Four Number Sevens

When President Barack Obama takes the stage for State of the Union Address Number Seven, he will be only the 16th president to reach the milestone. Despite cultivating an administration many associate with displeasure or unease, Obama is entering and increasingly elite group in American Presidential history. Though the power of Number Seven as an address or written message has ebbed and flowed, it has always remained a central statement of the Presidents’ views. Number Seven does not include some titanic names. Lincoln only made four SOTUs; the same as John Adams. President Kennedy only made three. What remains is a mixed bag of long tenured administrations; each with significant challenges still flaring in the twilight of their reign. When Obama begins Number Seven, he will join some interesting company. Let’s hop in the time machine for four examples of Number Seven in four different American centuries:

21st Century

George W. Bush (2001-2009) 7th SOTU January 23rd 2007

What was important to George?:

Though seemingly recent, Bush delivered the first Number Seven in the 21st Century eight years ago. It had been over a half decade since the traumatic events of 9/11 and the repercussions were clear in this address. First, he stayed stateside, preaching many conservative ideals such as balancing the budget, cutting spending, and and vetting out of the box thoughts on Social Security. However, since most of Bush’s presidency regaled in foreign policy, his Number Seven was mostly centralized around matters abroad ; creating a sort of haunting microcosm. The President again used Number Seven to cement his legacy and justify the actions taken seven years into his administration. He touched on many issues facing the Middle East, from sanctions on Iran to constitutional reforms in Arabic nations. He reaffirmed his commitment to the military and the power of American might overseas. Number Seven was a time to be unabashedly proud and the first 21st Century Seven was no exception.

Quotables:

We’re not the first to come here with a government divided and uncertainty in the air. Like many before us, we can work through our differences, and we can achieve big things for the American people. Our citizens don’t much care which side of the aisle we sit on, as long as we’re willing to cross that aisle when there is work to be done.”

We need to uphold the great tradition of the melting pot that welcomes and assimilates new arrivals. We need to resolve the status of the illegal immigrants who are already in our country without animosity and without amnesty.

American foreign policy is more than a matter of war and diplomacy. Our work in the world is also based on a timeless truth: To whom much is given, much is required. We hear the call to take on the challenges of hunger and poverty and disease, and that is precisely what America is doing.

20th Century

Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) 7th SOTU January 27th 1987

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May Madness is COMING!

You heard correctly. May Madness is coming.

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“Bring it on, Garfield”- 43rd President and South Region 9 Seed George W. Bush

presidents-bracket

Upcoming schedule:

EAST REGION

5/2/14:

8) Herbert Hoover vs. 9) Benjamin Harrison

7) Rutherford B. Hayes vs. 10) Ulysses S. Grant

Byes: 1) Abraham Lincoln, 2) Theodore Roosevelt, 3) Dwight D. Eisenhower, 4) James Madison, 5) Ronald Reagan, 6) Bill Clinton

SOUTH REGION

5/2/14:

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

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

7) Gerald Ford vs. 10) William Henry Harrison

Byes: 1) Franklin D. Roosevelt, 2) Woodrow Wilson, 3) James K. Polk, 4) James Monroe, 5) John Quincy Adams

MIDWEST REGION

5/5/14:

8) Calvin Coolidge vs. 9) Zachary Taylor

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

7) Jimmy Carter vs. 10) Millard Fillmore

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

6) Martin Van Buren vs. 11) Andrew Johnson

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

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

 

Thomas Jefferson Crib Sheet

220px-Thomas_Jefferson_by_Rembrandt_Peale,_1800Vitals!

