15. LIFE ON LAND

Space is Big Business – OZY

Space is Big Business  OZY

Dec 07, 2021 TODAY

We’ve all heard about the great U.S. presidential scandals of history like Watergate, Iran Contra or the Clinton-Lewinsky affair. But that’s far from where history stops when it comes to scandalous presidents. A number of American presidents have behaved in ways that were controversial in their time and would be downright scandalous today. Read on for the inside take!

Thomas Jefferson, White Supremacist

1 – Slave Owner

It’s a widely known fact that American founding father Thomas Jefferson owned slaves and generally accepted that he fathered six children with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings. But less widely acknowledged is another disturbing fact that is hard to escape: Jefferson was almost certainly a white supremacist.

2 – ‘Fixed in Nature’

In justifying his commercial holdings, Jefferson expressed views about whites and Blacks having differences that were “fixed in nature.” One of the clearest statements of Jefferson’s perspective is found in his “Notes on the State of Virginia,” a detailed response he compiled in the early 1780s to a questionnaire from a visiting French diplomat. Jefferson does not portray slavery, or slaveholders, in a particularly positive light, observing how the practice harms both the manners and industry of whites: “No man will labour for himself who can make another labour for him.”

3 – ‘In Reason Much Inferior’

But in the tract’s most infamous passages, he puts on his amateur anthropologist hat to make some startling observations. Citing skin color as the most obvious distinguishing feature, Jefferson argues that a slave’s darker skin pigment makes them less transparent, noting that an “immoveable veil of black … covers all the emotions.” The catalogue of slaves’ biological inferiorities also includes the observations that they have “a very strong and disagreeable odor,” “they require less sleep,” “their griefs are transient,” and not only “in imagination they are dull, tasteless and anomalous” but also “in reason much inferior.”

Grover Cleveland, Cradle Robber

1 – His Ward

Stephen Grover Cleveland, or “Big Steve” as the 5-foot-11, 250-pound New Yorker was known to friends, had always enjoyed the company of men, one of whom was his longtime drinking buddy and law partner Oscar Folsom. But when Folsom was killed in a buggy accident in 1875 while drinking and driving, his good friend took over administration of his estate, helping his widow, Emma, and supervising the upbringing and education of Folsom’s then 11-year-old daughter, Frances.

2 – His Young Bride

A decade later, shortly after the 49-year-old lifelong bachelor became the 22nd U.S. president, Grover Cleveland also became the only one to marry in the White House, taking as his bride … the 21-year-old Frances Folsom, the daughter of his deceased law partner. The only presidential wedding ever held at the White House began at 7 p.m. on June 2, 1886, in the Blue Room on the first floor. With fewer than 30 guests in attendance, and no journalists, the president, in white tie, escorted the bride, wearing an ivory satin dress, down the grand staircase as the U.S. Marine Band, led by John Philip Sousa, played Mendelsohn’s Wedding March.

3 – His Impressive First Lady

Robbing the cradle of your dead friend may seem a risky move for an American leader, but it paid off handsomely for Cleveland, revitalizing his presidency and giving America its youngest, and perhaps most popular, first lady. An accomplished pianist who was fluent in German, French and Latin, “Frankie,” as the American public would affectionately call her, was an instant sensation. She held weekly public meetings at the White House and was inundated with fan mail, and advertisers placed her image (without consent) on everything from perfume to ashtrays to undergarments. Frances would give birth in the White House to two of the couple’s five children, and thanks to her, when the “walrus in wingtips” died in 1908, he had firmly established himself as something few could have imagined in his earlier years: a devoted family man.

Harry Truman, King of Paranoia

1 – Loyalty Program

Loyalty is clearly a trait of paramount importance to many U.S. presidents, including most recently Donald Trump. Seven decades ago, one president, Harry Truman, issued a particularly sweeping loyalty program in an attempt to ferret out federal employees who might have “totalitarian, fascist, communist or subversive” sympathies. It did not go according to plan.

2 – A Red Scare

In the wake of the Second World War, and at the advent of the Cold War, fears of communist activity began to grow in the United States, including in the corridors of power. After a Soviet spy ring was busted in Canada in 1946, and the Republican Party made big gains in Congress during the midterms that same year, pressure increased on the Democratic president to take concrete action to prevent infiltration of the federal government — or appearing “soft” on communism. And so, in March 1947, Truman signed an executive order saying that federal employees for whom “reasonable grounds for belief in disloyalty” to the United States could be established would be dismissed.

