When Presidents Hide Health Scares

Hmmm…I wonder why this subject has come to mind. In any case, presidents have a tendency to hide their health concerns from the American public. We take a look at two examples of American presidents who hid health scares.

Woodrow Wilson’s Stroke (1919)

Woodrow and Edith Wilson, June 1920 | Library of Congress

One of the most striking moments of obfuscation from the White House belongs to Woodrow Wilson. In 1919, the president suffered a devastating stroke.

On September 3rd, the president had embarked on a country-wide train trip. He wanted to convince his fellow Americans to support the League of Nations. During the trip, Wilson’s health suffered. He lost his appetite and his asthma began to bother him.

On September 25th, Wilson took a turn for the worse. His wife, Edith, noticed that her husband’s facial muscles were twitching and Wilson complained of nausea and a splitting headache. On September 26th, Wilson’s speaking tour was canceled. On October 2nd, back at the White House, the president suffered a devastating stroke that left him partially paralyzed.

Although news of the president’s stroke began to come out in February 1920, most Americans did not realize its severity. They didn’t realize that—as Wilson struggled to recover—his wife had taken over as de facto president. After all, this was decades before the 25th amendment would put a process in place for what to do when the president is incapacitated.

Edith Wilson, who described her role as a “stewardship” denied that she made any decisions on her own. But she admitted that she decided “what was important and what was not, and the very important decision of when to present matters to my husband.”

Grover Cleveland’s Jaw Surgery (1893)

President Grover Cleveland print, 1884 | Library of Congress

Grover Cleveland, who holds the amusing honor of being the only American president to serve two, non-consecutive terms, also hid his health problems from the nation.

Shortly after his inauguration—his second, that is, in 1893, eight years after his first—Cleveland noticed a strange rough spot on the roof of his mouth. A few months later it had grown in size and his doctor confirmed what Cleveland feared. The president had cancer. “It’s a bad looking tenant,” Cleveland’s doctor told him. “I would have it evicted immediately.”

Cleveland knew he would have to hide his condition from the public. In 1893, a considerable stigma existed around cancer, called the “dread disease.” In addition, Cleveland feared that revealing his illness would send the already suffering economy into a tailspin.

The solution? Cleveland told the public that he was going on a fishing trip. And although the president would spend a few days on a yacht, he would not be doing any fishing. Doctors had been summoned to remove the cancer from his mouth.

During the 90-minute surgery, a team of six surgeons aboard a moving vessel extracted the tumor, five of Cleveland’s teeth, and a section of the president’s left jawbone. They did this through the roof of the president’s mouth—which left no marks to alert the public. Indeed, keeping Cleveland’s famous moustache intact was a stipulation of the surgery.

The American public was kept entirely in the dark. When an astute journalist named E.J. Edwards published the truth of the matter in the Philadelphia Press, the president and his team firmly denied it. The public turned against Edwards, labeling his story a “deliberate falsification.”

Edwards’ reputation was in tatters—but, twenty-four years later, he would be redeemed. In 1917, one of the surgeons from the boat acknowledged that Edwards had been right, noting that the journalist had been, “substantially correct, even in most of the details.”

By then, however, Cleveland had left office and died of a heart attack.

Other examples of American presidents hiding their illnesses abound throughout the country’s history. John F. Kennedy struggled with Addison’s disease and back issues. Some close to Ronald Reagan—including his own son—claim that the president suffered from Alzheimer’s while in office, although the majority of those close to Reagan deny this.

Franklin Roosevelt also presents an interesting case. Despite a persistent belief that he hid his polio from the public, the president’s condition was not a secret—newspapers had published articles that included information about his wheelchair and leg braces. The president’s disability was discussed often.

However, Roosevelt believed it was important that Americans did not see him in a wheelchair. He wanted Americans to believe that he was capable. That’s why he would stand to give a speech, even at great cost to himself. (If you look at photos of Roosevelt speaking while standing, you may notice how tightly he grips the edges of the podium.)

Roosevelt also asked the press to avoid taking photographs of him walking or being transferred into a car. They didn’t always follow the rules. But if someone did snap a photograph of Roosevelt that the president didn’t like, the Secret Service leapt into action.

In 1936, Editor & Publisher reported just how the Secret Service would react to an aggressive photographer—by taking the camera and tearing out the film. In 1946, the White House photography corps backed this up. They acknowledged that if they took the kind of photographs that the president had asked them to avoid, they would have “their cameras emptied, their films exposed to sunlight, or their plates smashed.”

In any case, hiding health scares seems to be a strong tradition among American presidents. It makes sense. It’s easy to draw a line between the health of the nation and the health of its executive.

Calvin Coolidge Goes to Cuba

By Kaleena Fraga

Some of you may know that I’ve started a podcast with a former colleague of mine. Yesterday in Travel focuses on moments in travel history—but there’s quite a bit of overlap with what we like to discuss here at History First.

In our last episode, my co-host and I discussed President Obama’s 2016 trip to Cuba. As part of our discussion, we touched on Calvin Coolidge’s 1928 trip to Cuba and man—that’s a fantastic story.

Today, we’re going to delve into Coolidge’s 1928 trip. At the time, it seemed like a rather serene affair. The wild truth about the trip didn’t come out until decades later.

Why did Calvin Coolidge go to Cuba?

Thirty years before Calvin Coolidge visited Cuba, Theodore Roosevelt charged up San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War in 1898. Since then, the United States, empowered by the Platt Amendment, reserved the right to intervene in Cuban affairs. (The 1903 amendment also leased Guantanamo Bay to the Americans.)

By 1928, attitudes toward the Americans had soured. Even Coolidge, who expressed little interest in foreign affairs, recognized the need for action. His term in office lasted between 1923 and 1929—a lull of a decade between WWI and WWII—and many of the foreign affair issues of the day had to do with American intervention in Latin America. (Coolidge himself had only left the country once before—for his honeymoon in Canada.)

