Monday, April 27, 2009

April 27: "We kept hearing this knock, knock, knock on the roof..."

Do you know who this is?
-He built a multi-million dollar cartoon empire.
-He was a chauffer for Universal president Carl Laemmle when he was made head of a cartoon studio for Universal Studios.
-He found the inspiration for his most famous cartoon character during his honeymoon at a lakeside cottage.

He was given a special Academy Award "for bringing joy and laughter to every part of the world." Some of his creations include Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Chilly Willy, Andy Panda, and Wally Walrus. His most famous character was Woody Woodpecker.

Walter Lantz was born to immigrant parents from Italy, Francesco Paolo and Maria Gervasi Lantz, in New Rochelle, New York, on April 27, 1899. Originally the family name had been Lanza, but it was changed to Lantz by an immigration official at Ellis Island when Walter’s father arrived in the United States.

Young Walter had a natural inclination in art, and completed a mail order drawing class when he was twelve-years-old. He was in his teens when he saw his first cartoon short in 1914, Winsor McCay’s Gertie the Dinosaur (here shown on YouTube). This introduction to filmed animation would develop into a life-long love and career.

Walter had his first break in the art world while working as an auto mechanic while in his mid-teens. He would post his drawings on the garage’s bulletin board. One of the customers – Fred Kafka – liked Walter’s drawings, and financed his studies at New York City’s Art Students League. Kafka also helped Walter get a job as a copy boy for seven dollars a week at William Randolph Hearst’s New York American while he attended art school. Walter worked at the American by day, and attended art classes at night. While working at the American Walter was able to meet with a number of famous cartoonists who were working for Hearst’s King Features Syndicate. Men like Frederick Burr Opper, who produced Happy Hooligan; Winsor McCay, who worked on Little Nemo in Slumberland; and George McManus of Bringing Up Father fame, were able to teach Walter the practical side of cartooning while his art school taught him the technical side.

By the time he was sixteen Walter was behind the camera, working first under the supervision of Gregory La Cava, then later working at the John R. Bray Studios in New York City where he worked extensively on the Jerry On The Job series. In 1924, at the age of twenty-five, he had directed animations, worked in drawing and filming animations, and had created his first original cartoon series, Dinky Doodle and Weakheart.

Bray Studios went bankrupt in 1927, and Hollywood beckoned. 1927 found Walter moving to the fabled Tinsletown, where he started his life there by working briefly for director Frank Capra, and then as a gag writer for Mack Sennett comedies. He soon wound up as a director for Charles B. Mintz for a new cartoon series starring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit (shown here on YouTube). By 1929 Universal Studios decided to remove Mintz and move the production of Oswald directly onto the studio lot under new management.

Walter received his big break while working as a part-time chauffer for Universal president Carl Laemmle, who had decided to fire the entire staff of the Oswald series and start anew. When thinking about a choice of a leader for the new studio, his part-time chauffer – who knew every job in animation – was the one who got the job.

The relationship with Universal Studios that began when Walter was twenty-eight years old was a relationship that spanned four decades, with the exception of one year spent with United Artists. When he was thirty-six, in 1935, he went against industry trends for the era and negotiated himself into the position of an independent producer supplying cartoons to Universal. In 1940 he negotiated successfully for the ownership of the characters he had been working with. Later that year his most famous character – Woody Woodpecker – would be ‘born’.

The idea for Woody Woodpecker came during Walter’s honeymoon with actress Grace Stafford, whom he married in 1940. He related the birth of Woody Woodpecker to the LA Times in 1992. While honeymooning at a lakeside cottage,
"We kept hearing this knock, knock, knock on the roof, and I said to Gracie, 'What the hell is that?' So I went out and looked, and here's this woodpecker drilling holes in the shingles. And we had asbestos shingles, not wood. So, to show you how smart these woodpeckers are, they'd peck a hole in the asbestos shingles and put in an acorn. A worm would develop in the acorn, and a week later the woodpecker would come back, get the acorn and fly away, letting out this noisy scream as he flew away."
Grace suggested using the bird as a cartoon character, although Walter was skeptical about it’s potential. Yet Woody Woodpecker would be the lucrative center of the studio for the next three decades. Mel Blanc provided the voice for Woody Woodpecker during the first three cartoons. After he signed an exclusive contract with another studio, he was replaced – eventually by Walter’s wife, Grace.

In 1950, Walter needed a new voice for Woody, and Grace was turned down for the job because Woody was a boy. Grace taped her own audition and secretly added it to the other recordings.

"When we had the listening session, I didn't want to see the actors who were doing the voices. So they ran some recordings and I picked one--No. 7, I remember--and I said, 'Who's that?' And it was Gracie. She sneaked it in on me. I thought, 'Oh, God, no! What are people going to think if they find out the producer's wife is doing Woody's voice?' "
At first she did Woody without screen credit, but in the late 1950s she was acknowledged to be the voice of Woody Woodpecker. Click to take the Woody Woodpecker Quiz.

Walter would keep making new cartoons until 1972, when his studio became the last of the classic-era cartoon studios to close. It had reached the point where it took ten years for a cartoon to make back it’s cost, and 72-year-old Walter wasn’t willing to work for rewards that far in the future.
After he retired, Walter would manage his studio’s properties, painted, worked with the Little League, and was active until the end of his life at age 94. He died on March 22, 1994. He left behind a memorable collection of characters that live on in the world of reruns and DVD’s , still bringing joy to children of all ages.


