How Many Hands Are You Shaking On New Year’s Day?

As COVID spreads like the wind at the start of this New Year, and most people have no desire for anyone to pass through the front door, much less shake their hand, here then is something to consider from the pages of history.

We have all read or heard of the handshaking with the public that President Abraham Lincoln did on January 1, 1863, leaving his hand sore and cramped. For three hours the president had conducted the then-annual event of greeting the public who wished to come to the White House so to start the New Year.

Later that day Lincoln goes down in history for signing the Emancipation Proclamation. He was concerned with a hand that was aching to not have his signature viewed as somewhat distorted or shaky and then to be construed as uncertain about the enormity of his decision. We know that once the ink was on the document it was completed with a steady hand.

But how did it start that hordes of people would converge on the White House at the start of each year?

President George Washington instituted the open house reception on the 4th of July, even when he was operating government in New York. When President John Adams moved into the newly constructed White House, the ‘people’s house”, for the 1801 New Year’s event it became a tradition in Washington for the doors to be opened to the public.

I started looking for pictures of this event and while there are many drawings and later photos with the advent of the camera, there is one that clearly demonstrates the size of the crowds better than any other I could locate.

The line for the New Year’s reception in 1922 reached down the White House sidewalk, wound out beyond the gates, and continued around the block bordering the old State, War, and Navy Building (now known as the Eisenhower Executive Office Building). Thanks to the Library of Congress for the grand picture.

The last New Year’s Day Reception was held in 1932. By 1933 who really wanted to warmly greet outgoing President Herbert Hoover?

Happy New Year!

And so it goes.

Donald Trump And The Second ‘Gettysburg Address’, Or Is He More Akin To James Buchanan?

I received my booster shot on Tuesday and am feeling great. The only thing noted about the past 24 hours that is a bit different is my raving hunger. Homemade chicken and rice at midnight (and pickles!) are not usual.

It was this morning as I was finishing the leftovers for breakfast–minus pickles–that I first heard a most outlandish news story.

In his new memoir, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows compared former Donald Trump’s post-COVID hospitalization speech to the Gettysburg Address.

Meadows, whose book “The Chief’s Chief” was released on Tuesday, attempted to illustrate how Trump’s brief speech urging Americans not to fear the coronavirus reminded him of former President Abraham Lincoln’s magnum opus.

“Although the prose wasn’t quite as polished as the Gettysburg Address, delivered by President Abraham Lincoln after the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, it had the same compressed, forceful quality that had made President Lincoln’s words so effective at the time they were delivered,” Meadows wrote.

Had the news not been reported on NPR I would have thought the booster had caused a bit of mental confusion. When I did a quick online search I learned the booster was not the cause for my ‘hearing’ issue, as the information was, sadly, correct.

When one has no actual understanding of history, no grounding in substance and fact….well, this type of book happens. It was shockingly ignorant for Mark Meadows to have written such lines. And for an editor to let it slide. Or a publishing house to consent to roll it off the presses.

For those who do know history, the character and wisdom of President Abraham Lincoln, and the sacred nature of Gettysburg, will quickly grasp the utter insanity of what Meadows wrote. Likewise, we know that Meadows would have a far easier time connecting Trump to President James Buchanan.

Readers might say, ‘but was not it strongly rumored that Buchanan was gay’, while Trump is a known womanizer, even when married to his third wife? And we know from reading about the man who was in the office prior to Lincoln that he was always dignified. When was Trump ever accused of that?

So how, then, the comparisons?

The reason I consider it most fair to link these two is the air of sedition and treason that was rampant in both of their White Houses. Donald Trump was the center of the most dangerous attack on our nation’s foundation since the Civil War. We know from reading that Buchanan had fire-eaters in his cabinet who were fomenting succession. Trump had an array of wild-eyed and dangerous operatives pushing forward with undermining the results of a presidential election made by the people.

Had Meadows been, at any level, a reader of history he could have better found the analogy he was seeking for his book. James Buchanan.

Meanwhile for the bottom line.

“Donald Trump’s former chief of staff has been all over the news for all sorts of reasons, but his new book “The Chief’s Chief” is barely budging on the Amazon sales chart. At last check, the book is #1,436 on Amazon — a very disappointing start for a promising title that’s generating so much press” Per CNN’s Brain Stelter earlier this week.

And so it goes.

Two Paragraphs From Sidney Blumenthal To Hook Your Interest In History–Lincoln Style

I often use this blog to alert readers to books that rise above the rest due to their research and/or powerful narrative ability. One of the books that I presently am juggling absolutely can be so defined, and without doubt, therefore, gets a post on CP.

