President’s Day, 2014

On this Presidents Day, 2014, we could spend hours on endless presidential trivia.  Martin Van Buren spoke Dutch as a child, not English.  James Polk’s made a prophetic election promise not to be elected to a second term and three weeks after leaving office, he died of cholera.  Benjamin Harrison was afraid of electricity.  Andrew Jackson was actually the first president to have someone attempt to assassinate him.  Jackson, however, was not frog-marched away; angry at the attack, when the assassin’s gun misfired, Jackson turned around and beat him with his walking stick.  Onlookers had to drag Jackson off the man before he could kill him.

Grover Cleveland was the first president to install a telephone in the White House, often answering it himself. Franklin Pierce was arrested, while president, for running over a woman with his horse.  He was released and the case dismissed for lack of evidence.

The smallest President was James Madison at 5 feet, 4 inches, weighing less than 100 pounds.  The tallest President was Abraham Lincoln. He stood 6 feet, 4 inches (193 centimeters) tall.

The heaviest President was William Howard Taft, who sometimes tipped the scales at more than 300 pounds.

Benjamin Harrison, the 23nd President, was the first President to attend a baseball game. William Howard Taft started the tradition of the Presidential “first pitch” of baseball season. The event took place on April 4, 1910, during an opening day game between the Washington Senators and the Philadelphia Athletics.

William Henry Harrison, the ninth President, died of pneumonia one month to the day after making—in the snow—the longest U.S. presidential inauguration speech on record.

Zachary Taylor, the 12th President, died in 1850 of an inflamed stomach and intestines just 16 months after he took office. Warren Harding died suddenly on August 2, 1923. Medical records suggest Harding battled high blood pressure and died of a heart attack. But rumors at the time claimed Harding either took his own life or was poisoned by his wife, who sought to end Harding’s notorious philandering.

John Adams, the second President, and Thomas Jefferson, the third President, both died on July 4, 1826. Calvin Coolidge was born on July 4, 1872.

The first President born a U.S. citizen was Martin Van Buren. Van Buren was delivered on Dec. 5, 1782, making him the first President born after the Declaration of Independence was signed.  In 1943 Franklin Roosevelt made the first Presidential flight.  Richard Nixon was the first President to visit all 50 states.   Bill Clinton set a record for the most trips abroad: 133.

The most trivial (if you could call it that) fact about the U.S. Presidents is the notorious Twenty-Year Presidential Jinx, where every president since William Henry Harrison to John F. Kennedy, elected or re-elected in a year ending in zero, at 20 year periods, has died in office, either through assassination or some natural cause.  The presidential death that most surprises people is that of James Garfield.  An assassin did shoot him in the abdomen, but Garfield initially survived the attempt, only to die at the hands of inept doctors who, at the time, knew nothing of germs or hygiene.  They poked unwashed hands into his abdomen trying to find the bullet.

The name Curse of Tippecanoe (also known as Tecumseh’s Curse, the Presidential Curse, the  Zero-Year Curse, the Twenty-Year  Curse, or the Twenty-Year Presidential Jinx) is used to describe the regular death in office of Presidents of the United States elected or re-elected in years evenly divisible by twenty, from William Henry Harrison (elected in 1840) through John F. Kennedy (1960). Ronald Reagan, elected in 1980, was shot and survived; George W. Bush (2000) survived an attempt on his life unharmed.

The curse, first widely noted in a Ripley’s Believe It or Not book published in 1931, began with the death of William Henry Harrison, who died in 1841 after having been elected in 1840. For the next 120 years, presidents elected during years ending in a zero (occurring every 20 years) ultimately died while serving in office, from Harrison to John F. Kennedy (elected 1960, died 1963).

The name “Curse of Tippecanoe” derives from the 1811 battle near modern-day Lafayette, Ind., and is named for the Tippecanoe River. The Battle of Tippecanoe was fought on Nov. 7, 1811.  As governor of the Indiana Territory, William Harrison used what were criticized as questionable tactics in the negotiation of the 1809 Treaty of Fort McHenry with Native Americans, in which they ceded large tracts of land to the U.S. government.

