President Harry S. Truman in the first-ever televised address from the White House (October 5, 1947).
As post-war Europe struggled to recover, Truman asked Americans to refrain from eating meat and eggs on different days to help stockpile food supplies. The effort was mostly symbolic and was a prelude to the far more ambitious Marshall Plan which had a much greater impact on post-World War II Europe.
The food-saving program which has just been presented to you has my wholehearted support. I am confident that it will have the support of every American.
The situation in Europe is grim and forbidding as winter approaches. Despite the vigorous efforts of the European people, their crops have suffered so badly from droughts, floods, and cold that the tragedy of hunger is a stark reality.
The nations of Western Europe will soon be scraping the bottom of the food barrel. They cannot get through the coming winter and spring without help–generous help-from the United States and from other countries which have food to spare.
I know every American feels in his heart that we must help to prevent starvation and distress among our fellow men in other countries…
It is simple and straightforward. It can be understood by all. Learn it–memorize it–keep it always in mind. Here it is: One: Use no meat on Tuesdays.
Two: Use no poultry or eggs on Thursdays.
Three: Save a slice of bread every day.
Four: Public eating places will serve bread and butter only on request.
Complete Text and Source: “Radio and Television Address Concluding a Program by the Citizens Food Committee,” October 5, 1947. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.
Read more about Truman and the post war world in Don’t Know Much About the American Presidents, Don’t Know Much About History and The Hidden History of America At War.
This is a brief excerpt from the Audio edition of In the Shadow of Liberty: The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives (Available from Penguin Random House Audio)
On February 24, 1803 Chief Justice John Marshall delivered the unanimous opinion in Marbury v Madison.
Dust off your Civics books.
As the fight over Judge Garland as Antonin Scalia’s replacement on the Supreme Court absorbs the country, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed to block any appointments by President Obama during his last year in office, it might help to look at history.
The simple fact is that the most consequential Supreme Court appointment in American history was made by a true “lame duck” President.
In its original sense, “lame duck” meant a president or other elected official whose successor had already been chosen.
On January 20, 1801, after it was certain that president John Adams would not return for a second term, Adams nominated his Secretary of State, John Marshall, to the post to replace ailing Chief Justice Oliver Ellsworth.
At the time of this nomination, President Adams was a true “lame duck” president, soon to be replaced by Thomas Jefferson, following a drawn-out vote in the House of Representatives. It was clear that Jefferson’s party would control both the White House and the Senate. But Adams named Marshall, a staunch Federalist of his own party, who was confirmed on January 27, 1801, despite only six-weeks of legal training.
One of Marshall’s first and most significant decisions came in the 1803 case of Marbury v. Madison which established the power of federal courts to void acts of Congress in conflict with the Constitution.
It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is. . . . Thus the particular phraseology of the constitution of the United States confirms and strengthens the principle, supposed to be essential to all written constitutions, that a law repugnant to the constitution is void. . . .
From Chief Justice Marshall’s decision in Marbury v. Madison
John Marshall went on to become the longest-serving and most influential chief justice in the history of the Supreme Court, hearing more than 1,000 cases and writing 519 decisions.
There have been more election year nominations, as discussed in this New York Times Op-Ed, “In Election Years, a History of Conforming Court Nominees.”
As John Adams himself said during the Boston Massacre Trial (1770)
“Facts are stubborn things.”
Presidential debate history can be instructive. Reviewing some of the memorable moments—and debate debacles—from these televised showdowns provides a worthy primer in “debatiquette:”
Lesson 1: Lay off the Lazy Shave and Get Some Sun
The slightly unshaven look may work for Don Draper on “Mad Men,” but it was not a plus for Richard Nixon, as he learned in his historic confrontation with John F. Kennedy in the first presidential debate in 1960. Nixon had just come from a hospital stay. He had lost weight in the hospital and his suit looked ill fitting. He had also injured a knee and had to lean on the podium. To make matters worse, Nixon was given a heavy pancake makeup called “Lazy-Shave” to conceal his five o-clock shadow, making him appear even more pale and haggard. Chicago’s legendary Mayor, Richard Daley, reportedly said, “My God they’ve embalmed him before he even died.”
Read more: “Eight Lessons for the Presidential Debates”
Mob rule cannot be allowed to override the decisions of our courts.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Radio and Television Address to the American People on the Situation in Little Rock,” (September 24, 1957)
For a few minutes this evening I want to speak to you about the serious situation that has arisen in Little Rock. To make this talk I have come to the President’s office in the White House. I could have spoken from Rhode Island, where I have been staying recently, but I felt that, in speaking from the house of Lincoln, of Jackson and of Wilson, my words would better convey both the sadness I feel in the action I was compelled today to take and the firmness with which I intend to pursue this course until the orders of the Federal Court at Little Rock can be executed without unlawful interference.
In that city, under the leadership of demagogic extremists, disorderly mobs have deliberately prevented the carrying out of proper orders from a Federal Court. Local authorities have not eliminated that violent opposition and, under the law, I yesterday issued a Proclamation calling upon the mob to disperse.
