John Tyler (1841-1845)

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Book: John Tyler: Champion of the Old South

Author: Oliver Perry Chitwood

1. Date- The Great Depression offered many opportunities to re-examine old presidents. As previously seen in cases of Harrison and others, the 1930s contained many scholarly attempts to take the mediocre and weak presidents into a new light. By 1939, Chitwood had decided to throw his hat in the ring and take a fresh look at John Tyler. With 100 years in between Tyler’s public exit and the publication of the work much had changed in the expectations of the presidents. The hands off, small government Tyler must have seen alien to the pro-active and government centric focus of New Deal Roosevelt. Perhaps that was the point. With the solid South still firmly in the hands of the Democratic Party and Southern Jim Crow in full swing, the 1930s, seemed Tyler’s best opportunity to shine to the modern audience. There are many benefits to having this as the work that stood the test of time. Chitwood makes the 100 years seem much shorter by presenting a readable volume on Tyler. The most impressive aspect is that Chitwood has been able to bring that modernism to light. This work is a bit dated, but like most unknown presidents, this is the best cradle to grave tome out there. With the scholarly lack of interest in the weak presidents like Tyler, it may continue to be the go-to biography on Tyler.

Grade: B

2. Scope- Chitwood’s values closely align with the goals of the project. An ideal scope would cover all aspects of a president’s life. This work uses this scope as its strength. After a great study of his famous father, the pre-presidency of John Tyler is presented soundly leading to the accidental presidency. This firmly lands the reader in the middle of the work. For one half of the volume it seems the perfect rhythm and tone for a complete scope of the man. Then, the presidency begins. With a change, Chitwood throws chronological order by the wayside and goes topic by topic. The result is decent at first but major events are shown out of order, with the reader scratching their head trying to align an already foreign subject matter in a cohesive order. The result is still a complete scope but the potential impact of the events are given a lower ceiling. By conclusion it is clear that the impressive life of John Tyler is complete and the scope is covered totally. Chitwood hits this out of the park, though his inexplicable decision to bail on a chronological layout hurts his attempts at making a transcendent work. All in all, the scope remains one of the strongest points of the work.

Grade: A- 

3. Author- When Cleaves posted his work on Harrison in 1939 there was certainly evidence that this era was about to be re-visited with a fresh set of eyes. Turns out, Chitwood had the same idea and his work on Harrison’s successor appear just months after the Cleaves work. For Chitwood, this was one of the first public affairs texts he sought out. Other than his biography on Richard Henry Lee, this work on Tyler stands alone for Chitwood as his other publishings cover the eras around his subjects. His attachments to Tyler are obvious. As a result, there are many reasons that Tyler did not receive the most unbiased treatment to his biography. Chitwood and Tyler share an alma mater in William and Mary College and both were a lifelong Democrats. Not just any Democrats. His lament for the disillusioned Southern Democrats oddly and presciently parallels the increasingly unhappy Southern Democrats like himself. After William and Mary, he would go on to be one of the most respected professors at West Virginia University. His affinity for the States Rights mantra grew over time and he clearly admires Tyler as the prototypical example of his political views. Finally, this authority on early American history (many of his works were considered textbooks well in the 1950s) attempted to flex his muscles into ante-bellum politics. His scholarly background is a huge plus, but his biases are obvious to the reader without knowing anything about his background. It can be distracting to say the least. It is his sheer brilliance as a writer that lets this section give Chitwood a pass even knowing how blindly apologist he can be for his subject.

Grade: B-

4. Length- The length is perfect. There is no other way to put it. After all, Tyler was a one term accidental president with substantial but at times pedestrian pre- and post-presidencies. Chitwood’s decision to keep the work at 400+ does wonders for the ability to read his work. At a brisk pace one can skate through the unsubstantial moments of Tyler’s life (there are many) without feeling a gap in understanding. The brisk pace can risk leaving out important details. There are multiple instances that Chitwood’s coverage teeters on being insufficient, but his ability to give the bare minimum on inconsequential events is how and where the book shines. He also understands that 800 pages on Tyler would be overkill and completely unnecessary. Though a major impetus for writing the book is to vindicate a smeared former leader, Tyler simply wasn’t a towering enough figure to get a three volume biography. Instead, Chitwood presents John Tyler, whose presidency ended 100 year prior, in a 400+ page work that brings you back in time but always keeps you out of the weeds. It is a foolish tendency for the obvious authority on a subject to write a towering volume. Chitwood’s decision, whether it was purposeful or not, allows a minor presidential figure to get the perfect opportunity to state its case.

Grade: A

5. Mission- Shortly after finishing his work, Chitwood opined, “John Tyler holds a unique place in the history of misrepresentation.” Herein lies the main theme of Chitwood’s work. The total and obvious purpose of the work is to rescue John Tyler from being the worst president of all time. To be fair, Tyler was pretty close to the bottom. Tyler will never get the title of being a “good” president but that does not mean he was not influential to American history. Quite the opposite. When Harrison died in 1841, there was absolutely no precedent for what to do next. Some thought Tyler should be president, others thought he should resign, still others thought he was “acting president” until 1844. When Tyler took the realm by force he changed American history. Chitwood immediately zeroed in on this moment and rightfully gives unsung credit to the actions of Tyler. Though Chitwood could not realize it at the time, Lyndon B. Johnson said multiple times that he stole Tyler’s playbook on how to proceed after the death of John F. Kennedy. When Chitwood is pursing his mission of making John Tyler important, he is at his best. He shatters the all too convenient and cozy idea that great presidents are the interesting ones while the failures are just as riveting and telltales for future leaders. However, Chitwood tips his hand. Inside of making the failures mediocre, Chitwood more than once compares Lincoln to Tyler. This is absurd. The foolish idea that Tyler was just wrong place/wrong time away from being Lincoln is what clouds Chitwood’s judgment and distracts his work. Essentially, the mission is fulfilled, he just takes it way too overboard.

