I Want My GOP

This post originally appeared in early 2016. Cassandra award?


A divided national party . . . voices of extreme rhetoric . . . an ugly, contentious primary season. Does this spell doom for two-party system?

Sounds modern, doesn’t it? But the year was 1860, and the party in question was founded by Thomas Jefferson, and shaped in the image of Andrew Jackson: The antebellum Democratic Party.

On the eve of Civil War, the future of the Union appeared in fatal doubt. Political leaders in the Deep South: South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida had all but washed their hands of the centrally powerful United States. Adding to the precarious atmosphere, a faction of Democrats in the North promoted a policy to permit slavery into the western territories under the principle of Popular Sovereignty, or direct vote. Others voices in the northern branch of the Democratic Party believed the Southern States should depart the Union in peace. And these pro-secession advocates became the most worrisome threat for Senate leader, Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, the leading Democratic candidate for the presidency in 1860.

Douglas found himself in a hell of a spot. He fervently burned to lead his party to the White House and save his nation, dangerously poised on the verge of civil war. As the principal heir to Senate leadership, Douglas had spent over twenty years in Congress working to stave off Southern secession, taking over when Kentucky Senator, Henry Clay, the “Great Compromiser” died. Clay had also spent most of his earlier career drawing up one concession after another in a noble attempt to preserve the Union. Eventually the effort wore him out, and Senator Douglas pick up the cause.

As far as Douglas was concerned, slavery wasn’t a moral issue, merely a bump in the road. The issue could easily be decided by the good folks migrating west. Douglas believed if settlers didn’t want slavery, they would decline to establish laws necessary for supporting the “peculiar institution.” But the Senator was wrong—dead wrong. Slavery had, by 1860 become an issue impossible to fix. And it was this miscalculation, underestimating the power of the slave issue, that the Illinois Senator imploded both his party, and his career.

The new Republican Party had organized six years earlier in Wisconsin, founded on one central principle—slavery would not extend into the western territories, period. And this new party spread quickly. Composed of splinter groups, this now fully unified alliance insisted that free labor was an integral component to a flourishing free market economy. The presence of slavery in sprouting regions of the West would devalue free labor, and undermine future commercial growth.

Now, don’t get me wrong, these Republicans did not sing Kumbaya or braid their hair. These men did not believe in equality between the races—they were not abolitionists. Economic principles drove their political platform, (Emancipation came later with the transformation of President Lincoln through the caldron of war).

For Stephen Douglas the approaching 1860 election meant vindication for his support of popular sovereignty, and reward for his faithful political service. And Douglas was no political hack. He fully understood the solvency of the Union lay in the delicate art of sectional balance, and his ascendancy to the White House as a Democrat would go a long way to placate the Southern hotheads. But this Illinois Senator failed, once again, to fully comprehend the temper of the nation, or of his own party. The era of seeking middle ground had passed—America’s course had been set toward industrial modernity with no place for an antiquated, barbaric labor system.

Charleston, South Carolina, was selected as the site of the 1860 Democratic convention. Chaos immediately broke loose on the convention floor. While Southern Democrats demanded strict, precise language guaranteeing the extension of slavery into the territories, Northern Democrats and those from California and Oregon pushed for Douglas’ popular sovereignty. This tense deadlock forced the latter faction to walk out and reconvene in Baltimore where party business could function.

Southern Democrats moved on without Douglas or his faction. In a separate, Richmond, Virginia convention, Southern Democrats proceeded to nominate Kentuckian John C. Breckinridge.

Back in Baltimore, Senator Douglas indeed gained the Democratic nomination, preserving his precious principle of local voters determining the western migration of slavery. Meanwhile, the Democrats in Richmond took a step further, adding the absolute protection of slavery to their platform. Middle ground had vanished.

Though a long shot, a third faction of the Democratic Party broke ranks with both Douglas supporters, and the Richmond faction. Calling themselves the “Constitutional Union Party,” this coalition nominated John Bell of Tennessee.