Coolidge went to Cuba in 1928 to attend the Pan American Conference in Havana. The president and his entourage sought to persuade delegates away from passing anti-U.S. resolutions. Many Latin American countries critiqued American military interventions in places like Panama, Hondorus, Nicaragua, and Haiti, and Coolidge wanted to keep the peace. (This was not helped by the fact that Coolidge ordered an invasion of Nicaragua as he prepared to depart for Cuba.)

In Cuba, Coolidge extended an olive branch. He emphasized—in an attempt to quell criticism—that all the countries in the Pan American conference were equal. Coolidge focused on “peace and goodwill” in his public remarks—although he arrived in Cuba on a massive WWI battleship called Texas.

Overall, Coolidge saw the trip to Cuba as a way to begin a campaign for world peace. The ensuing Kellogg-Briand Pact, a worldwide peace treaty that banned war, hoped to avoid the violence of WWI in the future. Of course, sadly, the world leaped into the bloody conflict of WWII not soon after the Pact was created in 1928.

What happened during the trip to Cuba?

If you read the newspapers of the day, you would have the impression that a serious president had conducted his serious mission, seriously. After all, this was a serious time, right in the apex of the Prohibition era in the United States—not that Coolidge was much of a drinker.

But thirty years after the trip, one of the traveling members of the press revealed that Coolidge’s trip to Cuba wasn’t the stodgy affair that it had seemed in the papers. Beverly Smith Jr. had accompanied the president as a reporter for the New York Herald Tribune. In 1958, he revealed that much of the trip never made the papers.

The 6 day junket to Cuba and return had in it elements of pageantry, drama, comedy, and farce…it became, in its latter stages, a large scale smuggling operation. The whole show took on a special illicit zest because it was conducted under the dour, dead-pan aegis of President Coolidge—Silent Cal, Cautious Cal, austere symbol of the old Puritan virtues, staunch upholder of the Prohibition Amendment.

Beverly Smith, Jr.

The trip got wild from the get-go. Once the party traveling with the president arrived in Key West, they quickly realized that—despite the strict state of Prohibition around the country—alcohol still flowed freely in the bars of this Floridian city.

The president went to bed at a respectful hour. After all, people called him “Silent” Cal not “Fun” Cal. (Someone—perhaps Alice Roosevelt Longworth, although she later denied it—once described Calvin Coolidge as having the expression of a man “who has been weaned on a pickle.”)

When Coolidge’s secretary announced that the president had gone to bed, the party began. “With these words,” Smith wrote thirty years later, “the dignity of the tour began to crack. It was as though mice had been informed that the cat was away.”

The party lasted all night, with many people stumbling home in the wee hours of the morning. The next day, one reporter was so drunk that he fell into the ocean while boarding the ship to Cuba. Smith, looking back, noted that at the time many Americans saw it as their patriotic duty to “[sluice] down any drinks within reach.” Clearly, the traveling press corp felt up to this particular patriotic challenge.

Once the USS Texas landed in Cuba, Coolidge and his party were greeted by a massive crowd—perhaps up to 200,000—of cheering Cubans. In her biography of Calvin Coolidge, Amity Shlaes wrote, “Thousands climbed onto the Morro Castle and the rooftops of buildings, craning their necks to get a glimpse of the battleship USS Texas as it moved into the harbor.”

Smith noted that even the usually subdued Coolidge cracked a smile at the reception. “[The president] showed more animation than usual. He bowed, he smiled, he took off his silk hat.” The crowd included—to Coolidge’s horror, once he made the realization—an enthusiastic group of “highly painted young ladies” from a nearby brothel.

The president once again retired early. Once again, the press took to the streets. There, the group of reporters made a thrilling discovery. One of their own had an uncanny likeness to the president. “I suspect,” wrote Smith, “that there are some older Havanas who believe that Cal, outside office hours, was a gay dog.” (Remember—this was the 1920s!)

At one point during their stay in Cuba, Coolidge was presented with a diplomatic conundrum. At the estate of Gerardo Machado, the president of Cuba, Coolidge was offered an alcoholic drink. At least—someone tried to offer him one. And what was the president to do? He couldn’t take the drink in front of the press corps. But a refusal could be seen as a diplomatic faux pas. Smith wrote:

“Cal himself, of course, was the cynosure of the drama. As the tray approached from his left, he wheeled artfully to the right, seeming to admire a portrait on the wall. The tray came closer. Mr. Coolidge wheeled right another 90 degrees, pointing out to Machado the beauties of the tropical verdure. By the time he completed his 360-degree turn, the incriminating tray had passed safely beyond him. Apparently, he had never seen it. His maneuver was a masterpiece of evasive action.”

Beverly Smith, Jr.

As the presidential party prepared to pack up and leave—back to dreary, dry America—the press suddenly got word that they would not need to go through customs in Florida. So…if no one was going to check their bags…

Yes—a mad dash ensued to buy as much alcohol as possible to smuggle home. (They were just doing their patriotic duty, right?) Some reporters bought extra suitcases. Others threw out their clothing to make room for all that rum.

Smith wondered if the president secretly knew. “Was it, incredibly, Calvin himself, out of that quirky humor which was supposed to lurk behind the vinegary Vermont visage?” Smith wondered thirty years later.

Maybe Cal did have a secret sense of humor. He certainly had a simple, straight-forward way of doing things. One of History First’s favorite anecdotes about Silent Cal is that, when asked if he would run for a second term, he handed his press secretary a note that said simply: “I do not choose to run for president in nineteen twenty-eight.” (Probably a good decision. The economy crashed in 1929.)

Calvin Coolidge stated simply that he would not run for reelection | Library of Congress

If you’re curious to learn more about President Obama’s trip to Cuba in 2016, then I encourage you to take a listen to our podcast episode! We get into how the trip happened, what happened during the trip—spoiler alert: it wasn’t as wild as Cal’s trip, but, then again, maybe we’ll learn more in 30 years—and what Obama’s trip to Cuba means for Americans who want to go there today.

8 of the Most Iconic Campaign Ads

By Kaleena Fraga

‘Tis the season! The presidential campaign of 2020 is in full swing. That means—especially for you swing staters—political ads will soon be hard to avoid.