Grade: B

 

William Henry Harrison (1841)

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Book: Mr. Jefferson’s Hammer: William Henry Harrison and the Origins of American Indian Policy

Author: Robert M. Owens

1. Date- It is a book hailed as “the first scholarly biography of Harrison in more than sixty years.” True to the inside jacket this 2007 work comes closer than ever to a scholarly work to cover Harrison’s life. Coming nearly 68 years after the 1939 classic from Freeman Cleaves, the date is crucial to the understanding of Owens’s work. Here is a President who best represents dark pasts Americans want to forget. Harrison was a slave-owning man of the frontier whose greatest accomplishments include the removal of Indians. The sheer presence of this work is a treasure for those trying to complete the suite of Presidential biographies. 1939 is an awful long time ago and for that to produce the modern standard it can be disheartening. Harrison will never be on the dollar bill. He was inconsequential to the office, but a President is a President. Just like Cleaves, Harrison is painted as a man stuck in his era with a plea for mercy as we look back with our modern eyes.

Grade: A

2. Scope- Owens never claims to write the cradle to grave narrative of Harrison as Cleaves sought to do in 1939. Instead, the author chooses a much more restricted scope. The beginnings and endings of Harrison are of little notice as a vast majority is focused on his tenure as frontier governor through the end of the War of 1812. This 20+ year span is crucial to the overall theme of Owens book as he establishes the rise in Jeffersonian America. This includes an Indian policy in need of a faithful servant to execute it. To reign in the scope here is extremely interesting for the narrative, as the work stays focused and concise. Owens takes advantage of multiple and frequent opportunities to reference the personal well being of Harrison and goes to great lengths to explain Harrison the person. He also does this by exploring the America in which Harrison lived. Then, it ends. Much like the 30 day Presidency itself, this work on Harrison seems to end almost too abruptly. In a dozen pages, America wins the War of 1812 and a generation passes with a dead President Harrison in 1841. The scope never meant to cover his presidency, but to mention it and then toss it away did distract from the overall work. Furthermore, though the new angle is interesting, almost seventy years without a full study demanded more. This scope did not deliver.

Grade: B-

3. Author- Robert M. Owens is currently an Associate Professor at Wichita State University. After receiving his doctorate from University of Illinois in 2003, Dr. Owens continued to write and teach. His 2007 work is the largest scale work he has undertaken though he is the author of many published works. Another interesting perspective is that Owens will move on from here to study Southern Indians in America’s Early Republic era. From an academic perspective this work does feel to have a distinct flow of an extended thesis paper. The reader should expect from this author a thorough study with multiple sources covering primary, archives, periodicals, secondary sources and others. With his background in Colonial and early US and his obvious interest in the American Indians in general, the formation of American Indian policy seems to find a solid match in authorship. 

Grade: A-

4. Length- Clocking in around 250 pages, the narrow scope and clear vision is perfectly articulated by Owens. Never setting out to make the definitive tome on Harrison, Owens instead creates a quicker read focused on great background and general information to complement a thorough look at Harrison’s middle years. If the study of Harrison’s life is even thoughout, this work could easily become a 600-700 page authortative work. Conversely, the 250 pages here leaves the reader feeling a short biography is in the works. True to design, there are no moments of lag as the minute details are sacrificed in favor of moving along the narrative. This does come at a cost at times. One particular moment was Tippacanoe. Truthfully, there is a bit too much in the Cleaves work as the 1939 narrative clogs along at a slow pace. However, William Henry Harrison is remembered mostly for a single shining moment of military glory at Old Tip. Even in short biography, there are particular moments that demand a long look. This is but one example of what can be missed when going for too short of a biography. 

Grade: B-

5. Mission- By calling this the first “scholarly” biography in over 60 years, Owens clearly made this his mission. A quick look at Amazon will uncover many works on Harrison. They are usually quick notes on the man or dumbed down factoids that rarely raise above placemat status. For Owens, this work always meant to stay above the general audience and reach an academic reader really trying to get into the weeds of early 19th century America. True, the Jefferson presidency and the War of 1812 are not new subjects in American research. However, Owens shifts the focus from the White House to another decision maker on the frontier. For nearly twenty years, Harrison, son of Virginia, stood his ground on the frontier and greatly changed the American Midwest. It was not glamorous, it was not pretty. It simply happened. As a true academic, Owens makes it very clear that he felt it was his duty to shed light on all of history whether we would like to remember it or not. So no, this is not the first mention of Harrison since Cleaves in 1939. This is, in fact, the highest brow since then. It is not a perfect work and it left many elements to be desired. Nevertheless, for an academic, Owens gets very close with his stellar research and uncanny ability to justify all of his propositions with some form of solid source. As of 1815, Harrison was covered to the best of his ability. Now if we could just get him to finish the story…

Grade: A-

 

William Henry Harrison (1841)

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Book: Old Tippecanoe: William Henry Harrison and His Time

