Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
By Julie Carr Smyth for AP News
September 13, 2020
The grandson of U.S. President Warren G. Harding and his lover, Nan Britton, went to court in an effort to get the Republican’s remains exhumed from the presidential memorial where they have lain since 1927.
James Blaesing told an Ohio court that he is seeking Harding’s disinterment as a way “to establish with scientific certainty” that he is the 29th president’s blood relation.
The dispute looms as benefactors prepare to mark the centennial of Harding’s 1920 election with site upgrades and a new presidential center in Marion, the Ohio city near which he was born in 1865. Blaesing says he deserves to “have his story, his mother’s story and his grandmother’s story included within the hallowed halls and museums in this town.”
A branch of the Harding family has pushed back against the suit filed in May — not because they dispute Blaesing’s ancestry, but because they don’t.
They argue they already have accepted as fact DNA evidence that Blaesing’s mother, Elizabeth Ann Blaesing, was the daughter of Harding and Britton and that she is set to be acknowledged in the museum. Harding had no other children.
“Sadly, widespread, public recognition and acceptance by the descendants, historians, and biographers (and Mr. Blaesing himself) that Mr. Blaesing is President Harding’s grandson is not enough for him,” relatives said in a court filing. They called the lawsuit a ploy for attention.
In 2015, a match between James Blaesing’s DNA and that of two Harding descendants prompted AncestryDNA, a DNA-testing division of Ancestry.com, to declare his link to the president official.
At the time, Blaesing told The Associated Press he was delighted. Five years later, he tells the AP his mother’s legacy as the daughter of a U.S. president is shaping up to be little more than a footnote in the new museum. He has not been approached to provide details of her life or even a photograph for the coming display, he said.
“I did the test and we brought it to the public in 2015. It’s now 2020 and no one has asked me one thing,” he said in a telephone interview. “I’m not a part of anything. Nothing. My brothers, myself, no one. We’re invisible. They’re treating us just like they treated my grandmother.”
Blaesing said he is hopeful that a match directly to the president’s own DNA would change that.
Ironically, it was a pair of Harding’s known relatives — grandnephew Peter Harding and grandniece Abigail Harding — who first reached out to the Blaesing family in 2011 to end speculation about Harding having a child out of wedlock.
Before that, “doubt and mystery shrouded the paternal lineage of Elizabeth Blaesing for almost 100 years,” family members, not including Peter and Abigail Harding, explained to the court.
According to court filings, Peter Harding’s interest was sparked by reading “The President’s Daughter,” Britton’s 1927 book, “and concluding that the man described in its pages resembled the author of love letters written to Ms. Carrie Phillips.” The Library of Congress opened those letters between Harding and Phillips, another lover, to the public in 2014.
Ohio History Connection, which manages the Harding home and memorial, takes no position on the family dispute. Spokesperson Emmy Beach said the nonprofit accepts the 2015 DNA results “as fact” and plans a section of the new museum “on Harding’s relationship with Nan Britton and their daughter, Elizabeth Ann Blaesing.”
However, Ohio History Connection has told the court it must consider a host of issues before disrupting the Harding Memorial’s sealed sarcophagus.
The crypt also holds the remains of first lady Florence Kling Harding in another sarcophagus, and the nonprofit argues her relatives deserve a say. Further, to protect the site, the nonprofit said it will have to employ experts to assure the president’s body could be disinterred and reinterred without damaging the tomb, a striking white marble temple encircled with Doric columns.
The openings of the renovated historic sites in Marion and of the Warren G. Harding Presidential Center have been indefinitely delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Beach said. She said the disinterment request has not affected the timetable.
The Grateful American Foundation Remembers Everyone who was Injured or Perished in 9/11.
Never Forget Them.
My mother was 15 years old in 1920, when the 19th Amendment became a part of our Constitution. Yet, it seems that this monumental event had little impact on her.
Mother grew up in east Texas, during the Great Depression. She often told my siblings and me that she and her mother had nothing. They were able to get work in a sewing room through one of Roosevelt’s New Deal Programs. While she knew hard times firsthand, she came to revere President Franklin D. Roosevelt for giving her a job, and a sense of dignity.
The years passed, but the sense of male domination stayed with her. As a child, I remember our family gatherings; there would be a big evening meal, and after it was over, the women and girls would clear the dishes off the table and make coffee. Then, the women would tell all of us children to leave the room with them. “It’s time to let the men folks talk and drink their coffee,” they said.
In 1960, I distributed posters for the Kennedy/Johnson ticket, but I was not quite old enough to vote under Texas law; in those days you had to be twenty-one. Even though the 1960 Kennedy/Nixon Presidential election was full of excitement, mother refused to vote. Her reply was always the same: “The men folks should vote. Women folks should not.”