The treaty further angered the Shawnee leader Tecumseh, and brought government soldiers and Native Americans to the brink of war in a period known as Tecumseh’s War. Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa (commonly known as “The Prophet”) organized a group of Indian tribes to resist the westward expansion of the United States.

As tensions and violence increased, Harrison marched with an army of about 1,000 men to disperse the confederacy’s headquarters at Prophetstown, near the confluence of the Tippecanoe and Wabash Rivers.

In 1811, Tecumseh’s forces, led by his brother, attacked Harrison’s army in the Battle of Tippecanoe, earning Harrison fame and the nickname “Old Tippecanoe.”  Harrison strengthened his reputation even more by defeating the British at the Battle of the Thames during the War of 1812.  In an account of the aftermath of the battle, Tenskwatawa supposedly set a curse against Harrison and future White House occupants who became president during years with the same end number as Harrison. This is the basis of the curse legend.

Tecumseh, not yet ready to oppose the United States by force, was away recruiting allies when Harrison’s army arrived. Tenskwatawa, a spiritual leader but not a military man, was in charge. He had been leading a religious movement among the northwestern tribes, calling for a return to the ancestral ways. His brother, Tecumseh, was outraged by the Treaty of Fort Wayne, and thereafter emerged as a prominent leader.

Tecumseh revived an idea advocated in previous years by the Shawnee leader Blue Jacket and the Mohawk leader Joseph Brant, which stated that Native American land was owned in common by all tribes, and land could not be sold without agreement by all the tribes. Not yet ready to confront the United States directly, Tecumseh’s primary adversaries were initially the Native American leaders who had signed the treaty.  He began by intimidating them and threatening to kill anyone who carried out the terms of the treaty. Tecumseh began to travel widely, urging warriors to abandon the accommodationist chiefs and to join the resistance at Prophetstown. Tecumseh insisted that the Fort Wayne treaty was illegitimate. In an 1810 meeting with Harrison, he demanded that Harrison nullify the treaty and warned that settlers should not attempt to settle the lands sold in the treaty. Harrison rejected his demands and insisted that the tribes could have individual relations with the United States.

Harrison camped near Prophetstown on Nov. 6 and arranged to meet with Tenskwatawa the following day.  Early the next morning, warriors from Prophetstown attacked Harrison’s army. Although the outnumbered attackers took Harrison’s army by surprise, Harrison and his men stood their ground for more than two hours. The Natives were ultimately repulsed when their ammunition ran low. After the battle, the Natives abandoned Prophetstown.  Harrison’s men burned the town and returned home.

Having accomplished his goal of destroying Prophetstown, Harrison proclaimed that he had won a decisive victory. He acquired the nickname “Tippecanoe,” which was popularized in the song “Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too” during the 1840 election, when Harrison was elected president. But some of Harrison’s contemporaries, as well as some subsequent historians, raised doubts about whether the expedition had been much of a success. Although the defeat was a setback for Tecumseh’s confederacy, the Natives soon rebuilt Prophetstown, and frontier violence actually increased after the battle.

Public opinion in the United States blamed the violence on British interference. This suspicion led to further deterioration of US relations with Great Britain and served as a catalyst of the War of 1812, which began six months later. By the time the U.S. declared war on Great Britain, Tecumseh’s confederacy was ready to launch its war against the United States and embrace an alliance with the British.

In the meeting Tecumseh warned Harrison that he would seek an alliance with the British if hostilities broke out.  Tensions between the United States and Britain had been high for several months as a result of British interference in U.S. commerce with France. As early as 1810, British agents had sought to secure an alliance with Native Americans to assist in the defense of Canada should hostilities break out, but the Natives had been reluctant to accept their offer, fearing they had little to benefit from such an arrangemen

Until recently historians have accepted the story that Tecumseh was furious with Tenskwatawa for losing the battle, and that Tecumseh had threatened to kill his brother for allowing the attack to take place. According to this story, the Prophet lost prestige after the battle and no longer served as a leader of the confederacy. In their subsequent meetings with Harrison, several Native leaders claimed that the Prophet’s influence was destroyed; in some accounts it was said he was being persecuted. Historians Alfred A. Cave and Robert Owens have argued that the Natives were probably trying to mislead Harrison in an attempt to calm the situation and that Tenskwatawa actually continued to play an important role in the confederacy.