Author: Freeman Cleaves

1. Date- Written during the Great Depression and between two World Wars, Cleaves’ 1939 work on Harrison is a big fish in a small pond. The work appeared 98 years after the untimely death of the ninth President and this work almost stands alone as a full scale biography. Few works before or since covered the entire life of Harrison, with most focusing on his long military career rather than his brief Presidency. This work is decently readable for modern readers, but the age certainly shows. His matter-of-fact style translates little narrative flourish as battling on the frontier or arguing with creditors receive equal excitement if excitement is a word you would use. It seems the impetus of the work is to shed little on this forgotten President who did little to incite previous academic study. Modern readers should be prepared to leap back in time. Slaves are humble servants and Indians are bloodthirsty savages. Though dated, this work sadly is the most modern look at Old Tip. For a man so critical and essential to the frontier struggles with the Native American culture, the blanket destruction of savages leads little to the story of Harrison’s gargantuan influence in the West. All things considered, this isn’t Cleaves’ fault. The work very much represents American pre-WWII and in the midst of a Depression.

Grade: B-

2. Scope- Opening with a detailed family tree in the foreword, Cleaves constantly strives to cover the entire life of Harrison and show this dynamic importance in American history. Cleaves wastes no time covering Harrison’s family’s storied past in the Revolution that preceded him and thrust into a compete narrative of his own life. For the Project, there are frequent urges to disparage a work set up like this volume. However, the incredibly brief 30 day Presidency seems to get its due proportional representation in Cleaves book. There are detailed and complete sections covering the storied military career that drew contemporary comparisons to Washington. Even his brief 19 month foray to Colombia is shown with due scope as his military career shifted to a date with Federal politics. When it came time for Harrison himself to take center stage, the elections are well covered as are the cabinet pressures that defined the mid-19th century president. There is also a look to the future as John Tyler takes a prominent role as the aging Harrison becomes the first president to die in office. Harrison is thus presented much like his contemporaries probably saw him. The Presidency but a capstone of his career with the moniker Old Tippecanoe telling of military glory decades prior.

Grade: A

3. Author- According to the sleeve jacket of the modern edition, Cleaves became deeply interested in the life of Harrison after realizing no such substantial biography had yet been written. In a rare instance for a former President, Cleaves was able to write with a clean slate. At his disposal was an untapped trove of letters, documents and accounts mostly from a century or more before the work was completed. Despite an apparent groundbreaking work on a forgotten President, there seems to be only one other book in print for Mr. Cleaves. Drawing on his many years in academia, Cleaves is cited mostly with Civil War research as in his work Rock of Chickamauga about George H. Thomas. Though a Civil War researcher would seem to be out of place for a work on War of 1812 hero Harrison, the theme rings similar. Whether it be a President of the United States or a Civil War General logically bringing scholarly glut, Cleaves shows his flair of bringing the forgotten back to life. With that resume and 100 years of partisan politics in the rearview mirror, there seems to be little bias or worldview in the way of good old fashioned research. What follows is an unbiased and balanced work on Harrison from a well respected author.

Grade: A

4. Length- With over two thirds of the book dedicated to military biography and history, Cleaves seems ready to jump into the epic lengths that may be expected for a “definitive” work. However, the work never goes too far beneath the surface. Conversely, there are instances that the work takes on longer biography characteristics. Cleaves does find time to explore Harrison’s family while still briskly moving the narrative forward. Those attempting to read a book on every president will find this perfect for Harrison. A military hero with little influence on the executive, this work displays all that is needed to understand the Presidency as it stood in 1840. On paper, this checks all the boxes of a short biography. Despite its seemingly shorter length, there are few stones unturned and one goes away feeling confident that the story was told completely.

Grade: B

5. Mission- Few missions are as simple as the one Cleaves set out to accomplish. With almost no academic biography on Harrison, there are no theories to build on nor conspiracies to debunk. He had unprecedented access to an untold story. As an academic it would have been a treasure for the research community for this old, grizzled vet to get his due. Length is not everything, but to constrain a work of this potential to 350 pages seems to only confirm the academic neglect of this former President. Cleaves set out to shine a spotlight on a man who had been President 100 years prior who would be completely unknown if it weren’t for history buffs and/or presidential placemat aficionados. Almost by default, the mission is accomplished as no academic has even come close to duplicating Cleaves’ work. Since the 1939 classic, short and shallow works have been the norm on Harrison research. Recent works will occasionally touch on Harrison’s impressive military career or showcase his short presidency, but it is Cleaves who accomplishes the mission in toto. For a cradle to grave narrative on the man, this is your best bet.

Grade: A-

Second Round Matchups!

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“Come at me Ike!” 42nd president and 6 seed Bill Clinton

2nd round schedule:

Updated bracket here.

EAST REGION

1) Abraham Lincoln vs. 9) Benjamin Harrison

4) James Madison vs. 5) Ronald Reagan

3) Dwight D. Eisenhower vs. 6) Bill Clinton

2) Theodore Roosevelt vs.10) Ulysses S. Grant

SOUTH REGION

1) Franklin D. Roosevelt vs. 8) James Garfield

4) James Monroe vs. 5) John Quincy Adams

3) James K. Polk vs. 6) George H. W. Bush

2) Woodrow Wilson vs. 7) Gerald Ford

MIDWEST REGION

1) George Washington vs. 8) Calvin Coolidge

4) Lyndon B. Johnson vs. 5) Grover Cleveland

3) John F. Kennedy vs. 6) William H. Taft

2) Harry S. Truman vs. 7) Jimmy Carter

WEST REGION

1) Thomas Jefferson vs. 8) Richard Nixon

4) Barack Obama vs. 5) William McKinley

3) John Adams vs. 6) Martin Van Buren

2) Andrew Jackson vs. 7) Chester A. Arthur

Presidents Tournament First Round Results! (Part Three)

Behold! Part Three of the First Round results. You can find Part One and Part Two here.

