Monday, September 30, 2013

"The Great Greek Turncoat"

Alcibiades was an Athenian-born man, student and rumored lover of Socrates, who graduated from normal hoplite to cavalry to supreme commander of Athen's military forces.

Alcibiades was just 17 when the Peloponnesian War broke out between the Delian League, led by Athens, and the Peloponnesian League, led by Sparta. Alcibiades was charismatic, but also rowdy and self-aggrandizing. He found his way into power and supported an aggressive stance against their enemy, Sparta.

However, his main political rival, Nicias, formed a peace with Sparta in the middle of the war. It was meant to last 50 years, but hardly lasted 5. Many of Sparta's allies, such as Corinth and Megara, refused to sign the peace. Additionally, Alcibiades and other democrats in Athens sought to cripple Sparta. Using his position of power, Alcibiades made many aggressive moves that led to the resurgence of the war.

The real event that kickstarted the war once more was the Sicilian Expedition, in which Athens sent troops to fight against a Spartan ally in Syracuse. Alcibiades, Nicias, and another general named Lachamus were all sent to oversee the expedition. However, the defacing of several religious statues, seen as treason by the Athenians, was blamed on the rowdy Alcibiades and his friends. After the expedition set sail, Alcibiades was sent back to stand trial. Instead of following obediently back to Athens in a ship, he escaped to Sparta. He offered his sword and told Sparta the Athenian plan in exchange for security. Alcibiades' trial was held in his absence, where he was pronounced guilty of treason and sentenced to death.

Alcibiades stayed in Sparta and offered their military advice for quite some time; however, his reception there grew more hostile. He was suspected of fathering a child with the wife of one of the kings, and therefore fled Sparta to escape a possible assasination attempt.

From there, Alcibiades sought to endear himself to the Persians. The Persians, who had fought and lost to the Greek city-states earlier in the Greco-Persian Wars, were content to watch the battle play out and see the city-states weaken each other. They eventually began selling troops and supplies to Sparta, since Athens had claimed parts of formerly Persian territory in Asia Minor. However, Alcibiades plotted to return to Athens even as he helped the Persians.

Alcibiades figured he would find more support amongst the Athenian oligarchs, the opposing faction to the democrats. He promised Persian support should he be recalled into Athens. However, Persia offered no such assistance, as Alcibiades had presumably suspected would happen. Despite his failure to deliver and the eventual return of the democratic faction to power, Alcibiades was reinstated and remained an Athenian general. Alcibiades, though he claimed time and again his friendliness with the Persians, was imprisoned in Persia once he sailed out to meet the Persian troops with gifts. He escaped and fled back to Athens, his claim of an alliance with Persia no longer holding any water.

He oversaw more military victories over Sparta, but was brought down by a significant defeat, in which he left his main troops in someone else's hands. When Athens lost the fight by a large margin, Alcibiades' opponents removed him from power and Alcibiades went into self-imposed exile. Thereafter, Alcibiades tried to advise Athens once more, but was ignored. By ignoring his advice, however, Athens lost a major battle and much morale. Athens would lose the war within 2 years.

Alcibiades sought refuge in Persia once more, and while accounts of his death differ, some suggest a Spartan general tracked him down and set fire to his house.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Grover Cleveland

Grover Cleveland was our only president to serve two non-consecutive terms, making him both the 22nd and 24th president. His terms were broken up by Benjamin Harrison. Interestingly, in Cleveland's elections against Benjamin Harrison, Cleveland won the popular vote but Harrison received more electoral votes, marking one of the few times in history where the chosen president did not match the winner of the popular vote.

Photo of Grover Cleveland

Cleveland was the only Democrat in the half-century of Republican political domination from 1861 to 1913, also making him the first Democratic president since the Civil War. At 49 years old, Cleveland became the only President to marry in a White House ceremony , marrying the 21-year-old daughter of a late law associated. Prior to the outing of the relationship, he had pretended this interest was in the woman's widowed mother for the media, making clear that his interest was in the daughter rather than the mother much later on.

