America’s First Female President

August 12, 2015
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President Woodrow Wilson-photo Library of Congress

With all the talk of the possiblity of Hillary Clinton becoming the first female President of the United States here’s a look back to 1919. Many historians believe that from 1919 to 1921 the United States had an “Acting President” who was a female. Her name was Edith Wilson. She was the wife of President Woodrow Wilson. Here’s how it happened and the circumstances leading up to it.

Background:
Thomas Woodrow Wilson (December 28, 1896 – February 3, 1924) served as the 28th President of the United States from March 4, 1913 to March 4, 1921. Wilson served during the World War I period. When the war began he declared the U.S. to be neutral keeping them out of the war. Isolationism dominated American politics and society in the early 20th century. Eventually events forced the U.S. to enter the war in April 1917. Wilson focused on diplomacy and financial considerations during the war letting his generals plot strategy and run the day to day operations.

One of his chief accomplishments was endorsing the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution. This gave women the right to vote when it was ratified in 1920.

In 1918 near the end of the war he issued his Fourteen Points a proposed framework for peace. After the armistice he went to Europe in 1919. There he signed the Treaty of Versailles. A key part of the treaty was the formation of the League of Nations. This forerunner was an attempt to ensure peace on a go-forward basis.

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Edith Wilson-photo Library of Congress

Incapacity:
He returned to the United States and began a nationwide tour to promote ratification of the Treaty of Versailles by Congress. In the end Senate Republicans rejected the Treaty. The U.S. never did ratify and didn’t take part in the League of Nations. Wilson’s power dimished as a result of this defeat.

This tour and the effort to get his proposals endorsed exhausted him. On October 2, 1919 in Pueblo, Colorado he collapsed and never fully recovered. He’d suffered a serious stroke. It paralyzed his left side and left only partial vision in the right eye. This left President Wilson bedridden in the White House effectively incapacitated.

His fitness for the presidency came into serious question. No one, not even his wife, his doctor or personal assistant was willing to start the process of certification of fitness for office as mandated in the Constitution, his “inability to discharge the powers and duties of said office”. Vice President Thomas Marshall was ignored and not even considered to take over until Wilson regained his health.

Wilson`s wife and first lady Edith (nee Bolling) took over many routine duties and details of the Presidency. Edith decided which matters of state were important to bring to the bedridden Wilson. In her biography she wrote,

“I studied every paper sent from the different Secretaries or Senators and tried to digest and present in tabloid form the things that, despite my vigilance, had to go to the President. I, myself, never made a single decision regarding the disposition of public affairs. The only decision that was mine was what was important and what was not, and the very important decision of when to present matters to my husband”.

This sure sounds like she was “acting” as president. Many in Washington began referring to her as “the Presidentress”.

Even though Wilson was secluded in the White House in 1920 due to his stroke he still formulated a strategy for reelection. This attempt at a third term deadlocked the 1920 Democratic Convention. The party ignored his reelection attempt and he withdrew. Eventually the Democrats nominated Governor James Cox of Ohio. The general election was won by Republican candidate Warren Harding and Edith Wilson’s quasi-presidency ended.

Obviously not officially recognized Edith Wilson was “Acting President” from October 1919 until 1921, the end of her husband`s second term. Eventually this complex example formed part of the argument for passage of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution. This amendment clarifies the incapacity issue and provides a clear mechanism for certification of a president`s ability to discharge his duties.

References:
McCallops, James S. Edith Bolling Galt Wilson: The Unintended President, New York: Nova History Publications, 2003

Wilson, Edith Bolling Galt. My Memoir. New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1939


The Way We Were 1964: Fifty years ago.

May 21, 2014

1964-the-beatles-life-270In this year of 2014 it is now fifty years since some of us lived through 1964. Here are some interesting things about this important year. Most of this information and factual data is from American sources, but at the end you will find some tidbits on Canada. Enjoy and please leave a comment about something you remember from that year.

