Saturday, July 28, 2007

Three for the Road: History Between the Covers

THREE POLITICAL HISTORY BOOKS that I think you’ll enjoy, that is, if you enjoy history. The first is “1920 The Year of the Six Presidents,” by David Pietrusza. It is an interesting narrative about the election that was impacted by six men who either were or would be president.

The first was the incumbent president Woodrow Wilson who, despite his illness, still coveted the Democratic nomination for a third term. The second was former president Theodore Roosevelt who, until his death in 1919, was considered the leading contender for the Republican nomination. Third was Herbert Hoover, the Great Humanitarian, who was being considered by both parties and would himself be elected president in 1928. The fourth, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who at one time supported Hoover, was the 1920 Democratic vice presidential nominee; he would be elected president in 1932, defeating Hoover’s re-election bid.

Fifth and sixth include Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge, the Republican presidential and vice presidential nominees who won the election. Harding was inaugurated president in 1921 and Coolidge became president in August of 1923 when Harding died unexpectedly while on a political trip in California (interestingly, Hoover was at Harding’s side when the president died).

Of course the book contains interesting portraits of other notable political figures of the time, all of whom took some part in the events of 1920: William Gibbs McAdoo, General Lenard Wood, Harry Daugherty, William Jennings Bryan, Democrat presidential nominee James Cox, Wisconsin progressive senator Robert LaFollette, and Socialist presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs.

If you are a fan of history, especially of that era, this book will make an interesting read.

“A Glorious Disaster: Barry Goldwater’s Presidential Campaign and the Origins of the Conservative Movement,” by J. William Middendorff II, is the story of the ill-fated and ineptly run 1964 Goldwater campaign. Middendorff was an insider and lays bare the inside story of the “movement” that brought Goldwater to the Republican nomination only to be crushed by the Lyndon Johnson landslide. Its legacy, however, was the rise of Ronald Reagan and the conservative take over of the GOP. This is a good book if you want to understand the growth of the Republican Party since the Kennedy-Johnson years.

After the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865, an uneducated tailor who rose through the political ranks of Tennessee, Andrew Johnson, became president. Johnson was unique in the politics of the day. He was a Southern Democratic senator who refused to leave the senate when his state succeeded from the Union, and thus became a Northern hero. Later appointed military governor of Tennessee by Lincoln, he was the cross-party ticket balancer that was chosen as Lincoln’s running mate in 1864 when Lincoln’s re-election was in doubt. As president, Johnson was stubborn and was impeached by the house in 1868, but acquitted by one vote in the senate.

“The Avenger Takes His Place: Andrew Johnson and the 45 Days that Changed the Nation,” by Howard Means is the story of the beginning of the Johnson administration immediately following Lincoln’s death. As the Civil War was being brought to a close, the nation faced the difficult chore healing the wounds of war without dissolving into chaos. When Johnson inherited the presidency his supporters thought he would crack down on the defeated Southern “traitors” and enfranchise the former slaves. He was soon to prove them wrong on both points. Another good read for the history buff.

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