Who was America’s Greatest President?

So, today is President’s Day, the day when Americans honor the institution of the presidency and ask that time honored question: “Who is America’s greatest President?” Really? What a waste of time. It reminds me of the classic kid/parent argument:

Kid: “Why is there a Mother’s Day and a Father’s Day but not a Kid’s Day?”

Mom & Dad: “Because everyday is Kid’s Day.”

Do we really need to give high-ranking politicians their own holiday? Good lord, no. I prefer to celebrate a different type of president today, namely entrepreneurs like Nikola Tesla, Henry Ford, and Steve Jobs.

But since the rest of the country is debating the likes of Lincoln and Washington, we might as well add our two cents to the issue. So, who is America’s greatest president? Regardless of political affiliation, scholars almost always rank Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt as America’s three greatest presidents in no particular order.

That means they’re the greatest right? It depends on how you define “great.” Here’s a different view from Lew Rockwell at LewRockwell.com.

There have been four huge surveys taken of historians’ views on the presidents: in 1948, in 1962, in 1970, and in 1983. Historians were asked to rank presidents as Great, Near Great, Average, Below Average, and Failure. In every case, number one is Lincoln, the mass murderer and military dictator who is the real father of the present nation. His term was a model of every despot’s dream: spending money without Congressional approval, declaring martial law, arbitrarily arresting thousands and holding them without trial, suppressing free speech and the free press, handing out lucrative war contracts to his cronies, raising taxes, inflating the currency, and killing hundreds of thousands for the crime of desiring self-government. These are just the sort of actions historians love…

Most historians value power accumulation when ranking the greatest presidents. Charisma and crisis confrontation are also considered important. Practically no one values minimal government or the ability to avoid crises. And yet some presidents did fairly well in these areas. These libertarian-type presidents were usually dull and didn’t spend years fighting wars or recessions. Instead, their terms were marked by peace, prosperity, and the respecting of individual liberties. Their ranks include Grover Cleveland as well as Rutherford B. Hayes. Using this definition of greatness (peace, prosperity, and the respecting of individual liberties), the greatest president of all time just might be the little-known John Tyler:

John Tyler was the 10th President of the United States. He was known as “His Accidency,” on account of the fact that he took over after William Henry Harrison’s untimely death. Most of his cabinet resigned during his term and his own party expelled him from its membership. According to Wikipedia, an aggregate of various scholarly polls rate Tyler as one of the worst presidents of all time. Heck, even the extremely controversial George W. Bush outranks him. Who would possibly consider President John Tyler #1?

(See the rest right here at Guerrilla Explorer)

Ghost Ship: The Mysterious Case of the Octavius?

On October 11, 1775, the Herald came across a strange ghost ship named the Octavius near Greenland. Upon closer inspection, they discovered the entire crew frozen at the helm. The captain’s log, last dated November 11, 1762, indicated the Octavius had been lost at sea for over 13 years.

Amazingly enough, the log revealed the Octavius had attempted to become the first ship  to successfully traverse the fabled Northwest Passage. Apparently, it got trapped in the ice and only completed the passage after the crew had succumbed to the frozen tundra. The Herald took the log but otherwise left the ship untouched. The Octavius was never seen again. Presumably, it’s still out there somewhere, trapped in an endless sea of ice.

It’s quite a story…but is it real? Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a primary source to substantiate it. And there are no records of the log either. Still, I’m looking for them, among others. Tracking down a real-life ghost ship has long been a dream of mine. But in the meantime, we’ll just have to enjoy the stories. Here’s more from Ghost Ships of the World:

In 1761, a sailing ship named The Octavius departed London loaded with cargo bound for China.  Having safely arrived at it’s destination and taking on another load for the return trip, the captain decided to take advantage of the unusually warm weather and chance an attempt at the shorter route via the northwest passage which until that point, had never been done successfully.  So in 1762, The Octavius departed China with a load of goods for the return trip to the Atlantic and headed northward to attempt an Arctic passage.  The ship made it through the passage…  thirteen years later as a ghost ship…

(See the rest at Ghost Ships of the World)

Mean Valentines: Telling Someone You Don’t Care?

Valentine’s Day is over, but there’s still a chance to tell others you DON’T care. Valentine’s Day cards weren’t always about love. Vinegar valentines (aka mean valentines) were popular in the mid 19th century. They seem to have died off around the 1940s to 1950s.