So what can we make of this 1860 fiasco today, in 2016? If I could attempt a bit of divination I would suggest that the political party that can present the most united front will prevail in the general election. If current Republican candidates continue to employ such wide-ranging, and scorching tones to their rhetoric, and stubbornly defend the innocence of their loose talk, the party may run head long into oblivion, as did the Democrats of 1860. If the roaring factions, currently represented by each GOP aspirant goes too far, the fabric of unity will shred, crippling the Republican’s ability to field serious candidates in the future.

Looking at the past as prelude much is at stake for the unity of the GOP. In 1860 party divisions nearly destroyed the Democrats, propelling the nation into a bloody civil war. And though Republicans at that time elected our greatest Chief Executive, Abraham Lincoln, the Democrats suffered for decades, marginalized as the party of rebellion. And even the best lessons left by the past are still forgotten in the heat of passion, by those who know better. (The Democrats shattered their party unity once again a hundred years later, splintered by the Vietnam War.) This is truly a cautionary tale for today’s turbulent Republican Party.

Zealots do not compromise, and leading GOP candidates are spouting some pretty divisive vitriol. Southern Democrats self righteously rejected their national party, certain it no longer represented them, and ultimately silenced the party of Jefferson and Jackson for decades. The lesson is clear for today’s Republicans. By tolerating demagoguery, extremism, and reckless fear-mongering in their field of contenders, the RNC may indeed face a similar demise.

Though it is true that no party can be all things to all citizens, malignant splinter groups should not run away with the party.

The American public demands measured and thoughtful candidates—and both parties are expected to field candidates of merit and substance.

We deserve leaders worth following.

As Senator Stephen Douglas refused to recognize that the political skies were falling around him, and his party, the modern Republican Party must not.

Gail Chumbley is the author of River of January, and River of January: Figure Eight a two-part memoir. Available on Kindle

Bull Moose

The only thing new in the world is the history you don't know.  Harry Truman

The story began with a promise. Following his electoral victory in 1904, Theodore Roosevelt vowed to the public he would not run again in 1908. Assuming office in 1901, following the death of William McKinley, then Vice-President Theodore Roosevelt could have run in ‘08. But he had made that promise. 

Selecting an heir, TR tapped the occupation governor of the Philippines, William Howard Taft. TR believed he could happily step aside and pursue private interests with Mr. Taft in the White House. Taft did not want to be president, but his wife did. Though preferring a seat on the Supreme Court, Taft soon caved to his wife and accepted TR’s offer. 

Reform and good government played a large part in Roosevelt’s administration. He challenged unfettered capitalism, pushing for regulations of railroads, and breaking John D. Rockefeller’s stranglehold on the oil industry. One of Theodore’s paramount issues was preserving America’s treasure trove of national parks, and wilderness areas. 

TR loved the West and wished to regulate development where it wasn’t needed. After completing his term, and Taft safely elected, TR went on safari in Africa with one of his sons. By the time Roosevelt returned he learned things were not to his liking in Washington. Taft had made decisions, and endorsed policies Roosevelt had opposed during his administration. 

In short, Taft had the audacity to run his own administration. 

A big issue of contention was conservation of lands and natural resources. Unlike TR, Taft opened up Alaska’s Chugach National Forest to coal mining. Worse, Taft fired TR’s man in the Forest Service, Gifford Pinchot, a spokesman for public land as recreational for the people. Suffice it to say this, and other disputes turned ugly.

The 1912 campaign season began with TR’s new third party, the Progressive or Bull Moose Party. William Howard Taft also announced his run for a second term for the GOP. New Jersey Governor, Woodrow Wilson, received the Democratic nomination in Baltimore. 

Of course the Republican Party split between Republican conservatives, and the Progressives backing Roosevelt. And Wilson became the 28th President of the United States.

What does that moment of time portend for today? Certainly a major Republican split between traditional and reactionary members is in the offing. Much like TR’s progressive agenda, and Taft’s middle-of-the road-conservatism, GOP voters are going to have to decide. 