Then, mother changed!
Upon my graduation from Baylor University in 1963, I was fortunate to secure a summer job with my local congressman — in his Washington office! Of course, he was up for re-election 1964, along with President Lyndon Johnson. Mother understood that the election meant something to me, her eldest child. At long last, my siblings and I succeeded in persuading her to vote that year.
I still remember her wonderful smile after she cast her very first vote at age 60.
She was to vote in every other election until she died.
Remembering how my mother came to vote, reminds me that simply modifying the law and amending the Constitution are not guarantees of change. Women got the right to vote a hundred years ago, but my mother still lived under what had been.
Slavery was abolished by the Constitution, and Civil Rights and Voting Rights laws were enacted. Yet the struggle to implement these landmark achievements is still in process. It has taken too long, but I think as time goes by, we will see change, after change, after change.
You see, it took time, but mother went to the polls.
Mr. West consults about political and environmental issues.
The Grateful American Foundation Wishes Everyone a Restful Labor Day.
From The New York Times – Aug. 17, 2020
Text by Jennifer Harlan
Introduction by Veronica Chambers, Jennifer Harlan and Jennifer Schuessler
On May 18, 1915, crowds streamed into the Polo Grounds in Manhattan to watch the New York Giants take on the Chicago Cubs. But beyond the diamond, a bigger contest was brewing.
The state of New York was gearing up to hold a referendum, putting the question of women’s suffrage to its (all-male) electorate. Supporters of the cause organized a “suffrage day” game, luring potential voters with the offer of a piece of chocolate cake with every ticket purchased at their headquarters. They festooned the stadium with yellow banners and printed baseball-themed fliers, with exhortations like “Fans, Fair Play” and “Make a Home Run for Suffrage.”
Everybody, The New York Times noted, “had a ‘lovely’ time.” But the festive mood would fizzle out come November: The men of New York rejected the suffrage measure, and its women would have to work another two years for the right to vote.
Votes for women was a demand that was both radical and all-American. And the nearly century-long history of how women won that right is as colorful and kaleidoscopic as it is complicated and almost impossible to sum up.
Those who fought for it were heroes, but not always moral paragons. The suffrage movement, like other social movements before and after, often reflected the racism, nativism and other prejudices that pervaded America as a whole.
At the heart of the suffrage battle was a conundrum: Women gaining the vote required persuading men to share it with them. And there were many who dismissed the cause as ridiculous, if not downright dangerous.
“The benefits of woman suffrage are almost wholly imaginary,” The Times declared in 1913, in one of a long string of anti-suffrage editorials. “Its penalties will be real and hard to bear.”
To combat such attitudes, suffragists used every weapon in the arsenal, from petitions and speeches to pins, parades and attention-grabbing stunts. The rise of the movement coincided with the birth of photography, and the suffragists deployed the medium to put human faces on their struggle. “They knew how to build a visual identity,” the historian Susan Ware said, “and use it for a political purpose.”
The fight for the vote was the fight for democracy. No history can sum it all up. But these images help bring into focus how the largest enfranchisement in American history came to pass, and the generations of women who made it happen.
This is the fourth part of a continuing series of blog posts with author David Bruce Smith about Abigail and John Adams. Historic Deerfield’s resident historians will pose questions to Smith, who is the author of Abigail & John, a nonfiction children’s book that offers readers the opportunity to view prominent scenes in American history through the remarkable lives of one of the country’s most beloved couples—the Adams’s. Exploring the historical significance of a partnership that spanned over five decades, the book details the love they shared for each other and the country. We hope this blog can be a helpful historical resource for learners of all ages.
1. While the Adams’s may have been our first “power couple” and famous for it, did either John or Abigail have other love interests over their long lives?
Before there was an Abigail, John was in love with the “witty, flirtatious”, Hannah Quincy. He was poised to propose to her in the late 1750s, but their “moment” was hijacked by his friends. (Journal of the American Revolution.)
Eventually, the romance ended–she was swooped up by another bachelor–and the 24-year-old Adams catapulted into a catch—of sorts. Though he was capon-shaped and prematurely bald, John had other attributes; he had already garnered accolades for his legal skills in Braintree and beyond.
When John met Abigail at fifteen, she was petite and dark-eyed; the daughter of William Smith, a well-to-do farmer and minister, who, according to Adams, was nothing more than a “…crafty, designing man”.
Their clumsy introduction in the pastor’s parlor was orchestrated by Richard Cranch—John’s best friend–who happened to be courting–and later married– Abigail’s older sister, Mary.
