Wanted: A Husband for the Queen–Queen Victoria and Prince Albert

As Queen of England, Victoria was expected to produce an heir. Soon after her coronation in 1837 a search for a husband started. Since the Queen of England ruled in her own right, finding a husband presented some unique issues since there was really no precedent. Queen Elizabeth I ruled alone but never married. In the end Victoria chose her German cousin on her mother’s side. He became known in England as Prince Albert.

The extraordinary circumstances of their marriage were no doubt helped by the fact that Victoria and Albert were very much in love with each other. Prince Albert soon carved out his own role beside Victoria. He served as her private secretary and closest advisor. He often stood in for her when she was feeling particularly unwell during one of her nine pregnancies. Albert also influenced Victoria with his interest in science and technology. As a result the queen remained a patron of both throughout her reign.

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The Marriage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Feb. 1840

Husband and wife and their nine children made for quite a happy family. Though it has been said that Victoria did not like children, this was mostly true of children six months of age and younger. Like most women, she did not enjoy the experience of childbirth. In contrast to Victoria, Albert liked the company of very small children. The Queen admitted that Albert made a better nurse than she did after the birth of their first child and later reminded her daughter “dear Papa always directed our nursery and I believe that none was ever better.”

Victoria had many photographs and portraits made of her and her family, although she was often away on official business. Neither mother nor father could spend as much time with the children as they would’ve liked, but this was common among wealthy British families. Both parents took a keen interest and concern in their children’s education. They tended to stay away from the traditional clerics and selected more liberal tutors.

Albert and Victoria’s personalities also balanced one another out. Albert had tendency to be serious, while Victoria appeared more serious in portraits than in real life. Many people who met her in person were surprised to see Victoria smile and laugh so often.

When Albert died in 1861, the Queen was devastated. After his death, she wrote “What a dreadful going to bed! What a contrast to that tender lover’s love! All alone!” Victoria mourned in private for almost three years until she was finally seen in public riding in her carriage.

Limited Time Book Sale for Holocaust and U.S. History Buffs!

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It’s the story of a few good men who tried to save Jews and others from the Holocaust at the last minute. These ordinary people had hope in the face of impossible odds, and isn’t that what we could all use this holiday season?

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Letters from the Past: Back to School in Ancient Egypt

Hi, I’m Rahmose, and like many of you, I’ll be starting school soon. I’m nine now, which means that I have three more years to go before I can be a scribe for the pharaoh. This year I’ll learn to write hieroglyphics.

As a young boy, I watched my father perfect his hieroglyphic writing before chiseling the final copy on the walls of royal tombs. He dipped his reed pen in ink and drew tiny birds, sheaths of corn, and odd looking lines on papyrus. Sometimes I copied what he wrote, or tried to, on pieces of ostraca. My mother says I used to break her pottery on purpose so I could have something to write on! She was relieved when I turned five and she could send me to the House of Instruction in the Royal Palace.

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Name of Ramesses II in hieroglyphs at his temple Abu Simbel

 

 

I was so excited to start school. Finally, I would learn what the symbols in the tombs and temples meant. Imagine my disappointment when the teacher told us we weren’t learning hieroglyphs right away. Instead, we had to master hieratic. In case you haven’t seen it, hieratic is a curly looking script that reads from right to left. Most Egyptians who can write use hieratic because it’s not as time consuming as hieroglyphics. It’s not as beautiful, either.

 

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Example of hieratic writing. Document known as Papyrus Sallier

 

 

Our teacher gave us reading assignments from the Kemyt. The assignments were hard and boring. The Kemyt was filled with advice for young students and included Egyptian phrases.

When we finally finished the Kemyt, the other boys and I moved on to the Wisdom Texts. I thought that with a name like the Wisdom Texts, this new text must be more interesting. Maybe I would become as wise as my father after I read it. But no, we’re just reading about how much better off scribes are than men in other occupations. I had to memorize and copy out this passage: “there is no worker without an overseer except the scribe, who is his own boss.”

Sometimes I wonder if other jobs are as bad as our teachers say. It might be fun to work outside and grow crops. My father says that farming would make me dependent on the flooding of the Nile, though. As a scribe, I’ll rely on my knowledge, not nature.