There are no biographies of Walter Lantz in our local libraries.


Los Angeles Times
Walter Lantz Cartoon Encyclopedia


01. Walter Lantz, Animation Archive
02. Cartoon opening screen, Wikipedia
03. Walter Lantz, Wikipedia

Thursday, April 23, 2009

April 23: “Every man must be for the United States or against it.”

Do you know who this is?
-He once courted Mary Todd, who later married Abraham Lincoln
-He owned a plantation in Mississippi.
-The give-away hint: His nickname was ‘The Little Giant”.

He was a mover and shaker in American politics during the mid-19th century. He was a northerner, but owned a plantation and slaves. The man he defeated in a Senate race was the man who beat him in the contest for the Presidency.

Stephen Arnold Douglas would become famous as a U.S. Senator from Illinois, but he was born in Brandon, Vermont on April 23, 1813. His parents were Stephen Arnold and Sarah Fisk Douglass. His father, a practicing physician, died when Stephen was an infant, and his mother moved in with her father and a bachelor brother with her two children. She could not afford to send her children to a private school, and he would be educated in common schools, and would complete his preparatory studies at Brandon Academy.

Young Stephen was ambitious, and anxious to achieve and education so he could provide for himself and his family. In 1828, at the age of 15, he was apprenticed at a cabinet maker, hoping to make enough money to allow him to go to college. It was during this year that he became politically inspired during the campaign of General Andrew Jackson. He became a life-long Democrat. Two years later his family moved to Canandaigua, New York, where he was able to study at the Canandaigua Academy. While he began to study law at the Academy, he ran out of money and would not make any further attempts at formal education. By 1834 he had migrated west, settling briefly in Cleveland, Ohio, then on to Illinois. At Winchester, Illinois he taught school for three months, and then was admitted to the bar as a lawyer. He opened an office in Jacksonville, Illinois in 1834, and was so successful that a year later he was a leader in the state’s Democratic party, and was elected as State Attorney for Morgan County, Illinois – all by the time he was twenty-two years old.

He would write to relatives in Vermont in 1833, claiming: "I have become a Western man, have imbibed Western feelings principles and interests and have selected Illinois as the favorite place of my adoption." It was in Illinois he would court Mary Todd – who eventually married Abraham Lincoln – and in 1847 he married Martha Martin, who brought into their marriage a large cotton plantation in Mississippi worked by slaves. The Illinois politician tried to distance himself from owning a plantation by hiring a manager, and using the profits from the plantation to help fund his political career. His wife died in 1853, leaving Stephen with two small sons. Three years later he married 20-year-old Adele Cutts, great-niece of Dolley Madison.

Stephen grew rapidly in the political arena. In 1836 he was elected to serve a term in the Illinois House of Representatives, was appointed in 1841 as the youngest state Supreme Court judge the state , and was elected to the US Congress, serving from 1843 – 1847. In 1846 Stephen would drop the final “s” from his family name. He was elected to three terms as US Senator, serving from 1847 to 1861, his service ending with his death.

It was during the 1840s that he gained the nickname of the "Little Giant." He was 5’ 4” in height, and weighed a little over ninety pounds, but he had broad shoulders and a large head. He was a scrappy fighter and hard worker, and – though unpolished in his oratory and often using jerky gestures – he became one of the most popular orators in Illinois.

The burning, consuming issue of the era was slavery. While a member of the U.S. House of Representative, Stephen established his stance on the issue: that the Congress had no constitutional right to restrict the extension of slavery other than the agreement that was made in the Missouri Compromise of 1820. While he opposed slavery, he both advocated states rights and was a Unionist.

While in the Senate, Stephen would attempt to put the divisive issue of slavery to rest – but would instead fan the fires that would unleash increased divisiveness that would ultimately lead to the civil war.

When the U.S. victory in the Mexican War reopened the issue of slavery in the territories in the late 1840’s, two opposing viewpoints clashed: The Southern view that slavery should be allowed to expand into the newly acquired territories because the Constitution protected property; while the Northern view was that the federal government could ban slavery in the new territories. Stephen tried to take a middle path, one that seemed to truly espouse democracy: let the settlers vote whether to allow slavery or not, a concept called popular sovereignty. This was applied to the territories of Utah and New Mexico with the Compromise of 1850.

By trying to apply this concept to the newly organized Kansas-Nebraska territories – formerly part of the Missouri Compromise of 1820 – four years later, Stephen reopened the public debate on slavery.

As a Senator, Stephen was an early advocate of the concept of a transcontinental railroad. He would become a powerful advocate of a northern rail route, which would go through Chicago, then westward, eventually to California. The railways were rapidly becoming the mark of prosperity of cities, states – and regions of the county. There was, however, a southern route as well – a route perhaps more feasible than the one he proposed. The desire to have a northern route was one of the motivating factors behind the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 – a bitterly divisive act because it inflamed the north through ending the Missouri Compromise, allowing slavery into territories forbidden to it for a generation.

Sectional politics would come to dominate the national political scene; pro- and anti-slavery forces would loot and kill in Kansas territory; and split the Democratic party along sectional lines. While he would later develop the Freeport Doctrine in one of his famous debates with Abraham Lincoln during the 1858 Senate race – a doctrine which argued that citizens in the territories could refuse to pass laws called ‘slave codes’ that supported and protected slavery. With no legal protection, he felt slave owners would not move into a territory where their investment in slaves was not protected. However, this continued to fuel the fires of sectionalism.

