America’s First Female President

August 12, 2015
492px-President_Woodrow_Wilson_portrait_December_2_1912

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.

Edith_Wilson-nBolling=PublicDomain

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


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.


Democratic Roadshow Continues- Pennsylvania Primary

April 21, 2008

Tomorrow, April 22, is another big day in the race for the Democratic Presidential nomination. The present delegate standing according to CNN Election central <www.cnn.com> is,

Senator Barack Obama
Pledged delegates = 1437
Super-delegates = 226
Total = 1663

Senator Hillary Clinton
Pledged delegates = 1264
Super-delegates = 248
Total = 1512

Candidates need a total of 2,025 delegates to win the nomination. It is becoming clear neither candidate will win the required votes prior to the convention in August. Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean is pushing for the super-delegates to publicly declare their votes by July 1st to break the deadlock. Normally they would not vote until the convention. This would allow the party to unite behind the winning candidate earlier than August. Democrats need to get a candidate selected so they can focus on the general election scheduled for November 4, 2008.

Dean is also advocating for the Florida delegates to be seated at the convention and to divide their candidates proportionally based on the results of the Florida primary. The results of this primary were not recognized because Florida scheduled their primary early against the wishes of the Democratic Party. So far none of the delegates have been factored into the totals. Hillary Clinton won the Florida primary so she would get the majority of the over 200 delegates at stake. Michigan is another state that Clinton won and again it has not been seated, nor the delegates assigned.

It is a certainty if the race is not decided before the convention, the super-delegates will decide the race. They vote at the convention under existing rules. These 800 super-delegates consist of party leaders and officials such as congressmen, senators, etc. Howard Dean himself is a super-delegate.

The Pennsylvania primary will allocate 158 delegates based on the voting results tomorrow. Clinton is expected to be the winner, but the vote will likely be close, so each will pick up many delegates. Again nothing will be decided. One candidate or the other would have to win an overwhelming majority for any kind of knockout blow to be landed.


Barack and Hillary: Showdown in Texas and Ohio

February 29, 2008

March 4, this coming Tuesday – will it solve anything in the race for the Democratic nomination? Primaries and caucuses are taking place in Texas and Ohio, key states because there are large numbers of delegates at stake. Neither state is a winner take all election. The allocation of delegates to the candidates will be based on percentage of the vote in the primaries. This means that unless one candidate wins an overwhelming percentage of the votes the total delegate count will still be very close. Right now in the polls, Obama and Clinton are running virtually neck and neck in both states.

Texas has 193 delegates at stake in their primary and Ohio has around 100 so you can see there is a lot at stake here in the race to reach the magic number of 2,025 needed to win the nomination. It appears that this race might have to be decided at the convention it is so close.

Clinton desparately needs a convincing win in either Texas or Ohio or she may face elimination. Obama on the other hand might be able to take an insurmountable lead should he win a large percentage in one or the other. I don’t believe that will happen, but watch closely to see if one or the other can deliver a knockout blow. Democrats need to get this race decided so they can focus on the apparent Republican nominee John McCain, instead of fighting each other.


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