Harrison, having accomplished his goal of dispersing the Natives of Prophetstown, proclaimed that he had won a decisive victory. But some of Harrison’s contemporaries, as well as some subsequent historians, raised doubts about whether the battle was as successful as Harrison claimed. “In none of the contemporary reports from Indian agents, traders, and public officials on the aftermath of Tippecanoe can we find confirmation of the claim that Harrison had won a decisive victory,” wrote Cave. The defeat was a setback for Tecumseh’s confederacy, but the Natives soon rebuilt Prophetstown, and frontier violence actually increased after the battle.

“If anything,” writes historian Adam Jortner, “the strike on Prophetstown made Tenskwatawa’s movement stronger.”

On December 16, 1811, the first of the New Madrid earthquakes shook the South and the Midwest.  Many Natives of the northwest took the earthquake as a sign that Tenskwatawa’s predictions of doom were coming true, leading many to support Tecumseh, including many of his former detractors. Attacks against settlers by Native Americans quickly increased in the aftermath. Numerous settlers and isolated outposts in the Indiana and Illinois Territories were targeted, leading to the deaths of many civilians. Prophetstown was partially rebuilt over the next year, though it was again destroyed by a second campaign in 1812. Tecumseh continued to play a major role in military operations on the frontier, and by the time the U.S. declared war on Great Britain in the War of 1812, Tecumseh’s confederacy was ready to launch its own war against the United States, this time with British allies. Tecumseh’s warriors made up nearly half of the British army that captured Detroit from the United States in the War of 1812. It was not until Tecumseh’s death at the 1813 Battle of the Thames in Ontario that his confederation ceased to threaten the interests of the United States.

It’s called “Tecumseh’s Curse” but it was actually his brother who cast it. He was originally given the name Lalawethika (He Makes a Loud Noise or The Noise Maker). He denounced Americans as children of the devil and mobilized the Indians in the Midwest to fight them, but his movement was defeated in the when his brother was killed, and he went to the area now known as Argentine Kansas.

Because his father died before he was born and because his mother left his family shortly after, Lalawethika grew up without parents. Lalawethika was then dependent on his siblings to teach him the Shawnee ways. Because he was not close to his older sister or older brother, he never learned how to hunt or fight successfully, skills essential to a Shawnee man. He also lost an eye in a hunting accident, and his poor looks and braggart personality did not win him many friends. As a result, Lalawethika grew up to be an outsider to his community and turned to alcohol.

His followers eventually followed him west to form a large, multi-tribal community known to the whites as Prophetstown or Tippecanoe in 1808. The site had both practical and spiritual significance. Such places at the junction of two rivers had significant spiritual significance in tribal culture. The site was also a geographic central point to the political and military alliance that was forming around Tenskwatawa’s brother Tecumseh.

When some chiefs tried to promote compromise and conciliation, Tenskwatawa, proclaiming his obedience to the Great Spirit, lashed out against these government sympathizing chiefs, depicting them as wicked traitors and minions of the Americans.

Legend has it that after the historic battle of Tippecanoe, Tecumseh released prisoners with a prophetic message for Gen. William Henry Harrison—a prophecy that has come to be known as “Tecumseh’s Curse.”

“Harrison will win next year to be the Great Chief.  He will die in his office.  I who caused the Sun to darken and Red Men to give up firewater tell you Harrison will die.  And after, every Great Chief chosen every 20 years thereafter will die.  And when each one dies, let everyone remember the death of our people.”

Although Tecumseh delivered the message, it is said that his brother, the spiritual chief of the Shawnee actually led the curse ceremony, casting 20 stones into the fire and calling the curse down upon Harrison and his successors.

The Curse of Tecumseh was something that somehow didn’t make it into the history books.  Educators probably didn’t want to engage in superstition and rightly so.  They considered it mere coincidence.