Stephen would win the Senatorial race in 1858 against Lincoln, but would lose the 1860 Presidential election. The Democratic Party was to badly split along sectional lines to work together to win the election. Stephen would represent the northern wing of the party.

After the election he urged the South to accept the new president, and tried to work out a compromise to keep the South in the Union. As war broke out, he declared secession as a criminal act, and took a trip – at Lincoln’s request – to the border states and Midwest to promote support for the Union. He told his listeners: “There are only two sides to this question. Every man must be for the United States or against it. There can be no neutrals in this war; only patriots and traitors.”

Stephen would not see beyond the opening stage of the bloody civil war that consumed the nation from 1861 – 1865. He suffered through a short illness, dying at Chicago, Illinois, on June 3, 1861, at the age of forty-eight. His last words to his children were, "to obey the laws and support the constitution of the United States."

01. Portrait, Stephen Douglas: Library of Congress, call number LC-USZ62-110141
02. Adele Cutts Douglas: Library of Congress, call number LC-BH82- 5368 B
03. Political Cartoon, Currier and Ives, 1860: Library of Congress, Alfred Whital collection, call number lprbscsm scsm0781
04. Monument, Monument Park, Chicago: Library of Congress, call number DN-0086536

Sunday, April 19, 2009

April 20: “I shall soon be in glory…”

Do you know who this is?
-He was a pioneer missionary to the Indians
-He was expelled from Yale
-His diary and journals are studied by missionaries today

His life would be a short one – he died at the age of twenty-nine – but it would be a life that became a dedicated Christian service which would open the Christian Gospel to the Native Americans living in frontiers of the English colonies in America. His personal ministry to the Indians would only last three years, but his diary and his journal – edited by Jonathan Edwards – would continue to be an influence on missionaries up through the present day.

David Brainerd was born on April 20, 1718 in Haddam, Connecticut to Hezekiah and Dorothy Brainerd. David was the sixth of nine children born to the couple – plus one more child that the widowed Dorothy brought into the marriage with Hezekiah. David’s family was both influential and devout. His grandfather had come to the colonies and became a landowner, commissioner for the General Court, a justice of the peace, and a deacon in the church. David’s father continued in public service, becoming a representative to the General Assembly, Speaker of the House, and a member of the Governor’s Council, as well as being a large landowner. David’s father was known for integrity, personal dignity, and self-restraint, with a strong Christian foundation.

Hezekiah Brainerd died when David was nine, and Dorothy died when he was fourteen. Orphaned, he lived for four years with his older sister Jerusha and her husband, Samuel Spencer. There he suffered from depression and loneliness, and even described himself later in life saying that from his youth he was "somewhat sober, and inclined rather to melancholy." When he was nineteen he moved to a farm in Durham that he had inherited from his father. While living and working on the farm he decided that he needed to obtain an education, and moved in with Phineas Fisk – the pastor of the church at Haddam – to pursue his religious interests. While there he committed his life to the ministry, and – in 1739 – enrolled in Yale.

He suffered from illnesses during his tenure at Yale. First, during his freshman year, he missed several weeks of classes due to the measles. During his sophomore year he was again sent home to rest and recover because he unaccountably began spitting up blood – probably an early sign of the tuberculosis that would eventually take his life.

When he returned from this second extended absence from his classes, David found that the Great Awakening and a visit from evangelist George Whitefield had radically changed the tenor of life and thoughts for the students at the college. While the students embraced the Great Awakening, the administration remained far more staid in their religious views. As disrespect grew between the two camps, the college trustees issued a statement saying: "If any student of this College shall directly or indirectly say, that the Rector, either of the Trustees or Tutors are hypocrites, carnal or unconverted men, he shall for the first offence make a public confession in the hall, and for the second offence be expelled."

During the winter of David’s third year, a freshman overheard David say in a private conversation that the tutor Chauncey Whittlesey had "no more grace than a chair." He was also reported as saying that he was surprised the Rector Thomas Clap "did not drop down dead" for fining students who became followers of Gilbert Tennent. David denied the latter, but refused to offer a public apology for the former, though he confessed his guilt. As a result, he was expelled from the college, though he stood at the top of his class academically.

David was greatly disappointed and depressed at his expulsion, but he continued his religious training, living with and being trained by several pastors, receiving a license to preach in 1742. He was asked to consider a ministry to become a missionary to the American Indians, and on Nov. 25, 1742, accepted the ministry, beginning what was to be a short but far-reaching ministry.

He began his work with the Indians at Kaunaumeek, located eighteen miles southeast of Albany, on April 1, 1743. There he slept on the ground until he built a rough shelter. He learned about the way of life of the Indians, won their trust, taught them English, and tried to teach them about Christianity.

He would write in his journal while on horseback, trying to use his time wisely. A 1743 entry read: “Lord's Day, December 29 ...After public worship was over, I went to my house, proposing to preach again after a short season of intermission. But they soon came in one after another; with tears in their eyes, to know, "what they should do to be saved..."

In 1744 he would be sent to Pennsylvania, arriving near present day Easton. He would be ill and weak from the increasing detrimental effect of tuberculosis for the duration of his stay there, but served as a pastor for the white settlers in the area, as well as traveling on horseback daily to preach, teach, and pray with the Indians of the area. He travelled extensively, travelling 340 miles on horseback in 22 days to visit various Indian tribes. Rain or shine, hailstones or snow could slow him down in his mission to spread the Gospel, but could not stop him.

