America's most honored presidents

A POINT OF AWARENESS - Preciosa S. Soliven () - June 17, 2010 - 12:00am

(Part 2 of a series on US Presidents)



The FEW CHOSEN – THE PRESIDENTS. (The History Channel)

Lincoln’s Pledge ‘to Bind up the Nation’s Wounds’ (1861-1865) – 16th President

One of America’s most honored presidents, Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin in Hardin County, Kentucky. His stepmother, Sarah Bush Johnston, encouraged Lincoln to read books, the Bible, Weem’s biography of George Washington and Shakespeare’s plays. Abe was tall and lanky, and he grew strong clearing timber and splitting logs to make fences. At 19, he traveled up and down the Mississippi on a flatboat delivering farm products.

What Abe did not have in looks, he made up with his wits. He disarmed people with his deprecating humor. Lincoln’s wide grin and talent for telling stories helped make him popular. In 1834, he ran for the state legislature and went on to serve four terms. He also studied law and formed a successful practice at Springfield, the state capital.

Lincoln was against the idea of slavery. During his 1858 campaign for senator from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln uttered these famous words, “A house divided against itself cannot stand… I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.” (James McPherson, The American Idol)

In 1860, “Honest Abe” won the battle for president. He chose his cabinet who were “intellectual equals”, but reserved the ultimate decision to himself. Four of his cabinet members were his political rivals.

Mary Todd Lincoln, his first lady, was criticized for her moodiness and extravagance, but her husband recalled falling in love with her and said, “I have never fallen out of love.”

A presidential term completely defined by war

Lincoln refused to allow the South to leave the Union, and the Civil War began on April 12, 1861. After the bloody Battle of Antietam, the next year, Lincoln delivered his famous Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, declaring all slaves free.

The war dragged on as Lincoln won re-election in 1864. After four years of fighting, General Robert E. Lee (Southern commander), surrendered on April 9, 1865 to Ulysses S. Grant (commander of all Union armies), who became the 18th US president.

Lincoln was the only American president whose term was “completely defined by war.” He took over the command of the army to lead the revolution. Having no military expertise, he took a crash course by using the Library of Congress to teach himself. He was utterly fascinated with the technology of military tactics.

In 1865, at Lincoln’s urging, Congress passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution officially abolishing slavery. It read: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States…”

At his second inauguration, Lincoln pledged to “bind up the nation’s wounds” and restore peace “with malice toward none; with charity for all”. Before he could fulfill his goal of a compassionate post-war reconstruction, Lincoln was assassinated by actor John Wilkes Booth in Ford’s Theater on April 15, 1865.

William McKinley and the Philippines (1897-1901), 25th President

William McKinley was born in Niles, Ohio, to an iron foundry worker. When poor health forced him to leave College, he joined the Union army, where he was promoted to brevet major in 1865.

In 1896, backed by big money, he became the 25th US president. His tranquil look did not readily reveal a special dynamism that called forth the corporate responsibilities of the new industrialists. He pioneered modern management of the press.

Although quite reluctant to commence war, he saw the Spanish oppression in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. For humanitarian and economic reasons, he felt it was time for America to claim military powers in the Caribbean and the Pacific. When the US battleship Maine was sunk in Havana, killing 142 Americans, he sent his Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt to fight Spain. This was the start of Roosevelt’s “rough rider” troops. It was an easy victory, and America became a world power.

Victory in the Spanish-American War gave the US new territories: the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico. Later, the US would pay Spain US$20 million for the Philippines.

He was the third president to be assassinated while in office. He was shot by an anarchist while attending the Pan-American Exposition at Buffalo, New York in September 1901.

Theodore Roosevelt, the most electrifying politician (1901-1909), 26th President

Theodore Roosevelt was born in New York into a well-to-do family. As a boy, he suffered from asthma but he worked hard to build a muscular, healthy body. After finishing at Harvard University in 1880, he attended law school at Columbia but quit to run for state congress.

In 1900, the Republican party named him the vice presidential candidate. Fate made Roosevelt president when McKinley was shot in 1901.

He believed that the industrialists wielded too much power. Thus, he sued Northern Railway, “JP Morgan’s monopoly”. As “trust regulator”, he reminded the corporate world that “People count!” Eight million immigrants turned life for working class from bad to intolerable. This resulted in inadequate sanitation, no welfare provisions, and child labor was rampant. Coal miners went into strike creating a serious “winter freeze”.

He created the 1906 Meat Inspection Purefoods and Drugs Act (Upton Sinclair, “The Jungle”).

   President Roosevelt personally acted in behalf of the people. He promoted his “Square Deal” reform legislation between corporations and the labor force, which averted strikes. He worked for peace through diplomacy, earning a Nobel Peace prize for his efforts. In 1907, a Monetary Commission was established, which became the basis for the Federal Reserve system.

In 1903, Roosevelt negotiated an agreement with Panama that resulted in the completion of the Panama Canal ten years later, which greatly protected trading. He declared the Monroe doctrine that henceforth America is in charge of protecting the western hemisphere of the United States. This is part of his “big stick diplomacy” – speak gently but carry a big stick. (Today, the Panama Canal is considered one of the wonders of the world.)

President Roosevelt’s “Antiquity Act” halted the destruction of American landscape. He believed that speculative interests were eroding America’s natural resources. He set aside 230 million acres of wilderness lands for conservation which later became part of the country’s national parks and nature reserves. He stated, “Nature’s heirloom of America must be saved for our children.”

Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy

HW Brunt, “The Last Romantic” wrote: Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy will always be with us. When you sip water, you know it is not contaminated. When you cook hamburger on the grill, you will not die. Anytime, you can hike the Sierra Nevada or go for a swim on the great lakes. This is TR’s bequest to preserve this pristine and priceless land.”

   (ERRATUM. The conclusion of last week’s column entitled, Grazie Mille Madame President Arroyo, Welcome President-elect Benigno Aquino III, should have read: “This is the true spirit of the Memorandum of Understanding DG Matsuura signed with the UNDP – the call of the United Nations for “DELIVERING AS ONE” (instead of DEVELOPING) if the UN Millennium Development Goal is to be met.”)

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