By ART CALLAHAM
7:55 PM AKST, January 5, 2013
I have been reading Cormac O’Brien’s book, “Secret lives of the U.S. Presidents.” What a hoot! As O’Brien states in the subtitle, the book is truly, “What your teachers never told you about the men of the White House.”
The book’s revelations about our presidents, as well as other prominent historical figures, has prompted me to write a series of columns over the next few months. These columns will recount some of the interesting facts about those who served as president and those who surrounded the office.
O’Brien has an extensive bibliography of noted historians and researchers, so I’ll accept that most of what he writes is as accurate as can be expected. I’d love to hear your reactions, comments or historical updates — maybe some history teachers will respond.
Bet you didn’t know that our first president, George Washington, was paid (at current dollar value) the “kingly” sum of $1 million per year. In 1789 dollars, that was $25,000. Washington did not want to be a king or set up a monarchy, yet he was certainly paid like one. Our current president makes $400,000 per year (I guess he’ll have to pay a little more in “post fiscal cliff” income taxes). Who says there have not been governmental pay cuts?
George Washington had “leopard skin” blankets for all of his horses and spent 7 percent of his annual income on alcohol. Guess the water in the capital was no better then than now. Washington never served in his namesake city; our nation’s capital was in New York City and Philadelphia during his administrations.
The capital was moved to the city of Washington in the District of Columbia in 1800. Washington died in December 1799 and didn’t live to see the capital officially moved.
I could write hundreds of columns about George Washington; many failed historians already have. But, let’s move on to John Adams, our second president. Perhaps, most notably, Adams was our nation’s first one-term president. Adams lost a rematch with Thomas Jefferson.
Not to be “underdone” by his father, John Quincy Adams, our sixth president, was our second one-term president. John Quincy Adams defeated Andrew Jackson in what was Adam’s second run for president (he lost to James Monroe in a previous election) and then lost the rematch with Jackson in his third run for president.
To me, the following is one of the interesting quotes from history. John Quincy Adams said of his four years in office: “The four most miserable years of my life were my four years in the presidency.” Go figure.
Back to his father, John Adams. I feel a special physical closeness to him, as has nickname was “His Rotundity.”
Between John Adams and his son are arguably three of the brightest presidents of all times — Jefferson, Madison and Monroe.
When he entertained a group of Nobel Prize winners in the White House in 1962, President John F. Kennedy heralded the event as “the most distinguished gathering of intellectual talent that ever graced the Executive Mansion — except for when Thomas Jefferson dined there alone.” That one statement says a lot about Jefferson. To me, however, one of his nicknames says it all. Jefferson was called the “Philosopher of Democracy.”
If Jefferson gave us the philosophy of democracy, James Madison, our fourth president, gave us the document. Madison is revered as the “Father of the Constitution.” His “Virginia Plan” was adopted as the basis for our U.S. Constitution, and Madison’s intellect was instrumental in plotting our nation’s course to create a new government. Near his death, Madison was overheard saying “(Death is) nothing more than a change of mind.”
President No. 5, Monroe ushered in the first “Era of Good Feeling” for our nation. His “Monroe Doctrine” (mostly penned by John Quincy Adams) put European powers on notice to quit their colonization in the Western Hemisphere.
As O’Brien noted, “The United States was saying, ‘Hear me roar.’” On the world’s stage, we’ve continued that roar for more than 200 years.
Art Callaham is a community activist and president of the Washington County Free Library Board of Trustees. His email address is email@example.com.
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