So what were the best campaign ads? What were the most controversial? We’ve come up with this list of the 8 most iconic campaign ads. Here, you can explore the irresistible jingle of I Like Ike (1952) as well as the highly controversial Willie Horton ad (1988).

#1: “I Like Ike!” (1952)

Can we bring back the political jingle? There’s tons of charm in this 1952 animated advert, which endorses Dwight D. Eisenhower over Adlai Stevenson.

The ad targets Adlai Stevenson as well other prominent Democrats of the day. Stevenson is shown riding a donkey to the left (while everyone marches to the right) as the jingle chimes: “Let Adlai go the other way.”

The ad also sings, “We don’t want John or Dean or Harry” over an animation of three donkeys. This is a reference to John Sparkman, Stevenson’s running mate, Dean Acheson, the Secretary of State, and Harry Truman, the current president.

#2: “Daisy” (1964)

When nuclear Armageddon looms, you can say it all with only a few words. This Lyndon B. Johnson spot revolutionized political campaign ads.

Without naming Johnson’s opponent, Barry Goldwater, it reminded viewers of the stakes of the election. Remember, in 1964 Goldwater infamously declared: “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

Political attack ads were nothing new. But, as The Smithsonian notes, “In nearly every case…the attacks were rational, fact-based arguments.” The “Daisy” ad changed the game by playing to the viewer’s emotions instead.

#3: “Morning in America” (1984)

This simple, effective ad spoke to Ronald Reagan’s optimism. But it also drew a contrast between Reagan and his predecessor, Jimmy Carter. Carter oversaw multiple crises, including stagflation, the Oil Crisis, the Olympic Boycott, and the Iran Hostage Crisis. He famously (or infamously) gave his “Crisis of Confidence” speech in 1979, acknowledge the malaise that had overtaken the country.

Compare Crisis of Confidence with Morning in America. You can see what Reagan is doing in this quietly impactful ad. And just in case you don’t make the connection, the Gipper reminds the audience, asking them, “Why would we ever want to return to where we were?”

Note: The Lincoln Project, a group of anti-Trump Republicans, put out a twist on this classic ad. Theirs, called “Mourning in America” attacks President Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

#4: “Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy!” (1960)

There’s a fantastic scene in Mad Men where the advertising team watches this ad—then compares it to the incredibly dry spot that Richard Nixon put out. Like the I Like Ike! ad, this Kennedy ad is fun, charming, and…impossible to get out of your head.

It captures the youth and optimism around his campaign.

(Go ahead and compare the Nixon spot, below)

What’s fascinating about these two ads is the difference. You can see how political campaigning is beginning to shift and change.

By the time Nixon ran again in 1968, he used a different ad strategy. Below, you can see that his ad is more sophisticated and more dramatic. It lacks the charm of Kennedy Kennedy Kennedy but then again, so did 1968. (And so did Nixon!)

#5: The infamous “Willie Horton” ad (1988)

The Willie Horton ad played on racial fears among white voters. Run by the George H.W. Bush campaign, it claimed to draw a distinction between Bush and his opponent, Michael Dukakis. The ad portrayed Bush as tough on crime—a real “Law and Order” type—and Dukakis as soft on crime.

Lee Atwater, George H.W. Bush’s campaign strategist, told the team, “If I can make Willie Horton a household name, we’ll win the election.”

By 1988, the days of I Like Ike and Kennedy Kennedy Kennedy ads had long disappeared.

#6: “The Man from Hope” (1992)

Four years later, Bill Clinton’s simple, hopeful message echoed more Morning in America than Willie Horton. Speaking to the camera, Clinton draws a connection between his hometown (Hope, Arkansas) and the hope he has for the country.

Interestingly, both Clinton and his opponent, George H.W. Bush relied on simple ads like Hope. They spoke to the camera. They told stories of optimism. Ads in the early 1990s seemed to forgo the charm of the 1960s and the racism of the 1980s.

Here’s one of Bush’s 1992 ads:

#7: “The McGovern Defense” (1972)

Back to Nixon! This ad came out in 1972, when Nixon ran for reelection. Sponsored by “Democrats for Nixon” this spot uses some of the creativity we saw in the 1960s—along with the soaring orchestral numbers and compelling commander-in-chief images that we’ve come to expect in political ads.

#8: “Yes We Can” (2008)

The 2008 election changed so much campaigns, especially by bringing technology to the forefront. The Barack Obama campaign used the web more than anyone else had.

So, it’s appropriate that this “Yes We Can” ad ran only online. It quickly went viral. Within a few days, the ad had over 20 million views.

What’s next for political ads? Tik tok? Don’t dismiss it—at least one candidate in Canada used Tik Tok to boost his campaign!

The First History First Crossword!

Hi, History First friends!

So excited to share this with everyone—our very own Molly Bloom has created the below crossword. It has a theme that fans of HF may find familiar…

You can download the crossword by clicking below:

And if you need the answers, we’ve got those too:

4 Memorable Moments from US Political Conventions

By Kaleena Fraga

Last week, the Democrats rolled out the country’s first virtual political convention. This week, the Republicans will follow suit. It was weird—but sometimes charming—to see the DNC move online.

Conventions are historically pretty wild. (This has changed in the last several election cycles…they’ve become much more predictable). We look back at four memorable convention moments from the 20th-century—from the battle of Bull Moose in 1912, to a moment of Hollywood oddity in 2008.

#1: The Battle of Bull Moose (1912)

Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft | Getty Images

Today’s politics may feel unprecedented, but Americans in 1912 faced a truly unusual situation as they barreled toward Election Day.

Following William McKinley’s assassination in 1901, Theodore Roosevelt became president. He finished McKinley’s term and won one of his own before deciding to leave the White House in 1909. Roosevelt, although he loved the spotlight, was happy to see power transferred to his hand-picked successor and friend, William Howard Taft.

But as he watched Taft govern from afar, Roosevelt became increasingly unhappy with his friend’s performance. Roosevelt—who had eagerly promoted his “Square Deal” policies as president—believed in the importance of active government. Taft disagreed. The tension between their two outlooks burst into the open, and Roosevelt declared that he would run against his old friend—for an unprecedented third term in office.

