Friday, August 30, 2013

James Garfield

James A. Garfield served an abbreviated term, as he was one of only four presidents to be assassinated, the other three being Abraham Lincoln, William McKinley, and John F. Kennedy. He was in office from March 1881 to September 1881.

Garfield had served in the Union army and then in the House of Representatives from 1863 to 1881. The Republicans were seeing trouble after the unpopular, corrupt administrations of Ulysses Grant and Rutherford Hayes. James Garfield was a "dark horse" nomination for the troubled party.

 Formal seated portrait in oils

Garfield's term was deeply rooted in civil rights and reform: he reformed the post office, recommended a universal education system, and appointed many freedmen, such as Frederick Douglas, to prominent positions. However, due to his short term, he became one of the four 'lost presidents', the easily forgotten Commander-in-Chiefs following the Civil War. The lost presidents are Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, and Harrison.

Unfortunately, when Garfield and his family visited his old college, Williams College, in July, Charles J. Guiteau followed him. The assassin shot him twice, and the bullets led to infection and a weakening heart. Garfield finally passed away in September.

Guiteau had wanted to be a consul in Paris, and he believed his speech had helped Garfield win the presidency. Therefore, he believed he had earned such a position. When he was turned down for the position for being unqualified, and subsequently banned from the White House for being aggressive, Guiteau refused to accept his rejection gracefully and instead shot the President. Following Garfield's death, his Vice President, Chester Alan Arthur, took office.

Sources:,, Miller Center

Monday, August 19, 2013

Religion in Belarus

Belarus is a primarily Christian country. The Orthodox Church is considered the "official" church, and both Christmas and Easter are state holidays. Alexander Lukashenko, an atheist, boasts how no wars or conflicts have taken place in Belarus over religion.

Belarus was one of the core countries of the Soviet Union, a communist alliance of nations that brutally enforced atheism with the destruction of religious symbols and persecution of religious officials. Throughout the USSR's life, the Republic of Belarus was officially atheist.

However, Belorussian people have always been deeply religious, even from the days when Paganism dominated. And nowadays, Christianity is incredibly prominent within the country, Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism alone representing over 55% of the population. However, the 'official' status of Christian Orthodoxy does not only affect the Christian Orthodox practicers- for instance, many miners have deductions in their salary automatically going as a donation to the building of an Orthodox church. This mandatory donation is seen by some as repression of the freedom of religion, as everyone must comply to help build the Orthodox Church.

Demotix - Ivan Uralsky

The lack of freedom of religion has been a common complaint against Belarus. Many groups must meet in secret or are persecuted by officers for having different beliefs. 41% of the country is even atheist, yet the ones who meet persecution are Christians of less popular denominations and people of non-Christian religions.

Anti-Semitism in particular is seen to be condoned by authorities. Multiple incidents of the defacing of Jewish tombstones have been overlooked or ignored by officials entirely.

Belarus has always been a religious community, throughout the Communist era and strict oppression.

Sources: Wikipedia, Forum, Index on, Belarus

Friday, August 16, 2013

Rutherford B. Hayes

The story of Rutherford Bichard Hayes', a Republican lawyer from Ohio, election to the presidency is well known- he won by just one vote, after all.

President Rutherford Hayes 1870 - 1880 Restored.jpg

In the beginnings of Reconstruction in 1876, Hayes faced off against Democratic nominee Samuel Tilden to run the country. The incumbent Republican president, Ulysses Grant, oversaw an economic downturn, which was a blow to Republican popularity. In fact, three days after the election, the electoral votes were 184-165 in Tilden's favor. At the time, the necessary number of electoral votes was 185, leaving Tilden just one short. Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina's votes were not decided, as both parties were accused of fraud, leaving 20 disputed votes.

A commission of 5 representatives, 5 senators, and 5 Justices met to vote on which candidate would be awarded all 20 disputed votes. Of the 15 officials, 7 were democratic, 7 were Republican, and the sole mostly-independent was Joseph Bradley. Bradley and the 7 Republicans voted for Hayes, winning the election for Hayes by 8-7 within the commission and 185-184 for the whole country.

A map of the United States showing electoral results in 1876

Of course, this incredibly close election outraged Southern Democrats, many of whom were fed up with Radical Republicans leading the country. Protests even included talk of a march on Washington, though Grant increased security and no such march took place. To appease the Democrats to accept the commission's decision to make Hayes president, the Republicans negotiated with the Democrats to decide what is now known as the Compromise of 1877.

In this compromise, Republicans agreed to remove all federal troops from former Confederate states, appoint one Southern Democrat to Hayes' cabinet, build a transcontinental railroad, and help industrialize the South in exchange for the South's peaceful acceptance of the transition in presidents. For these concessions, many Radical Republicans looked down on Hayes' administration. Starting from Hayes' presidency, the Republican party started a noticeable shift away from civil rights issues and towards economic issues.

During his term, Hayes tackled corruption in businesses and political parties. He opposed the spoils system and the exchange of money for gold, helping to reverse the effects of the Panic of 1873 in the process. He strongly enforced the Monroe Doctrine in terms of Latin America, helping to settle disputes and keep France away from Colombia and Panama. He laid the groundwork for the Chinese Exclusion Act, a race-specific restricting immigration bill passed after his term.

A Chinese man sitting outside a locked gate

Democrats had sought to impeach Hayes during his term, but due to Republicans, the plan never saw fruition. Hayes declined to run for re-election and left the presidency in 1881.

Sources: Miller Center, Wikipedia, White,

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

First Dogs

This article is about dogs in the White House- that is, the canines of the  former (and current) US Presidents.