Yet conversions to the Christian faith on the western frontier were rare. He wrote: “As to my success here I cannot say much as yet: the Indians seem generally kind, and well-disposed towards me, and are mostly very attentive to my instructions, and seem willing to be taught further.”

In 1745 he began to service the Indians in western New Jersey, as well as those in Pennsylvania. Finally he began to see the results of his work in the frontier. His translator, Tattamy, as well as his wife were both converted to Christianity. Soon after that David was preaching to sixty-five Indians, and would have a number of converts, baptizing twenty-five at the end of August. Indians – and white settlers – began to travel from miles around to see this young white preacher, and to respond to his call to the Gospel. By 1746 he had over 140 followers. That same year he engaged a schoolmaster to teach the Indians English, and provided primers for them.

But, his tuberculoses was weakening him. He wrote that he "...sweat much in the night, so that my linen was almost wringing wet all night, was exceedingly weak, so that I could scarcely ride; it seemed sometimes as if I must fall off from my horse, and lie in the open woods..."

He made his last visit to his Indian converts in March 1747, then traveled to New England to try and rest and recover from his disease. He never made it back to the wilderness and the Indians that he loved. He would die on February 14, 1748, while trying to recuperate while at Jonathan Edward’s home. His last words were: "He will come, and will not tarry. I shall soon be in glory; soon be with God and His angels."

David’s legacy is multifaceted. Factors such as overcoming loss of parents, ill health, expulsion from college, dealing with depression, and – finally - the realization that one’s life does not need to be long to leave its mark on history and people. His dedication to the Native Americans continued after his death: His replacement as a missionary was, at his request, his brother John Brainerd, who would labor in the mission field for the next thirty years.


Our local library has no biographies on David Brainerd.


Christian Biography Resources
Hyperhistory biography
Life and Diary of David Brainerd

Memoirs of Rev. Brainerd


01. Color Portrait: Wikipedia
02. Preaching to the Indians Wikipedia
03. Grave site: Find a grave, by Mike Reed

Thursday, April 16, 2009

April 17: "...I will take them to jail myself.”

Do you know who this is?
-He formed a ‘sons of liberty’ group in Maryland.
-He signed the Declaration of Independence, but opposed the Constitution.
-He was the only Supreme Court Justice to be impeached.

He was a man of strong political views and immense capabilities. Starting as a fervent advocate of independence from Britain and states rights, he moved gradually into the opposite camp, being appointed as a Supreme Court Justice with Federalist, strong central government viewpoints – and was impeached because of those viewpoints.

Samuel Chase was born on April 17, 1741, near Princess Anne, Maryland. He was the only child of an Episcopalian minister, the Reverend Thomas and Matilda Walker Chase. His mother would die soon after his birth. In 1743 his father was appointed Rector of St. Paul’s Parish in Baltimore.

Samuel was educated at home under the supervision of his father, largely through studying the classics, until he was eighteen. He then studied law under attorneys John Hammond and John Hall in Annapolis, and was admitted to the bar at the age of twenty in 1761. He would start his law practice in Annapolis. He would marry Ann Baldwin in 1762, and the couple would have three sons and four daughters. Only four of his children would survive to adulthood. Ann would die in the late 1770s. While travelling to England on business for Maryland, Samuel met and married Hannah Kilty Giles in London. They would have two daughters.

In 1764 Samuel began his public career by being elected to the Maryland General Assembly, where he would be a member for nearly twenty years. He quickly earned a reputation as a dedicated patriot, as well as using his talents to actively and zealously oppose British taxation on the Colonies. He forcibly opposed the Stamp Act, and was a framer in the Declaration of the Rights of Maryland.

In 1774 he was chosen as a delegate to the first Continental Congress, and was re-elected in 1776. He helped organize the Maryland Sons of Liberty. In 1776 Samuel was one of the advocates who encouraged Maryland’s authorization to vote for independence. John Adams described Samuel in Congress as "violent and boisterous" in debate, and he was relentless in verbally attacking those delegates who hesitated on voting for independence.

He supported his rhetoric with his actions: he was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Known as a patriot, Samuel’s patriotism was called into question by Alexander Hamilton who revealed – using the pen name ‘Publius” – that Samuel had taken advantage of knowledge gained in Congress to try to corner the flour market.

While temporarily retiring from national politics as a result of the accusation, Samuel was still influential in Maryland politics. In 1786 he would move to Baltimore, which would be his home for the rest of his life. He began his judicial role there, being appointed judge of the Baltimore criminal court in 1788; appointed judge of the general court of Maryland in 1791; and finally was appointed by President Washington an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court in 1796.

An event occurred in Baltimore in 1794 which illustrated Samuel’s dedication and courage to the law. He demanded the maintainance of the dignity of the bench and the supremacy of the law. When two men were tarred and feathered in the streets of Baltimore, he ordered the arrest of the two ringleaders, two prominent men who appeared before the judge and refused to post bail, being confident during that rough and tumble era of being rescued by their friends. Judge Chase ordered the sheriff to take them to jail and, when the sheriff expressed concern, ordered the sheriff to “call out the posse comitatus.” The posse comitatus is simply the deputizing of men in a crisis. The sheriff replied that he could not find anyone to deputize, as the prisoners were men of influence. “Then I shall be the posse comitatus. I will take them to jail myself.”

During his tenure on the Supreme Court, Samuel would be recognized as one of the most important legal theorists during this early period of the nation. The Justices of the Supreme Court carried a double duty during its early history: that of Supreme Court Justice, sitting on the bench in Washington, D.C., as well as a circuit riding judge in the lower courts.

