Wednesday, January 18, 2012


White House, north face, 1901
Twelve babies have been born in the White House. Only one has been the child of a sitting president; all of the rest (except for one slave baby) have been either grandchildren or the children of sitting presidents’ nephews or nieces. In the early decades of the White House, it was not unusual for whole families of the president’s closest staff to live in the Executive Mansion.

One or two of the sources listed below mention specific rooms in the Executive Mansion where these babies were born, but only a couple of them. Some of the White House architecture has changed over the past two centuries, so that some earlier rooms no longer exist. The ground floor today, where the China Room, Library, and other rooms are located, was originally used for servants and slaves quarters; first-floor rooms are formal reception, dining, and dance rooms; and the second (top) floor has served as the private, residential rooms and apartments for the families of the presidents and their closest staff. Most of the earlier presidents had their offices on the second floor, too, until the Oval Office in the West Wing was constructed in 1909.

Jan. 17, 1806:  The first one was a grandson of President Thomas Jefferson on January 17, 1806. His name was James Madison Randolph, a child of Jefferson’s daughter Martha Washington Jefferson Randolph.

December 1806:  The next baby born there was to two of Jefferson’s slaves – Fanny and Eddy – who were part of Jefferson’s household staff. This is the only person of color and a slave born in the White House. There is no readily available record of the name or gender of this child, who only lived a few years, due to ill health.

Mary Louisa Adams (Durand, 1835)
December 2, 1828:  John Quincy Adams had only four months of his administration left when his son John Adams II and wife Mary Catherine, then living at the White House, welcomed a baby girl, Mary Louisa Adams, into the world.

1829-1834:  During Andrew Jackson’s presidency, four children were born to his secretary Andrew Jackson Donelson and his wife Emily, both of whom were also nephew and niece to Jackson’s deceased wife Rachel. Emily served as White House hostess during the Jackson administration.

March 1840:  Martin Van Buren’s eldest son Abraham married Angelica Singleton, a distant relation to Dolley Madison, and their daughter Rebecca was born at the White House during Martin’s presidency. Sadly, mother and daughter suffered serious illness for several months after childbirth, and although Angelica survived, little Rebecca finally succumbed that fall.

March 15, 1846:  James Polk and his wife Sarah had no children, but Polk’s nephew Joseph Knox Walker and his wife Augusta lived in the White House with the President and First Lady.  Walker served as secretary to the President.  The Walkers brought two children with them into the White House, and had two more while they lived there – Sally, b. March 15, 1846, and Joseph, b. December 9, 1847.

December 9, 1847:  Birth of President Polk’s grand-nephew Joseph Knox Walker in the White House. (See entry above.)

Esther Cleveland
September 9, 1893:  Grover Cleveland and his wife Frances are the only presidential couple to have had a child born to them in the White House during the presidency.  Ruth had been born a couple of years before, and public fascination (fostered because of other children residing previously in the White House) resulted in a candy bar named Baby Ruth in the child’s honor.  The Clevelands did their best to protect their children from the paparazzi of the day, and Esther’s arrival on September 9, 1893, surprised the press entirely. The Clevelands guarded their children’s privacy to the degree that the public speculated that Esther was deformed, which she was not.

January 17, 1915:  One hundred and nine years to the day after Thomas Jefferson’s grandson was born in the White House, little Francis Bowes Sayre, Jr., also came into the world in the White House, born to the daughter and son-in-law of Woodrow and Ellen Wilson,  Jesse and Francis Bowes Sayre.

William Seale, The President’s House: A History, White House Historical Association with the cooperation of the National Geographic Society, Washington, DC, 1986.

Susan Edwards, White House Kids, Avon Books, New York, 1999.

Adams grandson info from: - This Day In History: February 25

Polk grand-niece and grand-nephew info from:

Sunday, January 15, 2012


"Live Jackass Kicking a Dead Lion" - Nast, 1/15/1870
One hundred forty-two years ago today, Thomas Nast published a political cartoon in Harper’s Weekly, the first depiction of the Democratic Party as a donkey, kicking the stuffing out of a dead lion. The lion represented the recently deceased Edwin Stanton, a staunch Republican who served as Secretary of War under Lincoln and Johnson. Stanton’s depiction as a lion was unerring: he was highly prominent and influential, and brought dogged determination and unswerving stubbornness to American politics of the day. The passing of this major political opponent was undoubtedly celebrated by many Democrats.

The donkey had been used previously and specifically during the 1828 presidential campaign to represent Andrew Jackson, as an insult (his opponents called it - and Jackson - a jackass). Jackson took the icon to heart and used it on his campaign posters. Nast’s use of the icon encompassed the whole Democratic Party.