Which presidents had dogs while in office? An easier question is which ones didn't. Of the 43 different people that have held the office, only the following did not have dogs: James Madison, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Martin van Buren, William Harrison, James Polk, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Chester Arthur, and William McKinley. In other words, 32 out of 43 presidents had dogs. And the last president who did not own a dog was our 25th president and served from 1897 to 1901.

 George W. Bush and Barney (Scottish Terrier) Theodore Roosevelt with Rollo (Saint Bernard)  Ronald Reagan with Rex (Cavalier King Charles Spaniel) Bill Clinton and Buddy (Labrador Retriever)

It's not that surprising when you consider how much the United States adores its dogs. Even the old concept of a "nuclear family" often consists of two adults, two or three children, and a dog.

But is there significance to the furry friends living in the White House? Of course! Pets have helped shape a President's reputation.

For instance, Richard Nixon, who was being pressured from all sides to resign upon a financial scandal pre-Presidency, issued a speech entitled the Checker's Speech. In the televised speech, he denied claims of financial wrongdoing and worked in the topic of a dog that was gifted to him, a cocker spaniel named Checkers, talking affectionately of the canine. After the speech, public opinion of Richard Nixon dramatically rose, and Mamie Eisenhower described Nixon as a "such a warm person" following the speech. 


Additionally, LBJ's beagles, "Him" and "Her", may have damaged LBJ's reputation. Photographs came out of LBJ carrying the dogs by their ears. This sparked outrage from many US citizens and animal rights advocates, shocked to see the dogs handled so brutally by the Commander in Chief. However, former President Truman made clear his disagreement with the scandal, saying, "What the hell are the critics complaining about; that's how you handle hounds."

On the note of President Truman, he was gifted a dog named Feller in the Christmas of 1947. However, Truman had never asked for nor did he want the dog. He decided to give it away, which not only raised many people's feathers but led to an influx of mail from people asking to adopt the dog. Feller ended up being given to several different people over a period of time.

Noteworthy presidential dogs include the hounds of George Washington- the nation's first First Dogs. In fact, Washington was the 'father' of the American foxhound. He bred over 30 of them, three whom were named Drunkard, Tipler, and Tipsy.

 Not only the father of the U.S., Washington is also the father of the American foxhound.  He carefully bred and maintained his dogs, listing more than 30 hounds in his journals, including Drunkard, Tipler and Tipsy.

Sources: Wikipedia,, Sheppard 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Hutt River

Monthly Micronation Monday! Today, we visit Hutt River in Australia.

At 18,500 acres, the size is nothing to sneeze it. At least, it's certainly more impressive than a small sea fort in the middle of the ocean (cough cough Sealand). The story behind this micronation of farmland? Prince Leonard Casley, 87 years old currently, seceded from Australia on April 21, 1970 due to new grain quotas. He claimed the quotas would deal quite a blow to his finances.

Prince Leonard of Hutt, a wheat farmer, surveys his 18,500-acre micronation

For this, Casley is seen as a sort of founding father to micro-secessionist movements. Many others followed in his footsteps. And there isn't much his micronation lacks... aside from recognition from a sovereign nation, of course. But Hutt River has a capital city, Nain, in which resides Leonard and his family, a consitution, a post office (complete with a Prince Leonard statue in front) and postal service, and its own currency. It also has its own passports.

 Leonard collects expired passports from visitors

Princess Shirley, Leonard's wife, passed away recently. A eulogy is available on the micronation's official website. Also on the website is an event calendar, which includes the celebration of Prince Leonard's 88th birthday to come later this August.


The Australian government has largely ignored all those who claimed to secede and become citizens of Hutt River. However, government social security, including war veteran benefits, were withdrawn from the seceders. Also, the National Museum of Australia has a section on "Separation" which mentions Hutt River.

Sources: Business, Wikipedia,

Friday, August 2, 2013

Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant (born Hiram Ulysses Grant... the S stands for nothing, much like with Harry S Truman) was our 18th president.

During his predecessor's term, Grant accompanied President Johnson around the country to garner support, though Grant did not like Johnson and allied himself with the Radical Republicans for his campaign in 1868.

As former commander of all the Union armies, Grant was well-known and popular amongst the people. He also had a reputation as a very honest man, though his presidency would later be seen as rooted in scandal.

Many historians place Grant lowly amongst the presidential rankings due to what they see as an ineffectual presidency. Those who visited the White House saw Grant as weak and ineffectual, and his reputation as a drunk did not help matters. Then, his association with speculators Gould and Fisk brought him trouble, as the two sought to monopolize gold and Grant only realized and counteracted their plan after they had ruined businesses.
On top of everything, 1873 saw a worldwide depression beginning in Austria. This manifested in the USA in several ways- over-expansion of railroads and extreme speculation on the stock market brought the country into a panic. 

Nevertheless, he was elected to a second term.

After all, he was quite well liked for his hardline Republican platform. He oversaw reconstruction of the South with military enforcement. He was strongly for civil rights, and he won passage of the 15th amendment that allowed African Americans to vote. The Ku Klux Klan act, also passed by him, let the Presidetn "arrest and break up disguised night marauders."

These same policies that made him popular in the North made him despised in the South. After Grant won reelection, he received notice of Southern states threatening to secede again. A relocation of troops shut down these threats.

And unfortunately, the gold fiasco was not the only scandal to plague the Grant administration. Fraud, overtaxing and bribes were common amongst big businesses, and even the Attorney General and several White House Secretaries.

He was one of a few Presidents who sought a third term, but he did not win. The presidency that year, 1880, went to James A. Garfield.

Sources: Wikipedia, Miller Center,, The White