Miller Center

Riding The Tiger

“I discovered that being a President is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed.” Harry S. Truman

1877: An Inaugural Agenda for Civil Service Reform

Torpedoes in His Path: Can he, with that load, get through without exploding them?

“Torpedoes in His Path: Can he, with that load, get through without exploding them?” By Joseph Keppler. Published in Puck Magazine: Centerfold; Vol. 1 No. 1, March 14, 1877. PD.

Each week leading up to President Obama’s second inauguration, which will take place on January 21, 2013, RTT is featuring an inaugural address by a president from the Miller Center’s archives.

Rutherford Birchard Hayes is perhaps one of the most underappreciated presidents (CSPAN Historians rank him 33rd). Although he ascended to the presidency in one of the most contested and controversial elections, “Rud” was an intelligent man and honest man who sought to reform the federal government even the face of a hostile Congress and in an era of Congressional dominance.

One of the priorities of President Hayes was to reform the system of civil service appointments, which had been based on a spoils system since the presidency of Andrew Jackson. Rather than doling out federal jobs to political supporters, Hayes called for awarding jobs based on merit. Hayes’ civil service reform success, even if it was limited, was significant for a couple reasons. First, Hayes’ efforts set  “a significant precedent as well as the political impetus for the Pendleton Act of 1883,” which was signed into law by none other than President Chestur A. Arthur. Second, in a period marked by Congressional dominance, Hayes restored the President’s constitutional power of appointments. While Congress could suggest those whom they thought should be nominated for federal jobs, by the end of the Hayes administration, senators and congressman no longer dictated these appointments to the president.

Hayes laid out his civil service reform agenda in his Inaugural Address on March 5, 1877:

I ask the attention of the public to the paramount necessity of reform in our civil service--a reform not merely as to certain abuses and practices of so-called official patronage which have come to have the sanction of usage in the several Departments of our Government, but a change in the system of appointment itself; a reform that shall be thorough, radical, and complete; a return to the principles and practices of the founders of the Government. They neither expected nor desired from public officers any partisan service. They meant that public officers should owe their whole service to the Government and to the people. They meant that the officer should be secure in his tenure as long as his personal character remained untarnished and the performance of his duties satisfactory. They held that appointments to office were not to be made nor expected merely as rewards for partisan services, nor merely on the nomination of members of Congress, as being entitled in any respect to the control of such appointments… 

The President of the United States of necessity owes his election to office to the suffrage and zealous labors of a political party, the members of which cherish with ardor and regard as of essential importance the principles of their party organization; but he should strive to be always mindful of the fact that he serves his party best who serves the country best. 

FDR Addresses Congress 60 Years Ago: ‘Arsenal of democracy is making good.’

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1943 State of the Union Address

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Sixty years ago today, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered his annual State of the Union address to Congress. President Roosevelt didn’t lay out any legislative proposals but instead focused on the events and needs of the world war. “I think the arsenal of democracy is making good,” Roosevelt told the 78th Congress and the nation in his January 7, 1943 address.

Just two years before, Roosevelt had delivered his “Four Freedoms” speech. Roosevelt used the occasion of the 1943 State of the Union to remind the country that “freedom from want,” which he defined as the right of employment and the right of assurance against life’s hazards, would be a significant task facing the country in the coming years. Furthermore, the extension of two new rights in the Four Freedoms speech – “freedom from want” and “freedom from fear” – beyond what had been guaranteed by the Constitution promised a significant expansion of the federal government. Roosevelt linked these two freedoms and justified their pursuit as necessary to the future prosperity of the nation in his address to the 78th Congress and the nation in 1943:

In this war of survival we must keep before our minds not only the evil things we fight against but the good things we are fighting for. We fight to retain a great past—and we fight to gain a greater future.
Let us remember, too, that economic safety for the America of the future is threatened unless a greater economic stability comes to the rest of the world. We cannot make America an island in either a military or an economic sense. Hitlerism, like any other form of crime or disease, can grow from the evil seeds of economic as well as military feudalism.
Victory in this war is the first and greatest goal before us. Victory in the peace is the next. That means striving toward the enlargement of the security of man here and throughout the world—and, finally, striving for the fourth freedom—freedom from fear.

Read and listen to the full address here.

Friday Feature: Riding the Tiger Off a Cliff

Unidentified aids deliver pizzas to House Democrats during a late night planning session, 1/1/2013. (Cropped photo from Reuters, featured in MSN PHOTOblog.)

