Rutherford Hayes: Presidential Series by Hans Trefousse

Father died before he was born. Raised in Delaware. His mother’s brother played a major role in his life.
 
Became lawyer. Went to Harvard. Served in military during civil war. Became a Congressman, then Governor of Ohio three times. Supported Grant administration. Lost race for Senate. Started free library in his town. 
 
Elected president in 1876. However, it was a disputed election, which weakened his presidency. He also had to deal with a Democratic Congress.
 
He worked to move the country back to a gold standard. He pursued civil service reform. In his third year he vetoed a slew of attempts by southern congress to make it difficult to enforce the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. Had various issues with Indians. 
 
Very pro education, even for blacks. Thought capitalism caused labor to not get fair share. Thought taxation too low for wealthy. “A government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich.” 
 
One of the best educated presidents. 
 
Promised not to run for a second term, and declined to when pressed to by his party.
 
Interesting tidbits:  Somoa requested annexation during his administration. Part of Paraguay is named after Hayes. Author mentions that Hayes tried to bring the parties together after his disputed election, unlike Bush, who did the opposite. 
 
 

A. Lincoln: A Biography – Ronald C. White

A very long biography of Lincoln. More detail than I needed.

A few things stood out. Lincoln’s early study of the the speeches of ministers and politicians paid off down the road. Without his writing and  oratory ability he never would have been president. He was a very shrewd politician, knowing exactly when  the time was right to move. Finally, he always spent time working out all the angles on an issue before he made a decision. 

James Buchanan: The American Presidents Series – Jean Baker

Buchanan was from Pennsylvania, at the time the second most populous state in the country.  He came from a relatively well-off family, and was able to attend college, Dickinson. As most future politicians at the time did, he study law after college. He served in Congress, and held many posts for various administrations, most notably as Polk’s Secretary of State.

His presidency was a disaster. Most historians think he was too generous in his treatment of the South, where most of his support came from. He completely botched the slavery issue in Kansas by siding way too heavily with the South. He also was weirdly inactive when the South succeeded, basically doing nothing, claiming the Constitution didn’t allow him to act. Buchanan is often ranked as the worst president in US history (and that’s saying something).

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

An autobiography of a guy from a poor, sometimes violent, very dysfunctional Appalachian family. Spent his childhood in the backwoods of Kentucky, and his teen years the Ohio Rust Belt. Joined the Marines after high school, which along with his grandparent’s guidance, helped set him on the right track. Went on to graduate from Ohio State and then Yale Law School.

The book was a New York Times bestseller. Vance is now a regular on the talking-head circuit and probably has made a shit-load of money. Good for him.

It was an interesting, easy read. I can’t say I was particular stunned by what he had to say. His description of his rough upbringing was interesting, even for a hillbilly such as myself who is is somewhat familiar with how it goes. His thoughts on what how families stuck in this type of environment could be helped are not terribly insightful. Basically, the government can’t do much, they need to be like him and pull themselves up by their bootstraps (not realistic if you ask me).

I’m glad I read it. I preferred Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White-Collar Dreams by Alfred Lubrano,  which dealt similar subject manner in a more thoughtful manner. 

 

Franklin Pierce – 14th President

Pierce was the fourteen president of the United States. He was a Democratic from New Hampshire.

Ironically, although one if his highest priorities was keeping the Democratic party together, he ended up splitting it apart. By supporting the negation of the Compromise of 1820, which marked a line across the country above which slavery was outlawed, he reignited the issue of slavery across the country. “Bleeding Kansas” was one of the unfortunately consequences.

During the next election only seven of the 44 Democratic congressman were re-elected. Republican James Buchanan, an even worse leader, was elected next. 

Millard Fillmore by Robert Rayback

A very sympathetic  treatment of Fillmore. Book was too long, but I certainly learned a lot. Millard was (according to this book) a very principled man who put country over personal glory.  Things didn’t work out exactly the way he wanted, but that’s not extraordinary. 

Fillmore was a Whig. The Whigs were sort of  the Democrats of the day, believers in a government that invests, helps, and stabilizes the country. Mostly anti-slavery, but they also attracted some members from the South, which allowed them to build a strong enough coalition to prevail, at least on occasion.

Besides the Compromise of 1850, which Fillmore was instrumental in making viable, he mostly was involved in foreign policy. Lots of “stuff” happened in Hawaii, Japan, China, Nicaragua, with Britain,  etc.

Fillmore tried to run again as the head of the  “Know Nothing” party, but was defeated.

In the mid-1850 the U.S. experience a time very similar to today: strong anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic sentiments, and a party (the  Know Nothings”) that took full advantage of it.