At first, Abigail was not titillated, tantalized, or thrilled with John; that night, he noted in his diary that Abigail [was lacking] in “fondness and Tenderness.”
(“The Adams Papers, Earliest Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, June 1753-April 1754, September 1758-January 1759, 1-42.)
When Reverend Smith hired Adams, his casual contacts with Abigail morphed into kinetic conversations; eventually, they discovered similar interests, and—slowly–their relationship was repositioned into a romance.
Meanwhile, the snobbish Elizabeth Smith, was aghast. She did not approve of John Adams; after all, the town of Quincy had been named in honor of her father—a colonel; a former forty-year Speaker of the Massachusetts Assembly, and—now—her daughter wanted to wed a farmer’s son.
Abigail and John were married on October 25, 1764, with Reverend Smith officiating.
In a union that produced five children, three lived unhappily into adulthood, and one soared to the presidency; throughout it all, Abigail was John’s steadfast, strategic advisor; lover, confidante, partner—and–his “Miss Adorable”. And while her “My Dearest Friend” traversed the world proffering patriotism, participation, and peace, they exchanged more than a thousand letters. But, without her steady, soothing strength guiding him through his manic moods from afar, John Adams would have never scaled the White House:
“There are few people in this world with whom I can converse. I can treat all with decency and civility, and converse with them when it is necessary, on points of business. But I am never happy in their company…I am in ear-nest [sic]. I cannot be happy, nor tolerable without you.” (ibid., p. 4).
Until the family’s 1784 reunification in Paris, Abigail had never traveled outside of Boston. She was grounded at Peacefield, their farm in Quincy, tending to chickens and livestock in calamitous cold, and hellish heat; milking cows, laboring in the fields, tutoring the children, and taking the sometimes-deadly smallpox inoculation.
There is little doubt that the principles that Abigail and John promoted, helped to position America’s vigorous democracy. They were a powerful couple, who usually worked from two different locations, but the future President and Mrs. Madison—operating from the same place—emerged as the nation’s first “Power Duo”.
John was the absolute, consuming love of Abigail’s life; however, if she ever had a “forbidden” fantasy, then the complex, conniving, cad—Thomas Jefferson—was probably the only one who could have filled that space, and—briefly—raised her temperature.
Abigail and John had befriended Jefferson after his wife’s 1782 death; two years later, the trio reunited in Paris. Now diplomats, Jefferson greased the Adams’s entree into sophisticated society, and a scintillating swirl of soirees.
While John worked, Abigail and Jefferson bred a separate friendship based on unearthed, mutual interests in ornamental gardens, an appreciation of the beautiful music made by songbirds, and their children. Martha Jefferson; Nabby and John Quincy, were friends.
It was period of happiness for the two families–until their peaceful pause was pitched. John was ordered to report to the Court of St James in London, and the dejected Abigail wrote her uncle, Cotton Tufts:
“I shall regreet…the loss of Mr. Jefferson’s society.”
(Adams Family Correspondence; April 26, 1785)
Abigail, John, and Jefferson remained friends. During George Washington’s first term, Adams was vice president, and Jefferson was appointed Secretary of State. But, when Adams defeated Jefferson in the 1796 presidential election, Jefferson’s loyalties lagged; though he was dissatisfied with the vice presidency, [the first and only time a presidential ticket consisted of two parties] Adams still anticipated an agreeable working arrangement; instead, Jefferson ramped up his rigidity, and discarded his desire to compromise on prickly political issues.
Always on the lurk for an advantageous angle, Jefferson choreographed an elaborate campaign to jettison Adams from the presidency. He hired James Callendar, a scandalmonger, to write a piece that accused Adams of being a crazy warmonger who planned to crown himself king.
Wielding the hefty powers of the Alien and Sedition Acts, Adams prosecuted Callendar, and tossed him into jail, but the public believed in the credible propaganda, and pivoted against their president. Jefferson defeated Adams, and they escaped Washington before the Inaugural ceremonies began.
Abigail and John were furious; they exiled Jefferson from their lives until they learned that Polly—his daughter, and their beloved charge in Paris—had died in childbirth. Abigail wrote Jefferson to express her sympathies; he acknowledged her note, and then trespassed, dangerously, by blaming John, again, for appointing the “Midnight Judges” –three years earlier–in 1801:
With asp-like anger, Abigail walloped him with her words:
“The Constitution empowers the president to fill up offices as they become vacant. It was in the exercise of this power that appointments were made…characters selected whom Mr. Adams considered…faithful to the Constitution…the different political opinions which have so unhappily dividing [sic] our Country, must have given rise to the idea, that personal unkindness was intended…You will please to [to] recollect Sir, that at the time the appointments were made, there was not any certainty that the presidency would devolve upon you.”