Even if I get bored sometimes, I still want to become a great scribe like my father. Writing has so much power in Egyptian culture. When someone dies, their mummy is buried with their possessions. Still, the objects in the tomb aren’t as important as the hieroglyphics. If the tomb is robbed but the name of the owner is still carved on the wall, the spirit of the dead person can live on. The worst thing that could happen to anyone is to be forgotten by the living and have their name disappear from the earth.

I am so proud that someday soon I will be preserving the spirits of the pharaoh’s family.

 

 

Frequently Forgotten U.S. President Grover Cleveland

Young Grover Cleveland’s father was a minister, and he learned to be truthful from an early age. In politics Cleveland gained a reputation for reform as the mayor of Buffalo and governor of New York. He also gained weight thanks to his fondness for food and beer, though he was not a fan of the French cooking served in the White House.

During the 1884 presidential election the forthright Cleveland was accused of having an illegitimate son. Cleveland insisted on supporting the boy financially even though he may have been covering up for a married friend. (Cleveland did not marry until after he became president).

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Official Presidential Portrait of Grover Cleveland

Cleveland’s decisions as president were somewhat contradictory. On the one hand, he refused to sign a bill that would have helped struggling farmers because he believed that government should take a limited role in people’s lives.

On the other hand, he created the Interstate Commerce Commission which eliminated the authority of individual states to set rates on interstate traffic. Cleveland’s subsequent fights with big business prevented him from being re-elected in 1888.

Yet Cleveland was not ready to retire. He ran again for president four years later and won, becoming the only president elected to non-consecutive terms.

His second term was marked by health problems and the worst economic depression up to that time. Though doctors successfully removed a tumor from his mouth, Cleveland’s poor health made him increasingly stubborn. During the Pullman strike in Chicago he sent in federal troops to break it up, asserting that presidents could interfere in a labor dispute if it endangered the country’s economy.

Frequently Forgotten President Rutherford B. Hayes

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Official Presidential Portrait of Rutherford B. Hayes 

Rutherford B. Hayes is the first in my new series of frequently forgotten U.S. Presidents.

Like President Grant, Hayes had personal integrity, but his presidency was tainted by the very corruption he deplored. During the 1876 presidential election Hayes’ Republican supporters disputed the electoral votes in a few southern states. Republicans promised that Hayes would withdraw federal troops in those states if elected, which he did.

The southern states did not keep their promise to grant civil rights to blacks, however. Though he made other reforms, Hayes’ troop withdrawal delayed the civil rights movement until the 20th century.

The circumstances of his election caused some to label Hayes as “His Fraudulence.” Hayes did gain some support from the public by promoting civil service reform. He signed an executive order that stated that people in public office would be fired only in the best interest of the government regardless of their political affiliations. Hayes followed through on this by firing future Republican president Chester Arthur who used his position at the New York Customs House to help other Republicans.

Though he had pledged to serve only one term, he couldn’t have run again if he wanted to because so many Republicans were angered by his efforts to root out corruption. He managed to accomplish some changes, however.

He had the first telephone installed and was the first president to have a college-educated wife. He and “Lemonade Lucy” banned alcohol from White House dinners. After leaving office he became one of the most active ex-presidents, supporting causes like black education and prison reform.

Tippecanoe and Tyler, too: U.S. Presidents William Henry Harrison and John Tyler

William Henry Harrison

In the 1840 election William Henry Harrison’s Whig party supporters got some extra help from a Democratic newspaper. The paper claimed that if he got his pension and a barrel of cider, Harrison would retire to a log cabin in Ohio. As a result people thought of Harrison as a common man, despite the fact that he was the son of a wealthy Virginian who signed the Declaration of Independence. Supporters nicknamed Harrison “Tippecanoe” after a battle he had fought against a confederation of Native Americans. “Tippecanoe and Tyler, too” made a catchy campaign slogan.

Official White House Portrait of William Henry Harrison

Official White House Portrait of William Henry Harrison

The election also gave birth to the American expression “O.K.” Democrats used O.K. as affectionate shorthand for Harrison’s opponent, Martin Van Buren, who was known as “Old Kinderhook” after the town in New York where he grew up.

