Michael Stoll: Even more presidential facts

Published 6:30 am Saturday, February 13, 2021

With Presidents’ Day around the corner, here are some more presidential facts for your enjoyment.

• The Election of 1800 was an intensely bitter campaign between political enemies President John Adams and Vice President Thomas Jefferson. Adams’ Federalist supporters said that a vote for Jefferson was a vote for “no God” while a vote for Adams was a vote for “God – and a religious president.”

According to University of Virginia professor Merrill Peterson, Federalists warned that should Jefferson be elected, “Murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will be openly taught and practiced.”

The election was eventually decided by the House of Representatives, who elected Jefferson as president and Aaron Burr as vice president.

• While serving as ambassador to France, James Monroe and his wife Elizabeth attended Napoleon Bonaparte’s 1804 coronation as Emperor of France.

• James Polk suffered from gallstones when he was a teenager. The pain was so bad that at age 17 he agreed to an operation to remove them, a risky decision given that he had no anesthetic and only liquor to dull the pain.

• As the Civil War approached, former President Franklin Pierce, a New Englander, warned that the federal government should not attempt to curb slavery. Although he opposed secession, Pierce often criticized President Abraham Lincoln’s administration and its “fearful, fruitless, fatal civil war,” fought “upon the theory of emancipation, devastation, subjugation.”

Because of his position, Pierce was denounced as a traitor by New England society and abandoned by many of his friends. When Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, an angry mob threatened to destroy Pierce’s New Hampshire home.

• In 1876, the post-Civil War nation was in the middle of the Reconstruction Era and the former Confederate states were divided into military occupation zones. The country had only recently extended the vote to Black males, who largely supported the Republican Party. The Republicans also had support among the northern states, while southern whites tended to support the Democratic Party.

In the Election of 1876, Democratic candidate Samuel J. Tilden won the popular vote by about 250,000 votes. His opponent, Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, conceded to a reporter that he believed Tilden had won the election.

But as Tilden prepared to declare victory, election results in Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina were disputed, as was one electoral vote in Oregon. Without those disputed votes, Tilden had 184 electoral votes – one vote shy of a majority and the presidency. While results showed Hayes was ahead in South Carolina, Tilden led in Florida and Louisiana. But the Republican officials who controlled the latter two states disputed the results and ruled several Democratic ballots as invalid.

To resolve the issue, the matter was taken to Washington, D.C., where a 15-man committee consisting of five senators (three Republicans and two Democrats), five representatives (three Democrats and two Republicans) and five Supreme Court justices (two Republican appointees, two Democratic appointees and one chosen by the other four) was organized to figure out how to proceed. The fifth justice chosen was Joseph Bradley, a Ulysses S. Grant appointee who, despite his affiliation with the Republican Party, was known for his independence.

In February 1877, the committee voted 8-7 along party lines to award the disputed electoral votes to Hayes, giving him the closest electoral victory in history (185-184). The decision angered Southern Democrats, some of whom threatened open rebellion. Tilden, however, calmed his followers, and Hayes agreed to end military occupation in the South and include a Southern Democrat in his cabinet.

Throughout his one term, Hayes was often referred to as “His Fraudulency” and “Rutherfraud.”

• Theodore Roosevelt hired French artist and famed portraiture Theobald Chartran to paint his official White House portrait. Roosevelt, however, hated the portrait so much that he hid it in a dark hall in the White House. He eventually burned it.

• As a child, John Kennedy was in constant competition with his older brother, Joseph Kennedy Jr. Their father, Joseph Kennedy Sr., liked to pit Joe Jr. and “Jack,” as John was known, against each other in an effort to make them more driven. Brash and arrogant, Joe Jr. enjoyed his father’s favoritism; it was Joe Jr., not Jack, that Joseph Sr. hoped would one day be president.

In 1943, while serving as a skipper aboard PT-109 in the Solomon Islands, Jack was awarded the Purple Heart and the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for rescuing a fellow crewman after the Japanese destroyer Amagiri rammed their vessel. Jealous of his younger brother, Joe Jr., who was a Navy pilot, sought an opportunity to prove his mettle.

That chance came in August 1944: Operation Aphrodite (Anvil). For this mission, Joe Jr. and his co-pilot were supposed to fly a BQ-8 drone (a modified B-24 Liberator) ladened with explosives into the Fortress of Mimoyecques, a German military complex, located on the northeast coast of France, that Allied leadership suspected housed V-2 ballistic missiles. The drone would be remote controlled, but because it could not safely take off on its own, pilots were necessary to get it airborne. Once in the air, the plan was to arm the explosives and parachute to safety as the drone crashed into the fortification.

On Aug. 12, 1944, Joe Jr. and co-pilot Lt. Wilford John Willy took off from a British airfield on the start of their mission. But two minutes after Willy armed the explosives, they detonated prematurely, killing both pilots.

When news of Joe Jr’s death reached Joseph Sr., it was said that the elder Kennedy grabbed a bottle of scotch and locked himself in his bedroom. Jack later recalled his father saying, “All of my plans were tied up with young Joe… That has gone smash.”

Adding to the tragedy was that unbeknownst to Allied leaders, the Germans had abandoned the Fortress of Mimoyecques the previous year.

With the death of Joe Jr., Joseph Sr. set Jack on the political path that had been laid out for his older brother – the path that eventually led him to the presidency.

• At an early age, Richard Nixon’s mother encouraged him to play piano. Not only was he a classically trained pianist, but he could also play the accordion, clarinet, saxophone and violin. During a 1963 appearance on “The Jack Paar Program,” Nixon performed an original song, a move that helped restore his political image after his defeat in the 1962 California gubernatorial race.

• Gerald Ford was a star center on the football team at the University of Michigan, leading the team to national titles in 1932 and 1933. He received offers to play from the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers, but rejected both, opting instead for a job on the Yale University football coaching staff because he wanted to attend law school.

• Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter hold the record for the longest married first couple (July 6 will be their 75th anniversary). The record was previously held by George and Barbara Bush, who were married for 73 years before their deaths in 2018.