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Theodore the Pure

Theodore Roosevelt did not believe in opposition research.  When he criticized opponents, he discussed their worldview or their proposals, not their personal lives.  During the 1912 campaign someone told him that Woodrow Wilson had been unfaithful to Mrs. Wilson.  Not only did Roosevelt reject the use of such information, he also ridiculed the notion that Wilson could behave in such a manner or that the voters would believe it.  According to Roosevelt, “No evidence could ever make the American people believe that a man like Woodrow Wilson, cast so perfectly as the apothecary’s clerk, could ever play Romeo.”

Roosevelt had no skeletons in his own closet.  One biographer said:  “It is impossible that there can ever have been a more clean-living man than Theodore Roosevelt.”  In a book of eulogies issued by the State of New York, the Chancellor of the University of Syracuse gave the following assessment.

“He was clean.  No bribe stuck to his hand…  His domestic life required no apology.  There were never whispers of impure liaisons in his neighborhood.  He never led two lives, nor had two homes.  His personal life required no explanation nor apology.  When he was away from home his face was always set homeward and you could no more face him in other directions than you could change the instinct of a carrier pigeon…  The noblest thing about Roosevelt is his home life.  It was a holy example.”

Roosevelt played hard but fair.  He had no skeletons in his closet.  But that did not keep him from becoming the victim of fake news during the 1912 campaign.





A Lasting Example

Grover Cleveland was a good President, but he had the misfortune of serving nonconsecutive terms.  When the chickens came home to roost, they were not the chickens from his first term but rather those from the intervening term of Benjamin Harrison.

Grover Cleveland was a good President, but the Democratic Party rejected his hard money policy by nominating a soft money populist to succeed him.  That’s why Republican William McKinley, who favored the gold standard, became Cleveland’s successor.

Grover Cleveland was a good President, but the Democratic Party rejected his conservatism.  Not having learned their lesson in 1896, they nominated the same soft money populist in 1900.  He lost again.

Grover Cleveland was a good President, but when the Democrats finally nominated a conservative in 1904, it was too late.  He was trounced by Republican Theodore Roosevelt.  So they went back to the same soft money populist in 1908.  He then lost a third time.

Grover Cleveland was a good President, but he left no permanent stamp upon the office.  He did not live to see Democrat Woodrow Wilson’s victory in 1912.  No matter.  Cleveland knew Wilson when he was a trustee at Princeton and Wilson was the college president.  He didn’t like him then, and he probably would not have liked him in 1912.

Grover Cleveland was a good President, but his policies have all been overturned or forgotten.  Why should we care about him?  Because he is a lasting example of hard work, scrupulous honesty, and political courage.

The March Born Presidents in Rhyme


As his tenure neared conclusion,

The Father of the Constitution[1]

Vetoed esteemed legislation

Rather than betray the nation.


At New Orleans he fought the Brits;

In Washington he showed true grit.

In his day the main attraction

Was always General Andrew Jackson.


John Tyler was a Democrat

Who hated the idea that

His party followed Andrew Jackson,

And so he joined the other faction.


When Cleveland was our Chief Executive

His two terms were nonconsecutive.

He was a bachelor when he started,

But found a wife ere he departed.



[1] James Madison

Lincoln the Inventor

Abraham Lincoln had a lot of experience navigating the waters of the Mississippi River and its tributaries.  Sometimes the channel was not deep enough for normal passage.  Sometimes there were bad surprises.  Wouldn’t it be nice if one could anticipate those surprises and overcome them with a ready-made solution?

Seventeen years after his flatboat got stuck on the Camron-Rutledge mill dam Lincoln was a Congressman.  The Whig candidate for President that year was General Zachary Taylor, and Lincoln, the sole Whig from Illinois, had just made a speaking tour of New England in order to get the General elected.  Lincoln’s return route took him via steamboat from Buffalo to Chicago.  To get from Lake Erie to Lake Huron one must first travel up the Detroit River to Lake St. Clair.  Somewhat past the halfway mark is Fighting Island, and here Lincoln saw that another steamboat had run aground.

