Any Last Words?

Thursday Trivia: 

Perhaps the most famous presidential last words are those of John Adams, who purportedly called out on his death bed: “Thomas Jefferson survives!” Adams did not know that his fellow Founding Father had, in fact, succumbed earlier in the day. Even eerier, both men died on July 4th.

James Madison seemed to fear less for the Republic, and to leave the world in a calmer state than Adams. Surrounded by his family, one of Madison’s nieces remarked that he looked as if he was in pain. Madison remarked that it was “…nothing more than a change in mind, my dear,” before leaving the American experiment for good.

Chester A. Arthur (our star from yesterday’s #otd) wins the “womp womp” prize for his (purportedly) last phrase. According to a friend he said: “Life is not worth living.”

And perhaps the cheeriest last words were uttered by John Adams’ son, John Quincy Adams, who had a stroke in the House of Representatives where he served. He died in the Speaker’s Office, but not before uttering: “This is the last of Earth. I am content.”

 

Chester A. Arthur Becomes President

On this day: 

On this day in 1881 Chester A. Arthur became president after James Garfield succumbed to wounds from an assassin’s bullet. The shot itself didn’t kill Garfield–sloppy medical care resulted in the infection that ended his life.

The assassin, Charles J. Guiteau, argued before the judge that he should not be hanged for murder, since it wasn’t his bullet that killed President Garfield. He declared: “The doctors killed Garfield, I just shot him.”

We probably hear most about Chester A. Arthur through frequent NYT Crossword clues about his middle name (Alan!) but there is a new biography coming out that should shed some light on this largely forgotten (and accidental) president.

Nixon Played How Many Instruments?

Tuesday Trivia: 

Richard Nixon is known for a lot of things. Ask anyone his name and the first thing most people will mention is Watergate. Nixon was also well known for playing the piano, but his musical prowess goes beyond the keys. Nixon played five instruments in total:

Piano

Clarinet

Violin

Accordian

&  Saxophone (take that Bill Clinton!)

The First Cornerstone

On this day: 

On this day in 1793, George Washington laid the first cornerstone for what would become the U.S. Capitol building.

The exact location of this stone has been lost to time.

When the White House was renovated in the 1950s, many of its bricks were found to have Masonic symbols. Washington is one of many prominent Masons who have held power throughout American history.

Famous Losers

By Kaleena Fraga

In every presidential election there is a winner, and there is a loser. For the winner, the path is clear. Go on to the presidency, watch your approval rating crumble, hopefully get something done while in office and (most likely) gear up to run again. For the loser of the presidential contest, the future is foggy. Do they emerge a leader of their party? Do they prepare to run again? Do they fade into the background of political history, or quietly enter a life of public service?

Once, losers didn’t have a choice. John Adams lost to George Washington and served as his vice president. Thomas Jefferson loJQA.jpgst to John Adams and served as his vice president. But today, a loser must go from being one of the most admired (or reviled) people in the country to last week’s headline.

President Trump has boasted often of his similarities to Andrew Jackson, and to the change electionin 1828 that ushered Jackson into power. Jackson bested John Quincy Adams, who, as the son of a president and a founding father, belonged squarely to the Washington establishment. Jackson’s election shocked and horrified Washington elites. Henry Clay, the Speaker of the House, is purported to have taken ill, certain that Jackson’s election meant the end of the American experiment. Although devastated by his loss, Adams picked up the political flag two years later and went on to serve in Congress until his death in 1848—one of only two presidents to do so.

Perhaps the most famous loser of all is William Jennings Bryan. Bryan ran for president a record three times—in 1896 against William McKinley, 1900 against Teddy Roosevelt, and in 1908 against William Howard Taft. Bryan, a gifted orator, couldn’t seem to give up public life. He continued to speak widely after each defeat, amassing a large and loyal following. Although Bryan ran as a Democrat, he’d flirted with the Progressive Party before and many in his party resented his advocation of extreme measures. Many Americans saw him as above politics (not unlike Bernie Sanders in 2016) and as a man of the people. Bryan enjoyed a short tenure as Woodrow Wilson’s Secretary of State and became an advocate for prohibition. He later solidified a legacy as a hero of American Christians when he faced Clarance Darrow in a trial over whether or not teachers had the right to teach evolution in the classroom.

Later in the 20th century, Adlai Stevenson was known as the man who lost races to be president. He ran twice in 1952 and 1956 (almost three times, if he’d had his way in 1960). In the 50s Stevenson was bested by the tag team of Eisenhower and Nixon. In 1960, despite a strong backing from Democratic powerful like Eleanor Roosevelt, he lost the nomination to Jack Kennedy. Despite strained relations between the two men (Stevenson refused to publicly endorse Kennedy), Kennedy eventually appointed him ambassador to the United Nations. Stevenson is recognized today for his quick wit, with quotes attributed to him like:

“I will make a bargain with the Republicans. If they will stop telling lies about    Democrats, we will stop telling the truth about them.”

“You can tell the size of a man by the things that make him mad”

HRC

The most famous loser of our current time is, of course, Hillary Clinton. After losing to Barack Obama in the 2008 primary, she lost to Donald Trump in 2016. Clinton certainly has a legacy outside of her run for the presidency that will continue to define her. Today she remains as polarizing as ever, and it’s unclear what role she will play going forward. For now, she joins a group of distinguished men who, although losers, were extraordinary in their own way.