Tag Archives: u.s. presidents

Civil War Sampler: #2 Star of the West

The second of my Civil War Sampler quilt blocks is Star of the West.

Star of the West, completed July 8, 2018

Star of the West, completed July 8, 2018

This is another block where I simply picked colors I liked. I did not make any particular effort to connect the colors or prints to the story next to the pattern in Barbara Brackman’s Civil War Sampler book.

In this case, the story in the book happened to be about John C. Fremont. I guess you could say Fremont makes a good “Star of the West,” as he briefly commanded the U.S. Army’s “Department of the West” during the Civil War. He also held high offices in California and Arizona in the mid-to-late 1800s (definitely the Wild, Wild West indeed for those far-western states!).

You can read the stories on Barbara Brackman’s Star of the West blog post.

While I don’t have a lot to say about John Fremont, this caught my eye when skimming the blog post:

Star of the West (#1128 in BlockBase) is an old block with many other names, among them Clay’s Choice and Harry’s Star. Both names, according to Ruth Finley in her 1929 book, were tributes to Henry Clay, an earlier politician who also ran unsuccessfully for President.

Now, Henry Clay, I can work with.

There’s a reason why my entry for “Political Views” on Facebook says “Whig Party” and has for years. (I’m not even joking.)

When I think of Henry Clay, a few things come to mind, and I’ll take them in chronological order.

One of them is simply that I can hardly think of Henry Clay without thinking of John C. Calhoun and Daniel Webster, because, all being important political contemporaries, they always found themselves in the same chapter of whatever K-12 American History book.

The second thing is a reminder of my time working at Dayton Metro Library. We had a few letters written by Henry Clay (at least two in the Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection, which I processed). There was one researcher, an older gentleman from the area of Lexington, Kentucky, where Clay had lived (now a house museum) and where (if I recall correctly) the gentleman now volunteered – the man came up to visit (about 2 hours by car) and review those letters. He stands out because he had such a handsome accent; I think he was originally from Tennessee. But I digress.

Perhaps more importantly, what’s not to love about items in your local history collection that were written—and touched!—by people “famous” in the history books? I mean, sure, we all have our local heroes, but Clay appears in history textbooks nation-wide.

He came to Dayton once—Henry Clay, that is—in 1842. I suppose it could have been more than once, but the time everyone always seems to be asking about when they would ask us about “the time Henry Clay came to Dayton” was in September 1842. You can read an article that Howard Burba wrote about it in 1932. Burba called the September 29, 1842, rally “the date of the most spectacular political rally in this city’s history.” There’s also some references to a “barbecue” that I still don’t fully understand? More from The Papers of Henry Clay (note: that “Samuel Forres” in the Joseph Crane et al. letter should be Forrer – yeah, that Samuel Forrer).

And finally, the third thing is just my visit to Ashland, the estate of Henry Clay in Lexington, Kentucky, when I was there for the Midwest Archives Conference annual meeting in 2015.

Henry Clay's Ashland Estate, Lexington, Kentucky, May 2015

Henry Clay’s Ashland Estate, Lexington, Kentucky, May 2015

The house is now a museum that you can tour, and the gardens are a sort of public park. (I saw lots of people just strolling along, some even walking their dogs, on the grounds. The only part that costs money to enter is the actual house.)

Back view of Ashland Estate, Lexington, Kentucky, May 2015

Back view of Ashland Estate, Lexington, Kentucky, May 2015

I think my absolute favorite part of the entire visit was sitting in Clay’s “back yard” (for lack of a better term) on a blanket on the grass eating my lunch. The above photo is from that moment, my vantage point from my comfy spot on the ground.

If you’re interested, you can learn more about Henry Clay and his Ashland Estate (like how to visit).

Until next time! (My third block includes symbolic colors! I’m sure you can’t wait.)

Civil War Sampler: #1 White House

As promised, here is the first of my Civil War Sampler quilt blocks.

This square is called White House (read story, view pattern and other examples on Barbara Brackman’s blog). It is the first square in the book (though not so on the blog), and I am doing them in book-order.