Name: Thomas Jefferson

Lifespain: April 13, 1743 (?) or April 2nd, 1743 (?) – July 4th, 1826. (Yet again, Julian Calendar people complicate everything. Leave it to the British to sort this out… http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/palaeography/quick_reference.htm)

Home State: Virginia

Served as President: 1801-1809

Vice President: Aaron Burr (1801-1805); George Clinton (1805-1809)

Spouse: Martha Wayles Jefferson

Historian Rank: 4

Why you may LOVE him…

Thomas Jefferson was the quintessential American Renaissance Man. His accomplishments and achievements are equal to some small countries. There was hardly any subject that Jefferson did not comment on in his life, from the five languages he spoke to the 6,000 books that became the Library of Congress. Kennedy once complimented the intellectual talent before him as the greatest collection of minds in the White House since Jefferson dined alone. He broke unbelievable ground when he wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom and his classic The Notes on the State of Virginia. All of his works were well ahead of their time and excruciatingly relevant even in the 21st century. For better or worse, he did not invent the American Political Party but he came close to perfecting it. Just two decades after forming his Democratic-Republican Party, he swept himself into office as President and sent the Federalist Party to oblivion. If his political acumen is not impressive enough, Jefferson reigned during the Louisiana Purchase, one of the greatest land grabs in World History. He then was instrumental in launching the Lewis and Clark Expedition, a ecological masterpiece study of the American West. All of this while keeping the nation at peace. As England and France were engaged in the bloody lose-lose nature of the Napoleonic War, American commerce prospered more than ever. Finally, anyone who has walked the campus of the University of Virginia can marvel at the national treasure created by the greatest of American thinkers. He saw the American Revolution bigger than perhaps any contemporary refusing to be a small irrelevant pocket of the world but instead being the first step in a global revolution. He wrote the Declaration of Independence, become the first Secretary of State, second Vice President and finally, the third President. He ushered America out of the cradle and into the world. Was there anything he could not do?

Why you may HATE him…

Jefferson is one of those historical figures that many claim to be enamored with but surely would frown upon his actions. What a pity it will be for our right wing friends to find out that this Founder had nothing to do with writing the Constitution, never openly supported it, and stood idly by as it came dangerously close to being rejected. When the new government was formed the first Secretary of State hired Philip Freneau, a New Yorker who only knew English, as a State Department translator. Freneau would go on to be a partisan hack, writing a newspaper that would make MSNBC blush all while on the government dollar. Freneau’s National Gazette once led to an angry mob out to kill Washington and only then did Jefferson concede maybe they had gone too far. Jefferson frequently called Washington senile because he disagreed with him and concocted a bogus government scandal involving Alexander Hamilton which proved absurdly untrue. Shortly after leaving office his Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions were cited as precedents for the 1832 Nullification Crisis and eventually the Civil War. Once President, Jefferson delighted in the fame he was garnered for the Louisiana Purchase even though he had nothing to do with it and his constitutional (he’s a fan now!) scruples almost killed the deal. Finally, in 1807 he launched a disastrous embargo policy that ruined New England’s economy, foolishly playing into French hands and probably handed his successor the War of 1812 by irrevocably exploding American-British relations. Finally, this lover of liberty, crusader for the rights of man and unabashed supporter of freedom owned people. He may have fathered children with one of them and actively thwarted abolition movements until the day he died. Historians almost universally gloss over slave ownership but as the self-proclaimed champion of liberty, Jefferson should have been better. He had to be better. Does this sound like a hero to you?

SOME BONUS JEFFERSON VITRIOL !!!

On August 16th, 2013, ousted Egyptian Prime Minster Mohamed Morsi semi-quoted Jefferson when he opined, “bloodshed irrigates the tree of liberty in Egypt.” He was not taking the Founding Father out of context. Jefferson was a worldwide revolutionary in the 18th Century, almost delighting in the deaths of monarchs, naively loving the French Revolution and patting himself on the back for a worldwide revolution that was not occurring. He would not turn on his beloved French. Not after the Reign of Terror. Not after the beheading of their King and Queen. Jefferson simply believed the bloodshed was somehow necessary to a liberty revolution. Jefferson was no friend of peaceful revolution in his time and continues to inspire violence to this day.

Final Verdict in Five Words: He should have known better.