Well, for now, we've avoided cascading off the great "Fiscal Cliff" of 2012/2013. Time will tell if the 11th- (13th?) hour deal will have lasting effects on the state of the economy, or of congressional gridlock, in general. (Prospects aren't looking so good.)

There is one thing we know for sure: at least part of the brainpower stopping us from careening off the cliff was fueled by America's favorite late-night food: pizza. Stacks and stacks of delicious lukewarm delivery pizza.

Stay tuned! Every Friday we'll highlight an interesting item from presidential history.

On the votes against Boehner

Check out GAGE Faculty Associate Jeff Jenkins' perspective on the historical defections in the vote for House Speaker in his guest post at The Monkey Cage.

1845: The First Dark Horse Inaugural

Scan of a page from the Illustrated London News, v. 6, April 19, 1845.

Scan of a page from the Illustrated London News, v. 6, April 19, 1845, with the first newspaper illustrations of an American presidential inauguration this being for James K. Polk on March 4, 1845. Courtesy of Library of Congress. PD.

Each week leading up to President Obama’s second inauguration, which will take place on January 21, 2013, RTT is featuring an inaugural address by a president from the Miller Center’s archives.

In December, President Obama threatened to use his Inaugural Address to appeal to public opinion and blame Republicans if there was no deal over the nation’s austerity crisis before New Year’s. Now that some compromise has been reached, the fiscal cliff may not dominate the address on January 21. However, given that the next round of negotiations on the nation’s debt and taxation is now less than two months away, the President will certainly use the Inaugural to once again appeal to the public and lay out his policy agenda. Tariffs, taxes and banking were also the subjects of the Inaugural Address of one of the most significant, if little known presidents of the 19th century.

Not many Americans know James Knox Polk, but they should. He was a rather consequential president and an astute political leader who fought the Mexican War; expanded the Union to the Southwest and West; and solidified national economic policy. Polk was the first dark horse candidate ever to be nominated by a major political party and elected to the presidency. His candidacy was made possible after Martin van Buren committed political suicide by opposing the annexation of Texas. Polk beat Henry Clay by the closest margin in history —1,338,464 popular votes to Clay's 1,300,097—a difference of 38,367 votes. Even though Clay won five slave states, including Polk’s home state of Tennessee and North Carolina, Polk netted 170 electoral votes to Clay's 105. As president, Polk's agenda was driven by four of the most contentious issues of the Jacksonian Era: territorial expansion, slavery, banking, and the tariff. Polk assumed the presidency with a focused political agenda.

At his Inauguration on March 4, 1845, Polk spoke at length about his political agenda and the convictions of his positions. Polk promised to administer the government in the true spirit of the Constitution and promised not to assume any powers not expressed or implied in the document:

The government of the United States is one of delegated and limited powers, and it is by a strict adherence to the clearly granted powers and by abstaining from the exercise of doubtful or unauthorized implied powers that we have the only sure guaranty against the recurrence of those unfortunate collisions between the federal and state authorities which have occasionally so much disturbed the harmony of our system and even threatened the perpetuity of our glorious Union.

What Would TR Have Done in Fiscal Cliff Negotiations?

Anthracite Coal Strike Commission Appointed 1902 by President Roosevelt.

Anthracite Coal Strike Commission Appointed 1902 by President Roosevelt, a stereo card of the commission appointed by Theodore Roosevelt to resolve the Coal Strike of 1902. Photo by William H. Rau and courtesy of the Library of Congress. PD.

In politics, appearances often matter more than reality. Theodore Roosevelt understood this point well. Edmund Morris relates the fact particularly well in a chapter of his acclaimed book, Theodore Rex.

In 1902, the 26th President brought together John Mitchell, President of the United Mine Workers, and members of the business community for talks at the White House. The goal: an end to the Anthracite Coal Strike that had endured for over five months. The struggle had not only led to the loss of seven lives, but also had become a serious drag on the nation’s economy.

Roosevelt’s subsequent performance showed a mastery of negotiation. It rested on two pillars. First, he let both sides posture and talk themselves hoarse. Second, and most importantly, he crafted a genius compromise.

Both parties in question needed some form of arbitration. However, both had stuck their respective necks out so far publicly that they could not appear to capitulate at this point.

Roosevelt worked around the problem with the creation of an independent commission to solve the matter. In essence, the agreement allowed both sides to settle without appearing to do so.

After wrangling over nominal titles and membership within the commission, both parties agreed. The President summed up the entire issues as follows:

I shall never forget the mixture of relief and amusement I felt when I thoroughly grasped the fact that while they would heroically submit to anarchy rather than have Tweedledum, yet if I would call it Tweedledee they would accept it with rapture.