 File:President cleveland wedding.png

In office, he challenged corruption and special favors, vetoing federal funds to Texan farmers. He also vetoed private pension bills as well as pension for disabilities not caused by military service. Furthermore, he investigated government grants thoroughly and made railroads give back 81,000,000 acres that he found misappropriated.

Cleveland saw himself as more of an enforcer, or a watchdog for Congress, than an initiator. Considering he managed to find himself in politics rather than purposely seeking and living for it, he was somewhat overwhelmed by the responsibilities put upon him. For instance, he did not know how to deal with the Panic of 1893, an economic issue, and the subsequent depression. This hesitation led to a rapid decline in support for the incumbent president. Indeed, though the 22nd amendment had not yet been passed to limit an individual to two presidential terms, Cleveland declined to run for a third term.

(Election of 1892, in which Cleveland beat the incumbent Harrison and started his 2nd term)

Sources: Wikipedia, Miller Center, White,

Friday, September 13, 2013

Chester Alan Arthur

Chester Alan Arthur, one of the least-remembered presidents, was not as nondescript as you might expect from a one-term president rising to the position only after an assassination whom very few people remember.

 Photo of Chester A. Arthur

Throughout his political career, Arthur was known for his reform. During Hayes' presidency, Arthur was even fired for his progressive ideas. However, once James Garfield was assassinated and Vice President Arthur unexpectedly became President, he stuck to his ideas despite how it might upset some of the members of his party.

 Cartoon of a man kicking another man into the street

As President, Arthur lowered tariffs and therefore the surplus the government seemed to profit from year after year. He also passed immigration laws to keep out "paupers, criminals, and lunatics." His administration also suspended Chinese immigration, which later became a more permanent restriction.

Perhaps his crowning achievement was the Pendleton Act, which regulated government positions so that they might be given out based on merit. 

However, the new President suffered from a kidney disease that made him very weak. The condition made him disinclined to run for a second term.

In the end, the shortness of Arthur's term made it hard for the President to get much down. Yet Congress was particularly receptive to Arthur, seeking stability in the time after Garfield's assassination, and Arthur is known for rising above party lines and enacting what he thought was right regardless of party approval. 

Sources: Wikipedia, White,,

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

History in Animaniacs

For the first time, we will have a post detailing the history that can be found in pop culture.

Animaniacs was a children's TV show in the 1990s often praised for its education and entertainment. The show's format is typically of 10-minute skits, some of which consist of a song.

One such song that portrays American history is the President's song.

While the song focuses on humor rather than fact, it also can teach someone a lot. Some of its inaccuracies include its mention of the popular myth, Washington chopping down a cherry tree, and its claim that Woodrow Wilson brought America into World War I in 1913 rather than1917. However, the song also has many correct facts about each President as it goes through each Commander-in-Chief in order (ex. "James Madison never had a son, and he fought the War of 1812," "Teddy Roosevelt charged us San Juan hill"). It is a very useful tool for memorizing the order of the Presidents and some small amount of information about them.

Another such historical song is the Ballad of Magellan.

As the title suggests, this song follows the Portuguese skipper Ferdinand Magellan on his journey to find the East Indies. While this song also has a strong element of humor, it also has many facts in song form (ex. "A great storm arose in the mighty Pacific/ The five little ships were diminished to three"). The song even correctly names many of the locations Magellan stopped on his way, as well as accurately placing his death on the Philippine Islands at the hands of the natives.

Animaniacs also has a song about the Panama Canal and a song called Nations of the World. While the latter sounds more like geography than history, the song's recording in the early 1990s paints a picture of a surprisingly different world. It is a great reminder of how much the world has changed, specifically in Eastern Europe, Africa, and Asia since merely two decades ago. For instance, the song includes Yugoslavia and misses Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, all of which were a part of the USSR and only gained their independence in the early '90s.