OPINION in New England had been strongly against war. Just as during the days of Non-intercourse and Embargo some mercantile interests were prepared to evade the law and to continue commercial relations with Britain; at this very time the British forces in Canada were being fed on supplies sent up from America. There was intense dislike—hatred—of Mr Madison, his administration, and his principles. The political judgment of many in New England, shrewder in this case than Mr Madison’s, condemned Bonaparte for the unprincipled tyrant that he was; there were patriotic men who felt dismay at the prospect of aiding tyranny in a war against freedom. They knew a dilemma unknown to those who merely desired to make a profit; they were tempted to extricate themselves from it by secession from the Union. Political hatred, commercial interest, and distrust of Mr Madison’s judgment made a powerful combination; and this was in a country whose chief historical memory was one of successful rebellion against authority.
The beginning of the war had been gloomy. General Hull’s astonishing surrender at Detroit was a shattering blow to the hopes that had been entertained of an easy—even a bloodless—conquest of Canada. It was a moral disappointment as well as a military defeat, in that it proved that at least some elements in Canada were prepared to fight. It provided a further argument for those people who mistrusted Mr Madison’s judgment. The British Government, conducting a war for national existence, and aware of the existence of a potential separatist movement in New England, had no scruples in the matter. It was prepared to make use of any factor, a mere desire to make money or personal jealousy or local jealousy or actual treason, that would simplify its task. In the matter of blockade, in the matter of granting licences for American ships, and in the matter of trading with the enemy, its policy was not to rouse the antagonism of the mass of the people.
And the mass of the people might be swayed by an active and intelligent minority. There was a lack of the symbols and simplifications that could influence the unthinking; and the news from Detroit could implant the uneasy suspicion that they were on the losing side—and there was an absence of the inspiring leadership which could call forth the determination to see the matter through.
It was into this atmosphere that Hull returned with the news of his victory. He had two hundred prisoners to put ashore under guard. He had sent to the bottom of the sea the Guerrière, whose appearance, the cut of whose jib, had been familiar to so many in that seafaring community. He had in his power one of those lordly British captains whose bland—or not so bland—assumption of superiority had irked even an Anglophile society. He had scored a victory over the British Navy which had been victorious over every other nation on earth, and he had scored that victory by a bold and vigorous offensive in the face of peril. The news was exhilarating. There could hardly be a croaker to point out that this was no more than a pin-prick in the rhinoceros hide of British naval power. When even the well-informed could be carried away by enthusiasm the unlettered or unthinking masses were bound to be influenced yet more strongly. The quite serious danger of a pro-British (or anti-Washington) movement in New England began to decline from its peak, although it remained serious.
15 December 2019
From The Age of Fighting Sail: The Story of the Naval War of 1812, by C. S. Forester (Doubleday, 1952; eNet, 2012), Kindle Loc. 904-928:
14 December 2019
From The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months That Changed the World, by A. J. Baime (HMH Books, 2017), Kindle pp. 248-250:
The brain trust of the American military gathered. Here sat General George Marshall, Fleet Admiral Ernest King, Lieutenant General I. C. Eaker of the army air forces (representing General Arnold, recovering from a heart attack), and the chief of the president’s staff, Fleet Admiral Leahy. Secretary of War Stimson was in the room, as were Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy and Secretary of the Navy Forrestal. The president wanted to know from each an opinion on the most efficient means of forcing Japan to surrender unconditionally, and to bring the war to an end.
General Marshall spoke first, reiterating arguments he had already posed but now with more detail. The situation in Japan was “practically identical” to the situation in Europe before the Normandy invasion, Marshall said. He believed that “the only course to pursue” with respect to Japan was the course that had brought the Nazis to their knees: a ground invasion. He had chosen the island of Kyushu at the southern end of Japan’s mainland for the landing, and he set D-day at November 1—four and a half months’ time.
Marshall listed the reasons for the timing: “Our estimates are that our air action will have smashed practically every industrial target worth hitting in Japan as well as destroying huge areas in Jap cities,” he said. “The Japanese Navy, if any still exists, will be completely powerless. Our sea action and air power will have cut Jap reinforcement capabilities from the mainland to negligible proportions.” Any delay past November 1 could force a further delay of up to six months due to winter weather, he explained.