In short, Roosevelt realized that the secret to mediation was the placation of vanity.

Celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation

First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln

“First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln,” by Francis Bicknell Carpenter, 1864. Oil on Canvas. PD.

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. As the country approached the third year of a bloody civil war, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, which formally emancipated all slaves held in States or parts of States in active rebellion against the Union. Lincoln declared by executive order “all persons held as slaves” in Confederate territories to be “forever free” and, furthermore, that the “Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.”

Although first unsure about the extent of his executive power and authority under the Constitution to free the slaves, eventually Lincoln justified emancipation by executive order as a military necessity that came under his constitutional powers as commander-in-chief. Just before signing the document, Lincoln said, "I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right than I do in signing this paper." But Lincoln only went as far as he believed the law permitted him. He also took into account political and military considerations. The Emancipation Proclamation was limited in that it only applied to states that had seceded from the union; it exempted areas already under Northern control; and freedom depended upon Union military victory. Although the proclamation didn’t end slavery, it set in motion a sequence of events that led to the ratification of 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1865.

The Emancipation Proclamation also changed the character of the war, giving the war a moral force and transforming it to a war of freedom. As Henry Ward Beecher said in a commemorative sermon to an overflow audience in Brooklyn, "The Proclamation may not free a single slave, but it gives liberty a moral recognition."

Top Quotes from the 2012 Presidential Election

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama on stage at the foreign policy presidential debate. October 22, 2012.

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama on stage at the foreign policy presidential debate. October 22, 2012. Photo by Irina Lagunina, courtesy of Voice of America, PD.

It’s the last day of the year. To celebrate, we decided to recap what we think are the top fifteen quotes from the 2012 presidential election. Wishing all our readers the best for a peaceful and prosperous 2013.

Top Candidate Quotes:

1. Mitt Romney, speaking to donors during a private fundraising dinner:

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.

2. Barack Obama, ‘You didn’t build that’ comment that was used effectively by Republicans (unedited):

There are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there. If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.

3. Mitt Romney’s comment on women during a presidential debate that set the Internet ablaze with memes galore. Referring to his time as Massachusetts governor:

I had the chance to pull together a cabinet, and all the applicants seemed to be men. I went to a number of women’s groups and said, ‘Can you help us find folks?’ and they brought us whole binders full of women.

4. Mitt Romney on what he would cut in spending during the first presidential debate:

What things would I cut from spending? Well, first of all, I will eliminate all programs by this test, if they don't pass it: Is the program so critical it's worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? And if not, I'll get rid of it. Obamacare's on my list. ... I'm sorry, Jim, I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I'm going to stop other things. I like PBS, I love Big Bird. Actually like you, too. But I'm not going to -- I'm not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for. That's number one.

5. Barack Obama to Mitt Romney in the second presidential debate:

I don’t look at my pension. It’s not as big as yours so it doesn’t take as long.

The Replacements: EPA Administrator Edition

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano, Department of the Interior and Environmental Protection Agency

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson receive a brief from Rear Adm. Mary Landry during a survey of the Deepwater Horizon incident. April 30, 2010. Photo by PO3 Cory Mendenhall, PD.

With a number of key appointees resigning in President Obama’s second term, it’s time for everyone’s second favorite parlor game – who are the replacements?

Yesterday, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson announced that she will resign her position shortly after President Obama’s State of the Union address next month. Under her tenure, the EPA enacted the first-ever greenhouse gas standards for vehicles, cuts in mercury and other toxic pollution from power plants and a tighter limit on soot. She has pressed for limits on emissions form coal-fired power plants and on the dumping of mine waste into streams and rivers near mines. While many in the environmental community have praised her advocacy, many Congressional Republicans and business groups have gone so far as to suggest that Jackson was waging a “war on coal.”

In a statement, President Obama praised Jackson:

Under her leadership, the EPA has taken sensible and important steps to protect the air we breathe and the water we drink, including implementing the first national standard for harmful mercury pollution, taking important action to combat climate change under the Clean Air Act, and playing a key role in establishing historic fuel economy standards that will save the average American family thousands of dollars at the pump while also slashing carbon pollution.

With Jackson’s departure, here are some top picks of whom President Obama might enlist as next EPA administrator.

1901 and 1905: From the Unexpected to the Highly Celebrated Inaugurations of TR

Each week leading up to President Obama’s second inauguration, which will take place on January 21, 2013, RTT is featuring an inaugural address by a president from the Miller Center’s archives.