This morning the mob again gathered in front of the Central High School of Little Rock, obviously for the purpose of again. preventing the carrying out of the Court’s order relating to the admission of Negro children to that school.
Whenever normal agencies prove inadequate to the task and it becomes necessary for the Executive Branch of the Federal Government to use its powers and authority to uphold Federal Courts, the President’s responsibility is inescapable.
In accordance with that responsibility, I have today issued an Executive Order directing the use of troops under Federal authority to aid in the execution of Federal law at Little Rock, Arkansas. This became necessary when my Proclamation of yesterday was not observed, and the obstruction of justice still continues.
Complete text and Source: Dwight D. Eisenhower: “Radio and Television Address to the American People on the Situation in Little Rock.,” September 24, 1957. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.
(Revised post originally published on February 29, 2016)
Nearly 50 years ago, on July 28, 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson established an 11-member National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. He was responding to a series of violent outbursts in predominantly black urban neighborhoods in such cities as Detroit and Newark. (New York Times account.)
On Feb. 29, 1968, President Johnson’s National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, later known as the Kerner Commission after its chairman, Governor Otto Kerner, Jr. of Illinois, issued a stark warning:
“Our Nation Is Moving Toward Two Societies, One Black, One White—Separate and Unequal”
The Committee Report went on to identify a set of “deeply held grievances” that it believed had led to the violence.
Although almost all cities had some sort of formal grievance mechanism for handling citizen complaints, this typically was regarded by Negroes as ineffective and was generally ignored.
Although specific grievances varied from city to city, at least 12 deeply held grievances can be identified and ranked into three levels of relative intensity:
First Level of Intensity
1. Police practices
2. Unemployment and underemployment
3. Inadequate housing
Second Level of Intensity
4. Inadequate education
5. Poor recreation facilities and programs
6. Ineffectiveness of the political structure and grievance mechanisms.
Third Level of Intensity
7. Disrespectful white attitudes
8. Discriminatory administration of justice
9. Inadequacy of federal programs
10. Inadequacy of municipal services
11. Discriminatory consumer and credit practices
12. Inadequate welfare programs
Source: “Our Nation is Moving Toward Two Societies, One Black, One White—Separate and Unequal”: Excerpts from the Kerner Report; American Social History Project / Center for Media and Learning (Graduate Center, CUNY)
and the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (George Mason University).
Issued nearly half a century ago, the list of grievances reads as if it could have been written last week.
Read more about the unrest of the Civil Rights era in Don’t Know Much About® History. The crucial role of race in the American military is also treated in The Hidden History of America at War. And the long history of slavery is addressed in the forthcoming In the Shadow of Liberty (Sept. 20, 2016).
“By exploring the humanity of people held in bondage by early American presidents, Kenneth C. Davis once again turns American mythology into history. Read the book and be grateful.”— Marcus Rediker, author of The Slave Ship: A Human History
“The young woman was enslaved, but also privileged. She was part of the household of the nation’s first president. This powerful book tells her story, and others, which are surprising and have been unknown to most of us. They will give you insights into our American heritage that you may not have considered before. I hope In the Shadow of Liberty will be widely read. It is important and timely.”
—Joy Hakim, author, A History of US (Oxford University Press), Freedom: A History of US (Social Studies School Service), and The Story of Science (Smithsonian Books).
Did you know that George Washington bought teeth from some of the people enslaved at Mount Vernon? (1st in a series)
George Washington had terrible teeth. But his dentures were never made of wood. They were made of metal, bone, ivory –and human teeth. And yes, records show that he paid some of the enslaved African-American people at his plantation for their teeth. It is not known if these teeth were ever used.
Read more about Washington’s relationship with the enslaved people of Mount Vernon, and the role slavery played in his presidency: In the Shadow of Liberty. (Available for preorder in book and audio; in stores on 9/20)
What was the Tonkin Resolution?
On August 7, 1964, Congress approved a resolution that soon became the legal foundation for Lyndon B. Johnson’s escalation of the Vietnam War. (New York Times story)
It came in August 1964 with a brief encounter in the Gulf of Tonkin, the waters off the coast of North Vietnam. where , the U.S. Navy posted warships loaded with electronic eavesdropping equipment enabling them to monitor North Vietnamese military operations and provide intelligence to CIA-trained South Vietnamese commandos. One of these ships, the U.S.S. Maddox was reportedly fired on by gunboats from North Vietnam.
Coming as it did in the midst of LBJ’s 1964 campaign against hawkish Republican Barry Goldwater, President Johnson felt the incident called for a tough response. Johnson had the Navy send the Maddox and a second destroyer, the Turner Joy, back into the Gulf of Tonkin. A radar man on the Turner Joy saw some blips, and that boat opened fire. On the Maddox, there were also reports of incoming torpedoes, and the Maddox began to fire. There was never any confirmation that either ship had actually been attacked. Later, the radar blips would be attributed to weather conditions and jittery nerves among the crew.
According to Stanley Karnow’s Vietnam: A History, “Even Johnson privately expressed doubts only a few days after the second attack supposedly took place, confiding to an aide, ‘Hell, those dumb stupid sailors were just shooting at flying fish.’”