The captain of the grounded steamboat ordered all the empty barrels and loose planks to be placed under the sides in order to lift the boat out of the shallow water.  For the remainder of his homeward journey Lincoln considered whether it might be possible to build an emergency buoyancy system to handle this problem.

Within eight weeks, and with the help of a local mechanic, Lincoln had constructed a working model of such an emergency system.  His law partner was not impressed, but the patent office took Lincoln seriously.  His idea was to place inflatable chambers on both sides of the boat.

In 1908 the Smithsonian acquired Lincoln’s original model.  Patent No. 6,469, for “An Improved Method of Buoying Vessels Over Shoals,” is the only patent registered by someone who later became President of the United States.

Lincoln the Troubleshooter

As rivers go the Sangamon is relatively shallow, and the Camron-Rutledge mill dam at New Salem was probably no higher than a yard fence.  When Lincoln’s flatboat got stuck on the mill dam, he needed to lift the stern so the boat could travel over the obstacle.  If he had stood on the stern and tried to push against the river bed with a setting pole, such an implement would probably have been long enough.  If he had tried to stand in the water and lift the boat, his head and shoulders might have been out of the water.  However, in either case brute force would have been insufficient.  While Lincoln was considering his options, the boat was gradually sinking as the stern took on water.

Fortunately, there was another boat available which was able to receive part of the cargo for safekeeping.  This stopped Lincoln’s boat from sinking.  But how was he going to get the water out of the hull, and how was he going to get the boat downstream?

Lincoln went into town and borrowed an auger.  With this he drilled a hole in the bow where it projected over the dam.  In order to raise the boat he moved the remaining cargo forward.  As the stern rose the water drained out of the hole.  Lincoln then plugged the hole and slid the boat over the dam.  Then he and the crew reloaded the cargo and continued their journey to New Orleans.

This operation took many hours, and the entire town had assembled on the shore.  When Lincoln returned from his trip downriver, the people of New Salem were happy to welcome into their community the resourceful young man who had saved the flatboat and its cargo.  For the next six years they would be graced by his presence.

Lincoln the Boatman

In February 1831 Abraham Lincoln was 22 years old.  That month his cousin made arrangements with Denton Offutt that he, Lincoln, and Lincoln’s stepbrother would pilot a flatboat and deliver cargo to New Orleans come spring.  They were to arrive near Springfield after the snow was gone.  There Offutt was supposed to have a flatboat and cargo ready for them.

Flooding had made it too difficult to reach Springfield by land.  The trio bought a canoe and paddled their way down the Sangamon River with the naïve expectation that Offutt would conscientiously fulfill his part of the deal.  When they arrived, there was no flatboat waiting for them.  Perhaps Offutt had meant to get things ready by the time they arrived, but he was too busy consuming alcohol to attend to business.  Instead, he hired the three young men at $12 a month to fell trees, haul logs, and, after the local sawmill had made the logs into planks and gunwales, construct an 80 by 18 foot flatboat.

After four weeks labor they were able to launch with a cargo of barreled pork, live hogs, and corn.  They probably breathed a sigh of relief that they were finally on their way.  The worst was over, or so they hoped.

On April 19 the flatboat became stuck on a milldam near New Salem.  As the front end hung out high and dry, the rear was slowly sinking.  If corrective action were not taken, the cargo and perhaps even the boat would soon be lost.

The February Presidents in Rhyme

With the future yet uncertain
George departed from Mount Vernon.
He fought and won and then became
First in war, peace, hearts, and fame.

William won a famous battle,
But after one month in the saddle
Lost his life to cold and flu.
So much for Old Tippecanoe.

Abe freed the slaves and saved the nation,
Gave the Gettysburg oration.
Memorials there are so many:
His face is even on the penny.

Ronnie spooked the Ayatollah,
Won every state but Minnesota,
Gave a speech in West Berlin,
And has a carrier named for him.