A Country Of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, The Mexican War And The Conquest Of The American Continent, By Robert W. Merry

James K. Polk appears doomed to remain one of our least appreciated presidents, despite Robert W. Merry’s valiant attempt to drag him from the shadows in A Country of Vast Designs. The problem lies with Polk himself, a man even Merry concedes was “drab of temperament,” with “limited imagination” and lacking in “natural leadership ability.” He was affectless, narrow-minded, and difficult, but so are many great national leaders. Read more »

Madison’s Radical Agenda

A diminutive, persuasive Virginian hijacked the Constitutional Convention and forced the moderates to accept a national government with vastly expanded powers

On May 5, 1787, James Madison arrived in Philadelphia. He was a diminutive young Virginian—about five feet three inches tall, 130 pounds, 36 years old—who, it so happened, had thought more deeply about the political problems posed by the current government under the Articles of Confederation than any other American. Read more »

The Wrong Man At The Wrong Time

For all his previous successes, President Herbert Hoover proved incapable of arresting the economic free fall of the Depression— or soothing the fears of a distressed nation

On March 4, 1929, Herbert Hoover took the oath of office as the thirty-first president of the United States. America, its new leader told the rain-soaked crowd of 50,0000 around the Capitol and countless more listening to the radio, was “filled with millions of happy homes; blessed with comfort and opportunity.”Read more »

King, Obama, And The Great American Dialogue

What would Martin Luther King Jr.—had he been alive today—thought of our latest president’s oratory?

Standing in the cold with 2 million others near the Capitol as Barack Obama delivered his inaugural address, I couldn’t help but recall another crowded day 45 years earlier, when I heard Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” oration at the other end of the National Mall, in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Read more »

Lincoln In Hawaiian Memory

On the grounds of the Ewa Plantation School just west of Honolulu stands a bronze statue of a young Abraham Lincoln with ax in hand, forearms rippling after splitting logs. Fifteen years before Hawaii became a state in 1959, school officials unveiled this statue, a symbol of Lincoln’s popularity in Hawaii during the American Civil War, when many Hawaiians enlisted in the Union Army and Navy despite the kingdom’s official neutrality. Read more »

My Years With Ronald Reagan

What a skeptical biographer discovered about a very elusive subject

I first met Ronald Reagan in November of 1967. It was a brief encounter, and I was not impressed. I was a reporter for The New York Times traveling with the mayor of New York, John V. Lindsay, who was then a Republican. There was a lot of talk at the time about a Republican “dream ticket” of Gov. Nelson Rockefeller of New York for President and Governor Reagan of California for Vice President.Read more »

1974: Twenty-five Years Ago

Dick’s Last Trick

Watergate dominated the news in April, as it had for more than a year. Each day seemed to bring new evidence of malfeasance by President Richard Nixon and his staff, and in a nation unaccustomed to having a criminal in the White House, the revelations were taken quite seriously. As the House Judiciary Committee took up the question of impeachment, Nixon knew his time to wriggle out of the mess was running short. In the football metaphors that he loved so much, the President was trailing by two touchdowns late in the fourth quarter. So, like any coach in such a predicament, he called for an onside kick.

Read more »

Presidents In The Woods

AN OHIO UNDERTAKER’S LIFELONG obsession has left a mysterious outdoor gallery of American folk art

 

HIGH ON A RIDGE IN A REMOTE, HEAVILY WOODED AREA OF SOUTHEASTERN Ohio, a towering stone figure of Warren G. Harding guards a rarely traveled gravel road. Barely visible through the undergrowth a hundred feet farther down the road are strange figures carved into sandstone outcroppings: an eagle in flight, an elephant’s head, Abraham Lincoln, an Indian chief. A crouching lion and a wildcat cast wary eyes at passersby. Read more »

Presidents On Presidents

They’ve all had things to say about their fellow Executives. Once in a great while one was even flattering.

John Adams said Thomas Jefferson’s mind was “eaten to a honeycomb with ambition, yet weak, confused, uninformed, and ignorant.” Ulysses S. Grant said James Garfield did not have “the backbone of an angleworm.” Theodore Roosevelt called Woodrow Wilson “a Byzantine logothete.” Wilson called Chester Arthur “a nonentity with sidewhiskers.” Harry Truman summed up Lyndon Johnson with a curt “No guts!” Read more »

“most Americans Don’t Know What Lincoln Really Represents”

For a good part of his life, the governor of New York has used history as a guide—and a solace

Those who see Gov. Mario Cuomo of New York for the first time are likely to be surprised. Led to expect a short man with baggy eyes (someone, in his own words, with the appearance of a “tired frog”), they are startled to meet a goodlooking six-footer with the physique of a linebacker. He emanates the tightly coiled kinetic energy of a football player a few seconds before kickoff. Yet at the same time, he’s a comfortable man to be with. Indeed, he carries self-effacement and self-scrutiny almost to a fault. His office is unexpectedly modest too.Read more »