Nowadays, the Presidential inauguration is full of pomp and circumstance. Inaugural balls spanning a few days and a parade accompany the official swearing-in ceremony and luncheon. But the official swearing-in of the first modern president was far from elaborate. Indeed, Theodore Roosevelt’s first inauguration in September 1901 was unexpected. As President William McKinley’s condition began to worsen after being shot by Leon Czolgosz, Roosevelt was summoned from a camping and hiking trip with his family in the Adirondacks to Buffalo, New York. By the time Roosevelt arrived in Buffalo, McKinley had already passed away. Roosevelt, now constitutionally the President of the United States, was taken to the home of his friend Ansley Wilcox. After borrowing a mourning suit from Wilcox, Roosevelt went to pay respects to McKinley’s family.

When Roosevelt returned to Wilcox’s home, other members of the Cabinet who were also in Buffalo – Secretary of War Elihu Root, Secretary of the Navy John Long, Attorney General Philander Knox, Secretary of the Interior Ethan Hitchcock, Postmaster General Charles Emory Smith, and Secretary of Agriculture James Wilson, along with United States District Court Judge John Hazel, New York Court of Appeals Judge Haight and New York Senator Chauncey Depew – without preparation came over to administer the oath of office.  According to Wilcox’s eyewitness account, Elihu Root requested that Roosevelt take the oath of office. Roosevelt answered:

Mr. Secretary – I will take the oath. And in this hour of deep and terrible national bereavement, I wish to state that it shall be my aim to continue, absolutely without variance, the policy of President McKinley, for the peace and honor of our beloved country.

President Roosevelt then made an announcement of his request to the cabinet to remain in office. The whole ceremony was over within half an hour after the cabinet had entered the house.

Friday Feature: Reagans Riding the Yuletide Tiger

Ronald Reagan, who is clad in a full Santa Claus suit, holds a smiling Nancy Reagan in his lap.

In the spirit of Nancy Reagan and whoever might be under that beard, best wishes for a joyous and safe holiday.

Stay tuned! Every Friday we'll highlight an interesting item from presidential history.

Miller Center Panel: Immigration Reform Needed if U.S. to Compete in Global Battle for Talent, Ideas

Caplin Conference Keynote Roundtable: “High Skilled Immigration: Pathways to Progress”

On December 7, the Miller Center convened the 2012 Mortimer Caplin Conference on the World Economy at our offices in Washington, DC and at the National Press Club. Representatives from the academy, the government, and the private sector engaged in serious discussions about the true impact of current immigration provisions on American competitiveness, how proposals for high-skilled admissions can meet the needs of the U.S. economy, what effect such proposals might have on other policy goals (such as encouraging U.S. students to enter STEM fields), how those trade-offs should be managed, and the extent to which specific proposals serve national interests or instead primarily benefit particular industries or employers. 

The concluding panel at the National Press Club featured University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan, United States Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), and Founder and former CEO of AOL Steve Case. The panel was moderated by Alan Murray, Deputy Managing Editor and Executive Editor of The Wall Street Journal online edition and President of Pew Research Center (beginning January 2013). As Murray noted in his introduction, immigration is one issue that changed on the national landscape in the wake of the election. The outcome of the election has shaken up the politics and created the possibility for some movement on immigration legislation.

Steve Case noted that it is worth remembering that the nation was once a start-up. We didn’t become the leading economy by accident. It was the work of entrepreneurs who created companies and built the economy. In the history of the nation, the work of the risk-taking, pioneering entrepreneurs to help build this country is often overlooked. Case said the good news is that the U.S. is still the world’s most entrepreneurial nation. The bad news is that other nations have figured out that “the secret sauce” to a successful economy is an entrepreneurial economy. Other countries have modified their policies to become more entrepreneurial. Australia, for example, allows ten times more entrepreneurial visas. We are engaged in a global battle for talent, capital and ideas. Detroit rose on an idea propelled by entrepreneurs and fell when it lost its way. As a country, if we don’t change course, we will also fall. The issue of talent is central – as the old truism goes, an organization is only as good as it’s people. Case expressed frustration that we’ve been talking about high skilled reform for at least a decade. We have to do something quickly. Immigration should be less of a debate about a problem and more of a debate about opportunity.

Lessons from Mr. Rogers, Relevant Still

Mr. Rogers’ Robert F. Kennedy Assassination Special, 1968

The tragedy in Newtown has set a tone of grieving throughout the United States. As the nation grapples to formulate a response and heal, we think back to other tragic times in American history and attempt to learn from—or, at least, acknowledge—their role in shaping our national consciousness at the time.