MIDWEST REGION

5/5/14:

8) Calvin Coolidge vs. 9) Zachary Taylor

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 Motto: Two men with abbreviated terms and tenuous grasps on a mandate.

Overview: Silent Cal and Ol’ Rough and Ready may have had some memorable monikers but their presidencies can get lost to history. One needs to emerge, so let’s get a little deeper into the head-to-head.

The Matchup:

ZT (1849-1850)- Clocking in just under 16 months, the Taylor presidency was a brief yet tense period in American history. By 1849, Taylor led a nation that was constantly threatened by the slavery elephant in the room. This unpredictable Whig was not what everyone assumed he would be. He was a slaveowner who did not advocate the extension of slavery. He was a wealthy Whig who did not fight for the US Bank. He was not so much of an enigma than a tangible example of the fraying and different factions of the Whig party already headed for political oblivion. During his brief term, the issues of slavery dominated his governance. Almost 30 years after the Missouri Compromise of 1820, Senate titans such as Henry Clay riveted the nation as issues grew to a flashpoint. Despite his unpredictable behavior, Taylor watched helplessly as Clay stole the spotlight making Taylor seem weak in light of the California statehood question, extension of slavery and the Fugitive Slave Act. When he sat down to a bowl of cherries on July 4th, 1850, the union looked as dire as it would ten years later when war finally came. It was on that day Taylor spent fundraising for the proposed Washington Monument when he fell ill due to raw cherries and iced milk. Despite conspiracy theories of poison or other dastardly deeds, Taylor likely grew ill due to an intestinal reason and died five days later on July 9th, 1850. He was the last president to own slaves, the last Whig to win an election (Fillmore, his VP, technically remained Whig despite his opposite actions), as well as the last president to meaningfully pursue slavery compromise. The decade that followed would miss his level-headed course.

CC (1923-1929)- Silent Cal begin his presidency inauspiciously. In an event that would be unthinkable today, Coolidge was resting at his parents home in Vermont when a messenger informed him of President Warren G. Harding’s death. Without telephone or electricity, Coolidge truly becomes the last president to learn of his power so unexpectedly. At 2:47 AM on August 3rd, 1923, Coolidge became the 30th President of the United States after the town notary, his father, administered the oath. The end of Harding’s term, barely 18 months, did not pass uneventfully. The scandals of his Harding’s cabinet were in full swing. But the shot across the bow had commenced. Coolidge became a conservative darling, slashing tax rates, encouraging business and gave credence to decades of immigration glut by restricting the influx of Europeans. After being soundly re-elected in his own right in 1924, Coolidge continued to put American Conservatives firmly in the Republican camp. Though hardly an isolationist, he once and for all killed Wilson’s dream of the League of Nations and came down firmly against entangling America in European woes. Stateside, Coolidge is hailed as years before his time as this increasingly rare Northeast Republican renounced the controversial Ku Klux Klan and fought hard for social advances. The economy hummed in his time, nearly a fourth of the federal debt was removed, and Americans of all classes thrived. Coolidge is the ideal conservative. Despite your political leanings, few could point to a more prosperous and successful time than the late 1920s pre-depression America. They were heady times and Coolidge deserves the due credit.

Silent Cal soundly defeats Ol’ Rough and Ready.

6) William H. Taft vs. 11) James Buchanan

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 Motto: One got stuck in a bathtub- one got stuck in a Civil War. Boomroasted.

Overview: Taft may have accomplished a great deal but he will never live down the whole I-got-stuck-in-a-bathtub thing. Hey, he can ease his mind with one thing… At least he wasn’t Buchanan.

The Matchup:

JB (1857-1861)- Few historians would argue that the task of shedding Buchanan in a positive light is next to impossible. Frequently listed at the bottom of Presidential rankings, Buchanan redefined a paltry administration even at the end of a long line of inept leaders. He was supposed to wed the unraveling union and he was just as successful as he was finding a wife. (Get it? He didn’t find a wife, thus the joke about a wedding that did not happen. Right?). As well as being the first and most likely last bachelor president, “Nancy” is the only President from Pennsylvania. This put him as a northern Democrat and was seen as the last hope to reconcile the increasingly radical Southern Democrats. He had to do this while the ascendant abolitionists were gaining traction in the North. He accomplished little. Two independent studies in 2006 and 2009 both cited his allowance of Southern Secession as the biggest blunder in US history. A lawyer by trade, he simply and impishly stated that Southern states had no right to secede. Meanwhile, Southern states seceded en masse further demonstrating that Buchanan had perhaps the least amount of power a US President ever wielded. His northern birth coupled with southern sympathies made him truly without a base. There was not even a discussion at the disastrous 1860 Democratic Convention about re-nomination. He spent his final days in office practically begging President-Elect Lincoln to call a Constitutional Convention outlawing secession and hopefully forestalling enormous bloodshed. It was too little, too late. Buchanan is not to blame for the march to war, but surely he did next to nothing to stop it. Outliving his successor Abraham Lincoln by three years, Buchanan would spend the rest of his life defending his efforts. His failure must have be an unimaginable burden. Buchanan on his last day as president told Lincoln, “If you are as happy in entering the White House as I shall feel on returning to Wheatland you are a happy man.”