Mean Valentines were sometimes used to reject would-be lovers. Other times they were sent anonymously to annoying people. Don’t like that stuck-up clerk? Send her a card. Don’t care much for the bald guy down the block? Send him a mean Valentine. Think women need to get out of the voting booth? Tell her via anonymous card. The best part was that prior to 1840, the receiver paid postage for mail. So, early recipients of mean Valentines probably paid for someone to insult them. Here’s more on mean valentines from Lisa Hix at Collectors Weekly:

With all the hand-wringing over anonymous commenters and social-media trolls, you’d think the Internet is to blame for all the woes of humanity. After all, what could people do with their ugly, mean thoughts before they had Yelp, Reddit, or Tumblr to help broadcast them? But as far back as the 1840s until the 1940s, they could send them in a Vinegar Valentine. Yes, that’s right. For almost as long as Valentine’s Day has been an insufferably sappy day celebrating romantic love, it’s also been a day for telling everyone else exactly how much you don’t love them—with an anonymous poem sent via post.

At first, it’s easy to demonize the senders as the worst sorts of trolls or bullies. I mean, some of the most horrifying Vinegar Valentines actually suggest the recepient kill him or herself. But then, if you look at the more light-hearted Valentines, some of them start to seem like a good idea. Have you ever had a haughty saleslady scoff at you for being poor? Have you ever had to listen to a pompous windbag carry on when he doesn’t have any idea what he’s talking about? So many people are blithely unaware of their obnoxious behavior. Wouldn’t it feel great to tell them off, consequence-free?

 

(See the rest at Collectors Weekly)

Remnants of Lost City located in Peru?

Peru, like much of Central and South America, is a veritable treasure trove of lost history. This latest discovery is a lost temple located within the ruins at El Paraiso. However, it’s estimated to be 5,000 years old, making it 1,000 years older than the rest of the ruins. So, it appears to be from a lost city. Here’s more from BBC News:

Archaeologists in Peru say they have discovered a temple at the ancient site of El Paraiso, near the capital, Lima. Entry to the rectangular structure, estimated to be up to 5,000 years old, was via a narrow passageway, they say. At its centre, the archaeologists from Peru’s Ministry of Culture found a hearth which they believe was used to burn ceremonial offerings.

With 10 ruins, El Paraiso is one of the biggest archaeological sites in central Peru. The archaeologists found the structure, measuring 6.82m by 8.04m (22ft by 26ft), in the right wing of the main pyramid…

(See the rest at BBC News)

President Lincoln: Hero or Monster?

President Lincoln is the centerpiece of American mythology. Public schools teach us to adore him. His brilliance and leadership are hailed by historians and politicians. President Lincoln saved the Union, freed the slaves, and inspired a nation. Check out these glowing words from Roy Klabin at PolicyMic:

Abraham Lincoln is one of America’s most celebrated presidents, having led us though our most troubled times. He was made great not by the circumstances that he found himself in, but the fortitude and honor with which he navigated them. The Civil War that erupted, and the manner in which Lincoln quelled it, showed us that however varied the ideas within our flourishing democracy may become, our strongest virtue comes in sustaining our unity and resolving our differences.

Fortitude? Honor? Please. Unfortunately, the truth is far uglier. President Lincoln’s quest to “save the union” cost an estimated 750,000 lives (including my third great grandfather). He wanted to force African-Americans to resettle in Central America. And there is no evidence he helped to pass the 13th Amendment, despite what Steven Spielberg would have you believe. In fact, the only 13th amendment President Lincoln tried to pass was the Corwin Amendment, which sought to prevent interference with slavery. Here’s more on the mythology surrounding President Lincoln and the 13th Amendment from Thomas DiLorenzo at LewRockwell.com:

Steven Spielberg’s new movie, Lincoln, is said to be based on several chapters of the book Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns-Goodwin, who was a consultant to Spielberg. The main theme of the movie is how clever, manipulative, conniving, scheming, lying, and underhanded Lincoln supposedly was in using his “political skills” to get the Thirteenth Amendment that legally ended slavery through the U.S. House of Representatives in the last months of his life. This entire story is what Lerone Bennett, Jr. the longtime executive editor of Ebony magazine and author of Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream, calls a “pleasant fiction.” It never happened…