White House, completed June 30, 2018

White House, completed June 30, 2018

As I mentioned in my previous post, I made my first two blocks before actually reading the stories that went along with them. I was too excited to start sewing to bother with any non-essential reading! Therefore, this first block is done in purple and gold simply because I love purple. I had given no thought to the title of the block or the story when choosing the colors. (If I had, I imagine I likely would have gone with something literal, involving white—although the flower print is on white—or something red, white, and blue.)

I did give special extra thought to figuring out how to do the gold pieces as single rectangles instead of the two-squares method shown in the pattern, because I wanted to use that striped fabric and not have the stripes line-up wrong. Silly me, it didn’t occur to me until I was all done that maybe I should have done the same thing with the purple flowered print as well; oh well, it’s not as obvious or bothersome in the print as it would have been in the stripes.

Something I just thought of while writing these blog posts is that, if you think about it, you could say that the colors of purple and gold were good choices for a block strongly tied to the leader of the nation.

For one thing, the color purple has long been associated with royalty because it was a very expensive color to make, and only the richest could afford it. (More on purple as royal from History.com.) And gold would go along with that, because obviously gold is expensive as well. (I picked it because it looks good with purple…probably because of that whole color-wheel thing.)

And then, using the “royal purple” as a segue: there have been many comparisons between United States Presidents and kings, usually in a negative way from opponents.

The first one I thought of was “King Andy” – Andrew Johnson, who was Lincoln’s vice president and of course then became president after Lincoln was assassinated.

“King Andy, How He Will Look And What He Will Do,” cartoon by Thomas Nast, Harper’s Weekly, 1866 Nov 3. (Image via NewYorkTimes.com)

In looking for the above cartoon online (I had seen it before a long time ago), Google searches for “King Andy political cartoon” promptly returned first and foremost a caricature of of President Andrew Jackson from 1833.

Then, I thought, I bet somebody at some point claimed that Abraham Lincoln himself was behaving like a king and made a comic about it. *googles that* Sure enough, I found this one:

“King Abraham before and after issuing the Emancipation Proclamation,” Southern Illustrated News, 1862. (Image via Lehrman Institute, “Abraham Lincoln’s Classroom”)

The Lincoln cartoon doesn’t make much sense (or fit the royal theme) without its caption: “King Abraham before and after issuing the Emancipation Proclamation.” For more on the symbolism in this cartoon, I highly recommend checking out the Lehrman Institute’s “Abraham Lincoln’s Classroom” site where I found it.

Though I’m sure just about every president has probably been negatively equated with a “king” at some point or another by somebody, a few other examples come to mind, not necessarily negative ones.

The first president George Washington is sometimes referred to as “the man who would not be king” (such as in this 1992 PBS documentary by the same title), alluding that he could have been king (Americans were used to having a king, they just didn’t want George III anymore, right?), but that he did not wish it to be that way.

I also think of a couple of 20th century presidents and something I remember Dr. Ed Haas talking about in an undergrad Modern American History course. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Democrat) was elected to FOUR terms as president (though he didn’t serve much of the 4th term because he died). That is a long damn time to have the same president, am I right?

(Ronald Reagan was president for most of my early childhood, and I think at the time I just assumed that’s how the world was. I wonder if kids in the 1930s and early ’40s thought this about FDR?…but I digress.)

Consequently, in 1947, a Republican-majority Congress, miffed about the whole 14+ years of Democratic presidents thing, created the 22nd Amendment, limiting presidents to two terms in office. Ratification was complete in 1951. (More on FDR & the 22nd Amendment from the National Constitution Center.)

A couple years later, it sort of bit them on the ass when Republican Dwight Eisenhower became president, winning two terms quite handily over his opponents and (according to my professor) might have served even longer with popular support, but we’ll never know now, will we?

Boy, for not giving a lot of symbolic thought to the color and fabric choices in this first block before I made it (beyond, you know, “oooh purple!”), I guess I’ve sure given it a lot of thought in hindsight…

Until next time!

Bickham and the presidents

In honor of Presidents’ Day (which is today), I’m going to share a little about a collection I’m processing (at the Dayton Metro Library) that has presidential ties.

