Presidential Pets: George Washington’s Dogs

George Washington was both the founder of the United States and the founder of the American foxhound. He crossed seven larger hounds given to him by the Marquis de Lafayette with his smaller Virginia hounds to develop the new breed. Around 1785, Lafayette sent his hounds to America on a ship. They were placed in the care of a young John Quincy Adams, who appeared to have misplaced the dogs at one point. Washington got rather worked up over the incident, but fortunately the dogs were located.

Washington wrote that he wanted to create “a superior dog, one that had speed, scent and brains.” Washington’s fondness for foxhunting caused his search for a superior hound. In the winter he went foxhunting several times a week. He gave his hounds mischievous-sounding names like Drunkard, Mopsey, Taster, Tipsy, Tipler, and Lady Rover.

Washington and dogs

Lithograph of George Washington and General Lafayette at Mount Vernon, Library of Congress

In addition to foxhounds, Washington also wished to breed Irish wolfhounds to protect the sheep at his plantation Mount Vernon. Unfortunately, the wolfhound was so rare even in Ireland at the time that Washington had to give up the idea.

Washington enjoyed owning many other breeds of dogs throughout his life. In 1786 he bought a Dalmatian named Madame Moose. The next year he bought a male to breed with her. He recorded the arrival of the second dog: “A new coach dog [arrived] for the benefit of Madame Moose; her amorous fits should therefore be attended to.”

Fox hunting and breeding dogs were only two of Washington’s passions. Washington also enjoyed duck hunting. For this purpose, he took his poodle named Pilot with him. Other dogs included spaniels which were used to flush out birds and retrieve them when they were shot. Terriers hunted on their own for rats at Mount Vernon, a service Mrs. Washington undoubtedly appreciated.

Though he owned many dogs, Washington didn’t think that his slaves should have the same privilege. Eventually any dogs owned by his slaves were hanged.

Lincoln’s Former General: The Presidency of Ulysses S. Grant

As a young man Grant hated working in his father’s leather business. He didn’t especially want to go to West Point either but thought it a better alternative to manufacturing. The “S.” in his name was a typo made on his application to West Point. Grant kept the initial and was affectionately known as U.S. Grant during the Civil War.

Although West Point graduates were in demand, Grant had a tough time getting a position in the army due to his heavy drinking. His talents outweighed his faults, however. Grant was the first man since George Washington to earn the permanent rank of lieutenant general. That rank gave him the responsibility for the Union’s strategy.

Though he was a hero to Northerners at the end of the war, Grant still had to earn a living. With a family to support, he reluctantly went to work for the family leather business. In 1868 Republicans and Democrats both wanted the hero of the Civil War to run for president. He ran as a Republican. Though he was a great leader during the war, Grant had no political experience. It’s one thing to fight a war with a clear enemy–quite another to determine who one’s enemies are in the game of politics.

Ugrant

Official Presidential Portrait of President Grant

Grant’s greatest problem as president was his trusting nature. Though honest himself, he surrounded himself with others who were not. He also felt inferior to intellectuals and tended to follow Congress’ lead. As a result his presidency was marked by multiple scandals. For example, his secretary of war was accused of accepting bribes from merchants who traded at army posts with Native Americans.

After two terms in office the administration’s scandals prevented him from trying for a third term. His trusting nature failed him again when he became a victim of Wall Street fraud.

Knowing that Grant was broke, his friend Mark Twain suggested that he write his memoirs in order to make money. Grant had just started writing when he developed throat cancer. He was determined to finish his memoirs before he died, however, and they are still selling today. Unsurprisingly, they focus on the time period that brought Grant the most success: the Civil War.

 

Two Gentlemen from Virginia: Surprising Facts about US Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison

Thomas Jefferson

The third President of the United States had a personality that was similar to George Washington’s in many ways. Like Washington, Jefferson was fond of dancing at parties and tended to be shy. Instead of addressing Congress in person, Jefferson sent his messages in writing. This tactic showed off his writing skills and helped him avoid his fear of public speaking. Known as an intellectual for his scientific and architectural pursuits, he thought he was also a good violin player, though some people who heard him play thought otherwise!

Official Presidential Portrait of Thomas Jefferson, 1800

Official Presidential Portrait of Thomas Jefferson, 1800

Official dinners were conducted in a manner different from the presidents who preceded him. He insisted on dressing simply to the point that one guest thought he was a servant. The dinners were served on a circular table so that no guest would feel superior or inferior to another. Jefferson did not eliminate all luxury in the executive mansion, however. Fancy French food was served regularly during his presidency.