What it cost:
Average yearly income $5,880
Gallon of gas .25c
Gallon of milk $1.06
Loaf of bread .21c
1st class postage stamp 5c (to mail a letter)
Magazine subscription (51 issues) $5.00
Pair of shoes $9.95
19” TV black & white $139.95

Entertainment:
1st appearance of Beatles on Ed Sullivan Show
Shooting starts for Star Trek pilot on television

Hit singles:
Baby Love – The Supremes
Can’t Buy Me Love – The Beatles
Hard Day’s Night – The Beatles
House of the Rising Sun – The Animals
I Get Around – The Beach Boys
Pretty Woman – Roy Orbison
Rag Doll – The Four Seasons

Movies at the theatre:
Goldfinger – James Bond movie with Sean Connery
Mary Poppins
The Pink Panther – with Peter Sellers
My Fair Lady

Deaths of note:
General Douglas MacArthur – commander of the Pacific operations in WW II.
Jim Reeves – country star (plane crash)
Harpo Marx – comedian – part of the famous Marx Brothers. He was the one who never spoke on screen.
Gracie Allen – comedienne – wife of George Burns – Burns and Allen comedy team
Herbert Hoover – former President of the U.S. – just before Franklin Roosevelt.

Births of those who would become famous later on. Who knew:
Nicolas Cage – actor
Matt Dillon – actor
Rob Lowe – actor
Sandra Bullock – actor
Keanu Reeves – actor
(remember all these will turn 50 years of age this year)

Notable Factoids or Events:
Cigarette smoking is enjoyed by 60% of population.
U.S. Government reports, “that smoking many be hazardous to one’s health”.
Hasbro introduces the G.I. Joe doll.
Ford Mustang goes on sale ($2368 base price).
U.S begins bombing of North Vietnam which dramatically ramps up the Vietnam War. An LBJ decision.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is published, written by Roald Dahl.
Sony introduces first VCR video recorder.
Computer mouse invented, but not generally available until much later.

Notable Canadian Facts from 1964:
Prime Minister is Lester Pearson (Liberal Party).
Social Insurance Number cards issued for first time to Canadians.
Toronto Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup (over Detroit Red Wings). Most recent win for Leafs was 1967.
First Tim Horton’s donut shop opens in Hamilton, Ontario. (This is the one I like the best.)


John Kennedy Wins Nomination – 50 years ago

July 13, 2010

JFK and Caroline in August 1963-White House photo

I can’t let this anniversary pass. On this day in 1960, Senator John F. Kennedy won the Democratic nomination for president at their convention in Los Angeles, California.

Of course, he went on to win the general election in November 1960 by the slimmest of margins to become president-elect. On January 20, 1961 he was sworn in as the 35th president of the United States. He was also the youngest elected president to take office and the first person of the Roman Catholic faith to become president.

Tragically, he became the youngest president (46 years of age) to die in office when he was assassinated on November 22, 1963 while riding in a motorcade through downtown Dallas, Texas.


Hillary Clinton and the Super-Delegates

April 23, 2008

Hillary Clinton’s big primary win yesterday in Pennsylvania kept her hopes alive for the Democatic Party nomination. She still trails Barack Obama in pledged delegates, but the gap has been closed. The big question is what impact the so-called “super-delegates” will have on who the final nominee with be. Super-delegates are made up of Democratic Senators, Representatives, party officials, former Presidents, etc. These delegates are not decided or assigned by the primary results. They can vote as they wish. Normally they don’t vote until the convention and there are several hundred of them. (Above: Hillary Clinton after Pennsylvania primary, AP Photo)

Most of all she has demonstrated she can carry the big states like Ohio, New York, Texas, California, Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania, all of which she won the primaries in.

If the goal of the Democratic Party is to win the general election against the strong Republican candidate John McCann, then they need to consider Hillary’s ability to win those states having the most Electoral College Votes. Remember that winning the popular vote has nothing to do with winning the presidency. The candidate winning the majority of Electoral Votes wins. Here is the breakdown of Electoral Votes up for grabs in the large states in the general election:

California – 55
Florida – 27
Michigan – 17
New York – 20
Ohio – 20
Pennsylvania – 21
Texas – 34
Total = 194

You can see that if a candidate can carry all the large states they would be well on the way to reaching the magic number of 270 Electoral Votes needed to win the presidency. This certainly doesn’t dimish the importance of those states having smaller numbers of Electoral Votes because they would have a major impact in a tight election.

The most populous states have the most Electoral Votes because the number of Electors a state has is equal to the number of Senators and Representatives that states sends to Washington as elected officials. The total number of Electoral Votes is 538. A winning candidate in the general election has to win 270 (one more than half).

By winning the primaries in those states with the most Electoral Votes available in the general election Hillary Clinton hopes to be able to convince the unpledged “super-delegates” to support her. If she can do that, she will win the nomination.


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