No. 15: Worst President Ever?
Posted on December 31st, 2014
I never know what pH internalizes, or where or how it’s going to manifest. It’s much better these days, because she can explain her logic; in the old days, I’d just be left guessing WTF?
Today, I am sorry to announce, former President James Buchanan met his pictorial end with an orange dry erase marker.
Basic historical background:
- Historians occasionally vote on the worst US presidents ever; James Buchanan frequently tops the list.
- James Buchanan fought with Stephen Douglas for control over the Democratic Party.
- Stephen Douglas famously debated Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln-Douglas debates.
Yep. That actually is important to the story.
As of this morning, I knew that pH knew probably a bit more about Lincoln compared to the average kid her age, but I would have said her knowledge was mostly that he was responsible for the Emancipation Proclamation (we have a hard time explaining slavery to her, but slavery is so evil it should be incomprehensible, so she just knows he ended it–although I’m simplifying), that Lincoln had been assassinated during his second term, and that he’d been shot in a theater by an actor. (She finds the actor thing to be bizarre, and checks in with me on this from time to time: “No, really. Booth was an actor.”) Also that his wife was kind of loony, he had sons who died and he was sad, and she knows all of the pets the Lincolns had at the White House. (She has told me several times but I never remember, which is fine because she’s happy to tell me again.)
So. Abraham Lincoln is a very big deal in the Hat household, and we talk about him with each other in front of pH, so apparently she’d also absorbed a bit more than that.
Why or how, you may ask? (Or if you didn’t, just humor me.)
I can’t underestimate how omnipresent the Civil War was in my childhood, from swords and guns and random other artifacts. And books. Endless books. My mother “betrayed the South” when she moved to the PNW, according to my grandmother, who still called it “the War of Northern Aggression.”
As a child, I was dragged from Civil War battlefield to battlefield. Earliest memory: battlefield. My siblings and I thought it was great fun to pose like corpses in Mathew Brady photographs. (It didn’t occur to me this might have been in bad taste; after all, we knew Brady’s assistants posed corpses.)
The only time I saw both my parents cry in public was in the boarding house room where Lincoln died. (True. And I’m sorry, but when you’re young and sensitive you will never forget the gruesome description of brain matter seeping into a pillow–so no wonder we did such morbid things. That, and there are only so many ways you can look at a clearing and try to figure who was outflanking whom and who controlled that bridge on the right and who had which type of shot again…)
I’m making excuses. I had a bizarre childhood and let’s leave it at that.
My family was split: one side is Yankee and one side is Southern. kH’s family had a double agent and we are not quite sure who he was really working for. No one knew, except that he had to hightail it out of various places from time to time. But later the Klan hated him, so we figure he couldn’t have been all that bad.
kH’s people are from Kentucky. As a punishment for some transgression in school, kH’s mother had to copy a biography of Lincoln, word for word, and as a result, she knew a lot about him, and as a result, she was always interested in him and thus kH knew a lot about him and has always been interested in him. (I just had all that corpse-posing in my background.)
In my study–and this is post-purge*–I still have a shelf of books dedicated to Lincoln. Granted, half of them are kH’s, because if I don’t know what to get him, I get him a book about Lincoln. Or Rome. Usually Lincoln. It’s easier to keep up with Lincoln scholarship than Roman scholarship.
My husband even has Lincoln socks. It was that or a book about Rome, so…
We may have listened to Assassination Vacation with pH in the car, too, but she was really young–twoish–at the time. Even if she was paying attention, she was probably just cooing over the voice acting. (Oh, wait, that was me. I’d already read the book.)
This pH doesn’t know: when I took Labor Law, long before she was born, the way the schedule shook out, I ended up with Textile Workers v. Lincoln Mills as one of my cases. To non-lawyers: this meant I spent about 30-45 minutes, or half of class, being grilled by a (really amazing labor law) professor. I just found my outline, and apparently distilled it down to
for the final. Apparently that blurb was enough to remind me of the case, which I have mostly since forgotten.
And so while I hate Lincoln Mills the defunct company (we are pro-labor: see above regarding Kentucky and cross reference with coal mining), I do bear the case some affection. Because there are good days and bad days when you’re up in law school (although friends will always tell you you did well), but I know I rocked the Lincoln Mills case.
And because I have crazy luck in antique stores, years later I found this:
I particularly like the “Freedom from High Prices” and “Freedom from Extra Charges” captions, because apparently they weren’t clear on the freedom to avoid arbitration…they were on the hook for that one.
So you get the idea. There’s a lot of Lincoln love in this house.
This is the end of the digression.
Poor President James Buchanan. The point of the post.
Somehow, pH got it in her head that James Buchanan, who was the 15th president, immediately prior to Lincoln, had some involvement with Stephen Douglas and was a bad man. And so she took an orange marker and put a large X through him on her Presidents poster.
“But…why?” I asked.
“Because he helped Stephen Douglas!” pH said.
Seriously, I’m thinking bless her little heart. Because I didn’t realize she knew who Stephen Douglas was. So I explained the debates were for a Senatorial race that Lincoln lost. That Buchanan had been president at the time, but that Lincoln became the 16th President in 1861. She felt bad, and we mostly erased the X with a microfiber cloth (along with some of President Buchanan’s face).
“But if you want to cross out No. 43…”
*I am the only member of my family capable of giving away, selling, or donating books, although I mark them up so heavily I can’t sell many. Unless they’re valuable, I abuse them horribly. Tabs. Highlighters. Pens. I’m going to book hell when I die. (But I never dog-ear pages. *shudder*) True story.
Our family’s library took up half a semi when we moved. Again, true story. So when people ask me–and this is the weirdest damned question–how many books we have, I always just kind of stare. Compared to what or whom, exactly? The Library of Congress? A janitorial closetful. The lady next door? A lot. (Who counts their books?) I do know I had a hell of a time convincing a mover in his broken English and my non-existent Spanish but apparently very evocative gestures–that and I hadn’t paid him yet–that yes, I was going to be able to fit all the boxes into the condo. And I did. I once made a promise I wasn’t going to buy any more bookcases, but that I might allow myself to buy better bookcases, but that hasn’t happened yet. And little bookcases don’t count against total. And it’s totally okay to double or triple stack.