The general then discussed what could be expected in casualties. The United States had suffered roughly 20,000 casualties (killed, wounded, missing) in the invasion of Iwo Jima, against an estimated 25,000 Japanese (killed and taken prisoner, for there was no way to even guess how many were wounded). In Okinawa—the fiercest fought ground battle of the Far East war, and one in which the U.S. forces were on the brink of declaring victory—the Americans had suffered 34,000 army and 7,700 navy casualties, against 81,000 Japanese (the latter number being “not a complete count,” according to the military statisticians). U.S. casualties in the first thirty days of the Normandy invasion had been 42,000. There was no way to estimate the number of casualties expected in the invasion of mainland Japan, but Marshall did say this: “It is a grim fact that there is not an easy, bloodless way to victory in war and it is the thankless task of the leaders to maintain their firm outward front which holds the resolution of their subordinates.”
Marshall was convinced that “every individual moving to the Pacific should be indoctrinated with a firm determination to see [the invasion] through.” He put the number of troops required for the operation at 766,700. The invasion plan was as follows: (1) to have the Russians attack the Japanese occupying Manchuria in China; (2) to “vitalize the Chinese” with air support and supplies so they could handle the Japanese occupying other parts of their country; and (3) all of which would allow the Americans—with British aid—to go after mainland Japan.
Truman went around the room and heard not a single dissent.
09 December 2019
From The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months That Changed the World, by A. J. Baime (HMH Books, 2017), Kindle pp. 140-142:
At 10:30 a.m., dozens filed into the Oval Office for Truman’s first press conference. Standing behind his desk, he greeted reporters as they pushed into the room, which quickly grew uncomfortably crowded. Regular presidential press conferences were a tradition going back to Woodrow Wilson, who on March 15, 1913, set a precedent of welcoming newspaper reporters into his office to answer questions. Roosevelt had held two a week and had elevated these meetings to high art. Wielding his cigarette holder as if conducting an orchestra, he would deliver soliloquies that would entrance his guests, while almost always failing on purpose to answer any question posed.
On April 17 the largest crowd ever assembled for a presidential press conference pushed into the Oval Office—348 men and women reporters—all aiming to size up the new chief executive. Some were forced to stand on the terrace outside the president’s office—lucky ones, because the room got exceedingly hot.
“Good morning,” Truman said, “good morning.”
“Good morning, Mr. President,” someone in the crowd said. “Will you take it sort of slow for us today, please, sir?”
“Surely, surely,” Truman said. “Anything I can do to accommodate you.”
No one in the room could help making comparisons to Roosevelt. For one thing, this president was standing up. “We all knew that Roosevelt had gone to Groton and then Harvard,” recalled White House correspondent Robert Nixon, who was getting his first crack at Truman that morning. “That [Roosevelt] came from a quite old, well-to-do family; that he moved in what is known as the best circles all of his life . . . Truman was a small town, Midwestern Missourian of farm origin . . . The contrast was in appearance, voice mannerisms, and even their attire. President Roosevelt, while a casual dresser, was very well tailored . . . Truman dressed like he had just come off of Main Street in Independence.”
The new president called for attention. “The first thing I want to do to you is to read the rules,” he said. After telling the reporters what they already knew—everything he said was background material, no direct quotes were allowed unless there was specific permission—he began by announcing that most of the Roosevelt staff would stay on, and that Matthew Connelly had been appointed his confidential secretary. Truman read a letter aloud from Mrs. Roosevelt, thanking everyone for their wishes, “which have brought great comfort and consolation to all of us.” Due to the wartime paper shortage, Mrs. Roosevelt would not be responding to all correspondence. Instead, she had asked Truman to read her thank-you letter to the press.
Truman then opened the floor. He answered questions about reciprocal trade, race relations, the wartime ban on horseracing, and the historic United Nations Conference set to open in eight days.
“Mr. President,” said one reporter in the crowd. “Will Mrs. Truman have a press conference?”
“I would rather not answer that question at this time.”