Embedded here is a clip from episode of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood following the assassination of RFK in 1968. In this clip, Daniel the lion talks to Betty about life and tragedy. It begins with a balloon, segues into a conversation about "What does 'assassination' mean?," and ends with a message from Fred Rogers about how we all deal with sadness differently.

From Mr. Rogers himself (beginning 6:10):

“I've been terribly concerned about the graphic display of violence which the mass media has been showing recently, and I plead for your protection and support of your young children. There's just so much that a very young child can take without it being overwhelming to him. I've been, very frankly, quite concerned about it, and that's one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you today. The best thing in the world is for your children to be included in your family ways of coping with the problems that present themselves any time… but particularly now, in this very difficult time in our nation.”

He goes on to describe different ways a family might deal with their grief: attending a church, walking by a river, putting "a strong arm" around those you love.

Video courtesy Fred Rogers Center, all rights reserved.

 

Is this the Moment for Political Action on Gun Violence?

President Bill Clinton Address Gun Laws in his 2000 State of the Union Address in the wake of the Columbine, Colorado Tragedy.

In the wake of the tragedy in Newton, Connecticut, the nation could be poised for a more serious dialogue about gun violence. Even President Obama, who was reticent in the wake of the Aurora, Colorado shootings amidst the height of electioneering to risk losing swing voters, now seems more willing to engage in a national dialogue on preventing gun violence. On Sunday, President Obama traveled to Newton, Connecticut to address the community at an interfaith vigil. As he noted in his speech, it was the fourth time in his presidency that the nation has come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by mass shootings. Indeed, according to a Mother Jones investigation, spree shootings like those in Newton, Aurora, Virginia Tech and Columbine have been on the rise in the United States (a less restrictive definition of mass shootings employed by James Allan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern, finds that there hasn’t been an increase). There have been at least 62 mass shootings in the past three decades, with 24 in the last seven years alone. In addition to these shootings, there have also been “an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children.” President Obama told the community:

We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.

We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society, but that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely we can do better than this.

If there’s even one step we can take to save another child or another parent or another town from the grief that’s visited Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek and Newtown and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that, then surely we have an obligation to try.

While the President refrained from advocating specific gun control laws, he noted:

In the coming weeks, I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine.

In pressing for action, President Obama follows in the footsteps of his Democratic predecessors, though he has been more restrained thus far by refraining from advocating specific measures.

1881: Inaugural of a Forgotten President

Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite administering the oath of office to James A. Garfield on the east portico of the U.S. Capitol.

Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite administering the oath of office to James A. Garfield on the east portico of the U.S. Capitol. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress. PD.

Each week leading up to President Obama’s second inauguration, which will take place on January 21, 2013, RTT is featuring an inaugural address by a president from the Miller Center’s archives.

The inaugural address of James Garfield certainly falls into the category of “speeches lost to history.” It dovetails nicely with the addresses previously examined in this series. Harrison’s inaugural is more known for the fact that it probably killed him than for its content. Buchanan’s is overshadowed by a presidency infamous for his inability to prevent (and respond to) the onset of civil war. James Garfield falls into neither of those categories. His speech is lost to history because his presidency is lost to history. His most distinctive attribute is that a former supporter who was mentally ill assassinated him less than a hundred days after his inauguration. This end is all the more unfortunate when considered in the context of his inaugural address, which is surprisingly substantive and inspiring--especially for one of the “forgotten” presidents.

Garfield, a man who rose to public office largely due to his renown as hero of the Civil War, began by saying: “We ourselves are witnesses that the Union emerged from the blood and fire of that conflict purified and made stronger for all the beneficent purposes of good government.” Garfield believed that the conflict had foreclosed one of the most divisive issues in American political history:

The supremacy of the nation and its laws should be no longer a subject of debate. That discussion, which for half a century threatened the existence of the Union, was closed at last in the high court of war by a decree from which there is no appeal--that the Constitution and the laws made in pursuance thereof are and shall continue to be the supreme law of the land, binding alike upon the States and the people.

A considerable portion of the speech is dedicated to discussing the plight of newly freed slaves. Garfield said that the enfranchisement and self-sufficiency of freed persons was a force that would “grow greater and bear richer fruit with the coming years.” Garfield went on to say:

[T]hose who resisted the change should remember that under our institutions there was no middle ground for the negro race between slavery and equal citizenship. There can be no permanent disfranchised peasantry in the United States. Freedom can never yield its fullness of blessings so long as the law or its administration places the smallest obstacle in the pathway of any virtuous citizen.