(“Abigail Adams and Thomas Jefferson: A Secret Correspondence” from Emerging Revolutionary War Era, p. 3)
Jefferson got 26,000 letters in his lifetime, but this was considered the angriest of all.
2. What was John and Abigail’s position on slavery at the time of the Revolution, and the creation of the new Massachusetts State Constitution, and in the new nation?
John Adams was raised in a family that loathed slavery:
“I have, through my whole life, held the practice…in such abhorrence, that I have never owned a negro or any other slave; though I have lived for many years in times, when the practice was not disgraceful, when the best men in my vicinity thought it not inconsistent with their character…” (John Adams, Wikipedia; p. 29.)
Abigail did not come from an abolitionist-pure milieu. Her father, Reverend William Smith, owned slaves, but when she married John, the option was eliminated.
In the beginning, the couple hired servants for their homes in Massachusetts, but eventually Abigail—activist-like—became more disturbed over the widespread injustice of servitude. She called it a sin, and “…wondered if disease and war were God’s way of punishing America for committing acts of slavery.”
Abigail discussed her feelings with John; urged him to deliver her opinions to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, but he knew the fifty-five representatives—almost all slave owners—were assembled only to draft an acceptable Declaration of Independence. That coterie had no interest in emancipation, and that included George Washington.
By 1789, Vice President Adams was at the beginning of his career apex. Gradually, his position on slavery got confused, contradictory, and out of focus. Some of the simplicity in their lives vaporized, and suddenly, various households had to be set up, dismantled, and managed as he and Abigail hopscotched from Philadelphia to New York, and—then–Washington.
Unlike George and Martha Washington, who owned their staff, the Adams’s had to piece together a whole new infrastructure each time they were relocated:
“In each city, they [the Adams’s] formed an official household, hosted family members, welcomed guests, and hired a staff of servants to maintain the home… Adams did not own enslaved people. Instead, the Adamses [sic] hired white and free African American workers to provide these services. However, that did not mean that they avoided slavery altogether. While the Adamses [sic] opposed slavery both morally and politically, they tolerated the practice in their daily lives and they may have hired out enslaved African Americans, paying wages to their owners, to work in the Vice President’s and President’s house.”
(“The Households of President John Adams” by Lindsay M. Chervinsky; White House Historian, pp. 1-7).
Domestic duties daunted and drained Abigail; in 1790, she wrote her sister from Philadelphia, complaining about her endless quandary with help. She had hired and fired seven cooks in a year and a half, but most of them turned out to be drunks.
Surviving records do not reveal much about their domestic staff in Washington, except that Abigail and John had a “complicated relationship with race, slavery, and workers in their homes. At times, Abigail was condescending and racist: “I cannot find a cook in the whole city but what will get drunk, and as to the Negroes—I am sincerely sick of them.” (ibid).
Historic Deerfield’s Blog about Abigail & John, Part 1 >
Historic Deerfield‘s Blog About Abigail and John, Part 2 >
Historic Deerfield’s Blog about Abigail & John, Part 3 >
Historic Deerfield’s Blog about Abigail & John, Part 4 >
Read more posts from David Bruce Smith on Historic Deerfield’s website >
More information about Abigail & John and the Grateful American Book Series >
Whether it’s via their tone, topic, or tenor, certain works just say “America.” Here is one such title, suggested by Grateful American Book Prize judge Dr. Neme Alperstein, a teacher of gifted and talented students in the New York City Public Schools system:
“Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation” by Joseph J. Ellis. In this lively, riveting work, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ellis explores the triumphs and stumbles of Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, and John Adams as they endeavored to build — and maintain — a functioning democracy.
Patriotic Picks is a monthly feature in partnership with the Washington Independent Review of Books.
George Washington was a slaveholder.
For some Americans, this is reason enough to exclude our first president from the national pantheon.
According to one poll, 18 percent of respondents believe he should be removed from Mount Rushmore. Others expressed themselves by defacing or toppling Washington statues.
Are these critics right?
On the surface, it might seem so. American slavery was inexpressibly gruesome. Accounts from the time reveal the horrors of enslaved African-Americans being separated from their families, violently beaten, routinely raped by their owners, subjected to monotonous, backbreaking labor, and forced to live in filthy dwellings with no hope for improvement.
This was reality for millions of American blacks.
Washington benefited from slavery his entire life. He bought and sold slaves and sought to reacquire runaways. These facts are undeniable.