Samuel’s tenure on the Supreme Court would be attacked in 1804 when he was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives, to be tried by the Senate, on charges of malfeasance of office. The impeachment was largely political in nature, and the success or failure of the trial would determine if the judiciary branch of government would be an independent branch and an effective part of the check and balance system devised by the authors of the Constitution. Samuel – a Federalist with a belief in a strong central government – was under attack by the Democratic-Republicans.

The allegations that led to the impeachment were that political bias led the judge to treat defendants and their counsel in a blatantly unfair manner, and that his conduct was marked by “manifest injustice, partiality, and intemperance.” Several allegations were made in the impeachment, most centering on decisions made during the Adams administration five years earlier when he had made decisions that enforced the law of the day, the Alien and Sedition acts, limiting the right of people who opposed the President from voicing their opinions. During the early Jefferson administration he had opposed Jefferson’s abolition of several federal judgeships.
The trial in the Senate attracted national attention. Vice President Aaron Burr was the presiding judge – and maintained a sense of decorum in what could have been a kangaroo court in the Democratic-Republican controlled Senate. Samuel’s lawyers included Luther Martin and Robert Goodloe Harper. He would be acquitted on March 5, 1805.

Samuel would serve for six more years on the Supreme Court, the impeachment having established precedence for future impeachments of judges that the issue had to be criminal actions, not personal opinions. This in turn, created an independent judiciary that still exists and flourishes today. He died at the age of seventy on June 19, 1811, and was buried at Old St. Paul’s Cemetery in Baltimore.


There are no biographies about Samuel Chase in our local library.


American Revolution
Baltimore Past And Present
Biographical Dictionary of Congress
Colonial Hall
National Park System


01. Portrait of Samuel Chase: Library of Congress LOC LC-USZ62-65009
02. Ann Chase and two daughters, Anne and Matilda: Smithsonian
03. Signature: Wikipedia

04.Chase seated color portrait: Wikipedia

05. Senate Journal, March 1, 1805
06. Gravestone: Find a Grave, by Michelle Baquol-Bower

Monday, April 13, 2009

April 14: The First President

Do you know who this is?
-He was the first chief executive under the ratified Articles of Confederation.
-Controversy and myths surround him today.
-An eighteen-year-old son was killed at Fort Washington in 1776

He was a merchant, a planter, a supporter of the Revolution, a one-term President under the Articles of Confederation, and is surrounded with controversy in our time with questions such as ‘was he the first President of the United States’ and ‘was he our first Black president’? Myths, many originating in the late 19th century, surround this founding father of the United States.

John Hanson was born on April 14, 1721, to Samuel and Elizabeth Story Hanson, in Port Tobacco Parish, Charles County, Maryland. His grandfather, John Hanson, had come to the colony as an indentured servant. His father was a planter who owned more than 1000 acres and who held a variety of political posts including two terms in the Maryland General Assembly. Two of the many controversies surrounding his life are that he was a descendent of Swedish royalty; the other is that he was of Moorish descent, both of which have been shown to be unfounded.

John did not have any formal education while growing up, though he read widely in both English and Latin classics through a self-guided program. As he reached adulthood he followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a planter himself. He would marry Jane Contee in 1744 and together they would have nine children – four daughters and five sons. One of his sons, serving in the Continental Army, died at Fort Washington in 1776. She would survive John, passing away in 1812.

His public service career began in 1750, when he was thirty-five. He was appointed sheriff of Charles County, Maryland. He would be elected to the lower house of the Maryland General Assembly, serving there from 1757 to 1773.

In 1769 he sold his Charles County property and moved to Frederick County in western Maryland in a move designed to improve his business interests. He would eventually become one of the leading patriots of the county and of Maryland as conditions began to grow more difficult between the colonies and England. He had taken a stand against a succession of taxes levied by the Crown, declaring them to be illegal and passed without due representation of colonial interests. Before moving to Frederick County he had stood against the Stamp Act, then the Townsend Acts. In 1774 he served as a delegate to the Annapolis Convention, which served as an extra-legal state government for Maryland – and in 1775 signed the Declaration of the Association of the Freemen of Maryland which approved the:
“opposition by Arms to the British troops, employed to enforce obedience to the late acts and statutes of the British parliament, for raising a revenue in America, and altering and changing the charter and constitution of the Massachusetts Bay, and for destroying the essential securities for the lives, liberties and properties of the subjects in the united colonies. And we do unite and associate, as one band, and firmly and solemnly engage and pledge ourselves to each other, and to America, that we will to the utmost of our power, promote and support the present opposition, carrying on, as well by Arms, as by the continental association, restraining our commerce.”
Armed rebellion had been legitimized. John would be active in recruiting, arming, and providing for Maryland troops, as well as a number of significant local and state committees.

He would be elected to the Maryland House of Delegates in 1777 for five consecutive annual terms, and in 1779 was named as a delegate from Maryland to the Second Continental Congress, serving until 1782. While he was a member of this Congress the Articles of Confederation were ratified, and in November 1781 he was elected to a one-year term as the first president under the ratified Articles. This led to his being claimed by later generations as the real first president of the United States.

However, the position of chief executive under the Articles was largely one of ceremonial duties, though he would have to deal with official correspondence and was responsible for signing official documents. The chief executive, however, did not have near the authority and power that would be given to that office under the new Constitution written in 1787.