WHT (1909-1913)- Teddy Roosevelt exploded on the stage as America entered the 20th Century. The first decade was marked by the rise of Progressive politics, the might of American military and the inescapable fact that America was on a course toward being a world power. When Teddy set to retire he handpicked Taft to carry his flame. Taft was expected to be hand in hand with his mentor. It was not that simple. Despite the indisputable fact that Taft was actually progressive, dividing trusts and ushering free trade, Teddy was not pleased. It seemed to him that Taft was reverting the Republican brand to the right and more conservative faction. Taft did not even aspire the presidency either. His dream was the Supreme Court. Many historians believe this fact encouraged a less ambitious and more servant attitude that really rankled Roosevelt. Unlike Ted, the promises of power were not desirable and Taft contented himself to work with Congress, wait for public opinion and work within the confines of the American legal system. At the end of the day, he was very successful. He invoked the Sherman Anti-Trust Act more than the “Trustbuster” and mobilized 25,000 troops to defend America from uprisings in Mexico. It was not enough. By 1912, Teddy made it his mission to unseat Taft and he ended up splitting the Republican vote, handing the 1912 election to Democrat Woodrow Wilson.

Taft’s weight is too much for Nancy to bear.

7) Jimmy Carter vs. 10) Millard Fillmore

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 Motto: The Peanut Farmer mets the only person you know named Millard.

Overview: Both represented a shift from the men who came before them. Both were unable to accomplish much. Carter may seem to be the least successful President in recent memory but Fillmore was no GW either.

The Matchup:

MF (1850-1853)- When Ol’ Rough and Ready died of rancid cherries in mid-1850, the nation was cratering toward disunion. When Taylor’s VP Millard Fillmore took office there was light at the end of the tunnel. By the Fall of 1850, several successive bills collectively referred to as the Compromise of 1850 seemed to once again stave off a Civil War. Despite the work of Taylor and Clay, it was Fillmore that inked this Compromise into law. For the next 2+ years, Fillmore would constantly struggle to maintain the illusion of peace. But disunion continued to fester. The controversial Fugitive Slave Law seemed to please neither region and his signature made him few friends. He had mild success on the world stage. He received much due credit for supporting efforts to open Asia for American trade. It was a game-changer especially in the historically closed world of Japanese commerce. However, these successes yielded little short term. Despite periods of strength in some Whig circles, his support of the Compromise of 1850, long promised to put to rest disunion, ironically foreshadowed the crumbling of Whig unity. He receives the dubious prize as the last Whig president. The Whigs turned back to military prowess pushing Fillmore in favor of Winfield Scott. Never again would Americans elect a man not affiliated with the Republican or Democratic Party. The Whigs were dead. America was reeling.

JC (1977-1981)- Politics in the 1970s were a study in unfathomable events. A decade that began with America embroiled in an endless Vietnam War ended with a peanut farmer with a humble sweater urging the lowering of thermostats. After the horrors of Watergate, Americans for the first time in 1976 encountered a presidential election looking to value humble public servants above all else. Jimmy Carter seemed to fit that mold. He was a Southern Democrat, yet preached policies that bordered on the progressive. He created two cabinet positions, Energy and Education, and ushered in a period of American restraint. The re-focusing on principle worked for a time but then reality had the last word. In 1979, Iran underwent an Islamic Revolution ultimately resulting in a humiliating and devastating hostage crisis that reinforced feelings of gloom from Watergate. Then, the Soviets, initially working with Carter on limitation of arms, invaded Afghanistan. Olympic boycotts and international mudslinging came next and by 1980, the nation saw little to be desired in their President. In 1980, Ted Kennedy tried to run against Carter weakening him further and allowed a right of center rising star in Ronald Reagan storm past the incumbent president. Despite leading in just about every public opinion poll up until the election, Carter’s vote totals reached shocking lows and he lost in a landslide. Even after years of rehabilitating his image, Carter remains a symbol of presidential ineptitude in the modern era. Fortunately for him, there are few presidents Carter can get past in this tournament, Fillmore happens to be one of them.

Carter eeks past Fillmore in a lackluster battle.

Byes: 1) George Washington, 2) Harry S. Truman, 3) John F. Kennedy, 4) Lyndon B. Johnson, 5) Grover Cleveland

WEST REGION

5/5/14:

8) Richard Nixon vs. 9) John Tyler

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 Motto: One was disowned by his party. One was “not a crook.” Who will flash the double V?

Overview: Nixon, an otherwise successful president, sinks on historians lists pitting him in an 8/9 battle against a less disgraced politician.

