland.
  • Carter went on to praise the Polish constitution of 1791 as one of the great documents in the history of human rights. The depth of his admiration didn’t quite come through in the interpretation, where the Poles heard the President say that their constitution should be ridiculed. source

Understandably, Carter was leery of interpreters. Shortly after leaving office in 1981, he was speaking at a college in Japan and started his remarks with an amusing anecdote. While amusing, it was not hilarious, so he was surprised when the audience responded to the translation with uproarious laughter. Only later did he find out why he got such a strong response. The interpreter said to the audience, “President Carter just told a funny story; everyone must laugh.”   source

So Much for the Era of Good Feelings

President James Monroe (left) and Secretary of the Treasury William Crawford (right)
President James Monroe (left) and Secretary of the Treasury William Crawford (right)

The eight years of the administration of President James Monroe (1817-1825) are known as “The Era of Good Feelings.” Not everyone got the memo, however.

Hard feelings existed between President Monroe and his Treasury Secretary, William H. Crawford. Crawford had been appointed as Secretary of the Treasury in 1816 by President James Madison, and he was thought by many to be on his way to the presidency until a stroke in 1823 derailed those plans.

When Monroe assumed the presidency, he kept Crawford in office at the Treasury, but any gratitude Crawford may have had was tempered by his illness, fatigue, and desire to retire to a simpler life. Things came to a head one day when Crawford called on the President and presented him with a list of recommendations of individuals to appoint to various political positions in the federal government.  President Monroe seemed annoyed by Crawford’s recommendations and said that he would choose his own men for the jobs. Crawford lost his temper and told the President, “Well, if you will not appoint persons well-qualified for the places, tell me whom you will appoint that I may get rid of their importunities!”

The President – a Revolutionary War veteran of George Washington’s Army who carried a bullet in his body that had nearly killed him in 1776 – was not intimidated by Crawford’s language or temperament, coldly telling his Treasury Secretary, “Sir, that is none of your damn business.”  Crawford was not easily intimidated, either.  The Treasury Secretary had killed a man in a duel years earlier and Monroe’s comment led Crawford to charge at the 67-year-old President with his cane, shaking it at Monroe while calling him a “damned infernal old scoundrel.”  Monroe quickly grabbed two red hot tongs from a nearby fireplace for self-defense and threatened to personally throw Crawford – who was 15 years younger than the President – out of the White House.

While both men calmed down before blows were struck and Crawford apologized to the President, and he remained as Secretary of the Treasury for the remainder of Monroe’s administration, the two men never spoke again.