Nearly five years later, the donkey was joined by the Republican elephant, in a cartoon published in Harper’s Weekly on November 7, 1874. Again, this was the first notable use of this symbol for the Republican Party. In this cartoon, the elephant (labeled “The Republican Vote”) rampages against the donkey (which is wearing a lion skin labeled “Caesarism,” after the fable of the donkey terrorizing the other animals by disguising itself as a lion), because the Democrats were crying “Caesarism” at the prospect of President Grant trying to run for a third term, which went against protocol. (Grant did not run for a third term.)
"Third-Term Panic" Nast, Harper's Weekly, 1874

(This “third-term panic” is interesting, considering that it happened in the middle of Grant’s second term, two years before the next election. We really don’t see people starting a presidential campaign that early in those days, especially not sitting presidents. We don’t even see sitting presidents mount an aggressive campaign that early these days. But I digress … )

Nast, a German immigrant born in 1840 who became famous for his illustrations in such periodicals as Harper’s Weekly, the New York Illustrated News, and The Illustrated London News, had erratic schooling. Overall, the discipline of school did not come easily to him, and he always just managed to avoid flunking. He managed to spend about a year at the school of the National Academy of Design in New York City. Finances came too tight after that, and he dropped out at age fifteen, when he began working as a draftsman for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. He worked there for three years, then moved on to Harper’s Weekly.

Thomas Nast
More than just an illustrator (although his work earned him the title “Father of the American Cartoon”), Nast used his drawing skill to promote or demote current political issues. His opinions were strong, and he expressed them without hesitation in his artwork. He fought Tammany Hall and the Tweed Ring with such a power that not only did Tweed try to buy Nast’s allegiance (unsuccessfully) for half a million dollars, but Nast’s artful campaign against him was instrumental in the downfall of Tweed and his Tammany Hall machine. Nast's support of presidential candidates was equally influential.

Nast’s cartoons rooted for the underdog. He joined Garibaldi in the Italian’s efforts to unite the Italian provinces. He illustrated the plight of the American Indians in desperate straits, the result of poor federal policies, and of the Chinese immigrants against whom Congress passed many restrictive laws, despite the Chinese’ status as currency in what in effect was a new slave trade, many brought here against their will. He advocated for civil service reform. He supported abolition and integration, and denounced the violence of the Ku Klux Klan.

Other famous works of his include the depictions of Santa Claus and Uncle Sam with which we are so familiar today. Later in his artistic career, he turned to oil painting and book illustration, for which he is hardly remembered today.

Nast’s political contributions over the years finally led to a service position, after his political visibility had dimmed. In 1902, when Nast was 62, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him as the US Consul General to Guayaquil, Ecuador. Not long after he arrived, yellow fever broke out, threatening every system and life in the region. Nast remained at his post, assisting diplomatic missions and businesses to escape the contagion. He finally contracted the disease, however, to which he succumbed on December 7, 1902. His body was sent home, and he is buried in The Bronx.

HarpWeek Cartoon of the Day: “Third-Term Panic” (Republican Elephant shown)

Wikipedia: Republican Party This Day in History: January 15

Friday, January 6, 2012


Charles Sumner, 1865, by Matthew Brady
Statesman Charles Sumner was one of the very few political men in Washington, DC, with whom First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln was friends.  She believed that most of those who frequented her husband’s offices – office seekers, and men in Lincoln’s Cabinet, in the Congress, in the armies - were fortune hunters whose ambition exceeded their abilities. She was right about many of these, men and women alike.

Mrs. Lincoln - politically astute in her own right - saw in Charles Sumner, however, a kindred spirit, one of integrity and with the strength of character to stand up for what he believed in, more interested in the welfare of others than in that of himself - the kind of man she knew her own husband to be.

Sumner was born on January 6, 1811, in Boston, MA. He attended Boston Latin School, graduated from Harvard University in 1830 and from Harvard Law School in 1833, and was admitted to the bar in 1834.  He first joined the Whig party, but became a founder of the Free Soil Party in 1848, a single-issue group that opposed the expansion of slavery into the Western territories. Sumner’s first election into the US Congress was as a Free-Soiler when he was elected to the Senate in 1851. The Free-Soilers became a faction of the new Republican Party which rose in 1854; Sumner was reelected as a Republican in 1857, 1863, and 1869, and served in the Senate for the rest of his life.

Sumner came by his abolition ideas quite naturally. His father, Charles Pinckney Sumner, was a Harvard-educated lawyer and abolitionist, who pointed out to his son that freeing the slaves was pointless unless they had equality within society. The elder Sumner shocked the proper Bostonians with his ideas of integrated schools and marriage between the races.