John, at the age 67, retired from public office after his one-year term as President of Congress. In poor health, he died a year later - at the age of 68 - at his nephew's plantation Oxon Hill Manor in Prince George's County, Maryland, on November 22, 1783. There is some controversy as to where he was buried, and the grave site is lost.
John Hanson made many important and valuable contributions to our political history during the 1770s through the early 1780s. His service to his state is undeniable. However, controversy does still follow his life and accomplishments some two and a quarter centuries after his death – controversy he didn’t start, and very likely wouldn’t approve of. Few of the founding fathers have as much mythology surrounding their life as does John Hanson.

No biographies of John Hanson are available at our local library


Architect of the Capital
Articles of Confederation
Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress
Famous Americans Biography
The Real First President


Hanson.01. Portrait: Famous Americans
Hanson.02. Portrait: Wikipedia
Hanson.03. Jane Contee Portrait: Ancestral Records and Portraits
Hanson.04. Statue by Richard E. Brooks located in U.S. Capital building

Friday, April 10, 2009

April 10: "…poverty was preventable, destructive, wasteful and demoralizing.”

Do you know who this is?

-She went to court to keep her maiden name as her last name when she married.
-She attended a predominately male high school.
-Here’s the give-away: She was the first female U.S. Cabinet member.

"I came to Washington to work for God, FDR, and the millions of forgotten, plain common workingmen."
With these words, Frances Perkins changed forever the role of women in high governmental positions.

Fannie Coralie Perkins was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on April 10, 1880, to Frederick and Susan Bean Perkins. When she was two her family moved to Worchester, where she would grow up. It was there that the Perkins’ owned a profitable stationery business, providing the family with a comfortable upper middle class background. Her parents instilled in Frances a strong desire to "live for God and to accomplish something in life." Fannie would later change her name to Frances.

Frances would, with the approval and support of her father, attend the mostly-male Worcester Classical High School. In 1902 she would graduate from Mount Holyoke College, Massachusetts, with a BA degree. At Mount Holyoke she was exposed to the rising movement toward social reform – lectures that would give guidance and direction to her life and career. While attending Mount Holyoke College, Frances read Jacob Riis's How The Other Half Lives, studied economics, and met National Consumers League secretary Florence Kelley – who would open a door of opportunity for her later.

She would hold a variety of teaching positions in and around Chicago – including teaching at the Young Ladies’ Seminary at Ferry Hall School in Lake Forest, Illinois – which has been described as ‘the liberal alter ego’ to conservative Lake Forest, and invited such reformist speakers as Eugene Debs and Jacob Riis. During this time she also worked as a volunteer in settlement houses, including the famous Hull House. Frances would attend Columbia University, New York, graduating with a master’s degree in Sociology in 1910. That same year she was appointed the head of the NCL (National Consumer’s League) in New York – where she would lobby for better hours and working conditions for America’s laborers. She successfully lobbied the New York state legislature to enact legislation limiting women to a 54-hour week.

She had an intense interest in the working poor, and her reformist attitude toward helping the women and the poor intensified on March 25, 1911, after the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire where she saw women jumping to their death to escape from the flames. The building lacked fire escapes, resulting in the deaths of 146 garment workers.

In 1913 Frances would marry Paul Caldwell Wilson. However, she kept her maiden name, and would ultimately defend her right to do so in court.

Wilson was an economist and budget expert in the New York Bureau of Municipal Research. She would briefly withdraw from public service after her marriage and the birth of her daughter. After Frances resumed her professional career, her husband suffered an emotion breakdown, from which he never fully recovered.

Her incessant work for minimum hours legislation encouraged Al Smith to appoint her to the Committee on Safety of the City of New York under whose authority she visited workplaces, exposed hazardous practices, and championed legislative reforms. In 1918 Frances accepted Governor Al Smith’s offer to become the first female member of the New York Industrial Commission, and would become chairman of the commission in 1926.

In 1929 Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt promoted Frances to the position of Industrial Commissioner of New York. This was the top position in the state labor department, allowing her to investigate factories and labor conditions, and to reduce the work-week to 48-hours for women. She also was able to encourage the development of minimum wage standards and unemployment insurance legislation.

"I promise to use what brains I have to meet problems with intelligence and courage. I promise that I will be candid about what I know. I promise to all of you who have the right to know, the whole truth so far as I can speak it. If I have been wrong, you may tell me so, for I really have no pride in judgment. I know all judgment is relative. It may be right today and wrong tomorrow. The only thing that makes it truly right is the desire to have it constantly moving in the right direction."
Roosevelt was elected President of the United States in 1933, and he appointed Frances as the nation’s first woman cabinet member as Secretary of Labor. Roosevelt agreed to her terms that 1) she expected the administration to side with liberal labor practices; and 2) she wanted to spend weekends in New York with her family. She would serve in that position from March 1933 to July 1945.

"What was the New Deal anyhow? Was it a political plot? Was it just a name for a period in history? Was it a revolution? To all of these questions I answer "No." It was something quite different... It was, I think, basically an attitude. An attitude that found voice in expressions like "the people are what matter to government," and "a government should aim to give all the people under its jurisdiction the best possible life."
As FDR’s key labor advisor, she helped shape and drive the New Deal. She was instrumental in creating the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, the National Labor Relations Act, the Social Security Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act.