Thomas Jefferson 1801-1809

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Book: Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power

Author: Jon Meacham

1. Date published- Released in late 2012, Meacham’s book is the most recent biography on Jefferson and maybe the most recent substantial work on any president to date. If one is attempting to emphasize recent works this is ideal. The result is an updated perspective on the life of Jefferson. The most important aspect is that Meacham’s book updates the way we view Jefferson. For example, an overwhelming amount of Jefferson scholars throughout the 20th century slanted toward a southern narrative that seemed to downplay and, in Randall’s case, discount the reality of Jefferson’s slavery life. He did indeed have children with Sally Hemmings and Meacham deftly puts that fact into perspective despite centuries of perspective. Meacham gives an updated take on the Jefferson Presidency especially the 1807 Embargo which has largely escaped criticism in other Jefferson works. There will come a time when Meacham and/or his characterization of Jefferson itself becomes dated but for now it is as fresh and as fair of a perspective as this project can get.

Grade: A

2. Scope- The scope of the work is a quickened yet comprehensive life of Jefferson. It would be exceedingly splitting hairs to point out spots of his life that Meacham did not cover. As compared to the less recent work from Randall, the pre-presidency is given a solid look and recanted at a complete but brisk pace. Perhaps one cannot have a perfect scope of Jefferson as his accomplishments in every aspect of his life could in itself become a thrilling narrative about early America. For a work of slightly over 500 pages, a fifth is dedicated to his presidency, a solid portion of a full life of public service. Particularly interesting is that the two Jefferson biographies in this project lack the scope when it comes to his retirement. Any University of Virginia student could inform you that a biography of Jefferson must include the fitting capstone in his career. In Meacham’s book it tarnishes an otherwise solid scope.

Grade: B-

3. Author-Jon Meacham is a well decorated writer who has multiple credits such as Newsweek, Time Magazine, and Executive Vice President of Random House. He is also a Pulitzer Prize winning author for his biography on Andrew Jackson in 2008. This book characteristically does not show signs of a journalist. This is only his second biography after the well received work on Jackson which will appear later in this project. Meacham has shown again that he can rapidly and thoroughly cover his subject. His admiration for Jefferson is abundantly clear but his overt approval of his actions at times distracts from the objectivity.

Grade: B+

4. Length-At over 500 pages, there is no mistaking that this should be taken as a short biography. There is no aspect of Jefferson’s life that is left uncovered. The length may be deceptive to a reader eager to delve deeply and completely into the rapid events covered in the book. For most US Presidents this work could have been covered in 250-300 pages but Meacham wisely goes the complete route by covering it all. The work never drags and is a quick read for any interested party and never shifts into a wonky extreme or gets too personal. However, you are reminded that the contradictions and seemingly irreconcilable faults of such a great man are not discussed at length.

Grade- B

5. Mission- For most of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, Jefferson was the mind and philosophical saint of the American Revolution. Despite being a slaveholder, womanizer (relatively) and otherwise flawed man, Jefferson emerged from history on Mount Rushmore. In the past generation, Jefferson has taken an awful beating and Meacham interestingly blames recent lauding of Washington, Adams, and Hamilton at the inevitable expense of Jefferson. Meacham’s mission then emerges as almost too simple. It is a steering of the ship back to the accomplishments of Jefferson. It is told through the ways he wielded and attained power and how his whole life simmered down to that ideal. The result is a focused and at times narrowed mission to right the ship, admit faults and attempt to pick up a tarnished Jefferson back to greatness. Meacham comes close but the cat is already out of the bag. Adams always feared that history would sweep him under the rug. Now that he is re-emerging it is only works such as Meacham’s that can keep Jefferson on the pedestal.