At numerous moments Truman delivered witticisms that sparked laughter in the room. The Missourian had a simple way of speaking that amused his counterparts in the press. He whittled his ideas down to the fewest words and handed them over. Unlike Roosevelt, Truman actually answered questions, and if he chose not to, he said just that.
“His first press conferences were wonderful,” noted press secretary Daniels. At the end of this first one, something happened that had never occurred in any of Roosevelt’s meetings with the press: the room erupted in spontaneous applause.
04 December 2019
From The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months That Changed the World, by A. J. Baime (HMH Books, 2017), Kindle pp. 49-50:
For years, John Anderson Truman had taken his family to Jackson County town picnics to hear local politicians speak. “Politics is all he ever advises me to neglect the farm for,” Harry wrote Bess. Harry had studied the lives of all the American presidents. His hero was Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States (1829–1837) and the founder of the Democratic Party, for whom Jackson County, Missouri, was named. Jackson’s adventures in war and politics made his life story read like an adventure novel. “I have been tossed upon the waves of fortune,” Jackson famously said. He was the first American president to come from the common people—people like the Trumans. “If Andrew Jackson can be President, anybody can!” was a common quip of Jackson’s day.
In the fall of 1912 the presidential election was the talk of the Truman dinner table for weeks. Not in Truman’s lifetime had an election been so bitterly fought. A schism tore apart the Republican Party. The incumbent president, William Howard Taft, had won the nomination, leading a humiliated Republican opponent, Theodore Roosevelt, to strike out independently. With his newly created Bull Moose Party, his magnanimity, and his wild oratory style, Theodore Roosevelt riveted Americans. The Democrat Woodrow Wilson had only two years of political experience, and none in national politics. Less than a month before the election, a would-be assassin fired a gunshot into Theodore Roosevelt’s chest, the bullet passing through the pages of a speech he was about to give. With the bullet lodged less than an inch from his heart, he delivered the speech, then went to the hospital and survived. Two weeks later Vice President James Sherman died, leaving the Republican Taft with no running mate.
“Nobody talks anything but election,” Harry wrote Bess on November 6, the day after the contest, which Wilson won, becoming the twenty-eighth president of the United States. The brutality of this election made Truman philosophical about his future and politics itself, especially when his father threw his hat in the ring, running and winning the local office of road overseer.
“Politics sure is the ruination of many a good man,” Harry wrote Bess. “Between hot air and graft he usually loses not only his head but his money and friends as well. Still, if I were rich I’d just as soon spend my money buying votes and offices as yachts and autos. Success seems to me to be merely a point of view anyway . . .
“To succeed financially,” Harry concluded, “a man can’t have any heart. To succeed politically he must be an egotist or a fool or a ward boss tool.”
02 December 2019
From The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months That Changed the World, by A. J. Baime (HMH Books, 2017), Kindle pp. 25-26:
In the Capitol, Truman headed through the long hallways, past the eight-foot statue of Benjamin Franklin, and down a marble staircase to Rayburn’s office, which was affectionately nicknamed “the Board of Education.” Truman arrived at about 5:05 p.m. There the Speaker of the House, “Mr. Sam,” was chatting with a couple of other guests. Here in this office, congressmen gathered to “strike a blow for liberty”—to drink whiskey. When asked why the room was called the Board of Education, Rayburn liked to say: “I guess some fellahs have been educated down there.”
Rayburn handed Truman his drink of choice—bourbon and water—then told him that a call had just come in for him, from Steve Early in the White House. Truman picked up the phone and dialed.
“This is the VP,” he said.
In a strained voice, Early ordered Truman to come to the White House “as quickly and quietly” as possible, and to use the main Pennsylvania Avenue entrance. Rayburn was watching Truman at this moment. “He is kind of a pale fellow . . . and he got a little paler,” Rayburn recalled.
Truman hung up. “Jesus Christ and General Jackson!” he said. He turned to Sam Rayburn. “Steve Early wants me at the White House immediately,” he said. He made for the door, and with his hand on the knob, he turned and said, “Boys, this is in this room. Something must have happened.”