At the convention, the two men went head-to-head. Things became bitter—even violent—with Taft supporters wielding clubs, and one Roosevelt supporter threatening a Taft man with a gun. Taft called Roosevelt “the greatest menace to our institutions we’ve had in a long time.” Roosevelt called Taft an agent of “political crookedness.” (He also referred to his former friend as a “fathead”.)

One Republican operator groaned: “The only question now is which corpse gets the most flowers.”

Indeed, the aftermath of the convention—during which Taft won the nomination—saw Roosevelt bolt from the Republicans to run under the Progressive Party. (The party would also be called the Bull Moose Party after a failed attempt on Roosevelt’s life during the campaign. Surviving a shot to the chest, Roosevelt declared: “It takes more than that to kill a bull moose!”)

Facing Woodrow Wilson, Roosevelt, and Eugene V. Debs, Taft won only eight electoral votes—the worst performance of an incumbent president ever. Wilson became the second Democrat elected to the White House since the Civil War.

#2: Could it be a Co-Presidency? (1980)

Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan | Hulton Archive-Getty Images

Gerald Ford was not a candidate in 1980. He had assumed the presidency after Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974, and lost the election of 1976 to Jimmy Carter. In 1980, Ford—like the rest of the country—watched Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush battle it out.

Yet the former president loomed large over the 1980 campaign.

Having won the nomination, Reagan began to search for his running mate. Although it seemed to many that picking Bush might make sense, Reagan didn’t get along well with his campaign rival. His people looked elsewhere, and found that Ford polled well with voters. Better, in fact, than Bush.

Ford wasn’t interested. He turned down Reagan multiple times. Yet, Ford lavished praise on the nominee during his convention speech, telling the audience:

“I don’t mind telling you all that I am not ready to quit yet. This Republican is going to do everything in his power to elect our nominee to the presidency. … So when this convention fields the team for Governor Reagan, count me in.”

Gerald Ford

Ford also noted in a subsequent interview that pride was not an issue for him when it came to the vice presidency. Reagan’s people thought Ford could be sending signals. Reagan asked Ford again; again, Ford said no.

At this point, Ford began to feel like returning to the vice presidency could be inevitable—despite his desire to avoid doing so. Looking to dampen speculation about the Reagan-Ford “dream ticket”, Ford sat down for an interview with Walter Cronkite. The former president later noted: “I tried to balance it out so there wouldn’t be any misunderstanding.”

But as Cronkite tried to work through Ford’s decision-making, he asked whether being vice president for Reagan would have “to be something like a co-presidency.” Ford did not contradict this. He told Cronkite that there would need to be a mutual understanding between the president and vice-president. “I would not go to Washington and be a figurehead,” he said.

Reagan, watching the interview, was “appalled” at the term of co-presidency. “Did you hear what he just said?” The future president exclaimed.

Any talk of Ford on the ticket quickly turned to dust. Reagan reached out to his old campaign rival, George H.W. Bush, and asked him to become his running mate.

#3: “It was f— ’em. To be blunt about it.” (1980)

Jimmy Carter and Ted Kennedy | Associated Press

To be sure, 1980 brought drama to the Republican convention. But the Democrats pulled a “hold my beer” moment when their turn came.

With echoes of 1912, their campaign pitted an incumbent—Jimmy Carter—against a member of his own party, Senator Ted Kennedy.

Even as the incumbent, Carter appeared a weak candidate. High unemployment and rising gas prices pummeled the country during his term. Issues like the Iran hostage crisis and the 1980 Olympic boycott did not help. The president himself noted a “crisis of confidence” among Americans. Kennedy—although he initially stumbled—saw an opportunity to win the White House.

Ted Kennedy brought with him the star-power of his political family. He ran to the left of Carter and generated support among voters. But on the eve of the convention, Kennedy had fewer delegates than Carter did.

The Kennedy people tried to get all delegates released from their prior commitments—they failed to do so. Still, they sought to embarrass Carter. They pushed a liberal platform far to the left of the president’s.

Harold Ickes, who ran the floor operation for Kennedy, manipulated convention rules to delay the proceedings. He sought to ruin the carefully planned prime-time speeches. “We just said, ‘F—‘ em,” Ickes recounted. “We weren’t thinking about the country…[or] the general election. It was ‘F—‘ em…To be blunt about it.”

Although Carter secured the nomination, things got worse. Kennedy gave a soaring speech—The Dream Shall Never Die, with clear invocations of his family’s political past—which awed the convention hall. Carter fumbled his own speech, mixing up Hubert Humphrey with Hubert Horatio Hornblower, a character from fiction.

Then, the balloons would not fall. “Forget the hostages, he can’t get the balloons down,” muttered someone on the floor within hearing distance of Dan Rather.

And, worst of all, Kennedy continued to avoid Carter on stage. Carter tried again and again to corner his campaign rival so that they could be photographed hand-in-hand, arms aloft, representative of the united Democratic party. It wouldn’t be—although the two men shared a stiff handshake. “Well, this is slightly awkward,” NBC’s David Brinkley said.

Carter would lose the election to Reagan, proving once more the lesson from 1912: infighting is rarely beneficial to political parties.

#4: The Problem with Props (2004, 2008)

We’ll finish with two lighter moments in convention history—albeit, ones that caused some drama at the time.

First, in 2004. As John Kerry accepted his nomination at the DNC, CNN caught the hot mic of the balloon operator. For several excruciating minutes, the operator screamed on live TV to drop the balloons—not the confetti!!—eventually breaking into a string of curse words as balloons trickled down from the ceiling.

Second, 2008. This infamous moment represents the importance of choosing your convention speakers wisely—and that bringing in Hollywood actors can come with its risks.

At the RNC in 2008, Clint Eastwood pretended to speak to Barack Obama—using an empty chair as a prop. Although the convention hall cheered and jeered, many at home found the performance odd and rambling. It also overshadowed a speech by (then) up-and-comer Marco Rubio.

We could go on. There are so many dramatic campaign moments, especially if you look at the 19th-century. (In 1860, Abe Lincoln won the day as a compromise candidate at his convention!). What are some of your favorite convention moments?