Clearly this same party is sliding into another major split in 2024. Is neofascism the preference of today’s organization? That one announced candidate has another term coming, and has made plenty of promises too. Will middle of the road conservatives tone him down and redeem the party in their own image? Maybe. But for today the smart money is on that 80-year-old moderate incumbent.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Chumbley has penned two historic plays, “Clay” about the life of statesman Henry Clay, and “Wolf By The Ears,” exploring the the beginnings of slavery and racism.


Give And Take

“I should say that the majority of women (happily for society) are not troubled by sexual feelings of any kind” wrote William Acton in an 1857 medical tome. By 1873 that philosophy was echoed by Anthony Comstock, leader of The New YorkSociety for the Suppression of Vice. This institution’s mission dedicated itself to supervising the morality of the public. Both men assumed the role of dictating to women’s sexual conduct as defined, particularly by Comstock as obscene, indecent, lewd, and immoral. 

Moving from merely directing the New York Society, Comstock convinced Congress, particularly the Postmaster General to prohibit what he considered obscene material passing through the mail. According to Comstock’s prohibitions no correspondence touching on birth control, contraception, or abortion was permitted. Such items were viewed as obscene, though Mr. Comstock never exactly defined obscene. Undaunted, Mr. Comstock forged ahead suppressing any materials he deemed tainted.

An opponent of Comstock, Ezra Heywood, published pamphlets and books endorsing women’s rights, and sexual freedom. Mr. Heywood authored Cupid’s Yoke a book that maintained women can control their own bodies, so, of course Comstock in 1878, had him arrested. Heywood insisted Comstock was destroying the liberty of conscience, that women ought to have a voice in determining the size of their families. Apparently just expressing such ideas was obscene, and Heywood headed to jail for his persistence.

The last of voices discussing morality, obscenity, and sexuality touched on the films produced in Hollywood. Postmaster General Will Hays reined in studios to set standards in motion picture content. Banned was profanity, nudity, violent sexuality, no race mixing, and no lustful kisses. Whew! The code lasted from 1934 until 1968 when the Supreme Court ruled films are art, thus protected by the First Amendment. In its place the Motion Pictures Association instituted the rating system we know today. 

Obscenity, sexuality, birth control, abortion, women’s autonomy, immorality, indecency, all seem to challenge close to half of us in the nation. Outside of sexual violence and sexual predators, we really can take care of ourselves. As for defining obscenity, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart expressed the complexity best when he remarked, “I know it when I see it.”

Perhaps politicians ought to concentrate on power grids, global warming, guns, and infrastructure. Playing ‘give and take’ through regulating women has grown tiresome. Forget defining women with a male dictionary. 

Women’s healthcare is not obscene.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January:Figure Eight.” Chumbley has penned two stage plays, “Clay” about Statesman Henry Clay, and “Wolf By The Ears,” an exploration of slavery and racism.

The only thing new in the world is the history you don’t know. Harry Truman

A Bright Side

Donald Trump, without a doubt has answered the centuries old question of the worst president in American history. His standing as the biggest moron lends Harding, Buchanan, Pierce, and other lackluster presidents a step up from the cellar. 

Is there a bright side to the bedlam unleashed by 45’s insanity? I believe so. Americans have witnessed how not to preside over our democracy in real time. Now that’s a powerful civics lesson. 

Once misunderstood, most American’s were reminded how the Electoral College functioned—a big deal demonstrating how a candidate can win the Electoral College, but not the popular vote. From irregularities identified in the 2016 race, shocked citizens across the country wonder if this election procedure has a purpose in the 21st Century. 

The legal tradition of checks and balances took a rough bruising with Congressmen and Senators scurrying to the Oval Office to kiss the ring of their messiah. Two clearly illegal actions by the President; pressing Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to open an inquiry on Hunter Biden, and Trump would offer an invitation to Washington.The second came after the January 6th insurrection using violence to disrupt the ceremonial certification of Electoral College. The House impeached both times, and the Senate refused to convict. The moral of that story? The Executive Branch went rogue and the upper chamber of the Legislative Branch failed in their duty. However, both branches somehow remained intact and horrified voters learned what they didn’t want. 