The vice president walked out the door, then broke into a run. The Capitol hallways were nearly empty by this time, and Truman’s footsteps on the marble floor echoed through the corridors. He made it to his office in the Senate building quickly and out of breath. He grabbed his hat. “[I] told my office force that I’d been summoned to the White House and to say nothing about it,” he later wrote.
Outside it had begun to rain again. Truman found his chauffeur, Tom Harty, and off they went in the Mercury state car with no secret service detail. They arrived at the White House “in almost nothing flat,” Truman recalled, motoring through the Northwest Gate. Ushers greeted the vice president at the door, bowing and taking his hat. They led him upstairs via an elevator to the First Lady’s private study, where Truman found Mrs. Roosevelt, her daughter and son-in-law Anna and John Boettiger, and Stephen Early, sitting quietly. The First Lady approached Truman and put her arm around his shoulder.
“Harry,” she said, “the president is dead.”
Four words raced through Truman’s mind: The lightning has struck! “I was fighting off tears,” he later recalled. “It was the only time in my life I think that I ever felt like I’d had a real shock. I had hurried to the White House to see the president and when I arrived I found I was the president. No one in the history of our country ever had it happen to him just that way.”
He gathered himself. “Is there anything I can do for you?” he asked the First Lady.
“Is there anything we can do for you,” Eleanor Roosevelt answered. “For you are the one in trouble now.”
01 December 2019
From Dawn Like Thunder (Annotated): The Barbary Wars and the Birth of the U.S. Navy, by Glenn Tucker (Corsair Books, 2019), Kindle Loc. c. 8150ff:
When the American fleet was released from the patrol off Tripoli by Lear’s peace treaty, [Commodore] Rodgers showed his power to Bey Hamouda Pacha at Tunis.
He dispatched the Congress and the Vixen and followed with the Constitution, Constellation, Essex, John Adams, Siren, Nautilus, Franklin, Enterprise, Hornet, and part of the flotilla of gunboats which were now arriving from the United States; sixteen sail in all....
They made an imposing sight when they rounded Cape Bon and stood into Tunis Bay on August 1, 1805.
Then Rodgers wrote a letter asking the Bey if he wanted peace or war and giving him the generous time of thirty-six hours in which to reply....
The Bey now refused to receive Decatur, whom Rodgers sent ashore, and the Captain started back to the ship. The Bey told Davis that Rodgers’ letter amounted to a declaration of war. But Bey Hamouda Pacha had no appetite for the big guns of the frigates anchored off his city, and on quick reflection he sent a messenger to Rodgers in such hot haste that he reached the waterfront ahead of Decatur and got a conciliatory reply to the Commodore before Decatur could report how he had been snubbed.
Lear eventually went ashore to assist Davis in the negotiations, but he could not have put any indemnities or weasel clauses into this arrangement even had he desired because Rodgers was watching. To the Bey’s complaint that the entire American fleet had descended on him, Rodgers gave assurance it was not so, because a frigate, a brig, eight gunboats, and two mortar boats had not yet arrived.
Davis wrote to Rodgers suggesting a suspension of any hostilities until a communication could be had with the President of the United States.
That was not Rodgers’ way of doing business. He replied that unless Bey Hamouda gave a guarantee of the maintenance of peace and signed it in the presence of the British and French consuls, he would seal the port so tight that nothing could get in or out. Then Rodgers sent a copy of the wording he wanted in the guarantee. Lear and the Bey went into a round of letter-writing during which Rodgers’ patience was wearing thin. In a letter of August 15 he declared that the Bey must give a guarantee of peace and then he could send an ambassador to Washington to treat if he desired.
Then Rodgers let loose to Lear an opinion about this petty tyrant: “His prevaricating with you in particular, induces me to believe, that he is now more than ever the Scoundrel, I had thought him before, and I have only to repeat, that if he does not do all that is necessary, & proper, that even at the risk of my Conducts being disapproved by my Country, he shall feel the Vengeance of the Squadron now in his Bay.”
In the face of such force and persistency Bey Hamouda capitulated. He gave notice that the United States would be placed on a most-favored-nation basis and that he would send an ambassador to the United States to deal with any complaints. Rodgers answered cordially, said he had a frigate returning, and asked to have the ambassador make ready at once.