Sidney Blumenthal has taken on the daunting mission to dive deep into the political life of Abraham Lincoln. In a multi-volume set, the journalist and politico, has attained for my favorite president what Robert Caro did for Lyndon Baines Johnson. Having fallen in love with the biographical style of Caro–and yes, the book world is waiting for the final volume–I was certain no one could match him.

Well, I was wrong. Blumenthal also has the ability to weave into the political tapestry the elected officials, string-pullers, journalists, and events that revolve around the life of the central character. After all, there is no way to tell the story of Lincoln without crusty newspaper owners in New York and fire-eaters in Georgia.

I offer the opening paragraphs from two chapters in Volume Two as examples of what grabs the attention of lovers of history.

The 1852 election is playing out and one of the giants looks to satiate his ongoing case of Potomac Fever.

Over the years I have become more captivated by Henry Clay. The breadth and width of his political life is nothing short of remarkable, and the pragmatic nature of his style of politics has lessons for us all going forward.

The acclaim that Blumenthal has achieved is merited. There is an intensity of desire in his writing that we, too, should know and better understand not only what Lincoln did as a politician, but why. The fabric of Abe’s being did not just drop from above but developed with, at times, calm resolve while on other occasions anxiety and depression created a passion to live a life worthy of being recalled by history. Without his totality as a man and political leader, the nation would not have survived as it did.

Without Blumenthal to explore, explain, and better define Lincoln’s political life we would be less able to know him as the greatest of presidents.

And so it goes.

Abe Lincoln Recalled As Lack Of Herd Immunity Lessons Travels

Abe Lincoln and Gregory Humphrey, one of his fond admirers. 2017 Gettysburg.

David McCullough writes a line in his book, The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For that stands out as pure truth. “History is both now and then, today and yesterday.”

Several years ago McCullough appeared on the Charlie Rose show and spoke in his usually eloquent way about why people need to see this country’s national parks and historic sites. He spoke about the need to show young people the wonders of the past. Connecting with the touchstones of the past is exactly the very thing McCullough urged.

It has not been possible, given the pandemic, for any type of vacation which allows for historic sites to be seen up close. With too many places around the nation not understanding the medical and economic reasons to be vaccinated means we stay home and keep the money in the bank. With the logic of herd immunity not understood by too many means the bottom line for all sorts of tourist-related businesses will suffer as many folks around the nation feel as we do about personal safety.

But that does not mean fond recollections are not able to be tapped into and relived.

In 2017, for ten days, James and I made our way to the famed sites in Washington D.C. where monuments and buildings have awed millions. This morning as I poured coffee into my Gettysburg cup–a site we traveled to that year–I thought of the night we walked to the Lincoln Memorial.

To see the Lincoln Memorial in daylight is one thing, as I did on my first trip to D.C. in 1987, but to stand in the lighted wonder at night and ponder the man is quite another.  During that trip I found myself talking to many people day after day, and asking them their impressions. I sought out ones who I thought might lend the best insights.

As such I asked a black woman who was age 88 what she was feeling about the Lincoln Memorial as we both stood in the lights that summer night with humidity clinging all about. It was her first time to see it and being from Jamaica she spoke as one who knew of the power Lincoln’s words gave to those outside this nation. “It is very powerful for everyone,” she said with soft words and dark knowing eyes.

On the backside of the memorial looking out across the Potomac  I spoke to a father and then told his young teenage children about the battle of First Bull Run and how many townspeople took carriages and boxed lunches to watch the battle as many felt the war would be a short-term operation.  Hours later the beaten and badly wounded soldiers would be limping or being carried back over the river into Washington.  Some without shoes, others without guns, others without an eye or limb.   It was interesting to see the young look out and hear of the events and perhaps in their mind see history play out.   (As McCullough hoped would happen.)

I know at some point, not this year I fear, we will turn the corner on COVID, and find the ability to travel again and seek out the sites and memories from the pages of history. We will follow through, again, on the sage advice from McCullough.

Until then, we open the pages of our own personal histories and relive days of travel and discovery.

And so it goes.

Great Reads As Winter Nears

I have found a tonic for the soul in a raft of good books over the past months as the absurdity from Washington has grown, and the pandemic has only increased. As the fall days grow colder and darkness comes earlier in the late afternoons I offer some books that you might consider. I truly was absorbed in the following books.

Lincoln’s Last Trial takes a reader through a chapter of Abe’s life that has not before been revealed as Dan Abrams and David Fisher so ably do in this volume. An aspect of the book that is refreshing and insightful is court stenographer, Robert Roberts Hitt, who using a gold-nibbed ink pen, transcribed verbatim the trial proceedings. His type of work is illuminated for 21st-century readers.