As many people know, he sent Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore “Louisiana country” west of the Mississippi River. Jefferson and Lewis had been neighbors in Virginia, so Jefferson already knew how seriously Lewis would take the job. With Lewis and Clark’s help Jefferson purchased the Louisiana territory. While Jefferson added land to the United States, he also scaled back on some government departments. In a move that would delight many people today, he temporarily got rid of the Internal Revenue Service.

James Madison

Like his close friend Jefferson, James Madison also tended to be shy in public. Madison had the additional disadvantage of being the shortest president in history (he was 5’4″). He was also one of the skinniest, which led some people to believe he was always at death’s door.

His personal qualities may not have made him noticeable to others, but his wife Dolley made up for Madison’s awkwardness. The outgoing Dolley was Thomas Jefferson’s hostess while the widower was president. This gave her opportunities to mingle with members of Congress who would decide whether or not to elect Madison when he ran for president. When Madison was elected, he and Dolley held the first inaugural ball at a hotel on Capital Hill.

Portrait of James Madison, 1815

Portrait of James Madison, 1815

In many ways Madison served as Jefferson’s junior partner. He kept Jefferson informed of political matters in the states while Jefferson served as minster to France by writing coded letters to his mentor. Madison told Jefferson, “I shall always receive your commands with pleasure.” Yet Madison had his own opinions. While Jefferson was away, Madison helped draft the U.S. Constitution. His belief in a strong central government ran in opposition to Jefferson’s preference for individual rights. Madison did, however, have a flexible personality, which allowed him to see both sides of an issue. Just as he helped write the Constitution, Madison helped create the Bill of Rights that supported Jefferson’s individualistic views.

Surprising Facts about President George Washington

Though respected as a great general in the Revolutionary War, Washington was very self-conscious about his lack of education. Unlike the other colonists with whom he served in the Continental Congress, Washington never attended college. In fact, Washington had only an elementary school education. He did, however, attend dancing school at age fifteen. His dancing skills certainly came in handy when he became the first President of the United States and had many parties to attend.

George Washington, 1795 by Gilbert Stuart

George Washington, 1795
by Gilbert Stuart

Dancing was one of the few parts of formal gatherings that he enjoyed. He hated small talk and did not have a strong public speaking voice. He also didn’t like people to stand too close to him, partly because he felt that his false teeth made his face look swollen. Washington always took great pains to control his faults, particularly his temper. His reputation was so important to him that even as a young man he copied out rules of etiquette such as “sit not when others stand; speak not when you should hold your peace.”

Although some of his successors relished the challenges of the office, Washington was a reluctant president. Despite his personal popularity and the large number of people who turned out to greet him on his journey from Virginia to New York, the idea of being president made Washington cringe. Before he was inaugurated, Washington said he felt like “a culprit who is going to his place of execution.”

As president, Washington invented the presidential cabinet, filling it with men he felt had the best qualifications rather than picking personal friends or allies. He called his cabinet members, which included Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, his “first characters.” Though he was the only president who never lived in the White House, Washington chose the site and the architect for the house. Before he died, Washington toured the nearly completed mansion.

The Building of the Washington Monument

Washington Monument, Photo by David Bjorgen

Washington Monument, Photo by David Bjorgen

On December 6, 1884, the Washington Monument was finally completed. The word “finally” is appropriate since construction on the monument ended 85 years after George Washington’s death.

While Washington was still alive many people wanted to dedicate statues to him, but he declined. He thought the country should spend its money on other things. Shortly after Washington’s death, John Marshall proposed a memorial to the first president. The memorial was to be built in the style of the ancient Egyptian tombs with a pyramid serving as Washington’s burial place. However, Congress could not agree on the design.

Thirty-seven years later John Marshall, who was now Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, continued to fight for a memorial. In 1832 the Washington National Monument Society was formed. The society decided to hold a competition for the best design while collecting donations from citizens across the country.

Designs came in from around the world. The society required only that each design be “durable, simple, and grand.” Finally they chose a design by Robert Mills, a church architect from Charleston. Mills’ design included a temple with an Egyptian obelisk on top. Inside a colossal statue of Washington and a museum about Washington’s life were to be placed. Because the design was so expensive ($1 million in the 19th century), the society decided to start with the obelisk first.

