Let’s Take a Break and Talk Jefferson

By Kaleena Fraga

Politics lately have been exhausting. So let’s take a break and talk about Thomas Jefferson and his oddities.

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Somewhere in this estate is a floor with a groove

Jefferson liked to wake himself up in the morning by sticking his feet in cold water. He thought this would keep him healthy. Jon Meacham, in his Jefferson biography Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, notes that this habit “wore a groove on the floor next to the alcove where he slept.” Since Jefferson lived to be 83 at a time when most men died before 40, maybe he was onto something.

Jefferson kept several mockingbirds as pets. His favorite was called “Dick.” The bird would perch on his shoulder, follow him up the stairs, and sit on his couch while Jefferson napped. Lucia Stanton, a Jefferson scholar, noted that the bird’s name was somewhat disappointing, given Jefferson’s tendency to give his horses more noble names (some highlights: “Allycrocker”, “Peggy Waffington”, “Remus and Romulus”, “Zanga”, Polly Peacham”)

An agrarian at heart, who saw this as the future of the new United States, Jefferson once committed international espionage in order to introduce a superior crop to American soil. As the Minister to France, he saw that Italian rice outsold American rice. Since he believed that, “the greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add an useful plant to it’s [sic] culture,” Jefferson went to Italy and literally put handfuls of the rice in his pockets to bring back to the United States. At the time, such an act was punishable by death.

A less fun fact about Jefferson concerns Sally Hemings. Many know of Jefferson’s relationship with Hemings–if it can be called that, since, as he had all the power and she had none, there really wasn’t a question of consent on her part–but there’s another, fascinating layer to this. Jefferson’s wife, Martha, died when she was 33. He was 39. Martha asked that he never marry again, and Jefferson didn’t. He began his infamous relationship with Hemings instead–Martha’s half sister.

 

“If You Need a Friend in Washington–Get a Dog”

By Kaleena Fraga

Over the course of White House history, the American public has grown used to seeing an animal in the White House. No, we’re not referring to any occupants of the Oval Office–rather the plethora of beasts that U.S. presidents have brought with them, everything from Jefferson’s mockingbird “Dick” to Lyndon Johnson’s beagles “Him” and “Her”.

President Trump is something of an outlier in that he came to the White House pet-less, despite some rumors that he’d been given a dog named Patton. Harry Truman also had no desire to add a First Dog to the White House, and this got him in trouble.

The story goes (and we’d encourage everyone to check out the fantastic site http://www.presidentialpetmuseum.com/ for more) that a woman from Truman’s home state of Missouri sent the first family a dog named Feller. The gift made sense. After all,

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FDR & Fala at the White House in 1941

Truman’s predecessor Franklin Roosevelt had famously kept his dog Fala at his side during his presidency. But Truman did not want the dog. After much fanfare surrounding the dog’s arrival, Truman re-gifted Feller to his doctor.

An uproar ensued among the American public, who deemed Truman “anti-canine.”

A reporter later asked Truman what had ever happened to Feller. Confused, Truman responded, “To what?”

The reporter reminded Truman of the dog’s existence, and Truman replied, “Oh…he’s around.”

Fortunately for Feller, after changing hands a few more times, he spent the rest of his days on a farm in Ohio (yes, really!). All in all, it was probably preferable to the cramped quarters of the White House, especially with a master who didn’t especially care for dogs.