From Villain to Vice President

How campaign rivals become running mates

By Kaleena Fraga

Check out this post in podcast form! Listen HERE.

Who will Joe Biden pick as his running mate? The former vice president reportedly has a shortlist of names to fill his previous White House role. Some, like Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, battled Biden for the nomination.

Harris, in particular, launched a grenade at Biden during an early debate. The California senator levied charges of racism against Biden, because of his opposition to busing in the 1970s. Today, Biden insiders bristle at her “lack of remorse” over the incident.

Should Harris’ attack be held against her? If chosen to be Biden’s VP pick, she would in fact join a long tradition of campaign rivals who became running mates.

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson (left) and John Adams (right). Friends, then rivals, Jefferson served as Adam’s VP.

Arguably, this tradition has roots in the very beginning of the Republic—although candidates then had no say over their vice president. The runner-up automatically became VP, which is how Thomas Jefferson came to serve his frenemy John Adams in 1796.

The two men were a study in contrasts. Adams, the rotund, loquacious Northerner represented the Federalists; Jefferson, the statuesque, quiet Southerner stood for the Democratic-Republicans.

As friends, the two men had accomplished great things. Both had served in the Continental Congress and had worked together to create the Declaration of Independence. But their relationship had soured. When Jefferson became Adams’ vice president most agreed that perhaps it didn’t make sense to make the runner up in the election the vice president—especially if he represented the opposing party.

In 1800, they would run against each other again. This time, they would pick “running mates” to join them in battle. (This caused significant confusion —while the Federalists carefully divided their votes between Adams and his running mate, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, the Democratic-Republicans voted enthusiastically for both Jefferson and Aaron Burr, causing a tie.)

The 12th amendment, ratified in 1804, would forever change how elections work. It created a system where electors would cast one vote for president, and one vote for vice president.

However, it wouldn’t mean the end of rivals becoming running mates.

John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson

John F. Kennedy (left) and Lyndon B. Johnson (right) joined forces after a bitter campaign

Once Lyndon B. Johnson was picked to be John F. Kennedy’s vice president, he had his staff look up the odds of a V.P becoming president. They weren’t bad.

“I looked it up: one out of every four Presidents has died in office. I’m a gamblin’ man, darlin’, and this is the only chance I got.”

Johnson to journalist Clare Booth Luce

Kennedy and Johnson had first worked together in Congress. Johnson, the Texan Senate Majority leader, thought little of the young senator from Massachusetts. Johnson called Kennedy “pathetic” and “not a man’s man.”

When both men threw their hats in the ring to become president, the attacks escalated. Johnson seized upon the issue of the day—that Kennedy, if elected, would be the nation’s first Catholic president. He also called his opponent, who suffered from various health issues, a “little scrawny fellow with rickets.”

Despite this, Kennedy saw the appeal of having Johnson on his ticket. He knew he needed the South and Johnson—from Texas—could deliver crucial votes. Not everyone in the Kennedy camp agreed. Bobby Kennedy, the future president’s brother, openly despised Johnson—and Johnson despised Bobby.

This animosity only deepened when Bobby tried to get Johnson to withdraw from the ticket. Bobby tried three times. Three times, Johnson refused. LBJ, who had hated Bobby since knowing him as a Congressional staffer, called the future president’s brother, “a grandstanding little runt.”

On election night, Texas did prove crucial to Kennedy’s victory. And LBJ made sure that Jack Kennedy knew it. “I see you are losing Ohio,” he told Kennedy during an election night phone call. “I’m carrying Texas.”

Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush

Ronald Reagan (left) and his campaign rival, then running mate, George H.W. Bush (right)

During the 1980 election, George H.W. Bush competed against Ronald Reagan in 33 primaries, losing 29 of them. At times, the race to the nomination became openly acrimonious.

Bush feared that Reagan was too conservative. So, he remained in the race, even as he lost primary after primary. Bush stuck to his moderate guns. He famously labeled Reagan’s economic plan as “voodoo economics.”

Reagan, for his part, believed that Bush “lacked spunk” and bowed too easily to political pressure. This opinion was partially formed in New Hampshire. Bush agreed to a 1:1 debate in New Hampshire, but Reagan then turned around and invited all the other candidates. (From the confusion came Reagan’s famous line: “I paid for this microphone!”) Reagan wasn’t impressed by how Bush just sat there. He believed it showed a “lack of courage.”

Once he secured the nomination, Reagan did not especially want to pick Bush as his running mate. He postured to bring the former president Gerald Ford to the ticket, but Ford’s ambivalence toward the idea, and the whispers of a “co-presidency” turned this plan into dust.

Running out of time, Reagan turned to Bush. Bush, sitting in his hotel room at the Republican convention and watching the wild speculation over the Ford rumors, believed that Reagan had called to let him know that he’d picked the former president. Instead, Reagan offered Bush the vice presidency.

Despite becoming running mates, the two men lacked chemistry. A few weeks into Reagan’s first term, Bush even sighed that, despite his efforts he, “couldn’t understand Reagan.”

Who will Joe Biden pick as his running mate? Biden has said he will make an announcement in August.

Biden insiders may dislike Kamala Harris for her attacks on their candidate. They may dislike her for her “lack of remorse” and her “ambition” to be president. But if Harris is chosen as Joe Biden’s running mate, she would join a long line of men who struck an alliance with former campaign rivals.

We’re kind of obsessed with the vice presidency. Next, read about LBJ and the Odds of Becoming President, The Path from the Vice Presidency to the Presidency, and about the 25th Amendment.

First Lady Feature: Lou Henry Hoover

By Molly Bloom

Lou Henry Hoover brought her passion for the outdoors and humanitarian projects from Iowa and California to China and London. Many credit Lou with the transformation of the position of First Lady from the primary role of entertaining guests to a more concerted focus on volunteerism and activism.

Her partnership with President Herbert Hoover allowed her to pursue their shared interests. While he lived in the spotlight, Lou took advantage of her own small platform and made the most of every opportunity.