When President Truman ascended to office, she resigned in order to all Truman to appoint his own nominee – Lew Schwellenbach – to the position. In the fall of 1945 Truman appointed her to the Civil Service Commission, a position she would occupy until 1953. In 1957, Frances – now age 77 – joined the faculty of Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She held that position until her death on May 14, 1965.

She is buried in Newcastle Cemetery, Maine.

Whether one agrees with her policies or not, there is no denying that Frances Perkins left an indelible mark on American society, standards, and history.


Adam Cohen, Nothing to Fear: FDR's Inner Circle and the Hundred Days That Created Modern America


Department of Labor
Frances Perkins Center
National Park System
National Women’s Hall of Fame
Social Security Administration


01. Portrait: US Department of Labor
02. Perkins at Desk: Flickr
03. Gravesite: Find A Grave, by Keith Reed

Sunday, April 5, 2009

April 7: “…the Vice President of the United States has passed from the scenes of earth.”

Do you know who this is?
-He was the thirteenth Vice President of the United States.
-He was a bachelor.
-He is the only national-level politician to take the oath of office outside of the borders of the United States.

The Declaration of Independence was a decade old when he was born, and the new Constitution had yet to be written. He was thought by many to be the potentially most capable Vice President of the 19th century – but death robbed the nation of his services during a critical era of our history.

William Rufus de Vane King was born in Sampson County, North Carolina, on April 7, 1786. His parents were prominent North Carolina planters, William and Margaret King.

He attended private schools, and would graduate from the University of North Carolina in 1803, then studied and was admitted to the bar in 1806, setting up a law practice in Clinton, North Carolina.

Government service appealed to William. He served as a member of the North Carolina House of Commons from 1807 to 1809, and was the city solicitor of Wilmington in 1810. He would serve as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives as a member of the Twelfth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Congresses from March 4, 1811 to November 4,1816. In Congress he was an ally of John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay, and the cause of the War Hawks. He also was a supporter of President Madison, and believed in the use of tariffs to promote American manufacturing, and he was in favor of becoming involved in the War of 1812, hoping to expand American interests. He resigned from the Congress in 1816 to enter the Foreign Service as a Secretary of Legation at the Court of Naples and later at the Court of Russia in St. Petersburg. During this time he gained important diplomatic experience. He would use that experience in 1844 when he was appointed as Minister to France by President Tyler and charged with the mission to keep Britain and France from opposing the annexation of Texas by the United States.

William would return to North Carolina in 1818, then relocated to Alabama Territory the same year. He would settle near the Alabama River in what later became Dallas County. He owned a large plantation, and built a home which he titled ‘Chestnut Hill’. He was also instrumental in founding the city of Selma.

When Alabama became a state in 1819, William was chosen as one of Alabama’s first U.S. Senators, and would serve almost continuously in the Senate during the next thirty-four years, from 1819 – 1844, then again from 1848 to 1852. He would serve as President Pro-Tem of the Senate from 1850 – 1852.

William was a Democrat, and ordinarily a Unionist – a difficult position for a Southerner as the nation moved toward secession in 1860 - 1861. He was considered a potential Vice Presidential candidate in 1838, and again in 1844, finally receiving the nomination in 1852.

He was still a member of the Senate when he was nominated as a running-mate for Franklin Pierce in 1852, becoming the first sitting Senator to be nominated for Vice President. William was suffering from tuberculosis and alcoholism at the time of his nomination, and decided to go to Havana, Cuba to try and recover. He believed the warm climate of Cuba would be much more conducive to his recovery than the cold winters of Washington DC.

However, by the time of the inauguration, he was too weak to travel to Washington, or even to stand up. He became the only U.S. politician on the national level to be sworn in on foreign soil, receiving the oath of Vice President on March 24, 1853. The privilege of taking the oath of office on foreign soil was granted by a special act of Congress, recognizing his long and distinguished service to the government of the United States.

“The ceremony, although simple, was very sad and impressive, and will never be forgotten by any who were present. To see an old man, on the very verge of the grave, clothed with honors which he cared not for, and invested with authority which he could never exercise, was truly touching. It was only by persuasion that Mr. King would go through with the ceremony, as he looked on it as an idle form, for he said he was conscious he would not live many weeks.”
—National Intelligencer, April 8, 1853
In honor of his inauguration, the newly formed Washington Territory named King County after him. Officially speaking, however, King County, Washington, is no longer named for the 13th Vice President of the United States. In 1986, someone at the King County Council noticed that William R. King had done disagreeable things by modern standards, especially owning slaves. So the council passed a resolution redesignating the county in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. In 2005, the Washington legislature passed a bill, and the governor signed it, to affirm the new choice of honoree for the county.

A month after taking the oath as Vice President, William – a life-long bachelor - returned to his beloved Chestnut Hill home at his Kings Bend plantation in Alabama, where he died two days after his return. He was originally buried on his plantation, but in 1882 his body was reinterred in Live Oak Cemetery, Selma, Alabama – where he was recognized as one of the founding fathers of that city.

President Pierce wrote on December 5, 1853:

“Since the adjournment of Congress, the Vice President of the United States has passed from the scenes of earth, without having entered upon the duties of the station to which he had been called by the voice of his countrymen. Having occupied, almost continuously, for more than thirty years, a seat in one or the other of the two Houses of Congress, and having by his singular purity and wisdom, secured unbounded confidence and universal respect, his failing health was watched by the nation with painful solicitude. His loss to the country, under all circumstances, has been justly regarded as irreparable.”

There are no biographies about William R. King at our local library.