There is no evidence that Lincoln provided any significant assistance in the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in the House of Representatives in 1865, but there is evidence of his effectiveness in getting an earlier Thirteenth Amendment through the House and the Senate in 1861. This proposed amendment was known as the “Corwin Amendment,” named after Ohio Republican Congressman Thomas Corwin. It had passed both the Republican-controlled House and the Republican-dominated U.S. Senate on March 2, 1861, two days before Lincoln’s inauguration, and was sent to the states for ratification by Lincoln himself. The Corwin Amendment would have prohibited the federal government from ever interfering with Southern slavery…

(See the rest at LewRockwell.com)

The Comics Code: Tyranny Based on Lies?

New findings shows the research that lauched the War on Comics and the Comics Code was based on omissions, fabrications, and outright lies. That’s right, Dr. Fredric Wertham was the comics equivalent of Mike Bellesiles. We like to think of scientists and academics as impartial experts, who are only concerned with knowledge. Nothing could be further from the truth. Here’s more on the faulty foundations for the Comics Code by Dusty Rhodes at the University of Illinois:

Behavioral problems among teenagers and preteens can be blamed on the violence, sex and gore portrayed in the media marketed to them – that was the topic of televised public hearings held by the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency in 1954 to address the scourge of comic books. The hearings, which resulted in the decimation of what was an enormous comic book industry, had been inspired in large part by the book “Seduction of the Innocent,” by psychiatrist Fredric Wertham, based on his own case studies.

Wertham’s personal archives, however, show that the doctor revised children’s ages, distorted their quotes, omitted other causal factors and in general “played fast and loose with the data he gathered on comics,” according to an article by Carol Tilley, published in a recent issue of Information and Culture: A Journal of History.

“Lots of people have suspected for years that Wertham fudged his so-called clinical evidence in arguing against comics, but there’s been no proof,” Tilley said. “My research is the first definitive indication that he misrepresented and altered children’s own words about comics.”

(See the rest at the University of Illinois)

What did Nathan Hale Really Say?

Nathan Hale, the famous American spy from the Revolutionary War, is famous for saying, “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.” There’s just one problem. He never said it. So, what did he really say? The answer is below, courtesy of an interview with Becky Akers conducted by American Revolution and Founding Era:

“What lessons can Americans today take from someone like Nathan Hale?”

That liberty is among God’s greatest gifts to us, more precious even than life.

Many folks mistake Nathan’s sacrifice for nationalism – the “my-country,-right-or-wrong” mentality. And while that’s tragic, it’s understandable, given the warped version of his speech on the gallows bequeathed to us. That famous line – “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country” – actually originated with Capt. (later Gen.) William Hull, one of Nathan’s buddies from college. He heard an account of the execution from an eyewitness, which he included in his memoirs as an old man. And then he paraphrased – inaccurately – the quote from a report on Nathan’s death the Boston Chronicle published just six years after the hanging: “I am so satisfied with the cause in which I have engaged, that my only regret is that I have not more lives than one to offer in its service.” Obviously, Hull’s condensation packs a greater punch, but it also changes “cause [of liberty]” to “country” – an unfortunate and nationalistic rewrite.

(See the rest at American Revolution and Founding Era)

Protolanguages: Decoding Words from the Past?

Protolanguages are hypothetical ancestors of modern languages. For example, modern Maya, as well as other ancient Mesoamerican scripts (Olmec, Zapotec, Classic Maya to name a few) are believed to have descended from an original language called Proto-Mayan (see chart). Needless to say, decoding protolanguages is a massive undertaking. Here’s more on a new computer system which appears to do the job quickly and with decent accuracy from the University of British Columbia:

University of British Columbia and Berkeley researchers have used a sophisticated new computer system to quickly reconstruct protolanguages – the rudimentary ancient tongues from which modern languages evolved.

The results, which are 85 per cent accurate when compared to the painstaking manual reconstructions performed by linguists, will be published next week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“We’re hopeful our tool will revolutionize historical linguistics much the same way that statistical analysis and computer power revolutionized the study of evolutionary biology,” says UBC Assistant Prof. of Statistics Alexandre Bouchard-Côté, lead author of the study…

(See the rest at University of British Columbia)

Does America need the Constitution?

