The Society of Presidential Descendants is a select group of individuals with a direct lineage to one or more of the forty-six United States Presidents.
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On this day in 1954, President Eisenhower writes a letter to his friend, Paul Helms, in which he privately criticizes Senator Joseph McCarthy’s approach to rooting out communists in the federal government. Two days earlier, former presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson had declared that the president’s silence on McCarthy’s actions was tantamount to approval. Eisenhower, who viewed political mud-slinging as beneath the office of the president, declined to comment publicly on Stevenson’s remark or McCarthy’s tactics.
Eisenhower was not the only respected American to criticize McCarthy on March 9. Earlier in the day, in a congressional session, Senator Ralph Flanders had publicly censured McCarthy for his vicious persecution of innocent Americans whom he suspected of communist sympathies. That evening, journalist Edward R. Murrow warned in a newscast that McCarthy was treading a fine line between investigation and persecution in pursuing suspected communist infiltration of the federal government.
Although Eisenhower had yet to criticize McCarthy in public, according to an aide’s memoirs, he did not hesitate to criticize McCarthy in private. On March 9, he referred to McCarthy as a pimple on the path of progress in a telephone call to Republican National Committee Chairman Leonard Hall. Later that evening, Eisenhower let off more steam about McCarthy in his letter to Helms. Ike worried that the country’s obsession with the bombastic McCarthy, whether pro or con, drew attention away from equally important matters facing the nation. He complained to his friend that public policy and ideals have a tough time competing for headlines with demagogues [like McCarthy] “It is a sad commentary on our government when such a manifestly useless and spurious thing can divert our attention from all the constructive work in which we could and should be engaged.” Ike also defended himself from Stevenson’s criticism in the letter, writing, “[I have not] acquiesced in, or by any means approve, the methods that McCarthy uses in his investigatory process. I despise them.” Eisenhower never berated McCarthy in public. 🇺🇸
William Howard Taft, the 27th president of the United States, fulfilled a lifelong dream when he was appointed chief justice of the Supreme Court, becoming the only person to have served as both a U.S. chief justice and president.
William Howard Taft was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on September 15, 1857. From a prominent political family, he followed his forebears into law and was on track to be a career jurist, well on his way to his dream job of sitting on the Supreme Court, when he was sidetracked for a term as the 27th U.S. president by his wife and Theodore Roosevelt. Taft finally achieved his dream of being appointed chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1921, becoming the only person to have served both as a chief justice and president. Taft died in Washington, D.C., on this day in 1930. 🇺🇸
On this day in 1777, Continental Congressman John Adams writes three letters to and receives two letters from his wife, Abigail. He is with Congress in Philadelphia, while she maintains their farm in Braintree, Massachusetts.
The remarkable correspondence between Abigail and John Adams—numbering 1,160 letters in total—covered topics ranging from politics and military strategy to household economy and family health. Their mutual respect and adoration served as evidence that even in an age when women were unable to vote, there were nonetheless marriages in which wives and husbands were true intellectual and emotional equals.
In the second letter John drafted to Abigail on March 7, he declared that Philadelphia had lost its vibrancy during Congress’ removal to Baltimore. This City is a dull Place, in Comparason [sic] of what it was. More than one half the Inhabitants have removed to the Country, as it was their Wisdom to do—the Remainder are chiefly Quakers as dull as Beetles. From these neither good is to be expected nor Evil to be apprehended. They are a kind of neutral Tribe, or the Race of the insipids. By contrast, Adams described the Loyalists, who prepared their Minds and Bodies, Houses and Cellars, to receive General William Howe should he attack, as a Pack of sordid Scoundrels male and female.
In the letters John received, which Abigail had written in February, she bemoaned not only the difficulty of correspondence during war, but also of the lack of military fervor demonstrated by the New Englanders around her. She wrote that she awaited greater patriotism, greater prosperity and future correspondence from her beloved husband to his devoted Portia. (Portia, Adams’ nickname for his wife was likely a reference to the intelligent and devoted heroine of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.) 🇺🇸
On this day in 1820, President James Monroe signs the Missouri Compromise, also known as the Compromise Bill of 1820, into law. The bill attempted to equalize the number of slave-holding states and free states in the country, allowing Missouri into the Union as a slave state while Maine joined as a free state. Additionally, portions of the Louisiana Purchase territory north of the 36-degrees-30-minutes latitude line were prohibited from engaging in slavery by the bill.
Monroe, who was born into the Virginia slave-holding planter class, favored strong states’ rights, but stood back and let Congress argue over the issue of slavery in the new territories. Monroe then closely scrutinized any proposed legislation for its constitutionality. He realized that slavery conflicted with the values written into the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence but, like his fellow Virginians Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, feared abolition would split apart the nation they had fought so hard to establish.
Passage of the Missouri Compromise contributed to the Era of Good Feelings over which Monroe presided and facilitated his election to a second term. In his second inaugural address, Monroe optimistically pointed out that although the nation had struggled in its infancy, no serious conflict has arisen that was not solved peacefully between the federal and state governments. By steadily pursuing this course, he predicted, there is every reason to believe that our system will soon attain the highest degree of perfection of which human institutions are capable.
In the end, the Missouri Compromise failed to permanently ease the underlying tensions caused by the slavery issue. The conflict that flared up during the bill’s drafting presaged how the nation would eventually divide along territorial, economic and ideological lines 40 years later during the Civil War. 🇺🇸
On this day in 1946, in one of the most famous orations of the Cold War period, former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill condemns the Soviet Union’s policies in Europe and declares, “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent.” Churchill’s speech is considered one of the opening volleys announcing the beginning of the Cold War.
Churchill, who had been defeated for re-election as prime minister in 1945, was invited to Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri where he gave this speech. President Harry S. Truman joined Churchill on the platform and listened intently to his speech. Churchill began by praising the United States, which he declared stood “at the pinnacle of world power.” It soon became clear that a primary purpose of his talk was to argue for an even closer “special relationship” between the United States and Great Britain—the great powers of the “English-speaking world”—in organizing and policing the postwar world. In particular, he warned against the expansionistic policies of the Soviet Union. In addition to the “iron curtain” that had descended across Eastern Europe, Churchill spoke of “communist fifth columns” that were operating throughout western and southern Europe. Drawing parallels with the disastrous appeasement of Hitler prior to World War II, Churchill advised that in dealing with the Soviets there was “nothing which they admire so much as strength, and there is nothing for which they have less respect than for military weakness.” 🇺🇸🇬🇧
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