That elections and voting truly matter may be the most profound lesson of the Trump years. The right to vote is power, and denying citizens of that power became the GOP’s endgame. Even now, the far right longs to deprive many of us, especially minorities from exercising that power. The lawsuits are still flying to undermine our most sacred right under the law.

Another teachable moment touched on the Supreme Court. The 2020 death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the retirement of Anthony Kennedy in 2018 shed light on manipulating the Judiciary. Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell lobbed the first volley through the customary practice of filling Supreme Court vacancies. Before 2016 the sitting president had the privilege to put forth judicial nominees. That had been a long tradition. But the sitting President happened to be Barack Obama. So of course McConnell blew that up. Obama’s choice for the court was Merrick Garland, and McConnell would not hear of it.

Following the 2016 election that tradition resumed. Trump put forth Amy Coney Barrett, and later Brett Kavanaugh. Both lied in hearings to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Barrett testified she would allow Roe to remain, and Kavanaugh was a reputed date raper. The clause allowing lifetime terms for judges added gravity to Trump and McConnell’s shenanigans. 

Perhaps the Trump fiasco holds a silver lining. Americans have become more aware of the workings of our democracy, what functions under the hood, so to speak. Perhaps democracy is indeed fragile, but our near collapse into tyranny has forced us all to wake up and pay attention.

PS contact your Representative in Congress. Request a hand pamphlet of the Constitution like the one above. They have them in their DC office or their home office. We’ll show ’em.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir River of January, and River of January: Figure Eight. Chumbley has written two plays, Clay about 19th Century Statesman Henry Clay, and Wolf By The Ears exploring the genesis of racism and slavery in America.

The only thing new in the world is the history you don’t know

Harry Truman

Peer Review #1

Marines manned numerous doorways along the wide hallway, as clusters of tourists wandered through colorful rooms. Upstairs the President listened to the public commotion with satisfaction, not for the house, not for the job, which, in truth, had become tiresome, but for the knowledge he could drop down and set all their bourgeois hearts aflutter. 

After a moment, he made his decision, slipping down an interior stair case, stepping into the Blue Room.

As his hands automatically fluffed his hair, the President sidled up beside a class of wiggly school children snapping cell phone pictures.

“And where are you from?,” the president teased with pleasure, anticipating an excited response. He half closed his eyes, and paused, waiting for the gratifying answer.

But he heard nothing.

Bemused, the President opened one eye, then the other. The chatty children paid him no mind, in fact were moving away, following their guide into the hallway.

“Wait,” he found himself calling. “It’s me, your President. I’m here.”

He repeated, “The President of the United States.”

But the children didn’t hear. He remained alone in the Blue Room, his hair acceptably coiffed.

No further tourists entered, though dozens drifted past the doorway. He didn’t understand and he thought very hard, seeking a rational explanation.

It was at that moment that he heard a voice, quite close, and quite annoyed. 

“Am I to understand you are a New Yorker?” 

The President wheeled around toward the sound. Before him, no more than an arm’s length away stood a mustachioed gentleman, wearing pinz nez spectacles, sporting a shiny top hat. The man’s eyes blazed behind the thick round lenses, and the astonished President detected a trickle of cold sweat trace down the back of his thick neck.

“I say, are you, or are you not, a New Yorker?” The stern man spoke in a nasally, patrician voice.

“Ahh. How did you get in here,” the President stammered. “Where is my secret service protection?”

“Supercilious pup,” the man in the top hat snapped. “They tell me that YOU are from New York, and are president! A common side show huckster, President.”

The President, though alarmed, replied reflexively, “I’m in real estate. I . . .made my fortune in New York real estate.” Only the muffled din of passing tourists kept the President from panic.

“Real Estate!” The man in spectacles scornfully shouted. “I’d say you are just another scoundrel from the wealthy criminal class. In New York, swindlers like you are a dime a dozen. I made a career of exposing rascals like you.” 