No, according to Louis Michael Seidman. He wants to keep the government but toss the Constitution, arguing that it was written by a very specific set of people from a very different time period. So, rather than debate the merits of an issue, we debate what people who died a long time ago would’ve thought about it. He also makes the very good point that we shouldn’t depend on the Constitution to secure our natural rights like freedom of speech.

The issue with the U.S. Constitution (and really any written document) is that it can be tortured to mean just about anything. And since government has a natural tendency to grab power, politicians can easily interpret the Constitution in order to do so (case examples: the Commerce and the Necessary and Proper Clauses).

As a restraint on government, the Constitution has proven remarkably ineffective. Then again, it’s not clear to me that a U.S. government without the Constitution would be much better. Here’s more from an interview with Seidman, conducted by Amy Crawford at Smithsonian Magazine:

What would we gain by giving up constitutional obligations?

It would improve deliberation and rhetoric about issues that divide us—gun control, for example. Now, to the horror of most of my friends, I am actually quite skeptical about gun control. But that’s a subject on which reasonable people can disagree. But what happens when you start thinking about constitutional obligations? All of the sudden the argument is not, “How are you going to enforce this? Would it actually prevent violence? Would it cause more violence?” The argument is about, “What exactly did the word ‘militia’ mean 200 years ago? What is the relationship between the ‘bear arms’ clause in the English Bill of Rights and the American Bill of Rights?”

Those are questions that historians ought to have some interest in, but they’re completely irrelevant to the issue of gun control in 21st century America. Without enlightening us, arguments of constitutionalism unnecessarily divide us. Now, all of the sudden, instead of talking about a policy decision that reasonable people could disagree about, we’re talking about whether one’s opponent is really an American, whether they are violating the document that defines us and creates us as a nation.

(See the rest at Smithsonian Magazine:

Calvin Coolidge: Did he save the U.S. Economy?

Amity Shlaes is out with her latest book, Coolidge, a new take on the controversial presidency of Calvin Coolidge. Conservatives love Silent Cal, giving him full credit for the Roaring Twenties. Liberals hate him, believing his free market policies caused the Great Depression. Shlaes falls firmly in the former camp. Personally, I think he’s partly responsible for both. That’s because the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression were caused by the same thing…rapid expansion of the money supply.

From mid-1921 to mid-1929, the money supply grew 61.8%, with much of that coming during Coolidge’s terms in office. All that money fueled a boom as businesses raced to invest it (aka the Roaring 20s). Eventually, too much money chased too few worthy investments. Poor businesses failed. The economy crashed and the money supply contracted. The Federal Reserve, just like today, mistakenly tried to reinflate the bubble in 1932 only to find itself unable to do so.

Still, Coolidge wasn’t a bad president. He cut the national debt and reduced tax rates. He avoided wars in Latin America. For more on Calvin Coolidge, see this interview with Amity Shlaes conducted by Ed Driscoll at PJ Media:

MR. DRISCOLL:  The Forgotten Man helped to place FDR into context by focusing on many personal histories of the 1930s, beyond the palace intrigue of Capitol Hill. These days, whatever collective history we have of the 1920s seems to come from The Great Gatsby, The Untouchables,and TV shows like HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.  How badly do people today misremember the decade of the 1920s ?

MS. SHLAES:  We really misremember it and then you want to ask why.  So Forgotten Man was about the misremembering of the 1930s.  Coolidge is about the misremembering of the 1920s.

So the cliches you describe, and they’re fun and amusing, are that it was all a lie or about guns and alcohol, something illegal and contraband, corruption resulting from prohibition.  Or it was all a lie; Gatsby wasn’t real wealth.  He was an illusion.  He was a shimmer in a champagne glass.  Right?

So when you go back and look at the ’20s — this is the era of Coolidge, you see a lot of real growth.  Things we would envy, we wish we could have, such as employment was often below five percent.  When you wanted a job you got one.  Wages rose in real terms.  Not a lot but consistently.  You can go back and look at that, even for unskilled workers.  Well, what else — interest rates were pretty low.  The budget was in surplus.  We didn’t have a deficit.  The federal debt was huge from World War I.  We were bringing it down reliably…

(See the rest at PJ Media)