At the end of the summer of 1859, twenty-two-year-old Peachy Quinn Harrison went on trial for murder in Springfield, Illinois. Lincoln, who had been involved in more than three thousand cases—including more than twenty-five murder trials—during his two-decades-long career, was hired to defend him. This was to be his last great case as a lawyer.

Harper Lee is one of those classic examples of a ‘one-hit writer’. Casey Cep allows further insight into the too-often sad inner world of this gifted person. In addition, to the deeper biography of Lee than most have read before, is a riveting real-life murder mystery set in the world of Lee’s childhood area of Alabama.

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and The Last Trial of Harper Lee opens with that Southern style of lazy down-home writing and just enough wit and charm to pull you into the narrative. The murder wraps around and envelops Lee.

Reverend Willie Maxwell was a rural preacher accused of murdering five of his family members. But he continued to escape justice until he is assassinated—at a funeral of a person he is believed to have helped kill. Lee will spend months in an attempt to write a ‘Truman Capote type novel’ of this entire episode. The book will never be completed. But Esp does write about the ending of the friendship of Lee and Capote—they were childhood friends.

It is an exceptional book!

For fast, well-plotted, and smart writing David Ignatius takes readers on a CIA-pumped journey in The Paladin. Timely, relevant as well as darn fun to read!

CIA operations officer Michael Dunne is tasked with infiltrating an Italian news organization that smells like a front for an enemy intelligence service. Headed by an American journalist, the self-styled bandits run a cyber operation unlike anything the CIA has seen before. Fast, slick, and indiscriminate, the group steals secrets from everywhere and anyone, and exploits them in ways the CIA can neither understand nor stop.

Dunne knows it’s illegal to run a covert op on an American citizen or journalist, but he has never refused an assignment and his boss has assured his protection. Soon after Dunne infiltrates the organization, however, his cover disintegrates. When news of the operation breaks and someone leaks that Dunne had an extramarital affair while on the job, the CIA leaves him to take the fall. Now a year later, fresh out of jail, Dunne sets out to hunt down and take vengeance on the people who destroyed his life.

So many books to enjoy and with winter soon to knock on our doors there is more reason than ever to escape between the pages of your favorite authors.

Trivia: Negligent Case Lawyers Should Thank Abraham Lincoln

From Lincoln’s Last Trial by Dan Abrams and David Fisher comes this nugget.

Few negligence attorneys are aware they owe a direct debt to Abraham Lincoln. Paved streets were still somewhat new in the west, so when a friend of his was injured after falling on an unrepaired Springfield Street, Lincoln brought an action against the city, using the then-unique argument under its charter the city had a legal duty to maintain safe streets. The opinion of the states chief justice, Walter Scates, became a foundation of municipal law. “The obligation is perfect,“ he wrote, turning Lincolns‘s theory into settled law.”


Night Two Of Republican National Convention 2020: Featuring Abraham Lincoln


Each night of the Republican National Convention I will feature a Republican from the pages of history who acted in exactly the reverse of Donald Trump.   Tonight Abraham Lincoln is the man I showcase and the topic is leadership and empathy.  (Monday night I focused on the need for character, and shone a light on Gerald Ford.) Lincoln’s actions during the Civil War ran in sharp contrast to how Donald Trump has abdicated responsibility during the COVID-19 pandemic.  What Trump calls ‘his war’.

Even the most jaded high school history student knows the first year of the Civil War was beset by failures from the Union Army to marshall their military might and demonstrate the capacity to engage the Confederates.  Bull Run is the most prominent battle in 1961 and it was not a success for Lincoln.

The generals of the North were not always known for aggressive behavior.  This led Lincoln to undertake a responsibility within the White House in waging the war.  He often changed generals and even championed a more forward-leaning engagement with the South in 1962.   But how he came to the point where he felt comfortable within his own skin to use his office in such a manner is due to one factor that speaks volumes about Lincoln.

Lincoln had limited military experience from his time with the Black Hawk War.  Earlier this year readers might recall my recommendation of  A Self-Made Man by Sidney Blumenthal where that period of Lincoln’s life is researched and written about in detail.  So to fill in the empty places of his education Lincon got his hands on each and every military text he could find.  He then read and studied them.  He then consulted with his military advisors and learned from experts.

All of that is diametrically opposite of how Trump has handled the pandemic, which as of this writing, has killed almost 178,000 Americans.  By not immersing himself in the science and data, or heeding the advice of professionals in this nation we have all paid a price. While having 4% of the world’s population we have 25% of the world’s COVID-19 cases.

What we have witnessed is not only Trump’s desire to take no responsibility in dealing competently with the virus but also to not show any empathy with a staggering loss of life among the citizenry.