The Matchup:

JT (1841-1845)- Few would know it today but the idea of a VP becoming President after death was not a foregone conclusion in 1841. When William Henry Harrison died in thirty days, it was not a given that his VP John Tyler would finish his term or be anything other than a caretaker. Tyler seized the reigns, refusing such titles as “Acting” or “Interim” President and set out to be the man of the people. What followed was some of the worst political gridlock the capital ever saw. Nominally a Whig, Tyler was no more than a Democrat disillusioned with the Jacksonian vein and by no means the big government troubadour like the icon Henry Clay. He was a Virginia plantation owner who valued small government yet pushed for American expansion and the annexation of Texas. This made him a friend to neither party. His belief in a strong executive ostracized him in Virginia and his push for Texas made him close to zero friends in the slave-weary North. The “firsts” for a president did not end here. He was the first President to have the House initiate articles of impeachment after one too many vetoes from increasingly bitter Whigs. Tragedy also hit him in an uncommon fashion. In 1844, while aboard the USS Princeton, a malfunctioning gun caused disaster. Congressman and public servants were harmed, some mortally, and the end of the Tyler presidency limped without much power. He left office in 1844, a man without a party and his prestige almost ruined. He would make a comeback. In 1862, he was called by the state of Virginia to be their representative in the Confederate House of Representatives. He remains the only person in US History to be both President and an elected leader of a different nation. His amazing legacy had one more unbelievable epilogue. Despite being born in 1790, Tyler has two grandsons that are still alive. Now that is something.

RN (1969-1974)- When Nixon was sworn in as President in 1969, America seemed more frayed than ever. Urban cities were rioting, the Vietnam War was escalating at a frightening pace and the “Silent Majority” ached for relief. They seemed to find that in Nixon. Already serving eight years as Vice President in the 1950s, Nixon took office as a seasoned veteran of political warfare. Indeed, his accomplishments were some that evaded his more glamorized predecessors. His “Vietnamization” was cited as the final wind-down of the endless war and his opening of relations with China ushered in new Cold War hope. On the domestic front he wielded unprecedented power of wage and price controls yet leading to a mixed record on the economy. As a Republican he would stand in contrast to the Reagan Brand that followed him but a nation that still ached for JFK responded adversely to the centrist policies of Nixon. His stand on the environment would rival “treehuggers” today as he founded the EPA and instituted clear air initiatives nationwide. He addressed urban decay at an elevated rate as well and stamped himself at the forefront of the War on Drugs movement. In 1972, the nation soundly upheld Nixon. Taking advantage of a weakened Democratic field, Nixon won 49 states and 60% of the popular vote, an unthinkable majority in this modern world of divided politics. However, it was the calm before the storm. It was that very election that saw the Watergate break-in. The results were swift, brutal and decisive. The second term of Richard Nixon was entirely consumed by Watergate investigations, public displays and a daily decline of prestige. By August 1974, it was clear that Nixon’s days were numbered. Rather than wait for a sure removal from office, Nixon became the first president in American history to resign. It was a humiliating end to an otherwise fruitful presidency.

The crook has one final victory. Nixon by a nose.

6) Martin Van Buren vs. 11) Andrew Johnson

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 Motto: The first to be impeached and it wasn’t Van Ruin

Overview: Van Buren and Johnson were presidents thirty years apart, but their worlds were radically different. They both followed gigantic figures in presidential history. Each had their struggles but only one can move on.

The Matchup:

MVB (1837-1841)- When Andrew Jackson exited the world stage a huge void needed to be filled in American hearts. Van Buren tried his best. A veteran politician, Van Buren led the nation after decades of forming the first modern political machine in American history. As a member of the Albany Regency he almost singlehandedly wrote the playbook for how parties play a role in a republic. When it came to his actual presidency, Van Buren was a prisoner to events largely out of his control. The Panic of 1837 greeted him barely months into his term. Almost a century before the Depression, little was expected from the President at times of economic recession. Oddly, the conservative man did break new ground. He called for a Special Session in 1837 and tried frantically to forestall the economy’s steady decline. The decline coincided with the blame on Van Buren despite the fact that he was not as gun-ho as Jackson when it came to bank decentralization most historians now blame for the Panic. He was a tremendously moderate figure, hailing from New York but holding southern views on the tariff and free trade. He valued party unity at a time when large figures such as Jackson threatened to become the norm. For better or worse, the Jacksons, Jeffersons and Washingtons gave way to more pedestrian figures such as Franklin Pierce and Millard Fillmore. At the end of the day, Van Buren was turned away by Americans in 1840, with the blame of the Panic still firmly placed on him. What he left behind was a mixed bag of successes and failures and an antebellum drift into the unthinkable Civil War a generation later.

AJ (1865-1869)- Johnson almost received company in 1974 when impeachment was sure to come to Nixon. However, it would not be until 1997 that a US President would face the fate of Johnson. Like his 19th Century partner, Clinton ultimately was not convicted of his charges. Clinton would go on to revive his image. Not so much for Johnson. There are few positives one can pull from the shipwreck that is the Johnson administration. He was a selfmade tailor from Tennessee and a lifelong Democrat when he refused to secede in 1860 with his state. He was made governor by default in 1862 when the military regained the seceded state. Two years later, Lincoln found him an ideal running mate in the too-close-for-comfort 1864 election. Lincoln needed the old Democrat to simply balance the ticket and then go back to political oblivion. The ticket won and his March 1865 inaugural address is remembered for the simple fact that he was visibly intoxicated as historians look for few more blatant visions of drunken American figures. Six weeks later, he became president. Suddenly, the masterful Lincoln was replaced with Johnson the southern sympathizer. Southern states suddenly saw hope. They came back faster than planned with fewer hoops to jump. The states formed governments and policies run by Confederate leaders. Traitors walked free. The final straw for the nation was his opposition to the 14th amendment which guaranteed equal voting rights. He set America on a course far different than Lincoln, one that made Civil Rights a basic struggle well into the 20th Century. Lincoln was gone, Jim Crow was here to stay. Finally, he walked into a trap set by the Republican majority in the House, got himself impeached and though he was not convicted, limped home as one of the worst presidencies in history came to a merciful end.