Grade: B+

Thomas Jefferson 1801-1809

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Book: Thomas Jefferson: A Life

Author: Willard Sterne Randall

1. Date published- This work was published in 1993 and the first single volume work in a generation on Thomas Jefferson. The hindsight in this work created an unique perspective into the lasting impacts of Jefferson’s life and policies. For example, the practice of not delivering the State of the Union Address in person was not practiced for over 100 years starting with Jefferson. Without the benefit of hindsight and modern manifestations the impact of that action would not be properly seen. Conversely, the long distance from the subject did create pitfalls, notably with the subject of slavery in which Jefferson was shown to be part of an expansive culture rather than the unique case he actually was. The lumping together with the more evil parts of the institution hurt Jefferson as a whole. Contemporary accounts were never cited, creating a modern conversation about a long diseased individual. This resulted in minimal emotional or irrational tugs that may have hampered a more contemporary individual.

Grade: A-

2. Scope-As part of the essential criteria in this adventure, the Presidents Project seeks constantly to learn about the evolution of the presidency through the lives of the men who held the office. This book pays an incredible disservice to the third president and the aims of the Presidents Project. Often hailed by scholars as a top five and so-called “Great” President, Randall whittles the time in office down to 60 pages. Interestingly, the scope of the work is tremendous until this point. In the biography, the maturity of Jefferson as a man and as a scholar offers valuable insight into how an 18th century man would head the infant nation. In roughly 600 pages of material, his education borders on 100 pages, his time in France nearly 150. Jefferson returns to the new nation nearly 500 pages into the work. In the final 100 pages, Randall sprints through discussion of the first Secretary of State, the second Vice President and third President of the United States. The lack of attention seems to be saying that Randall simply lost interest before the apex of Jefferson’s career and the quality of the work plummets as a result. For example, both Adams works discussed during this project offer extensive post-presidency coverage of the Adams-Jefferson correspondence unanimously hailed by historians as being one of the most brilliant exchanges in political history. Randall gives it one paragraph in his work.

Grade- D

3. Author- Randall is a biographer who specializes in the American Revolution and usually does not produce works on the period at large. Prior to his work on Jefferson, Randall had explored the Revolution itself in chronicling Benedict Arnold and Benjamin Franklin. As mentioned above, the strongest asset of this book overwhelmingly is in the discussion of pre-Revolutionary America and the subsequent war. Perhaps that is an indication of the lackluster discussion post-1790. After writing about Jefferson, Randall also published works on George Washington and Alexander Hamilton. Throughout the biography, he offers a scholarly perspective that rarely degrades into conjecture and speculation. Randall’s authoritative voice shows throughout the work with breadth and depth in research.

Grade: A-

4. Length-At 600 pages, this work comes close to being a solid one volume biography. In fact, the life story prior to 1790 is an excellent example of long biography style, documenting in depth discussions of the negotiations with the Continental Congress and his role serving America in France in particular. However, the book rapidly changes gears post-1790. All the ideal elements of a short biography dominate the final sprint leaving the reader little in depth discussion into key moments of American history. Items such as the Louisiana Purchase, the 1807 Embargo, and the Construction of the University of Virginia receive less attention than the discussion of a brief three month foray into Southern France combined. The length of the work is incredibly misleading, with a dense and thorough long biography book-ended by a dud of a short one.

Grade- C

5. Mission- In 1993, Randall sought to write a biography that “provides illuminating new insights into his public and private life.” As a mission, Randall is subpar at best. The complete lack of examination of the extraordinary transformation of the champion of Reason into a pragmatic bureaucrat fails the mission on arrival. Understandably, the stature and immense volume of works on Jefferson may have led Randall to take certain events for granted. However, items such as the 1807 Embargo Act and the Louisiana Purchase would have offered tremendous positives of another attempting to read about the presidency through biography. Perhaps more than the average President, Jefferson’s actions in office highlight the fascinating struggle between idealism and pragmatism. The struggle to conform to straight biography led to a disjointed narrative that seemed to constantly find something new to write about at the total expense of the well-known events that were revolutionary. It is not a hit job and it is not an undue adulation, but rather it is somewhere in the middle and unsatisfactory nonetheless.

Grade: C