Two Presidents. Two Ordinary Men.
February 16, 2013
George was as close to a superhero, in his time, as he could get. Before he was 30, he contracted malaria, small pox, pleurisy, and dysentery. It’s a wonder he lived long enough to achieve a normal life, never mind the Presidency. On one occasion he was on his way back from the famous expedition to the French Fort le Boeuf, he fell off a raft in an icy river and nearly drowned. In the same trip, he was shot at by an Indian standing less than fifty feet away. Oh, we’re not done yet. In Braddock’s Defeat in 1755, four bullets punctured Washington’s coat and 2 horses were shot out from under him, but he emerged unscathed. Yes, I think that qualifies as superhero material.
George Washington was not happy with the food he was served as President. When the capital was moved from New York to Philadelphia and then to Washington, he brought his black slave Hercules from Mount Vernon to cook. Pennsylvania law stated that slaves be given their freedom after six months’ residence in the State. To get around this, Washington sent Hercules back to Mount Vernon right before the sixA months were up. Weeks later, he would have him returned to the capital. Hercules didn’t tolerate this arrangement for long. One night before the end of Washington’s term he disappeared and much to the President’s disappointment was never heard from again.
Washington had no formal education, but was the only President elected unanimously. He received all 69 electoral votes. At his inauguration, George had only one tooth. At different times, he wore dentures made of human teeth; animal teeth, ivory or even lead, but never wood.
The year was 1842, Democratic State auditor, James Shields decided to challenge Abraham Lincoln to a duel. Lincoln accepted. The altercation was over a satiric letter in a local newspaper written by then fiancée, Mary Todd. Because Lincoln was a gentleman, he took the responsibility as his own. However, a great insight is noted here in Lincoln’s choice of weapons. He chose broadswords. Lincoln was 6’4”. James Shields was considerably shorter. Lincoln decided to demonstrate his advantage by cutting a branch off of a nearby tree directly over Shield’s head. The seconds stepped in and Shields wisely stepped down.
Lincoln was also an inventor. Ever hear of ‘buoyant air chambers”? It was a complicated device designed to lift ships over dangerous shoals. Old Abe invented this device in 1849 and actually received a patent for it. U.S. Patent No. 6,469. It was never used, however. He has the distinction of being the only President to ever obtain a patent. Good for him!
Lincoln was a clutter bug. It used to drive his law partner, William Herndon, crazy. Ever the innovator, Lincoln kept one envelope on his desk and marked it, “When you can’t find it anywhere else, look into this.” I wonder if anyone ever did.
Lincoln invited Frederick Douglass, the celebrated black abolitionist and former slave, to his inaugural in 1865, Douglass accepted, but when he tried to enter, policemen forced him out. He tried again, this time catching Lincoln’s eye. The President exclaimed loudly, “Here comes my friend Douglass.” He left his friends, took Douglass by the hand and chatted away like old friends.
Lincoln was so concerned that the text of his “House divided” speech in 1858 be reported accurately, he gave a copy of the address to reporters. Still not satisfied, he decided to proofread the galleys himself and marched over to the newspaper office and did just that.
Patty Wiseman is the author of An Unlikely Arrangement. Please click the book cover to read more about the novel or purchase a copy direct from Amazon. Patty can be reached at email@example.com, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Goodreads, LinkedIn, and www.pattywiseman.net