Does this make Washington, as a New York Times columnist states, a “monster”?
This critique fails to account for the specifics of Washington’s personal journey. Within the tragic reality of his owning slaves lies a unique and unexpected story.
Like his fellow southerners, Washington was born into a society that accepted slavery. It is true he expressed no qualms about the institution until the American Revolution, but once he did, an extraordinary transformation began.
The earliest change perhaps can be detected in Washington’s correspondence with Phillis Wheatley, an African-American poet who had composed verses dedicated to him. Washington wrote to her in 1776 praising her “great poetical Talents” and expressing his desire for a meeting. The request broke strict etiquette between slaveholders and black people.
Their correspondence highlights something Washington understood about African-Americans lost upon his contemporaries: their abilities and humanity. Compare Washington’s reference to Wheatley’s “genius,” with Jefferson’s harsh assessment that her poems “are beneath the dignity of criticism.”
Many of Washington’s closest associates during the war opposed slavery, such as Alexander Hamilton and Lafayette. These individuals inclined Washington against the institution. Perhaps the greatest influence, however, were the many black people that served courageously during the war.
After the Revolution, Washington began to speak of slavery in moral terms. He pondered ways to provide slaves with “a destiny different from that in which they were born.” He hoped such actions, if consummated, would please “the justice of the Creator.”
Washington freed his slaves at his death—but this raises two questions: first, why didn’t he do so in his lifetime, and second, why didn’t he speak against slavery publicly?
First, we must note that Washington detested breaking up slave families, making it a policy not to do so. He realized, however, that freeing his slaves might make family breakups inevitable. Most of the slaves at his estate, Mount Vernon, belonged to his wife Martha’s family, the Custises, which meant he couldn’t legally free them. At Mount Vernon, Custis and Washington family slaves often intermarried. The Custis heirs regularly sold slaves, breaking up their families. Washington knew that if he liberated his slaves, some in the slave families would be free while the others would remain enslaved in Custis hands, vulnerable to being sold (which eventually happened).
Mary V. Thompson’s excellent book The Only Unavoidable Subject of Regret recounts that, as president, Washington developed elaborate plans to emancipate his slaves. Secret letters to family friend David Stuart reveal Washington trying to convince the Custis heirs to join him in manumitting their slaves together, preserving the families, and hiring them out to tenant farmers. Unfortunately, talks with potential tenants fell through. Washington continued to agonize over a situation where emancipation meant separating black family members.
Second, we must note, while many founders were antislavery, several sought—threatening disunion—to protect the institution, such as South Carolina’s John Rutledge. This left antislavery founders in a difficult situation. They believed the nation could win independence, initiate a risky experiment in self-government, and survive in a dangerous world (threatened by predatory British, Spanish, and, later, French, empires) only by uniting the strength of every state into one union. This necessitated compromises with slave states during the founding, most notably in the Constitution.
Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Joseph Ellis believes these concessions were necessary, writing “one could have a nation with slavery, or one could not have a nation.” African-American leader Frederick Douglass saw the utility of the union the founders crafted, compromises included, arguing that, if the states separated, northern antislavery forces could less effectively influence southern slavery.
Washington believed slavery was so divisive that it threatened the nation’s existence, potentially ending any hope of liberty for all Americans. He had good reason to believe this—during his presidency, an antislavery petition signed by Benjamin Franklin provoked much southern outrage.
Washington couldn’t find a satisfactory solution to slavery in life, but he sought to do so upon death. In his will, he ordered that his slaves be freed, the young be taught to read and write and to learn certain trades, and the orphaned and elderly slaves be provided for permanently. He forbade selling any slave “under any pretense whatsoever.”
These were revolutionary acts—educating slaves threatened the entire system. It revealed Washington’s belief that black people could succeed if given the chance. Again, compare this to Thomas Jefferson who once said they were “inferior to whites in endowments both of body and mind.” Jefferson and other Americans, including Abraham Lincoln, believed the two races couldn’t coexist and that the answer was to recolonize African-Americans abroad. Washington never supported these ideas and his will reveals he envisioned black people thriving alongside whites in America.
George Washington’s achievements are well known—winning independence, presiding over the Constitutional Convention, and serving as the first president. While we cannot ignore his participation in slavery, we shouldn’t discount his remarkable transformation into someone who wished for its abolition and took steps personally to make things right, becoming the only major founder to free his slaves.
We can acknowledge Washington’s monumental victories for liberty while recognizing his personal struggle with slavery. In this time of national angst, Washington’s story helps us understand how the same country that once held humans in bondage can also be the world’s greatest beacon of freedom.
Richard Lim is the co-founder and host of the This American President podcast.