The ambassador was Sidi Suliman Mellimelli, who sailed with Decatur on the Congress, and was to become a startling figure, during the winter of 1805-1806, in the American capital where he lived luxuriously at the expense of the American government and pressed a claim for tribute and indemnity.
Decatur carried a letter from Rodgers to Secretary Smith, saying of the Bey of Tunis that if his late hostility should be overlooked, “I can with almost certainty say that he will never again attempt to behave in a similar manner.”
Mellimelli took four beautiful Arabian stud horses with him as a gift to President Jefferson, one having been a gift to the Bey from the Dey of Algiers. The scrupulous Jefferson would not accept them for himself but the Treasury sold them as part payment of Mellimelli’s expenses. But first they were kept in the President’s stables and the stud fees went to the collector of revenues.
The ambassador was accompanied by a suite of eleven, including an Italian band. He was short on women, for whom he had a ravenous appetite. The prim little Secretary of State Madison had to have concubines supplied at public expense, and wrote about it later, saying: “Appropriations to foreign intercourse are terms of great latitude and may be drawn on by very urgent and unforeseen occurrences.”
Madison never lacked the ability of choice expression. Mellimelli did not know the tightness of the American farmer-congressman. He was unable to exact a single coin from Congress or Secretary Gallatin, but the more freehanded Lear did make an adjustment with the Bey two years later by paying $10,000.
After much difficulty and some revolts among his followers, Mellimelli, whose main argument for tribute appeared to be that he would likely be killed if he returned without it, was packed off home in a ship from Boston. The United States continued its payments of tribute to Algiers through the years, but learned what other powers had long known, that it was best to be in arrears.
17 November 2019
From Dawn Like Thunder (Annotated): The Barbary Wars and the Birth of the U.S. Navy, by Glenn Tucker (Corsair Books, 2019), Kindle Loc. 5043ff:
YEARS AFTER THE TRIPOLITAN War, Stephen Decatur, commander of the United States, would send the flag of the British frigate Macedonian to Dolley Madison by a young lieutenant, the son of Paul Anderson, Secretary of the Navy at the beginning of the War of 1812. When the lieutenant, arriving during the Naval Ball of the Christmas festivities of 1812, laid the trophy at her feet, the usually self-controlled Dolley, the center of warmth and witticisms, conceded that she blushed like a schoolgirl. The reason has never been well explained.
But one is privileged to believe it was because the enemy standard had been sent to her by one of the most intrepid and certainly the most handsome officer of the U.S. Navy, whose physical strength and virility were in such contrast, as the bewitchingly feminine Dolley must have observed, to the frail delicacy of her beloved but diminutive Jimmy Madison, the President. If Dolley was not stirred by Decatur’s magnetism she was different from virtually all other women who met him, and most men also, because few could be indifferent to this graceful, athletic officer whose broad shoulders, slim waist, curly brown hair and warm, dancing brown eyes, usually tender in conversation but alert and piercing under the excitement of action, made him distinguished physically in nearly any gathering.
His biographers—and quite a number have written of him in sympathetic and none in disparaging vein—seem to agree that he drew the notice of ladies wherever he appeared, and the allurement went much beyond the appeal of the resplendent naval uniform of the day; while the seamen and others who kept journals dealt with him in terms ranging from admiration to reverence.
Said Marine Private Ray: “The intrepid Decatur is as proverbial among sailors, for the good treatment of his men, as he is for his valour. Not a tar, who ever sailed with Decatur, but would almost sacrifice his life for him.”
There was something more mystical about Decatur than his vivid personality and the stimulating glow of his presence, for when he married Susan Wheeler, daughter of Luke Wheeler, wealthy merchant and Mayor of Norfolk, Virginia, his union was with a young lady who had fallen in love with him desperately before she had ever seen him, merely from looking at an Italian miniature of him.
And it was characteristic of his devotion to the United States and to its naval service that he told the beautiful girl, when he proposed, that he had already made vows to his flag which had precedence, because if not steadfast to it, he would not then be worthy of her. Somewhere along the line he had read Richard Lovelace.