Assassins have been around since ancient times.  “Assassin” is an Arabic word.  Still, an aura of mystery surrounds the deaths of the presidents from William Henry Harrison to John F. Kennedy.  Whatever the curse was, it was broken by the great Ronald Reagan.  Although an assassin tried to kill him, the attempt was foiled and Reagan survived.  Supposedly, George W. Bush, elected in 2000, was the target of two verifiable assassination attempts but was unharmed.  These two attempts have been recorded but since he was not only not killed but unharmed the public has given them little notice:

  • February 7, 2001: While President George W.      Bush was in the White House, Robert Pickett stood outside the fence and      shot several times toward the building. The U.S. Park Police said,      according to CNN correspondent Eileen O’Connor, that they confiscated a      sophisticated handgun, and if the shooter had not been at an obstructed      angle view, he could have reached targets in the White House. Following a      stand-off of about ten minutes, a Secret Service officer shot Pickett,      wounding him. Pickett was then immediately taken to a hospital for      surgery. Pickett was found to have emotional problems and employment      grievances. Pickett had previously written letters to the President about      these grievances. A court in July 2001 sentenced Pickett to three years      imprisonment in connection with the incident.
  • May 10, 2005: While President George W. Bush      was giving a speech in the Freedom Square in Tbilisi, Georgia, Vladimir      Arutyunian threw a live Soviet-made RGD-5 hand grenade toward the podium.  The grenade was live and had its pin      pulled, but did not explode because a red tartan handkerchief was wrapped      tightly around it and delayed the firing pin.  After escaping that day, Arutyunian was      arrested in July 2005, during which he killed an Interior Ministry agent.  Convicted in January 2006, he was given a      life sentence.

During the 1980s, the Media made great sport of the fact that First Lady Nancy Reagan engaged an astrologer.  The astrologer did not dictate positions to the President, nor did Nancy; astrology only involved calculating favorable times for signing important documents or arranging meetings.  Nancy’s insistence on his following a minute schedule on that day (March 30, 1981) may have helped save his life.

Four of the eight presidents affected by the so-called “Curse” were murdered.  These were not the acts of God, but acts of deranged men.  Harrison died because he stood out in the cold of a Washington, D.C., morning and without a hat or cloak, delivered the longest inauguration speech in presidential history.

Warren G. Harding died under mysterious circumstances it is said, contracting what was claimed to be pneumonia (in June) and dying of a supposed heart attack or stroke exactly a week later.  His cabinet was under fire for corruption and Harding was said to be a philanderer.  His widow refused to allow an autopsy and she came under suspicion of murdering or having her husband murdered.  Even if the story is true, then it was Harding’s own weaknesses that brought about his demise.

FDR, it has always been assumed, contracted polio. On an early August day in 1921, the 39 year-old Roosevelt summered with his immediate family at a retreat in Canada.  Roosevelt dove (or fell, depending on the account) into the Bay of Fundy while boating.  Over the next two weeks, he experienced paralysis that began in his legs and extended to his chest, resulting in a lack of movement and bowel control.

This came at a pivotal point in his political career. Roosevelt would have been Vice President under James Cox if the Democrats won the 1920. But he’d retreated to private life after the Democratic ticket lost the election in a landslide.

Roosevelt visited a Boy Scout Camp two weeks before onset of his paralysis. Roosevelt’s presence at this gathering played a major role in his diagnosis, because the gathering of youth provided a likely origin for the polio virus. The physician who diagnosed FDR, Robert Lovett, had an expertise in the field of polio, possibly lending additional bias to the diagnosis.

Physicians and scientists have struggled with the diagnosis of polio in the decades after Roosevelt’s death, as Roosevelt’s advanced age made him an unlikely candidate for the disease. Roosevelt also experienced paralysis in both legs, while polio usually affects only one side of the body. Polio does not often affect the intestinal tract, yet the events of August 9th left FDR without control of his bowels. The future president continued to experience pain and other sensations in his legs. Confounding the diagnosis, Roosevelt exhibited a fever, a key diagnostic criteria for polio.

There are notes of clinical cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome from this time period, with two soldiers diagnosed with the disease in 1916 using samples of spinal fluid.  Testing of spinal fluid for increased protein levels without a concomitant increase in white blood cell count continues to be a key factor in the diagnosis of Guillain-Barre Syndrome.  Whether any of FDR’s physicians knew of the then-obscure Guillain-Barre Syndrome is completely unknown.

