Blogs > Cliopatria > More Noted Things

Feb 20, 2006 4:26 am

More Noted Things

According to the Boston Globe and the Harvard Crimson, last Thursday President Lawrence Summers began a long President's Day weekend with a family skiing vacation in Utah. Many observers anticipate that he may offer his resignation when he returns to the campus.

R. I. Moore,"A New Framework for European History," TLS, 15 February, reviews Chris Wickham's Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean, 400 to 800 and Julia M. H. Smith's Europe After Rome: A New Cultural History, 500 to 1000. Remarkable what's happened to the"dark ages" in the last thirty years. Thanks to Manan Ahmed for the tip.

"Scholars Rate Worst Presidential Errors," USA Today, 18 February, reports the results of a survey conducted for this past weekend's"Presidential Moments" conference at the University of Louisville. The 10 worst mistakes, according to the survey:

•1: James Buchanan's failure to act to prevent Southern states from seceding prior to Lincoln's inauguration.
•2: Andrew Johnson's approach to Reconstruction, which favored quick reintegration of Southern states in the Union and opposed reforms beyond abolition of slavery.
•3: Lyndon Johnson's escalation of the war in Viet Nam.
•4: Woodrow Wilson's refusal to compromise on the Treaty of Versailles after World War I.
•5: Richard Nixon's involvement in the Watergate cover-up.
•6: James Madison's failure to keep the United States out of the War of 1812 with Britain.
•7: Thomas Jefferson's Embargo Act of 1807, a self-imposed prohibition on trade with Europe during the Napoleonic Wars.
•8: John F. Kennedy allowing the Bay of Pigs Invasion that led to the Cuban Missile Crisis.
•9: Ronald Reagan and the Iran-Contra Affair, the effort to sell arms to Iran and use the money to finance an armed anti-communist group in Nicaragua.
•10: Bill Clinton's rendezvous with Monica Lewinsky.

Thanks to my virtual son, Chris Richardson, for the tip. Chris offers an alternative list of 10 presidential errors, but I do not endorse the title of his post,"Historians on Crack." All historians on crack are expected to report it in comments here, but there's gotta be a better explanation for our fuddled behavior and opinions!

This month's publication of A Godly Hero, his biography of William Jennings Bryan, has kept Michael Kazin busy. In addition to his"A Difficult Marriage: American Protestants and American Politics," Dissent, Winter 2006, see: Kazin,"The Other Bryan," American Prospect, 5 January; a subsequent debate about it between Kevin Mattson and Kazin,"Life of Bryan," American Prospect, 25 January; and his interview on"The Diane Rehm Show," 15 February. Thanks to Russell Arben Fox at In Media Res and Hiram Hover for the tips.

In"Burn, Bébé, Burn," Dissent, Winter 2006, Penn's Thomas Sugrue sees significant parallels between France's urban upheavals and America's"long, not summers."

Francis Fukuyama,"After Neoconservatism," New York Times, 19 February, is essential reading for charting a future in foreign policy.

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Tom Bruscino - 2/22/2006

I'm by no means a Lincoln expert, but Allen Guelzo, in his review of Michael Lind's recent book on Lincoln, says that Lincoln was not much of a supporter of colonization. Here is the relevant section:

"Lincoln, likewise, was never the ardent colonizationist Lind makes him out to be (a case so weak that Lind must resort to citing instances of colonizationist talk from Lincoln which he knows to be bogus). The one experiment in colonization which Lincoln did sponsor, in 1863, was framed as a purely voluntary, Congressionally funded expedition to the Caribbean, and when it flopped after six months, Lincoln had a warship retrieve the colonists and never raised the subject again. From that point onward, Lincoln progressively talked more and more about integration and voting rights, not colonization. "How to better the condition of the colored race has long been a study which has attracted my serious and careful attention," Lincoln told New York abolitionist and Union general James Wadsworth in January, 1864. "In assisting to save the life of the Republic, they have demonstrated in blood their right to the ballot, which is but the humane protection of the flag they have so fearlessly defended.""

Here is the url:

David T. Beito - 2/21/2006

Who knows? I don't think we can assume either way. Lincoln apparently believed in colonization until his dying day.

Let me also know that many would have have found it hard to imagine in 1864 that Johnson would have been so willing to let the South back in on any terms....but he did.

Ed Schmitt - 2/21/2006

True, though it was always my understanding that some of Lincoln's wartime leniency and the quick reintegration of southern governments was at least in some measure about military expediency. He wanted to retain control of the Reconstruction process rather than letting Congress drive it, so he could adjust more quickly to developments. I also find it hard to believe Lincoln would have allowed southern states to get away with passing Black Codes and not renouncing their ordinances of secession.

Oscar Chamberlain - 2/21/2006

My guess would be that those historians saw Monica and Bill as a key factor in letting the younger Bush into the White House.

Oscar Chamberlain - 2/21/2006


Good points, particularly the diplomatic background. Diplomats should reach for the pen more easily than the sword.

However, I don't think that even Jackson could have suppressed the secession of the lower seven. In the 1830s, South Carolina was alone. In 1860, it had company.

Thomas Brown - 2/20/2006

Clinton's dalliance with Monica Lewinsky is a worse error than, say, Wilson's Jim Crowing of the federal government, or Bush's abandonment of Afghanistan to invade Iraq? Some historians must be on crack.

David T. Beito - 2/20/2006

It is accurate to fault Johnson for this but, it should be mentioned, that by all indications he was just continuing Lincoln's policy.

Ralph E. Luker - 2/20/2006

As Dale Light might point out, Buchanan was a late Jacksonian Democrat, who lacked the instinctive backbone of Andrew Jackson. When South Carolina threatened secession in the 1830s over the tariff, Jackson threatened to hang the first South Carolinian, including his vice president, John C. Calhoun, who _acted_ on a secessionist impulse. Experienced as a diplomat rather than a soldier and coming into office at the end of a string of weak presidents, it wasn't in Buchanan to behave like Jackson.

Oscar Chamberlain - 2/20/2006


I agree with you about Buchanan's last days in office. His truly major mistakes were early in his administration. By his last year, the only terms that could have avoided sescession would have been on the order of the Crittenden compromise.

Alan Allport - 2/20/2006

Perhaps it's just the Keystone in me that makes me leap to the defense of Pennsylvania's only First Citizen, but what could Buchanan actually have done to prevent the southern states ceceding, and if he had bought them off (presumably some concessions would have been necessary) would we now look any more favorably on him anyway? Genuine question from a curious non-Americanist, folks.

Ralph E. Luker - 2/20/2006

Its meaning would have to be derived from the context of its usage. It jars with us, I suppose, because Jackson is a major figure in the history of the Democratic Party and a hero of traditional liberal historiography (i.e., Arthur Schlesinger). But there were certainly some conservative dimensions to Jackson: a military figure, a slaveholder, an opponent of a large central government who was at the same time a nationalist.

Jonathan Dresner - 2/20/2006

Someone is going to have to explain what "Jacksonian conservative" means these days. I've seen it used a lot lately, but I honestly haven't a clue what it's supposed to signify.