The monument’s cornerstone was laid on July 4, 1848 with the same trowel that Washington used for the cornerstone of the capital. In a crowd of over 20,000 people that day were three future presidents, including a young congressman named Abraham Lincoln.

To raise money for the monument states were encouraged to donate commemorative stones to its interior. Even foreign countries donated stones to show their respect for the Revolutionary war hero and president. A controversy arose, however, when the Pope tried to donate a stone. Anti-Catholic groups stalled the construction.

During the Civil War the monument was again abandoned. Cattle grazed around it and soldiers practiced maneuvers in its shadow.

Congress decided to resume construction during the centennial of the Declaration of Independence in 1876. All the arguments about the design resurfaced. Congress was still short on money. This time, however, the US Army Corps of Engineers under Lieut. Col. Thomas Lincoln Casey was put in charge of the construction.

The country’s anniversary made both Congress and Casey eager to finish the monument. The design was scaled back. It was decided that the temple would not be constructed–only the obelisk. Despite these cost-cutting measures Casey still had several issues to deal with. For example, the scaffolding was rotted and there were flaws in the foundation of the monument. Casey’s crew reinforced the foundation with concrete. He also carried out the original plan to include the 193 memorial stones donated by states and countries into the interior walls.

The outside stones for the monument presented other problem for Lieut. Casey. The quarry used for the initial construction was no longer available. The builders ended up using two additional quarries with varying colors of stone. Today visitors can see three slightly different colored stones from the three different quarries on the outside of the monument.

On December 6, 1884 Lt. Col. Casey supervised as the capstone was brought out through a window and set on top of the monument. The aluminum tip made by Tiffany‘s was put into place by the lieutenant himself. At 555 feet and 5 inches the monument was the tallest structure in the world. However, the Eiffel Tower surpassed it the following year. Nevertheless, it is still the tallest structure in Washington DC and serves as a landmark for everyone who visits the National Mall.

The Washington Monument’s exterior and interior have endured quite a bit over the years. For example, in 2011 an earthquake struck 90 miles southwest of Washington DC. Though the monument was significantly damaged it was repaired successfully. The durability of the monument was anticipated at its dedication. During the ceremony, a speech by Robert Winthrop who had attended the opening ceremony in 1848 was read by Rep. John Long of Massachusetts. He said, “the storms of winter must blow and beat upon it…the lightnings of heaven may scar and blacken it. An earthquake may shake its foundations…but the character which it commemorates and illustrates is secure.”

Peggy Shippen: Benedict Arnold’s Wife

Growing Up

Peggy Shippen grew up in an upper-middle class family in Philadelphia that didn’t support the American colonies’ complaints about Britain. Her father, Edward Shippen, believed that ordinary citizens could not govern without the upper classes telling them what to do. Her father found himself in a sticky situation when the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia to discuss how the colonies should respond to Britain’s taxes on America. For a while, the Shippen family left their home for a place in the country. Peggy resented having to leave her fashionable lifestyle behind. By 1774 she was a teenage girl who was about to make her debut into Philadelphia society, but her father believed it was best to leave so he wouldn’t be forced to take sides in the debate.

The American Revolution

In 1777, the Shippens returned to their family home. The American Revolution had already started, and the British captured Philadelphia. Peggy and other young women flirted with the British officers and enjoyed dances and parties. One observer said, “all the young men are in love with Peggy.” Eventually the British left Philadelphia for New York, and American general Benedict Arnold was appointed as the city’s military governor. The ever-practical Edward Shippen welcomed him. Though he was twenty years older, Arnold soon fell in love with Peggy.

Arnold’s Troubles

Before their marriage, Benedict Arnold had career problems. He was charged with crimes against the army, including treating minor officials with disrespect, using public wagons for private property, and showing favor to Loyalists who disapproved of the revolution.  Arnold felt bitter that Americans did not appreciate his skills or the fact that he was lame as a result of fighting in battle. Though most of the charges were dropped and George Washington offered him a job as his number two general, it was too late. By then, Arnold and his wife were spying for the British.

Partners in Spying

No one knows whether Peggy suggested they hand over information about American troop positions and guns to the British, or whether Arnold was the first to bring it up. Regardless, Peggy and Arnold were complete partners once they committed to spying. In fact, one of Peggy’s former British acquaintances, Major Andre, became the recipient of Arnold’s letters in Britain. While Arnold supplied the military information, Peggy wrote and received the letters. She used a secret code and invisible ink to hide the contents of the letters. Major Andre held the letters up to a flame or poured lemon juice on them to read them. Using these methods, the Arnolds gave the British the information they needed to capture Charlestown, South Carolina.