Van Buren by a mile.

7) Chester A. Arthur vs. 10) Franklin Pierce

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Motto: A Doughface vs. A Reformer

Overview: Pierce was supposed to steer the ship away from trouble and not into it. Arthur was supposed to steer the ship for his assassinated friend. The final first round matchup shows two forgotten men who oversaw incredible change.

The Matchup:

FP (1853-1857)- The only president from New Hampshire and ideal Doughface, Franklin Pierce was the a perfect compromise candidate for the Democrats in 1852. He soundly defeated the flailing Whig Winfield Scott in an election that never got off the ground. His staggering 200 point electoral college victory promised to bring success. It didn’t. Starting with the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the nation chipped away at the Compromise of 1850 that was barely a few years old. A bloody struggle over slavery ensued. He boldly sided with the Southern wing of the Democrats, all but crushing the Northern wing of the party over the explosive slavery issue. History would prove what the whispers of the time had feared. He did indeed outright sympathize if not support the Confederacy. He belonged to an older age where his thinking and understanding of American politics were different and less in tune with the rapidly changing landscape. Up until the War, he constantly painted abolitionists as those who practiced revolt and treason while he supported those who actually took up arms against the Union. He along with his successor James Buchanan are frequently at the bottom of historian rankings. Their inexplicable preference for the South leaves little hope that their reputation will ever recover. Pierce died of liver failure, alone and hopelessly struggling with alcohol, ending one of the saddest personal tales in presidential history.

CA (1881-1885)- When Garfield was assissinated in 1881, there was little hope that his VP Chester A. Arthur would carry the torch of Civil Service Reform. Indeed, Arthur had made a career as a member of the New York political machine. To the pleasant surprise of reformers, he stayed the course of Garfield. In successive strokes, Arthur ushered in a period that staked its reputation on an attempt to rid corruption and error from the public framework. His landmark signing of the Pendleton Act was a game-changer. Almost overnight a majority of positions were awarded on merit in stark contrast to party identification of yesteryear. He also oversaw an enormous surplus. In a bizarro world where having too little money and crippling debt is just as bad as having too much money, post-War America had a surplus of incredibly high volume. In a sharp rebuke to the conservative Republicans, Arthur supported huge government spending increases and oversaw the re-emergence of the US Navy. Never seen as more than a caretaker for Garfield, Arthur was never given the chance to win the presidency outright in 1884 and was sent to retirement with less than a full term under his belt. As time goes by, Arthur’s stock continues to rise. He showed resolve, purpose and an uncommonly low instance of corruption that rankled nearly every late 19th Century president. Though he will never make it to Mount Rushmore, time makes it increasingly difficult to castigate an unspectacular yet ultimately successful President Arthur.

Don’t bet against those sideburns. Arthur moves on.

Byes: 1) Thomas Jefferson, 2) Andrew Jackson, 3) John Adams, 4) Barack Obama, 5) William McKinley

Stay tuned for Round Two!

Presidents Tournament First Round Results! (Part Two)

After an exciting opening salvo by Benjamin Harrison and General Grant, the first round continues. How will your favorites fare??? Broken hearts ahead.

SOUTH REGION

5/2/14:

8) James Garfield vs. 9) George W. Bush

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Motto: Both promised reform. Both were Republicans. Only one can survive.

Overview: The South region’s 8 vs. 9 matchup features two men promising reform. Garfield was never able to execute his mission while Bush’s early victories wore out their welcome.

The Matchup:

JG (1881)- Mr. Garfield represented many changes coming to Washington when he came into office in 1881. The Major General was the end of a long line of Civil War generals. In contrast to his predecessors, the idea of a platform specifically based on what he would do when President came into vogue. Garfield continued the Republican tradition. He staunchly supported Civil Service Reform, was an advocate for Freedmen, and was uniquely enshrined in history as the only sitting Congressman to be elected President. He started with a bang. He shamelessly appointed African Americans to federal offices, proposed far ranging civil service initiatives and stood up to powerful political bosses that dominated American politics. Then, it was over. On July 2, 1881, just months after being sworn in, Garfield was shot twice by Charles Guiteau. Amazingly, it would be not until mid-September that Garfield breathed his last. His presidency of 200 days is the second shortest in history. Tough to gauge but a solid leader was emerging.

GWB (2001-2009)- It can be a fools errand to try to analyze a Presidency that has so recently ended. Call me a fool. Like Garfield, Bush was a Republican looked to bring reform and change as a “unifer not a divider.” In the long campaign of 2000 with sitting VP Al Gore, Bush rarely spoke about Foreign Policy. The Domestic President was suddenly subsumed by it on September 11, 2001. From that day forward, President Bush was constantly viewed on his foreign policy vision for 21st Century America. Initially it was an overwhelming success. Riding a record 91% approval, Bush launched two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq by the time he was up for re-election. His leadership in a crisis was contagious as fierce critics almost unanimously supported both efforts. Bush could do no wrong and he rode his popularity past John Kerry in 2004. The second term got old on Americans. The overwhelming support eroded, congressional support waned and by the time 2006 midterms came around, the nation was against him. For the time being, the historical look at the Bush Presidency is to see a man hobbled by gigantic moments. He shone on 9/11 and in the pursuit of terrorist enemies. Those same moments ruined his stature most notably in the Hurricane Katrina disaster and a rapidly declining economy that consumed his last two years in office.