Lincoln, on the other hand, wore empathy on his sleeve.  There could be a book on nothing other than Lincoln’s ability to put himself in the place of another, and the result would be a tome too heavy to lug around.  If you want to be moved emotionally read the accounts of mothers who met with Lincoln and urged that their sons not be sent to war and how it pained him so much.  Or read the words of his personal assistant, John Hay, regarding how Abe lingered long and hard over letters about those sentenced to die.

What we lack today in the White House is a reader, a thinker, or any semblance of empathy.  The end result, as we have witnessed, is a lack of leadership.


DACA Victory: Fairness, Checks And Balances Shine


It was another blockbuster Supreme Court ruling, in a week that has not been good for the legal arguments put forth by the Donald Trump Administration. The majority of the nation is applauding the outcome of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA) ruling, based on past polling which shows overwhelming support for these men and women.

The Court ruled the Trump administration may not immediately proceed with its plan to end a program protecting about 650,000 young immigrants known as Dreamers from deportation.  With those words from the reporter on CNN it was clear, once again, the nation’s checks and balances won a victory over the chaos created from this White House.  It was also clear that fairness had been applied to an issue that impacts many educated, skilled, and talented people living in our nation.

The Court ruled 5-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts writing the majority opinion, that Trump did not provide adequate justifications for removal of DACA, and rejected administration arguments that the 8-year-old program, is illegal

“We do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies,” the chief justice wrote. “We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action.”

The Court used the lack of a proper process of dealing with DACA by the Trump Administration as the basis for their ruling.  It is most ironic, since Trump’s only argument used to before the court was that President Obama did not have the authority to create DACA.

Trump has been harsh and bombastic towards the Dreamers, young people brought to the United States as children by their undocumented parents. He campaigned in 2016 with xenophobic fervor that once elected he would “immediately terminate” his predecessor’s executive order.  President Obama created DACA so these people, if they do not present a risk to national security or public safety, and meet several key criteria will be considered for relief from removal from the country.   It only makes common sense, and is a moral and ethical policy, not to discard or deport Dreamers.  To do so would run counter to every sensible and good-hearted ideal that Americans hold dear. 

What other groups of children are punished for the actions of their parents? We don’t jail the children of convicted felons, so why are the children of undocumented immigrants being punished? They had no choice when their parents brought them here. Minors under the age of 18 are banned from applying for citizenship without parental consent. Most of these people haven’t been back to the countries they were taken from, they don’t speak the language and know nothing of whatever relatives they may have there. Deporting these people would be like taking children from my very neighborhood and deporting them. These kids are in the US through no fault of their own. It is barbaric to punish the children for the actions of their parents.

It is unconscionable to have held Dreamers hostage to Republican power plays.  Many of these Dreamers are more schooled and have higher skill sets than the ones undermining them within the White House. This nation needs to secure the future of these young minds, allow them to become a legal part of our national fabric, and end the shameful antics of those who harbor bigotry. These DACA recipients are Americans in every sense of the word except for birthright.

I am an optimist, even during the past years when it has been hard to see light at the end of this period. But today I am joyous over this ruling and with it can truly write the words I firmly believe.

Dreamers, who have worked hard, paid taxes, and have given to this nation like the rest of us will be provided a path to citizenship with our next president, Joe Biden.  Finally, these individuals will be treated with the full respect they deserve.

Shortly after the ruling was handed down Trump took to Twitter and made the matter all about himself.  “Do you get the impression that the Supreme Court doesn’t like me?,”

Northing surprising with such a tweet, as he has always been self-centered.  But with hundreds of thousands of lives impacted by this ruling Trump’s words are even more narcissistic and egotistical than his usual manner.  They lack any ability to reason or empathize with the Dreamers.

Finally, I want to state how we all need to be thankful to James Madison, who in large part, helped create the checks and balances that played such an important role in the headline we are now strongly approving.  No president can accumulate power and fortify the Executive against the will of the people.  The separation of powers by co-equal branches of government allows for attempts at tyranny to be checked.

In many ways, the checks and balances which have been exercised since January 2017 have protected our nation.  Not with every issue, or to the degree that reasoned men and women would desire.  Reading history has proved that many dark nights confronted the nation and we still found the resolve to write another chapter as a people.

President Lincoln argued at the start of the Civil War that one reason it needed to be fought was to show to the world that our democratic experiment could not be so easily undone.  If democratic principles could not find success here, then where?  Those who would so carelessly undo the fabric of the nation had to be defeated.  And they were.

And so it is today.  When illiberal democracy presents itself with the populist themes used by this current occupant of the White House there is only one way to deal with it, and that is it must not be allowed to continue.

The Supreme Court made that clear today.