Acting President Sworn In On February 29?

With Donald Trump spewing his usual in the closing hours of the 2020 presidential election means I have taken refuge this afternoon in a history book.

I have posted about the powerful and deadly explosion of the USS Princeton. President Tyler was on board, and should he have had died political chaos would have exploded. Because of the lax way the Founders had worded the succession process in the Constitution, Tyler had to fight to be the president following the death of President Harrison. (In a past post readers became aware that human waste was likely the cause of his death, and not standing out in the cold for a long-winded inaugural address. In fact, historians also believe that President Polk, who died three months out of office, was afflicted in the same manner.)

Given how the Constitution at the time Tyler served read, had both the president and vice-president died the president pro tempore of the senate would have been the “Acting President’.

But here is the kicker.

As 1844 was a leap year, John Winston Jones, would have been the only person to assume the office who would have been sworn in on February 29th.

Ironic Historical Trivia: “Eight-Hundred Men Lay Slain”

In 1844, on the Potomac River, near Mount Vernon, the most deadly and costly loss of U.S. government officials occurred in our nation’s history. The explosion of the USS Princeton is often neglected in history courses for high school students, but it had powerful impact when it came to the issue of annexation of Texas by removing pivotal players.

But for the purpose of this post a song that was sung on board, and the timing of it makes for a most ironic slice of history.

The ship was taking its first public cruise, having had President Tyler and a congressional delegation on two previous ventures to showcase its cannons. Firing a 250-pound ball five miles with a 50-pound blasting charge thrilled the huge array of notables, including Dolly Madison on the third voyage.

President Tyler was on board wooing a teenager, 30 years younger, that afternoon. His first wife had died–the first First Lady to do so while her husband was in office. Tyler’s son-in-law was below deck singing a favorite song of the president which caused the Chief Executive to remain below deck.

As the verse with the words “eight hundred men lay slain” was uttered one of the cannons was fired for the crowd above deck. The wording was so in sync with the blast the crowd below decked cheered. Moments later the shrieks from above were heard.

The Secretary of State, Secretary of the Navy and many others were dead. Still more were severely injured. Arms and legs had been blown off many of the deceased.

This story surely is one of the most incredible historical oddities when it comes to ironic timing.

And so it goes.

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.”


Trivia: How To Woo A Woman in Early 1700s Boston

Oh, how the times have changed.


While reading Eric Burns’ exceptionally well-written and highly interesting book Infamous Scribblers I came upon this nugget.

Newspapers, as they might be termed in the early 1700s, never had a huge number of subscribers.  For instance, the News-Letter never had over 300 subscribers at any one time.  But the Boston paper did have many readers as copies would be read at taverns, passed to neighbors, mailed to others far removed, and so on.

The paper was twopence a copy and considered a luxury, as people did not yet understand the need to know what they were not aware of in the world.  That is where Judge Sewall comes into the story.

Since the paper was a luxury he occasionally presented copies of it to the ladies on whom he called.  Oh, do come in and sit by the fire as we absorb the news of this dreamy seaport.  

That offering would morph over time into boxes of candy for ladies who met a gentleman at the door.

Winston Churchill Trivia

In the summer of 1910……Churchill sat on the cowcatcher of a special train the whole 260 miles of the British-built railway to Aydin in Turkeys’ Aegean region.   That nugget is found on page 142 of Churchill: Walking With Destiny. 

This was not the first time Andrew Roberts informs readers of this way to see the sights ‘the Churchill way’.  In the first example, we are told that he strapped a chair to the cowcatcher to ride the rails.  What would have happened had the cowcatcher needed to fulfill its role is left to the imagination.

To say I am totally taken by this book and the story of an epic life, would not sum up how I feel this weekend.   As I am turning the pages the quote from Harry Truman comes to mind.

“There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know.”


Oh, Those Immigrants….

The first Bank of the United States was chartered in 1791.  That was a proper function of the nation, and was constitutional.  President Jefferson and other Republicans of his day (not to be confused, in any way, with modern day Republicans) were furious with the bank.  In 1811 the renewal of the bank charter will lose by one vote in the senate.

Then the War of 1812 unfolded as the United States declared war on the world’s greatest superpower.  Would you find it hard to fathom that our nation, as a result of pigheadedness, had no means to pay for military missions?

That is when wealthy immigrants provided loans and helped the nation to survive. 

Stephen Girard, a one-eyed French merchant in Philadelphia, and John Jacob Astor, a German fur trader in New York in large part financed the war.

And they then will correctly argue, following the war, that a second Bank of the United States must be created.  And it was.

Which the buffoon Andrew Jackson will then help destroy.

This timely trivia provided from John Marshall by Robert Brookhiser. (Page 157) Darn fine read.

LBJ Bull Trivia


During the two week 1963 holiday vacation at the LBJ ranch in Texas, the month after the assassination of President Kennedy, a most witty and memorable line was made by a well-known reporter.

President Johnson piled reporters into his large white Continental convertible so he could show off his large ranch .   The president honked on the bullhorn–a large moaning sound akin to a bull in distress at the touch of a button on the dashboard–in an attempt to encourage cattle to get out of the way as the group veered off the dirt track.  At one point LBJ stops the car, gets out, and d engages bulls on foot.

Noting that the Speaker of the House was next in line for succession (there was no vice-president at this time) if Johnson died, Tom Wicker of The New York Times, wrote that this “entertainment arouse in those who see it visions of John McCormack in the White House”.

“Kindness From The People Of Wisconsin”

On Senate Majority Leaders Lyndon Johnson”s 49th birthday–August 27, 1957- he received a most important gift.

Republican Senator Joe McCarthy who had first destroyed his credibility and his honor with lies about federal worker’s loyalty to the nation, then worked overtime to destroy himself with booze.  When he died a special election was called.

Democratic candidate William Proxmire won the race on that birthday for LBJ and called the Leader that night.

“Senator Johnson, I’ve got the biggest birthday present of them all for you—me!”

Johnson replied, ” I must say I never expected this much kindness from the people of Wisconsin.”

That victory allowed Johnson to remain Majority Leader in 1958.  Senator Neely died four months later and Promire’s win proved how important he was to the party controlling the senate.