3 – ‘Subversive Tendencies’

Truman’s order established a framework for performing loyalty checks, including the installation of loyalty boards in every government agency. Loyalty standards were vague and often in the eye of the beholder, typically an investigator who was looking for “subversive” tendencies. High-ranking women, African Americans and Jews were disproportionately apt to be accused of disloyalty. During the program’s peak years (1947–1956), over 5 million employees were screened, leading to around 2,700 dismissals and 12,000 resignations, mostly affecting low-ranking employees — though not much in the way of true communist infiltrators. Still, the loyalty program had other consequences: Many employees left public service, morale sank among those who remained and the government had trouble attracting new talent into its ranks.

Ronald Reagan, Campaign Theft Beneficiary

1 – Carter v. Reagan

It was about as high-stakes a presidential debate as there has been in American history. When President Jimmy Carter and Republican party nominee Ronald Reagan squared off on Oct. 28, 1980, in Cleveland, Ohio, for their one and only debate of that election, there was just a week to go before Americans would cast their ballots. There was no early voting, the nation was gripped by an ongoing hostage crisis in Tehran, and the two candidates were running close in the polls. This was perhaps Reagan’s last, best chance to dethrone the Democratic incumbent.

2 – ‘There You Go Again’

The highlight footage from the debate tends to focus on Reagan’s winning quip — “There you go again” — but that disarming rejoinder to Carter’s pointed critique of the Republican challenger was just one rhetorical flourish in a remarkably sharp debate performance from the former California governor. All night long, Reagan responded with ease to Carter’s attacks, batting them away with well-prepared facts, figures and pithy one-liners.

3 – Stolen Briefings

Three years later — well after Reagan came from behind to beat Carter and become the U.S. president — a potential reason for Reagan’s successful debate performance rocked the nation: Carter’s debate briefing books, stolen from the White House, had ended up with members of the Reagan campaign shortly before the Oct. 28 debate. Just a few days earlier, a set of papers titled “Presidential Debate Briefing Book,” containing 69 questions and answers, including a number of potential lines of attack on Reagan, went missing from the White House and found its way into the hands of key Reagan campaign officials.

4 – A Big Victory

While it was never confirmed that Reagan had relied on, or was even aware of, the pilfered papers, the briefing book had been used by his campaign aides to prep him for the debate. The end result was a polished candidate, one who, as a former actor, certainly knew his lines. Reagan’s performance in the debate would catapult him to a big victory a week later, when he won 44 of 50 states — and the presidency.

Quiz Questions

Test your knowledge on these scandalous American presidents, and share your answers at: ozycommunity@ozy.com

Thomas Jefferson is regarded as having fathered how many children with his slave Sally Hemings?

        1. None
        2. One
        3. Six
        4. Nine

Which of the following phrases did Thomas Jefferson not use to describe African Americans?

        1. They have “a very strong and disagreeable odor.”
        2. “In imagination they are dull, tasteless and anomalous.”
        3. “Their griefs are transient.”
        4. “They are in reason our equals.”

Which one of these was not a nickname for President Grover Cleveland?

        1. Big Steve
        2. Statutory Steve
        3. Walrus in Wingtips
        4. Grover the Giant

How old was Grover Cleveland’s ward Frances Folsom when he married her at the White House in 1886?

        1. 17
        2. 21
        3. 27
        4. 42

Which famous composer and conductor led the U.S. Marine Band at Grover Cleveland’s wedding?

        1. John Philip Sousa
        2. Ludwig van Beethoven
        3. Aaron Copeland
        4. Isaiah Berlin

Which president signed an executive order saying that federal employees could be dismissed upon “reasonable grounds for belief in disloyalty”?

        1. Donald Trump
        2. Ronald Reagan
        3. George Washington
        4. Harry Truman

Approximately how many federal employees were screened under President Truman’s loyalty program?

        1. 100,000
        2. 500,000
        3. 1 million
        4. 5 million

Which two American presidents squared off in a debate in October 1980?

        1. Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton
        2. Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy
        3. George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton
        4. Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter

What did members of Reagan’s campaign obtain prior to his October 1980 presidential debate?

        1. A sex tape of President Carter
        2. Debate briefing books for President Carter
        3. President Carter’s daughter Amy
        4. Top secret documents about the American hostages in Iran

How many states did Ronald Reagan win in the 1980 presidential election?

        1. 21
        2. 29
        3. 36
        4. 44

GO DEEPER

What to Read, Watch and Listen to

Read:

Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves, by Henry Wiencek. A chronicle of the third president’s view of slavery and African Americans as it evolved during his life.

Watch:

The Carter-Reagan Debate on Oct. 28, 1980. Was Reagan overly prepared? Judge for yourself. Watch on YouTube.

Listen to:

Presidential. This podcast from the Washington Post explores the character, leadership and legacy of each American president.

ABOUT OZY

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