The man, attired in a three-piece suit, a watch fob draping his ample waist, bore a deep scowl. “And you found your way into this office of trust. Intolerable.”

Though bewildered, the President, unaccustomed to such personal insults, felt his pique rising. “I was elected President by the largest margin in American Hist . . .”

“Poppycock,” the specter interrupted. “It is my understanding the decision rested upon a mere tilt in the Electoral system, and that outsiders interfered to make certain of your victory.” 

The strange visitor moved closer. “I’d say that you are a compromised pawn of foreign meddlers, and give not one damn for the American people.”

At this point the President had heard enough, and attempted to move his legs. He wanted very much to escape the Blue Room, but his feet remained rooted. 

“I have important things to do, you need to go,” the President’s voice trembled, trying to sound more confident than he felt.

The apparition narrowed his intense eyes, and took another step toward the unnerved President. 

“I claim more authority to this revered House and Office than your mercenary greed could ever comprehend. You belong with Tweed, Plunkitt, Fisk, Conkling, and the rest of New York’s good-for-nothings. Dishonor has followed you to the Presidency, what, with your womanizing, graft, and unsavory business connections.” The fierce apparition fixed an intense, menacing gaze. “You do not belong here, nor your parade of lackeys and opportunists.

The buzz of foot traffic grew louder, and when the President again glanced toward his unwelcome visitor, he found him gone, the Blue Room empty.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-volume memoir, “River of January” and “River of January: Figure Eight,” both available on Kindle.

Hard copies are available at http://www.river-of-january.com


Worth Reading

I submitted this short note to my State Senator. Feel free to copy and send to yours.

This email is in regard to the library controversy. As an educator the notion of deciding what is acceptable portends bad things to follow. Using one incident of a child’s book isn’t a full picture. Not one of us read the same thing, and that is true for children. I shudder to contemplate legal censorship as a slippery slope to authoritarianism. I know the far right is attempting to control our community, and that should be enough of a red flag to stop this bill in its tracks. Our libraries are one of the last institutions that bind us together as Americans and Idahoans. To speak plainly the bill is just a bad idea and isn’t workable. If the titles under scrutiny become public, those books sell like hotcakes. It has been since the days of Lady Chatterly’s Lover, or currently The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexi.

As stated by Isaac Asimov “Any book worth banning is a book worth reading.”


Gail Chumbley

They Were Wrong

“Slave owners and white racist were afraid that the world they had always known was slipping away from them. Fear was a great motivator—fear of change, fear of losing power, fear of being that they were wrong. The roots of white anxiety over threats to enslavement and to legalize white supremacy ran deep.”

John Meacham, And There was Light. Random House, 2022, page 55.

Reading this passage last night stunned me for a moment. A flurry of thoughts rushed all at once, promptly turning to one central truth; racial dynamics in America have not changed. Not changed at all.

Meacham’s book, a biography of Lincoln, focuses on the shaping events that made Lincoln arguably America’s greatest President. However, those same formative circumstances left Southern slaveholders angry, and dangerous. This long-running rancor ultimately resulted in civil war, and Lincoln’s 1865 murder.

The Missouri Compromise triggered the first alarm below the Mason-Dixon Line. That slavery could be limited through any federal legislative act left the slave power touchy and suspicious. Sensitive to criticism, slave owners  (as Mr. Meacham pointed out), viewed opposition as a dishonorable insult. Prior to the Civil War Congressman and Senators dueled, a Senator suffered a severe beating on the Senate floor by a South Carolina Congressman. Tension in both chambers lead to the adoption of a “gag rule” that prohibited any discussion of slavery in Congress.  

As Northern abolitionists grew more emboldened, Southerners grew more militant. War was only a matter of time. Any abolitionists tracts, or books like Uncle Tom’s Cabin were discarded by local postal officials. Churches split. Southern Methodist, Southern Baptists are two examples indicating the fraying of North and South.