A 2012 study published in the Journal of Medical Biography conducted a probability based on Roosevelt’s symptoms, with the outcome suggesting Roosevelt likely suffered from Guillain-Barre Syndrome instead of polio.

If a physician did diagnose Roosevelt with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, his prognosis would have strayed little. Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a viral infection of the body without a specific cure. The disease causes cells to attack other cells, leading to an eventual wasting away of the myelin sheath that surrounds nerves.

However, the misdiagnosis of polio wound up saving thousands of lives because of the presidential attention brought to the disease.  Eventually, a vaccine was developed.   FDR suffered a massive stroke in 1945 (having been warned by astrologer Jeanne Dixon at various periods that he was running out of time).

When you look at the record, you realize that many presidents not elected during the 20-year cycle had some very near-misses.  Pres. Ford was actually fired upon from 40 feet away and was saved only by the action of a bystander who grabbed the assassin’s arm causing her to miss.  The White House mailroom intercepted a letter bomb intended for Pres. Truman.  Another assassin managed to get into Blair House where Truman was staying while the White House was being renovated.  The assassin killed one Secret Service agent and wounded another, but a White House policeman managed to shoot and injured the would-be assassin.

An emotionally-disturbed man had plans to drive a bomb-laden car in JFK’s limousine.  Another would-be assassin took things one step further, planning to crash a commercial airliner into the White House to kill Pres. Nixon in 1974.  During his visit to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Manila in 1996, Pres. Clinton’s motorcade was rerouted before driving over a bridge. Service officers had intercepted a message suggesting that an attack was imminent. An intelligence team later discovered a bomb under the bridge. Subsequent U.S. investigation “revealed that [the plot] was masterminded by a Saudi terrorist living in Afghanistan named Osama bin Laden.”

The Battle of Tippecanoe and the subsequent Curse of Tecumseh, or the 20-Year Jinx, bear remarkably strong resemblances to today’s political problems, especially in the Middle East.  Not surprisingly, in a 21st Century context, the political and military strategies of the early 19th Century seem barbaric and uncivilized.  But the American military didn’t do anything that their adversaries didn’t do:  Harrison’s soldiers desecrated a Prophetstown graveyard and scalped the corpses.  A century or more later, Richard Nixon, after resigning from office would note that he didn’t do anything (create an enemies’ list, install a secret tape-recording device in his office) that his adversaries (John F. Kennedy) didn’t do.

JFK was the first to install a secret tape-recording device in his office and was well-known to have an “enemies list”.  One of the little known facts of the U.S. presidency is that, up until the 1960 election, Nixon and JFK were good friends.  They were elected to Congress the same year.  When Nixon was criticized for attacking Communism, JFK had his back.

But something broke the curse in 1980.  Was it Nancy Reagan’s astrological diligence?  Did God find Ronald Reagan a good enough man to intervene on his behalf?  So far, no 20-year curse assassinations have succeeded since then.  Nor any other kind.

America grew, in spite of Tecumseh’s spite.  If the country had not been meant to expand from one coast to the other, she would not have succeeded.  We only fought because we had to.  There were American people who wanted the freedom to move beyond the Mississippi River.  The Native Americans considered this act an “invasion”.  Naturally, they fought back, but lost, often through the treacherous breaking of treaties.  But just as often, they lost through the wanton killing of innocent pioneers who just wanted to make a new life for themselves, and Christian missionaries, which brought on the U.S. Cavalry and more violence, war, and killing.

Man, on the whole, is a grasping, avaricious creature, whether he is an Englishman or a Shawnee, an American or a Cherokee, a Dutchman or an Indonesian.  The lust for gold, for land, for power has always driven him.  Who is righteous in God’s eyes who will tear his brother apart over their dead father’s treasures?

Jesus didn’t say money was an evil; He said, “The love of money is the root of all evil.”  Money, when rightly used, is a tool of fair exchange.  When it becomes a goal unto itself, when we worship it, ruin our lives and those of others for it, and kill for it; that is when it becomes an evil – a curse.

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Published in: on February 17, 2014 at 4:06 pm  Leave a Comment  

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