Love Based on Adventure

Like her future husband, Lou Henry was born in Iowa and moved west, eventually attending Stanford University—where she met Hoover during his final year in college. Their shared experience of living in different parts of the country connected them, and Lou’s love of the outdoors and spirit of adventure seriously attracted Hoover, who was gearing up for a career in mining that would soon take him to Australia.

Hoover left for Australia to start his career while Lou finished her studies at Stanford. The two promised to keep in touch. And once Lou graduated, she launched into an adventure of her own, joining the local Red Cross Chapter to roll bandages for troops in the Spanish American War. (She would eventually become the chapter’s secretary-treasurer.)

Hoover, upon discovering that his work would take him next to China, came home to marry Lou in 1899. More adventure loomed on the horizon. Next, the newlyweds would sail to Shanghai.

The Meaning of Marriage

For Lou, her marriage meant an opportunity for adventure and advancement that would be difficult to achieve as a single woman in her era. Despite graduating Stanford as the first woman with a degree in Geology, she lamented to friends that her A.B. degree did not stand for “A Boy,” and she would not be easily granted a job in her field.

Lou spoke about Hoover’s position in China in her diary and letters to friends, and she asserted herself as an equal partner, saying “we” when referring to his position and career decisions. In Lou Henry Hoover, Nancy Beck Young writes, “Instead of rebelling against male privilege…Lou moved toward marriage and an unpaid public career… she expected a coequal partnership with her husband and used her marriage to expand her public, political rights.” (13).

Lou was seen by Hoover’s colleagues and friends as an equal, independent, and sometimes stubborn companion to the future president. In the Ladies Home Journal, Frederick Palmer shared an account of Hoover requesting Lou leave the city of Tianjin, China as the early stages of the Boxer Rebellion broke out in 1900. Lou stubbornly refused until he acquiesced grumpily, “All right, Lou.”

In the same article, Palmer tells the story of approximately 70 bullets firing on the Hoover household during the rebellion. Lou continued playing a game of solitaire while the wood of the house was splintered by bullets and there was a “fog of disintegrated plaster” (Mayer 79-80).

Stories of her bravery were widely circulated: she armed herself with a .38 pistol, refused to leave her friends and neighbors, rode her bicycle close to walls to avoid bullets, and volunteered medical assistance at the hospitals in the wake of the attacks. Even when her obituary prematurely appeared in a California newspaper, Lou seemed to shrug off the danger and continue the service that she deemed essential.

An Equal Partnership

Hoover’s mining career moved his family to London before the outbreak of WWI. When Belgian families faced starvation and Hoover established the Committee for the Relief of Belgium to provide a supply of food, Lou was in California with her sons. Hoover asked her to rally efforts, so Lou made public speeches that resulted in successful shipments of food reaching Belgium.

Lou also took things further, helping to market Belgian lace to Americans in order to support the Belgian craftswomen in need (Allen 64-5). She created an aid plan for American travelers stranded in Europe and assisted with clothing, childcare, and local accommodations. As Hoover’s career evolved towards public service, Lou matched (and sometimes outmatched) his efforts.

Lou also had projects of her own, separate from her husband’s service. One such endeavor was her work with the Girl Scouts. In 1917, Lou was asked by Girl Scouts founder Juliette Low to join the organization’s leadership. She’d go on to serve many positions over the years, from president to chair of the board.

The role of helping young girls develop social and homemaking expertise, as well as the “scouting” skills that she enjoyed in childhood, resonated with Lou’s love of the outdoors. During the organization’s formative period, Lou helped raise money, improved the Brownie program, and is even credited by some with the original sale of Girl Scout Cookies. She eventually recused herself from the formal leadership position when Hoover was elected to the presidency, but she continued to serve as the honorary president, a position held by the First Lady of the United States since Edith Wilson (who initially accepted the role at Lou’s urging). After the Hoovers left the White House, Lou returned to the Girl Scouts due to her passion for the program.

In the years leading up to Hoover’s presidency, Lou accompanied her husband and asserted herself as a subtle, yet equal, partner in his world travels and philanthropic efforts. Once in the White House, Lou continued to support the Girl Scouts and her other projects, even as she adapted to the role of First Lady. She supported the arts in Washington D.C. and the careers of musicians while also working on campaign strategies for her husband’s party. However, Lou also understood the importance of entertaining and her position as a model American wife, wholesome, unpretentious, and tasteful (Allen 128).

Lou’s Legacy

Lou Henry Hoover’s legacy encompasses not only the position of First Lady, but also her lasting public services and programs. In a 1914 letter, she wrote:

“The ambition to do, to accomplish, irrespective of its measure in money or fame, is what should be inculcated. The desire to make the things that are, better- in a little way with what is at hand [or] in a big way if the opportunity comes.”

Lou took advantage of opportunities large and small to make a difference. Today, she serves as a reminder of the importance of supporting humanitarian organizations to further their impact and the value in helping others during difficult times.

Sources:

Lou Henry Hoover: Activist First Lady by Nancy Beck Young

Lou Henry Hoover: A Prototype for First Ladies by Dale C. Mayer

An Independent Woman: The Life of Lou Henry Hoover by Anne Beiser Allen

Hebert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, West Branch, Iowa

Woodrow Wilson and the 1918 Flu Pandemic

By Kaleena Fraga

These days, all anyone can talk about is coronavirus. Our conversations are consumed with social-distancing, quarantine measures, and questions about testing. Many have drawn similarities between the pandemic of today to the 1918 influenza pandemic.

So how did Woodrow Wilson respond to the Spanish flu?

To listen to this post in podcast form, click HERE

The 1918 Influenza Pandemic

The 1918 influenza had competition when it came to the world’s attention span: the first wave hit during WWI. Military camps throughout Europe reported cases, but European governments chose to keep reports of the illness secret.

Spain, however, had no stake in the conflict. The country had chosen to remain neutral. Having no reason to suppress reports of the flu, Spanish newspapers reported the spread of a new illness.

For this reason, the world dubbed it the “Spanish influenza.”

The illness seemed to run its course. But a more powerful, second wave of the Spanish flu hit that summer. This time, it was so deadly that it could kill a healthy person within 24 hours.