After the war, into the Reconstruction years Freedmen found protection through Yankee bayonets stationed in Reconstruction zones. Unrepentant Southern whites pushed back with terror. The Klan, the Knights of the White Camelia, and the White League rode through the night spreading fear and lynching freedman who dared to claim the blessings of freedom. 

Eventually the Northern public grew weary of protecting freedmen, and Union occupiers were pulled out of the region. White power was redeemed, the South closed in upon itself.

Contrasting the 21st Century to the 19th provides strikingly similar dynamics. In 2008 Barack Obama became 44th President of the United States, and white power interests again lost their minds.

It appeared America had turned a corner in race relations, but those appearances deceived. Senator Mitch McConnell began by decreeing the GOP would not work with the new president,  followed by the sunsetting a clause in the 1965 Voting Rights Act. That provision, signed by Lyndon Johnson protected black voters from discrimination at the polls. Today voters now have to prove they were slighted.

Apparently these white supremacist again see their alpha-position slipping away, and they too, are touchy and dangerous. The names have changed, but not the mission. Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, neo-Nazi’s, and Christian Nationalists, see themselves as the last bastion against Americans of color, of women’s rights, and LGBQT citizens. 

Again these thugs are thin skinned and hateful. This crowd championed an avowed racist for president, and still, today hold him as a white messiah. The symptoms are all there, fear of a changing America, fear of being wrong in their beliefs, fearful of losing control.

White supremacy as a social disorder manifests predictably. This country has been down this road before. America gave up law enforcement in 1877 due to lack of interest, the myth of white supremacy is just that, a myth. This land was made for your and me.

The only thing new in the world is the history you don’t know. Harry Truman

Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, River of January, and River of January: Figure Eight. She has penned two stage plays, “Clay,” exploring the life of Henry Clay, and “Wolf By the Ears,” a study of racism in America.

Fighting Bees

Young Abraham Lincoln came of political age during the administration of Andrew Jackson. And this aspiring frontier politician did not cotton to Democrats and their blind, cult-like dedication to that one man. Residing first in New Salem, Illinois, then migrating to Springfield, Lincoln frequently spoke on the subject of Jackson’s messianic autocratic version of America.

Senator Henry Clay, a National Republican, later turned Whig, was Lincoln’s man. Mr. Lincoln admired Senator Clay due to Clay’s rational, stable vision of a growing America. Pivotal to Clay’s program included a central bank to financed internal improvements, such as road construction, canals, and railroads. Senator Clay viewed the function of government meant practical projects to built up America’s infrastructure.

Lincoln, residing in an emerging western state, was persuaded that improvement construction would bring jobs and prosperity to the region. Young Lincoln shared an additional belief with Clay that slavery did not belong in new territories, and that argument provided a basis for a modern nation-state.

President Jackson did not share in that opinion. In point of order, the president vetoed many such bills arguing one state benefiting from federal funds was unfair to other states, (though Jackson did approve many others). Furthermore, Henry Clay appeared at the top of Jackson’s adversary list, and for Clay, the feeling was mutual.

Lincoln believed excessive emotion in the political realm fell far short of statesmanship. Referring to religion Lincoln joked he didn’t much like evangelists unless they looked like they were “fighting bees.” To Lincoln, such emotional public displays had no use in politics.

What did Lincoln believe? The ideals of the United States of America, of course. The frenzy of viewing presidents as religious manifestations had no logical end game for a such a logical man. Later in his political career Lincoln likened our tenets of American faith by describing the Declaration of Independence as a golden apple, set in the silver frame of the Constitution. In other words certain inalienable rights, protected by We the People.

Overwrought political passion had the potential to destroy the peoples government, obstructing a practical “reign of reason.”

President Obama exemplified Lincoln’s America, relying on his advisors, or his own formidable intellect to govern. And Lincoln’s Jackson nightmare repeated when a dumber version proclaimed we “grow tired of all of the winning.” As I write another reasonable man is attempting, again, to put the country back on track.