Between his father’s beliefs and the influence of William Ellery Channing, a Unitarian minister who had profound faith in the human potential through education, Sumner came to the conclusion that one’s environment played a critical role in one’s development. By creating a society where "knowledge, virtue and religion" took precedence, "the most forlorn shall grow into forms of unimagined strength and beauty.” (1)

For about three years, between ages 26 and 29, Sumner traveled in Europe, studying art, geology, Greek history, and criminal law, and becoming fluent in French, Spanish, German, and Italian. He took advantage of this time, too, to meet many leading statesmen in Europe. In France, too, he observed blacks mingling with whites in a variety of cultural and societal functions, with no hint that anyone took notice of the difference in color.

Upon his return to the States, he worked in a law office, but spent considerable time lecturing at Harvard Law School. His stature (6’-4”), self-possession, and presentation added to the impressiveness of his lofty themes on issues of the day, which were well researched and eloquently delivered. Soon, he found himself in increasing demand as an orator.

During these years, he began work in Massachusetts toward public education, education reform for blacks, prison reform, and against racial segregation. His successes were mixed, but his losses often influenced later legislation in favor of his interests.

Sumner became the voice of the anti-slavery forces in Massachusetts, and once he gained the US Senate, he specialized in foreign affairs. His views against slavery were so strong that in 1856, a vitriolic, 3-hour diatribe that he vented in the Senate, which ridiculed slaveowners as pimps (and, unfairly, made fun of the physical mannerisms of South Carolina Senator Andrew Butler, who had been severely affected by a stroke), provoked a violent attack by Butler’s nephew, Representative Preston Brooks, who beat Sumner nearly to death on the Senate floor. Suffering spinal and brain damage, Sumner was unable to resume his duties in the Senate for three years, returning to his seat shortly before the Civil War erupted.

His beliefs in the cultural, social, economic and political corruption which resulted from the existence of slavery had not diminished in the least during his convalescence. When friends suggested to him that he soften his stance, he replied, "When crime and criminals are thrust before us they are to be met by all the energies that God has given us by argument, scorn, sarcasm and denunciation."

Sumner continued his fight for equal rights and suffrage for the black man. He was one of a regular group of abolitionists who pestered Lincoln steadily to end slavery, working with the president towards the emancipation policy that Lincoln eventually delivered. Throughout the Lincoln administration, Sumner often served as an advisor to the president, and was a frequent visitor to the Executive Mansion.

During Reconstruction, Sumner joined the Radical Republicans in Congress who wanted to punish the South harshly for having precipitated the war, believing that lenient and generous policies for the South showed weakness. This stance softened in the early 1870s, when he saw that conciliatory efforts would produce more useful results in knitting the Union back together.

Disagreement with President Ulysses Grant’s policies resulted in Sumner losing his committee chairmanships, and therefore his power base, in the Senate.  Disgruntled, Sumner supported Liberal Republican Horace Greeley in his presidential bid in 1872. With Greeley’s loss, the last of Sumner’s diminishing power within the Republican Party evaporated.

Sumner never lost his zeal in promoting civil rights and suffrage for blacks. He co-authored the Civil Rights Act of 1875, introduced in the Senate in 1870 and enacted a year after his death. It took another 82 years before Congress passed any further civil rights legislation.

Nor did he neglect his belief in the benefits of education for blacks. In 1872, a school in Washington, DC, initially built in 1866 by the Freedmen’s Bureau (another pet project of Sumner) was rebuilt and rededicated as the Charles Sumner School, in honor of his advocacy. Renovated in 1986, it is now the official museum and archives for the DC public school system.

Charles Sumner died on March 11, 1874, at age 63, at his home in Washington, DC, of a heart attack. He lay in state in the US Capitol Rotunda (the first Senator to do so), before being sent home for burial in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA. Among his pallbearers were Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (age 67), Oliver Wendell Holmes (age 64), Ralph Waldo Emerson (age 70), and John Greenleaf Whittier (age 66), all Bay Staters with whom Sumner had discussed much philosophy over the years.

Sumner was by no means perfect. His strong opinions alienated many of his contemporaries. His lack of a sense of humor alienated his wife (a short and fruitless marriage of only 7 years, late in Sumner's life). But he had the courage of his convictions, and no matter the cost to himself, did not hesitate to stand up for the rights of man.

(1) Donald, David Herbert. Charles Sumner and the Coming Civil War. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1960
(3)Biographical Directory of the United States Congress

A few other books about Sumner and his times:
1. Sumner, Charles. The Works of Charles Sumner
2. Donald, David Herbert. Charles Sumner and the Rights of Man. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1970.
3. George Henry Haynes. Charles Sumner (G.W. Jacobs & Company, 1909)
4. David McCullough. The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris (NY: Simon & Schuster, 2011)
5. Foner, Eric. Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party before the Civil War (1970)