The U.S. Government and the Spanish Flu

When the second wave of the flu hit, the U.S. government sought to downplay the crisis. They aimed to maintain morale in wartime by avoiding negative news stories. In Europe, governments censored any mention of a flu pandemic.

Wilson never made a statement about the Spanish flu. Even when, in the month of October 1918, 195,000 Americans died.

Because of the wartime circumstances, negative reports were severely discouraged. Wilson had created the Committee of Public Information a week after declaring war, which sought to downplay any negative news.

The Committee believed that: “Truth and falsehood are arbitrary terms. The force of an idea lies in its inspirational value. It matters very little if it is true or false.”

In Philadelphia, where one of the worst outbreaks occurred, the Philadelphia Inquirer shrugged off increasing panic. “Do not even discuss influenza,” the paper suggested. “Worry is useless. Talk of cheerful things instead of disease.”

Across the country, as the flu spread, public health leaders toed the line. They stated that the Spanish flu was nothing more than a common form of influenza.  Surgeon General Rupert Blue said, “There is no cause for alarm if proper precautions are observed.”

Woodrow Wilson and the Flu

Wilson in Paris | The Atlantic

Behind the scenes, Wilson did worry about the flu. Ships full of troops arrived daily from the battlefields of Europe, and Wilson wondered if such crossing should be halted. Generals reassured him that there was no need.

“The shipment of troops should not be stopped for any cause,” Gen. Peyton C. March told the president.

In April of 1919, the president traveled to Europe himself. The war had ended in November. But the spread of the flu continued. And Wilson got sick. The president’s condition deteriorated so quickly and drastically that his personal doctor, Cary T. Grayson, worried that Wilson had been poisoned.

Even as Grayson told reporters that Wilson had a cold, he fretted about the president’s condition. ” I was able to control the spasms of coughing,” Grayson wrote, “but his condition looked very serious.” The president couldn’t even sit up in bed.

Worse, in the midst of fragile negotiations, the president began to act strangely. He acquiesced to French demands that had once seemed impossible; Wilson believed he was surrounded by spies; one colonel noted that the president had lost “his quickness of grasp, and tired easily.”

Wilson did recover. But he suffered a stroke months later that crippled his administration, and set up his wife as a de facto president.

Wilson chose to ignore the spread of the Spanish flu. Today, the Trump administration has been critiqued for its slow response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Important differences exist between the two presidents and the two diseases. Wilson lived in an era where presidents weren’t expected to offer a personal response to crises. In addition, Wilson was a wartime president. President Trump exists in the Twitter age—an immediate, personal response is expected.

Presidencies are defined by crises in any era. Just as Wilson is judged for his actions during WWI, it’s certain that history will measure the success of the Trump administration by the president’s response to this pandemic.

Mudslinging in the South: The 2000 Smear Campaign

As voters in South carolina turn out to cast their ballots in the 2020 primary, we look back at the much dirtier contest in 2000

By Kaleena Fraga

Democrats slung mud during last week’s debate. It wasn’t pretty—two hours of arm waving, raised voices, and crosstalk. But the candidates largely stuck to the issues. They attacked each other on health care, tax returns, foreign policy, and gun control. The barbs rarely became personal.

Twenty years ago, political attacks in South Carolina meant to mortally wound—and would, in fact, spell the end of John McCain’s 2000 bid for the presidency.

Smears in South Carolina: The 2000 Primary

Bush and McCain | New York Times

John McCain arrived in South Carolina in 2000 with a spring in his step. His campaign had surged to victory in New Hampshire, snatching a 19-point win over George W. Bush. Bush had won in Iowa (McCain skipped the caucus there) but political commentators noted that: “[Bush] got a good victory, but not a blowout.”

In other words, Bush’s nomination was far from certain. McCain’s strong performance in New Hampshire threatened to upset the whole thing.

As the two candidates began to campaign in South Carolina, a trickle of attacks began. They claimed that McCain had not accomplished much in the Senate and that his values did not match up with conservatives in South Carolina. (A perception not helped by McCain’s statement that the Confederate flag was “offensive” and “a symbol of racism.”)

Protester in South Carolina 2000 | KGOU

It didn’t take long for the trickle to become a tidal wave. Soon, South Carolinians were getting calls asking if they “would be more likely or less likely to vote for John McCain for president if… he had fathered an illegitimate black child?” People began to find leaflets on their cars with the same accusation.

The McCains did have a nine year old daughter with darker skin than their other children—a girl they had adopted from Bangladesh.

The attacks continued. They declared that John McCain had committed treason while a POW in Vietnam. Or that his time there had made him mentally unfit for office. They sneered that he was a homosexual—and that his wife was a drug addict.

At a town hall in Spartanburg, SC, a woman stood up and said that her 13 year old son had taken a call from a pollster, who told him that McCain was a liar and a cheat. “‘My son had admired you, and now he doesn’t know what to believe.”

McCain left the town hall visibly shaken. He told his campaign to pull all negative ads. Not that his attempts to fight back had worked—Republicans in South Carolina became enraged when McCain dared to compare Bush to Clinton, grouping them together as dishonest men.

His campaign felt powerless to stop the attacks. Any response risked putting a spotlight on a smear. And—in any case—it was impossible to tie the Bush campaign to the mudslinging.

***

In the end, McCain lost in South Carolina.

He dropped out of the race less than a month later, citing weak performances in the subsequent contests.

Today’s campaign has remained civil by comparison. Attacks are more likely to be about tax returns or NDAs than illegitimate children or treason.

But South Carolina still has the potential to bury a candidate. A victory in the first contest of the South retains its significance. And with Super Tuesday around the corner, we could see certain campaigns end tonight—or in the next few days.

No dirty tricks required.

Heartbreak and Triumph in New Hampshire

Three stories of campaign-changing moments in the New Hampshire primary

By Kaleena Fraga

New Hampshire, the second state on the primary circuit, is a dangerous place for presidential campaigns. After clearing the threshold of Iowa, it’s here that many campaigns seem to falter or break down—and create room for challengers to surge ahead.