Johnson ordered an air strike against North Vietnam and then called for passage of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. This legislation gave the president the authority to “take all necessary measures” to repel attacks against U.S. forces and to “prevent further aggression.” The resolution not only gave Johnson the powers he needed to increase American commitment to Vietnam, but allowed him to blunt Goldwater’s accusations that Johnson was “timid before Communism.”
The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution passed the House unanimously after only forty minutes of debate. In the Senate, there were only two voices in opposition. What Congress did not know was that the resolution had been drafted several months before the Tonkin incident took place. In June 1964, on LBJ’s orders, according to journalist-historian Tim Weiner,
“Bill Bundy, the assistant secretary of state for the Far East, brother of the national security adviser, and a veteran CIA analyst, had drawn up a war resolution to be sent to Congress when the moment was ripe.” (Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, p. 280)
Congress, which has sole constitutional authority to declare war, had handed that power over to Johnson, who was not a bit reluctant to use it. One of the senators who voted against the Tonkin Resolution, Oregon’s Wayne Morse, later said,
“I believe that history will record that we have made a great mistake in subverting and circumventing the Constitution.”
After the vote, Walt Rostow, an adviser to Lyndon Johnson, remarked,
“We don’t know what happened, but it had the desired result.”
In January 1971, Congress repealed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution as popular opinion grew against a continued U.S. military involvement in Vietnam
Since Vietnam, United States military actions have taken place as part of United Nations’ actions, in the context of joint congressional resolutions, or within the confines of the War Powers Resolution (also known as the War Powers Act) that was passed in 1973, over the objections (and veto) of President Richard Nixon.”
The War Powers Resolution came as a direct reaction to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, as Congress sought to avoid another military conflict where it had little input.
“The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and the Limits of Presidential Power” National Constitution Center
In 2005, the National Security Agency (NSA) issued a report reviewing the Tonkin incident in which it said “no attack had happened.” (Weiner, p. 280)
The National Endowment for the Humanities website Edsitement offers teaching resources on Tonkin and the escalation of the Vietnam War.
Read more about Vietnam, LBJ and his administration in Don’t Know Much About® History, Don’t Know Much About® the American Presidents. The Vietnam War and the Tonkin Resolution are also covered in a chapter on the Tet offensive of 1968 in THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF AMERICA AT WAR.
On August 6, 1945, the New York Times asked:
“What is this terrible new weapon?”
(Source, New York Times, August 6, 1945: “First Atomic Bomb Dropped on Japan”)
The story followed the announcement made by President Truman:
“SIXTEEN HOURS AGO an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, an important Japanese Army base. That bomb had more power than 20,000 tons of T.N.T. It had more than two thousand times the blast power of the British “Grand Slam” which is the largest bomb ever yet used in the history of warfare.”
August 6, 1945
(“Statement by the President Announcing the Use of the A-Bomb at Hiroshima”: Truman Library and Museum)
The first atomic bomb was exploded in a test at Alamogordo, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945. President Truman, who had taken office upon the death of President Roosevelt on April 12 without knowledge of the Manhattan Project or the atomic bomb’s existence, was alerted to the success of this test at a meeting with Churchill and Stalin at Potsdam, a city in defeated Germany. (See this recent post on Potsdam)
The atomic bomb was detonated over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. A second device, a plutonium bomb, was used on the city of Nagasaki on August 9. Japan surrendered on August 14.
Almost since the day the first bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, critics have second-guessed Truman’s decision and motives. A generation of historians have defended or repudiated the need for unleashing the atomic weapon.
What history has confirmed is that the men who made the bomb really didn’t understand how horrifying its capabilities were. Of course, they understood the destructive power of the bomb, but radiation’s dangers were far less understood. As author Peter Wyden tells it in Day One, an account of the making and dropping of the bomb, scientists involved in creating what they called “the gadget” believed that anyone who might be killed by radiation would die from falling bricks first.
In less than one second, the fireball had expanded to 900 feet. The blast wave shattered windows for a distance of ten miles and was felt as far away as 37 miles. Over two-thirds of Hiroshima’s buildings were demolished. The hundreds of fires, ignited by the thermal pulse, combined to produce a firestorm that had incinerated everything within about 4.4 miles of ground zero.
(Source: Hiroshima and Nagasaki Remembered. Copyright © 2005 – 2013 AJ Software & Multimedia. All Rights Reserved. This project is part of the National Science Digital Library and was funded by the Division of Undergraduate Education, National Science Foundation Grant 0434253.)
The estimated death toll was eighty thousand people killed instantly in Hiroshima; as many as 90 percent of the city’s nurses and doctors also died instantly. (By 1950, as many as 200,000 had died as a result of long-term effects of radiation.) The death toll in Nagasaki also reached 80,000 by the end of 1945.
Today should not be a day to argue about the politics of the bomb. It should be a day of solemn remembrance of these victims. And of contemplating the horrific power of the weapons we create.
The City of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum offers an English language website with a history of Hiroshima and the effects of the bombing.
You can read more about Hiroshima and the dropping of the atomic bombs in Don’t Know Much About History and more about President Truman in Don’t Know Much About the American Presidents and in The Hidden History of America At War.