Europe in 1937

In the summer of ’37, Kennedy and a friend toured Europe. They went to France, Germany, Italy and Spain. He disliked all of the people except the Italians. Even though his father was an isolationist, he took the opportunity to form his own opinions after being in these countries and speaking to the locals himself.


Notes on Fillmore

He opened up trade with Japan.

He encouraged the establishment of a home for veterans.

He encouraged Congress to appropriate funds to improve living conditions in DC.

He contributed to the design of the Capitol building.

After he left office, his wife and daughter died within a year. About a year later, he planned a long trip to Europe. “In London, he shared a visitors’ box overlooking the British House of Commons with former President Martin Van Buren.

When he met Queen Victoria, she commented that he was the most handsome man she had ever seen.

Oxford tried to give him an honorary degree, but he turned it down as he was not educated enough. The degree was written in Latin and he felt he could not accept an honor that he could not read.

Van Buren in Illinois

Martin Van Buren was the first current or former President to visit Chicago. While he was making his way from Kentucky up through the great state of Illinois, poor roads forced him to stop in Rochester for the night. The locals wanted to make a good impression on him.  It was a happy accident that he was in their town, so they invited the “funniest raconteur in the vicinity.” This raconteur turned out to be Abraham Lincoln.

They entertained themselves and everyone else with their stories until well past midnight. They were opposites of each other in politics, appearance and backgrounds. But, they both learned something that night, especially Lincoln, after his close encounter with the Presidency.

Potential Alleged Second Black First Lady

During the 1830s, the slavery issue was heating up and sides were moving further apart. Martin Van Buren’s inaugural address was the first to mention slavery. His Vice President Richard Johnson of Kentucky was “living openly with and probably married to one of his slaves.” They had two daughters and they dined with him and rode in his carriage with him as a family.

This woman died of cholera in 1833, but Johnson quickly took up with another, younger black woman.

If something had happened to Van Buren during his presidency, Johnson would have been President and this young, black woman would have been first lady. She would have maybe been the second black first lady as it is widely assumed that Thomas Jefferson’s slave Sally Hemings was the first.

Van Buren drama

The book addresses the rumor that Aaron Burr was Van Buren’s real father. Van Buren was sent to NYC to live and study with a local lawyer who worked for then VP Aaron Burr. Martin looked “similar enough to Burr to cause tongues to wag.” There probably was no truth to the rumor and it was not brought up until it could be used against Van Buren.

Also, I think this book is sort of implying that Van Buren may have been gay. It talks about how much attention he paid to his clothes and appearance. And, even though he married and had four sons, his autobiography did not mention his wife at all. She died well before he was elected President and there are no likenesses of her. According to the book, “it is telling that he never remarried after her death.” The book reports that there was no scandal about this topic, but still brings up the topic early on in the book.

Regrets. I’ve Had a Few.

After Martin Van Buren was inaugurated, he invited Jackson to stay in the White House for a few days to rest. He declined the offer because he wanted to get back to The Hermitage as soon as possible. Before he left, he met with some of his political allies. They asked if he had any regrets. His response: He was sorry for not having shot Henry Clay and hanged John C. Calhoun.

The Howard Dean of 1828

Martin van Buren organized the first modern election campaign for Jackson because he wanted to draw first time voters to the party. He formed central party committees in each state and the committees directed the local committees.

This strategy was effective.  Jackson won handily. Also, nineteen year old Abraham Lincoln became a supporter of Jackson.

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