Harrison was the first Whig party candidate to win a presidential election. The Whig party had formed out of opposition to President Jackson’s policies. Whigs wanted a strong federal government and social reforms.

Harrison was mainly nominated and elected because he had few political enemies and didn’t share his personal opinions. No one knows what kind of president he would have been because he died from pneumonia one month after his inauguration. He was the first president, though not the last, to die in office.

John Tyler

Tyler’s succeeding Harrison established the precedent of the vice-president taking over for a deceased president. Yet, since the Constitution didn’t specifically state what the vice-president’s role was in case a president died, not everyone thought Tyler should become president. John Quincy Adams referred to Tyler as “His Accidency.”

Official White House Portrait of John Tyler

Official White House Portrait of John Tyler

Shortly after taking the oath of office, Tyler’s wife died, which made him the first president to become a widower in office. Tyler soon married Julia Gardiner, a young woman thirty years younger than he.

In many ways, Tyler seemed like a natural fit for the presidency. At fifty-one he already had political experience serving as a governor and a congressman. His tall, thin frame made him stand out in a crowd, and he had an excellent speaking voice.

Tyler was a former Democrat who had switched over to the Whig party during Jackson’s presidency. Yet he still felt strongly about states’ rights. This feeling got him into trouble with his party, which favored a strong federal government. He vetoed bills that Whigs in Congress and in his cabinet wanted.

After vetoing a tariff bill introduced by Whigs, the first ever impeachment resolution of a president was made against Tyler. The resolution failed. Nevertheless, Tyler remained a mainly ineffectual executive.

Though he supported the annexation of Texas, the Senate would not approve it until Tyler’s successor James Polk was elected so that Tyler’s administration could not take credit. Tyler stated, “A Vice President, who succeeds to the Presidency by the demise of the President…has no party at his heels to sustain his measures.”

U.S. President Andrew Jackson: Surprising Facts about the Man on the Twenty Dollar Bill

When Andrew Jackson was elected president in 1828, he was the first to reach that office as a self-made man. He was born into a poor family in South Carolina. During the American Revolution, Jackson lost his mother and two brothers and was wounded by a British officer.

Family tragedy seemed to follow Jackson throughout his life. As he ran for president, his detractors claimed that Jackson had lived with his wife before their marriage. Actually, they were married for two years before they realized that Rachel’s divorce from her previous husband had not been finalized. Rachel Jackson died from an illness before her husband’s inauguration. Jackson blamed her death on the nasty comments made during the campaign.

Historians have dubbed Jackson’s presidency the “age of the common man.” He was certainly unlike any other president the country had elected.

White House Portrait of Andrew Jackson

White House Portrait of Andrew Jackson

After his inauguration Jackson invited members of the public to attend a reception at the White House. To the dismay of the staff, so many people tried to cram into the White House that items were broken. Shortly after becoming president, Jackson indulged his fondness for chewing tobacco by installing twenty spittoons in the East Room.

Despite his dislike of formalities, Jackson’s terms as president had little impact on the common man. It’s true that more people (at least white, taxpaying males) got to vote in the election that sent Jackson to the White House. Through the Indian Removal Act he gave more white men the opportunity to acquire Native American land.

He did not, however, believe that social or economic equality was desirable. He stated, “Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government. Equality of talents, or education, or of wealth cannot be produced by human institutions.”

Jackson established the office of president as the chief power in American government for the first time. He made it obvious that he was not going to allow others to tell him what to do. He used the presidential veto more often than any previous president. For example, he vetoed the re-charter of the National Bank and federal support for internal improvements.

His ignorance of financial matters led to an economic crisis which harmed his successor, Martin Van Buren.

 

Heather Voight Talks about her Book Passionate Crusaders: How Members of the U.S. War Refugee Board Saved Jews and Altered American Foreign Policy during World War II on Back Porch Writer Podcast

Heather Voight on Back Porch Writer podcast. I talk about my history book and the process of writing it. http://www.blogtalkradio.com/backporchwriter/2015/09/15/author-heather-voight-joins-kori-on-the-back-porch

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