For the past several months, I have been processing and creating a finding aid for the Bickham Collection (MS-017), which primarily consists of letters and news clippings pertaining to William Denison Bickham (1827-1894), the editor of the Dayton Journal newspaper from 1863 until his death.

W. D. Bickham

W. D. Bickham

The Journal was Republican in its politics, and after the arrest of Copperhead [anti-war Democrat] leader and Dayton congressman Clement Vallandingham, an angry mob set fire to the Journal office on May 5, 1863. (Read more about it.) The man who stepped up to the challenge of rebuilding (literally) the Journal was William Denison Bickham, a young war correspondent for the Cincinnati Commercial. The new Journal office would be at 25 N. Main (view photo) from 1864-1881. Bickham was said to have endured many threats for the things he wrote, but he never backed down.

What does this newspaper editor have to do with Presidents’ Day, you might be wondering. Well, I’m sure this will come as a shock, but politicians like to war with each other through the press, by writing letters and making sure their contents got printed.

(I say this only about half-sarcastically, because honestly, the idea of politicians attacking each other via the newspaper was something that I never really thought about until I was assigned to read Joanne Freeman’s Affairs of Honor in an Early American Republic course in 2003 – thanks, Dr. Wachtell! The book covers a much earlier period, but the sentiment is the same.)

But back to Bickham and the presidents. Depending on your specific criteria, Ohio lays claim to seven or eight U.S. Presidents. The problem lies with William Henry Harrison, who was actually born in Virginia; the other seven – Grant, Hayes, Garfield, B. Harrison, McKinley, Taft, and Harding were all born in Ohio. Interestingly enough – something I guess I never noticed until today – all of those seven Ohio-born presidents were from the Republican party. [W. H. Harrison is an outlier in this category as well – he was a Whig, but that’s really just an “early Republican.”] Of the seven Ohio-born presidents, four served during the period when Bickham was editor of the Journal, and the other three were already active in Republican politics.

Again, what does this have to do with Bickham? Well, upon digging into the Bickham Collection last year, I had no idea what the collection was about or who W. D. Bickham was. It was just “on my list” of things to do. Sure, I’d heard about the mob burning the Journal office after the Clement Vallandingham arrest, and yeah, I knew the Journal must have started up again because it existed until, what, the 1980s? But believe it or not, your local history librarians don’t just “know” everything there is to know about local history. Even we have to look things up. A lot. Shocking, I know.

So not knowing what the collection was about, imagine my surprise – and awe – when I found folders (it was semi-processed) labeled James A. Garfield, Warren G. Harding, Benjamin Harrison, and William McKinley — containing actual letters from those people! Wow – cool stuff. There are also quite a few letters from some “less famous” late-19th century politicians – mostly Republican – mostly from Ohio. There are letters from several Ohio governors; a handful from Cincinnatian Salmon P. Chase; there are many from John Sherman, a U.S. Congressman and later U.S. Senator from Lancaster, Ohio – and younger brother of Civil War General William T. Sherman.

In most cases, these men wrote to Bickham in order to “share their views” with him – and in most cases, that meant, Please publish my views in your newspaper, kthanks. I found some examples in this collection of the original letter, as well as a copy of the news clipping where he had printed the contents.

If they didn’t want Bickham to publish what they wrote, they would mark the letter as “private” at the top. It seems a little strange that they would write these “private” letters, but I suppose he probably developed real friendships with some of the men. Or perhaps they wanted Bickham to understand their position or actions (so he would keep supporting them!) but weren’t ready to share it with the world yet.

The Bickham Collection is not very large – about 1 linear foot of manuscripts plus several scrapbooks (2 of which pertain to Bickham’s son Charlie’s military service in the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection). However, what it lacks in volume, it makes up for in richness and quality. This collectino is just full of gem after gem. I hold history in my hands every day, but some things just make you feel…privileged.

For the record, Dayton Metro Library does not restrict access to any materials based on perceived research “value.” Our collections are available for use by all. But for sure, any serious researcher of Ohio Republican politics in the late 19th century really shouldn’t miss this collection.