Discovery of their Plans

As they gained success, Arnold negotiated a price the British were willing to pay for information about the New York fortress West Point. If the British had West Point, they could cut off communication between New England and the Congress at Philadelphia. Arnold asked to command West Point so he could tell the British when to strike. An unsuspecting George Washington gave him the job. In September 1780, a British warship was prepared to attack the fort. Unfortunately for the Arnolds, American soldiers ruined their plan with the capture of Major Andre. When the soldiers searched him, they found papers on him that revealed the plot, but did not mention Peggy’s involvement.

Arnold escaped on a British barge, leaving his wife behind to defend herself. She pretended to be shocked by her husband’s actions and acted hysterically. Luckily for Peggy, few men, including Washington, thought women were smart enough to be good spies. Washington and others also completely bought her act, and even felt sorry for her. Eventually, she rejoined Arnold in London, where she lived on money gained from her war activities.

Building the White House

In 1790, the United States Congress decided that a new capital city should be built to accommodate the new federal government. Virginia and Maryland offered land along the Potomac River, but there were no buildings on the site. President George Washington took a personal interest in the planning for the Capital and the President’s House—the place where all future chief executives would live.

After firing the first architect hired to construct the house, Washington agreed to hold a contest for the best design. Ads in the major newspapers stated the requirements for the President’s home and promised payment of $500 to the winner. Though no architecture schools existed in America yet, the design of James Hoban, an Irish immigrant who already designed state buildings in South Carolina, caught Washington’s attention. The design called for a three- story house with stone columns in the front. Other features included large windows and high ceilings.

Washington wanted the home to be grand enough for European rulers to admire it, and he thought Hoban’s plan met that requirement. The President also believed the United States would become a great country, and its leader needed a house that could grow with the increasing power of the nation. “It was always my idea, that the building should be so arranged that only a part of it should be erected for the present, and…to admit of an addition in the future as circumstances might render proper,” Washington later wrote. Hoban’s box-like design with wings that could be expanded later was a perfect match.

The Modern White House

The Modern White House

Though Washington put Hoban in charge of the construction site, he remained so involved with the project that Hoban never made any changes without consulting him. One design element Washington insisted on was that the exterior of the house be made of stone. Though Hoban found just enough stone for a scaled down, two-story version of the original plan at Aquia Creek in Virginia, one problem remained. The sandstone from the creek absorbed water easily, which caused the stone to weaken. Hoban ordered his workers to apply a thick coat of white paint to the exterior walls. As work continued, people living in the area referred to the building as the White House—a nickname that eventually stuck.

By 1796, workers completed the interior walls of the White House. Stonemasons brought in from Scotland hand-carved flowers, medallions, and other decorations around the entrance and windows. Two years later, a roof was added.

The year 1800 was the deadline for the project’s completion. By then, John Adams was President and he moved in with his wife. Despite the grand exterior, the thirty inner rooms of the house were not complete. Abigail Adams wrote “Not one room or chamber is finished of the whole. It is habitable by fires in every part, thirteen of which we are obliged to keep daily, or sleep in wet and damp places.” In a few months, the Adams’ moved out when Thomas Jefferson became President. He and the next occupant, James Madison, made the inner rooms of the White House more comfortable.

Unfortunately, during the War of 1812 British soldiers burned the White House and everything inside was destroyed. A rainstorm helped preserve the exterior of the house, however. James Hoban was summoned to help with the rebuilding process so that the White House would look almost the same as when it was first constructed.

Benjamin Franklin and Slavery

Throughout his life, Benjamin Franklin had a tendency to change his mind on political issues. For example, he initially supported the Stamp Act and only later decided that the American colonies should separate from Britain. Yet often Franklin ended up on the winning side of an argument, even if the argument was not settled in his lifetime.

Like his opinion of the American Revolution, Franklin’s views on slavery changed, too. He owned a couple of slaves at various times of his life and published ads for slave auctions when he worked as a printer. Still, he and his wife Deborah made sure that their slaves received an education from a Philadelphia school for black students. Most slave owners didn’t think slaves could learn, but after Franklin visited the school he commented that he had “higher opinions of the natural capacities of the black race.” He also published a few articles arguing against slavery. Until 1787, however, Franklin never gave the abolition of slavery his complete support.