Bush fades into defeat. Garfield survives.

6) George H. W. Bush vs. 11) Warren G. Harding

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Motto: One was a political mainstay. One was the anti-politician. Here we go.

Overview: Both Republicans presidents served in the 20th century but that is where their similarities end. The elder Bush took office in the late 1980s after years of Republican resurgence, Harding was promised as the man to normalize American again. He again has an uphill climb.

The Matchup:

GHWB (1989-1993)- If there was a checklist on federal positions to hold, Bush would have checked just about all of them. He served in Congress, the diplomatic front and headed the CIA for President Ford. His experience was impeccable and his addition to Ronald Reagan’s platform in 1980 ensured that his Presidency was a forgone conclusion. After Reagan handed over the keys in 1989, Bush set about ending the dwindling Cold War. Though Reagan is remembered for his fervent speeches at the Berlin Wall, it was Bush who was President when it came down. For the first time in decades the US President was truly the sole leader of the sole world power. His record on Civil Rights also added to his luster signing the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. Like his son, foreign policy eventually dominated his attention. In 1991, America became engaged in the Persian Gulf War. Unlike his son, America’s engagement was swift, brutal and decisive. America seemed unstoppable. Then, the economy tanked. Tanked so far that pesky young Bill Clinton was able to catch the elder Bush flatfooted, and he received the dubious honor of losing re-election.

WGH (1921-1923)- Harding promised a “Return to Normalcy.” Normalcy, though grammatically odd, promised all Americans that the rocky teens would give way to the high times of the 1920s. They were high times indeed. Despite the Volstead Act, specifically prohibiting alcohol in the nation, the Harding White House hummed with social extravagance complete with alcohol infused parties and late night soirees. Harding was finally sagged by his cronies. Though desiring an impressive cabinet to supplement his meager newspaperman background, Harding invited corruption and government malice almost immediately. Despite contemporaries generally liking the elder Ohio man, his cronies and the “Ohio Gang” produced scandal after scandal. Shady dealings including odd instances of suicide and blackmail made it clear that Harding was not the right leader to curtail the practices. Tea Pot Dome and the Justice Department were alone enough to cloud any Presidency of a reasonable plea of integrity. While on a trip in Alaska, Harding was shocked to read the extent of the scandals that were sure to end his presidency. Instead, the Alaskan trip proved to be his last as his succumbed to pneumonia on August 2, 1923, barely two years after taking office.

Read. My. Lips. Bush is the winner.

7) Gerald Ford vs. 10) William Henry Harrison

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Motto: If you add them together, you still wouldn’t get a full term!

Overview: This 7 vs. 10 matchup features two men who served less than a full term. Harrison came from a long line of dominant heritage, Ford barely knew his abusive father, and forever took his stepfathers name.

The Matchup:

WHH (1841)- William Henry Harrison is the answer to many trivia questions. Yes, he is the only grandfather of a future president. Yes, he was a “Whig.” Yes, he became ill on the day of his inauguration and died only one month into it. It would be unduly harsh and unfair to criticize one month as President. However, it was quite clear that the aging war hero was not up to be President. Best known for his Indian victories, “Old Tippacanoe” moonlighted his life as a somewhat obscure politician from the frontier. He was plucked out of the fold in 1836 as the Whigs tried to duplicate Andrew Jackson by running a war hero determined to lead. One problem. Harrison was no Andrew Jackson. The 1840 election is roundly put down by historians as being unreasonably groveling to the lowest dominator. The campaign stopped across the country, handing out free booze and chanting impish insults at Martin “Van Ruin.” The result was indeed a war hero, but a war hero void of any bright ideas. From the inaugeral address, Harrison seemed hopelessly overwhelmed and under energized by his bullet points. His election was undoubtably destined to be a tool of Henry Clay and his admitted lack of economic knowledge puts heavy doubt of a successful presidency. His only official act was to veto a special session the nation so badly needed. On March 26th, his cold grew worse and soon he had passed away. At 30 days, 12 hours and 30 minutes, Harrison has the shortest presidency of all time.

GF (1974-1977)- Ford holds the distinction of never once winning election as either the president or vice president. After Nixon’s elected VP, Spiro Agnew resigned in 1973, seasoned Congressman Gerald Ford took the reigns of the highest office. Though lasting longer that his one month foe in Harrison, Ford quickly sealed his one term longevity by pardoning Richard Nixon in 1974, barely a month after taking office. The criticism was swift and ultimately insurmountable. Ford, a man inside the beltway known for integrity, was suddenly cast as the end of a shady bargain. Ford himself later claimed that this cost him re-election but that he had no regrets. Despite the opening explosive month, Ford’s 2+ years in office were somewhat effective. He was the first president to attack inflation head-on, eerily foreshadowing the doom as the 1980s began. He wisely continued Nixon’s thawing Cold War by extending agreements to stablize the world threats. He also became the first president since Eisenhower to lead an American force not inhabiting the nation of Vietnam. It was truly a global change. However, it was on foreign policy that sealed his fate. In a 1976 debate with Jimmy Carter, the first such debate since 1960, the nation all watched as Ford (incorrectly) stated, “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford Administration.” Carter pounced and was able to ride this blunder into a narrow victory in 1976. Ford’s short presidency stood in contrast to his long life. At 93 years 165 days, he was the oldest President in history when he died in 2006.

Ford finishes what he started.