Alabama Moments
Dead presidents blog
Find A Grave
Obituary Google Books
U.S. Congress Biography Guide
U.S. Senate

01. Dageurrotype of King: Library of Congress, digital ID cph.3c09926
02. Sculpted bust of King: U.S. Senate Building, by William C. McCauslen
03. Portrait,: Obituary Addresses on the Occasion of the Death of the Hon. William R. King
04. Gravesite, Arthur Koykka

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April 2: "gentlemanly, a religious enthusiast and a man of plain sense"

Do you know who this is?
-His father abandoned him as a child.
-He attended the Constitutional Convention – but there is no record of his ever making a speech there.
-He was one of the “Midnight Judges” appointed by President John Adams.

He had a career encompassing being a planter, a soldier, a legislator, a judge, a Governor, and one of the thirty-nine men who signed the United States Constitution.

Richard Bassett was born on April 2, 1845 at Bohemia Ferry in Cecil County, located in the northeast corner of Maryland. His father and mother – Michael and Judith Thompson Bassett - owned a tavern and farmed, and his father later deserted his mother. His mother was the great granddaughter and heiress of Augustine Herrman, the original owner of Bohemia Manor – a huge estate in Cecil County. Augustine Herrman was a 17th century Czech explorer, merchant, and cartographer who established Bohemia Manor plantation.

Richard was raised by maternal relatives, including Peter Lawson, from whom he later inherited Lawson’s Bohemia Manor estate. His mother’s family – along with his own initiative and intelligence - provided him with wealth and a plantation. His relatives helped to educate and mold the bright young man into a successful lawyer, planter, and politician.

He read for the law at Philadelphia and received a license to practice law in 1770 at Dover, Delaware. Richard would prosper as a lawyer – and as a planter, eventually owning not only Bohemia Manor, but homes in Dover and Wilmington as well. His success in life illustrated the economic and social opportunities that existed in colonial America. He quickly became a man of property, and began to move with ease in the social world of the local gentry, among whom he developed a reputation for hospitality and philanthropy.

His activities led him into politics. He was elected to serve as a member of Kent County (Delaware) Boston Relief Committee, which collected contributions for those suffering hardship as a result of the Coercive or Intolerable Acts. His work with the committee led to contacts with important figures from Delaware – and ultimately more political responsibilities during the Revolution.

He furthered the military effort by Delaware during the Revolution by being given the responsibility of selection officers based on the criteria of the day – patriotism, popularity to bring in recruits, and military competence - and helped recruit for the only regular Continental military unit from Delaware. He also helped raise troops for the state militia.

In 1777, Richard learned first-hand the responsibilities and duties of the citizen-soldier. When the British entered the upper Chesapeake Bay as part of a move to capture the US capital at Philadelphia, Richard joined the militia as a volunteer – even though he was exempt because of his legislative position. Eventually he assumed command of the Dover Light Horse, Kent County’s militia cavalry unit.

He learned a great deal during his work in the Revolution. He learned how to raise troops and supply them, and to appreciate the concept that cooperation between states was vital. He also learned that sacrifices were required from citizens at all economic and social level. He also adopted a simpler lifestyle for the rest of his live – and became a quiet, serious, efficient public servant who would deal with Delaware’s postwar problems.

In 1778 Richard was converted to Methodism, and became a devout and energetic convert who devoted much of his attention and wealth of the promotion of Methodism.

Richard later served in the state legislature, and helped to draft Delaware’s constitution. He was asked by his state to attend the Annapolis Convention of 1786 as Delaware’s representative. Finally, in 1787 he was asked to be one of Delaware’s representatives to the Constitutional Convention. At the Convention he was described as "gentlemanly, a religious enthusiast and a man of plain sense" with "modesty enough to hold his tongue."

He would diligently attend the meetings of the Convention at Philadelphia. However, he made no speeches, served on no committees, and cast no critical votes. He allowed others to argue for and make the major decisions. But, he did sign the Constitution, and argued so persuasively for the new Constitution at the Delaware ratifying convention that Delaware became the first state to adopt the new document.

He was appointed to the U.S. Senate from 1789 – 1793, and voted there in favor of the power of the President to remove governmental officers, and against Hamilton’s plan for the federal assumption of state debts.

Richard served held the position of chief justiceship of the court of common pleas in Delaware from 1793 – 1799. He was elected Governor of Delaware from 1799 – 1801, when he became one of President John Adams’ “midnight” appointments that became known as the “Midnight Judges” He was to be a judge of the US Court of Appeals, Third Circuit Court. Jefferson abolished his justiceship in 1802, and he spent the remainder of his life in retirement.

He would marry twice: first to Ann Ennals, by whom he had four children; then, after her death, to Betsy Garnett.

He died on August 15, 1815, at the age of 70 and is interred at the Wilmington and Brandywine Cemetery, Wilmington, Delaware.

Richard Bassett’s story was one of overcoming obstacles. From abandonment by his father as a child through the difficulties of the Revolution to the establishing of the Constitution, Richard grew in his skills, wisdom, and wealth. He was successful in business, war, and politics. In addition, at a key moment in his country's history, Richard assumed an important role in advancing the cause of a strong central government by promoting the ratification of the Constitution in Delaware.



01.Portrait: Engraving, by Charles B. J. Fevret de Saint-Memin (1802); National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C
03. Constitutional Convention: Library of Congress Digital ID: thc 5a50954
04. 03.Crypt, Find A Grave, Ryan Gleason photo