By 1787, the year of the Constitutional Convention, Franklin became president of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery. During the convention, he sought to include a statement about the freeing of slaves in the U.S. Constitution. Like many of the Founding Fathers, however, Franklin feared that the union between northern and southern states would not be created if he argued too forcefully for the end of slavery.

Franklin’s silence on the abolition of slavery lasted only until the Constitution was ratified and the new federal government was in place. In 1790, he submitted a petition on the society’s behalf to the U.S. Congress. Franklin declared that slavery contradicted the principles of the American Revolution, particularly the ideas that all men were created equal and that they were entitled to liberty. The petition stated that Congress had an obligation to ensure “the blessings of liberty to the people of the United States without distinction of color.”

The anti-slavery petition set off a heated debate in Congress. It angered pro-slavery advocates like Congressman James Jackson of Georgia. He stated that the Bible supported slavery and that slaves were needed to do the work on the South’s plantations. Though in poor health, Franklin didn’t miss the opportunity to mock Jackson’s speech in print. He compared it to a speech supposedly given one hundred years earlier by an Algerian pirate who had Christian slaves. The pirate argued that it was “in the interest of the state to continue the practice; therefore let the petition be rejected.” He also said that his religion permitted the enslavement of Christians, and that they were better off living as slaves than as free men in Europe “where they would only cut each other’s throats in religious wars.”

Like Franklin’s fictional Algerian pirate, Congress rejected the petition to end slavery. After the debate ended, George Washington wrote to a friend, “the slave business has at last [been] put to rest and will scarce awake.” The contradiction of slavery and the promises of liberty for all Americans awoke again in the nineteenth century, resulting in the Civil War. Once again, Franklin had picked the point of view that eventually prevailed.

The Childhood of Civil War General Robert E. Lee

Most history books show pictures of Robert E. Lee as an aging man with white hair and a beard. It’s almost impossible to imagine that this man was once a child. Like everyone else, the famous American Civil War general did have a boyhood, though it was not always happy.

The Lee Family Heritage

The potential for Robert E. Lee to be a great man started before his birth. Robert’s father, Henry Lee, served in the cavalry during the American Revolution. Henry impressed his general so much that he said Henry had “come out of his mother’s womb a soldier.” After the war, Henry served in the Continental Congress and encouraged his home state of Virginia to ratify the Constitution. By the nineteenth century, however, things started to go wrong for Henry Lee. He made bad investments and ended up in a debtor’s prison for a year.

His wife Ann Carter Lee gave birth to her son Robert in 1807, shortly before her husband’s imprisonment. She already had several children, and admitted to a friend that she did not want another child. Later on, however, when her husband left the family for the West Indies and never returned, Robert became her favorite.

Robert E. Lee Grows Up

Robert comforted his mother in her husband’s absence. He did household chores and served as a nurse to his ill sister and his mother. Though obedient to his mother, like most boys his age Robert enjoyed swimming and playing sports with his cousins. He especially loved tricking foxhunters by following hounds on foot. He became so good at taking shortcuts to find the foxes that when the adults arrived, Robert was already there. Even at a young age, Robert understood how to use geography and the element of surprise to his advantage—skills that would one day make him a great general.

Though Robert didn’t have a father, he did create a father image for himself. When the family moved to Alexandria, Virginia, http://www.alexandriava.gov/historic/default.aspx Robert and his siblings often visited President George Washington’s adopted son, George Washington Parke Custis. Custis told the children stories about Washington and showed them Washington’s pistols and uniforms. Though Washington had died many years earlier, the people of Alexandria cherished their connection to the former hero. Washington’s career may have partly inspired Robert to pursue a military career, but in reality there was little money available for him to go to college. Luckily, he had family connections that helped him get one of the 250 spots available for the West Point cadets.

Robert At West Point

The U.S. Military Academy at West Point had many rules, and Robert was one of the few cadets who followed them. Others, like Jefferson Davis, future president of the Confederacy, partied and drank on a regular basis. Robert was a serious student who graduated second in his class. He was not a snob, however, and made close friends at West Point. His friend Joseph E. Johnson remembered that Robert “was the only one of all the men I have known that could laugh at the faults and follies of his friends in such a manner as to make them ashamed without touching their affection for him, and to confirm their respect.” His military training and the ability to positively influence others would come in handy when the U.S. Civil War broke out.