In a country full of Jackson’s, be a Lincoln.

Gail Chumbley is the author of “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Chumbley also penned two stage plays, “Clay,” examining the life of Senator Henry Clay, and “Wolf By The Ears,” a study of racism and slavery in America.


A Letter

In my home state, Idaho, the legislature is considering a bill to approve vouchers for education. As a teacher, and student of history, I composed this letter of opposition to my state senator.

Dear Senator,

Abraham Lincoln struggled through a difficult childhood of hard physical labor and poverty. As a boy in Indiana, school was barely an option. There were ABC schools where Lincoln and other children learned rudimentary literacy. Sadly the teachers knew very little themselves making a real education a forlorn hope.

Childhood friends later reported that Abe’s head was always in a book. If he knew of other available books he would walk for miles to borrow from the community. Unfortunately Lincoln’s father, Thomas Lincoln, viewed reading as laziness, though his stepmother had sympathy for the boy’s self improvement.

As President, Lincoln promoted the Morrill Land Grant Act. This measure authorized establishing universities across the nation. The U of I is one such institution. 

And though he never lived to see the Act materialize, he firmly placed his imprint on American Education.

May we all commit to preserve our public schools and invest in Idaho’s future. 


Gail Chumbley

“The philosophy of the in schoolroom in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.”  Abraham Lincoln.

Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, River of January and River of January: Figure Eight. She also has written two stage plays, Clay on the life of Henry Clay and Wold By The Ears examining racism and slavery.

There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know. Harry Truman

A Mandate

Theodore Roosevelt endured a childhood haunted by ill health. Orphaned by age 15, Andrew Jackson struggled for survival in the Carolina back country. Born the first son of a second marriage, George Washington aspired to rise above his inferior social rank. Abraham Lincoln, a child of the frontier, transformed himself through sheer hard work, and perseverance.

Before they were men these four presidents encountered enormous obstacles in order to reach America’s highest office.

This is the topic of four programs I’m presenting this spring. The idea of exploring future presidents childhoods seemed an interesting approach to understanding the past. What I didn’t expect was the anxiety churned up researching Andrew Jackson. 

Rereading Chernow’s Washington A Life proved an enjoyable review. Washington was not perfect, and certainly a man of his time. But that he overcame his avarice and ambition makes Washington an affirming subject.

On Lincoln, Douglas Wilson’s Honor’s Voice did no less. The man’s goodness, compassion, and intelligence came directly from overcoming his rustic beginnings. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, by Edmund Wilson, plumbs the depths of Roosevelt’s chronic childhood illnesses, and the directive from his father to overcome his frail body through exercise and sports. 

Then there is Andrew Jackson. 

HW Brands work, Andrew Jackson His Life and Times, is an oldie but goody; a book I enjoyed a lot. But that was before Donald Trump. Picking up Andrew Jackson, American Lion has been an ordeal. Jon Meacham describes a man who honestly believed he alone could save America by consolidating all power in the White House. Only Jackson spoke for the people, not Congress and certainly not the Courts. And the most distressing element? The Seventh President got away with his autocratic coup because voters let him. 

How does his childhood figure into his administration? Jackson never had limits. The early demise of his family, left the boy unsupervised in the backcountry, shuttled from one relative to the next. Somehow his rootless beginnings left in Jackson a volatile temperament of him against the world. 

The General murdered scores of Native Americans, and brought home a Creek boy he’d made an orphan. Brutality and tenderness, compassion and racism, love or hate. 

For Jackson all issues of state were personal, and loyalty the foundation of all his relationships. In that vein Trump resembles Jackson, plus the vile racism. 

What separates Andrew Jackson from Trump is a numbers game. President Jackson, for better or worse did win 55.5% of the popular vote in 1828, 54.2% in 1832. (Each election included four or more candidates) Our seventh President did earn an actual mandate from the people. 

Trump did not, and loses more ground every day

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Chumbley has written two plays, “Clay” about the life of Henry Clay, and Wolf By The Ears, an examination of slavery and racism.