We look at three stories of heartbreak (and triumph) in New Hampshire, from Ed Muskie’s tears in 1972 to Bill Clinton’s comeback in 1992.

The Tears of Ed Muskie (1972)

Senator Edmund Muskie (D-ME) arrived in New Hampshire with something to prove. He had won the Iowa Caucus—but the media had found George McGovern’s surprising show of strength a more compelling narrative. To cement his place as the front-runner, Muskie needed New Hampshire to go well. It didn’t.

Two weeks before the New Hampshire Primary, the Manchester Union Leader published a letter to the editor, which alleged that Muskie had laughed when someone referred to Americans of French-Canadian descent as “Canucks.” In New Hampshire, Americans of French-Canadian descent made up 40%-50% of Democratic voters.

Muskie stood before a crowd in a snowstorm to defend himself, calling the conservative publisher of the Manchester Union Leader “a gutless coward,” and claiming that the letter “was a lie.” Muskie, relating to the crowd his own pain at being called a “Polack” as a boy, and protesting a separate article published by the Manchester Union Leader which had targeted his wife, seemed to begin to cry. The New York Times wrote: “The Senator broke into tears minutes later, his speech halting…” The Washington Post described Muskie as having “tears streaming down his face.”

Muskie, to the end of his life, denied crying. He said that snow, falling on his face and melting, only gave the impression of tears.

But in presidential politics, sometimes an impression is all that matters. Muskie’s status as the front-runner began to crumble. Although he won the New Hampshire primary, his campaign faltered. Muskie performed poorly in the contests that followed, and dropped out of the race.

As for the infamous “Canuck Letter”? Ken W. Clawson, deputy direction of communications in the Nixon White House, told a reporter: “I wrote that letter.”

Bush, Reagan, and the Microphone (1980)

Like Muskie, George H.W. Bush arrived in New Hampshire with an Iowa victory and hoped to cement his front-runner status. But Bush—like Muskie—would find that a single moment in New Hampshire could crater a candidacy.

The Nashua Telegraph wanted to sponsor a debate between Bush and Ronald Reagan. Reagan had narrowly lost to Bush in Iowa (31.6% to 29.5%). But the Federal Election Committee said that in order to sponsor the debate, the newspaper would have to invite all candidates. Reagan stepped in to finance a one-on-one debate—but secretly invited the others.

Bush didn’t want to muddy the field with other candidates. He wanted to take on Reagan himself, and the moderators of the debate (still from the Nashua Telegraph) agreed. Unsurprisingly, chaos erupted when Reagan, Bush, and four other candidates showed up on stage.

Reagan made his case for an inclusive debate. The newspaper editor and debate moderator, Jon Breen, didn’t want to hear it. He snapped: “Would the sound man please turn Mr. Reagan’s mic off for the moment?”

As the Reagan supporters in the crowd began to boo and jeer, Reagan leaned forward towards his (still functioning) microphone, and uttered a line which quickly became a star of presidential campaign history: “”I am paying for this microphone, Mr. Green!”

(Yes, Reagan got the name wrong!)

Ronald Reagan won the New Hampshire primary, which propelled him into front runner status—and to the nomination, and to the White House. Bush, who would lose 29 out of 33 contests to Reagan, went on to serve as his vice president.

Bill Clinton, The Comeback Kid (1992)

Bill Clinton arrived in New Hampshire in 1992 as a man in trouble. The governor of Arkansas had stumbled to fourth place in the Iowa caucus, earning only 2.8% of the vote. Rumors of Clinton’s draft-dodging and extramarital affairs also dogged the candidate, threatening to sink an already faltering campaign.

So New Hampshire mattered. Top Clinton advisors arrived in the state on February 10th, acknowledging that the campaign was “in meltdown” and that their polls “had really tanked.” They knew that they needed to “fight like hell” and have a “perfect eight days” in order to turn things around.

The campaign decided they’d work to control the narrative, by limiting press conferences and putting the candidate in front of crowds, where he could connect with New Hampshire voters on a personal level. “The strategy really was, be everywhere,” said Clinton advisor James Carville. “Shake every hand.” Clinton hit the trail, hard, meeting voters in person and participating in televised town halls.

It worked—Clinton outperformed expectations and zoomed to second place on February 18th. This led to Clinton’s famous moniker: “The Comeback Kid.”

Clinton went on to beat the incumbent president, George H.W. Bush, in the November election.

Does Winning in New Hampshire Matter?

The Answer is (surprise!) Complicated

In our last post, we asked if an Iowa victory had any significance in terms of winning the presidency. The answer is complicated—and certainly, this year, grows even more complicated when you throw in a messy and confused caucus, and two candidates in a virtual dead heat.

In New Hampshire, Iowa’s narrative can be reinforced—see Jimmy Carter in 1972. (Carter won Iowa and New Hampshire.) It can be thrown into doubt—see Hillary Clinton’s victory over Obama in 2008, after she lost in Iowa. Or, it can be torn up entirely in favor of a new one—see Bill Clinton’s resilient comeback in 1992.

In 2020, a win in New Hampshire for Bernie Sanders or Pete Buttigieg would cement their front-runner status. But the campaign is young—and anything could happen.

Bonus Note: A Win in new hampshire is better for the GOP

New Hampshire’s significance is also amplified depending on if you’re a Republican or a Democrat. No Republican who won the Iowa Caucus has gone onto be win the presidency—by contrast, it was Democrats (Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama) whose Iowa wins led them to the White House. (Bill Clinton also won in Iowa in 1996, but as the incumbent.)

For Republicans, winning New Hampshire has historically meant more than Iowa. This won’t matter in 2020—unless there’s a surprise dark horse about to jump in the race—but in the last 44 years, Republicans who win New Hampshire—even if they lost in Iowa—are more likely to reach the White House. This trend is especially strong in the election cycles between 2008 and today. In 2008 Mike Huckabee won Iowa; John McCain won New Hampshire. In 2012 Rick Santorum won Iowa; Mitt Romney won New Hampshire. And in 2016, Ted Cruz won in Iowa—Donald Trump won in New Hampshire.