Hisbits: Chief Justice/Mr President

A college boxing champion, his physique was more Babe Ruth than squared circle pugilist. I’m sure his college associates made jokes about this heavyweight, yet active young man. William Howard Taft, aside from being our 27th President, he was also our 10th Chief Justice. A position that he had dreamed of all his life, becoming President was due to his obligation to the country, and not a personal desire of his own. In later life, the Chief Justice would comment that he was so happy with his current position, he didn’t remember ever being President.

His Father Alonso had been Secretary of War and Attorney General under President Grant. He would go on to serve as Secretary of War under Theodore Roosevelt. While many would consider his Presidency lackluster, he appointed six Justices to the court. He and Andrew Jackson share the third spot in most appointments behind Washington and Franklin Roosevelt. Taft supported Booker T. Washington, and African American entrepreneurs. A western scout and a Texas Ranger disarmed a would be assassin a few feet away from President Taft. Two states joined the Union during his Presidency, New Mexico and Arizona.

Upon leaving the White House, he dropped eighty pounds. His revived interest in the outdoors led him to explore Africa. The former President carried a cane of petrified wood, a gift from a college professor friend. With both the physical weight, and the weight of the Presidency off his shoulders, he seemed to excel. The one term President became the President of the American Bar Association, truth be told, it was a position he probably liked better.

On June 30, 1921, the day that he had waited for all his life arrived. President Harding nominated him for the position of Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. The vote was sixty to four in favor of the former chief executive. He is the only man in our history to hold both offices, but make no mistake, this was no footnote in history. His was a renaissance in the era of the court, a turning point for the judicial branch. One that it had never seen before, and possibly no one since has impacted it in a more positive fashion.

The building they are housed in, isn’t the house that he built, but it was the one Taft ordered. Before he lobbied for an actual building, they were forced to meet in the old Senate chambers. The court, in many ways, was ran like an afterthought. While it was completed five years after his death, it owed it’s existence to the Chief Justice. He reorganized the disjointed appellate system and brought order to them in a manner that they had never seen. As Chief Justice, he once more returned to the White House, this time to give the Oath Of Office to Presidents Coolidge and Hoover.

Chief Justice Taft loved the rule of law, believing in the upholding of what was good and right with our country. He is one of two Presidents to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, sharing that honor with President Kennedy. Four other Chief Justices are entombed there. His judicial legacy extended beyond his lifetime, as President he appointed both his predecessor, and the man who became his successor. Associate Justice Charles Evan Hughes, whom he had successfully nominated as an Associate Justice, followed him in the position of Chief Justice.

It’s little wonder that the photo of Chief Justice Taft is more noble and relaxed than that of President Taft. He was a man who knew his duty, and committed to it. A man who believed in fighting wholeheartedly, and not battling what he called a “finicky war”. As Americans, we are beneficiaries of both his terms of service. This truly heavyweight champion, proved that no matter how you find the duty thrust upon you, you can achieve the American dream.

HisBit: The Resolute Desk

Wikimedia Image

Like many of our nation’s treasures, it was built in England. From the Mayflower to the founders, our roots run across the shore to Europe. Even the Lady who stands in America’s harbor, arrived with a French accent. Like her, the Resolute Desk is made more and not less American by it’s heritage.

It began life as a ship in Her Majesty’s Navy, and was part of an artic rescue mission.  It served admirably, until the icy waters stranded her, forcing Captain and crew to part company. Later, an American ship rescued it, returning her to America.  

At a time when our two countries were politically at odds, a Senator from Virginia, James Murray Mason, proposed a bill. His idea was to purchase the boat, repair it, and send it to England as a gift. Soon the talk of war ceased, many crediting the Resolute in the process.

When old ships die, they usually are only remembered in paintings and history books, but not the Resolute. At least three desks, not two, were made from its timbers. One to the widow of Henry Grinnell, a man connected with the rescue mission. Another for Queen Victoria, and a third for an American. 

That man was President Rutherford B. Hayes as a gift for America’s kindness. With the exception of four Presidents, it has been used ever since. The decisions of World War II were made on the back of this timber immigrant. Both the pens of Kennedy and Reagan turned bills into law on it. Finally, September 11, 2001 and all the hard days that followed have been helmed at this desk.

Republican and Democrat, liberal and conservative, the majority of America’s executives found this desk up for the job. The reason may have something to do with it’s name. Resolute means admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering. It certainly proved it in it’s pedigree, and like so many other wonderful gifts, has added to our country’s rich history.

The Resolute desk is uniquely American. She is as much a part of our history as any other immigrant who who traveled across the world to make our land their land. I believe that, the great melting pot we are so blessed to partake in, is still the greatest country in the world.  

The artic ship that became an Ambassador, and later a truly Executive assistant knows courses can change. Waters will be tough to navigate, storms will rise, but they will also fall. One decision on its surface alters history, showing us that you and I can do the same. We know, that if we are resolute in our convictions, no obstacle can stand in our way.

Adams, Friendship, & Faith

imageA Letter From Adams To Jefferson:

Now I will avow, that I then believed, and now believe, that those general Principles of Christianity, are as eternal and immutable, as the Existence and Attributes of God; and that those Principles of Liberty, are as unalterable as human Nature and our terrestrial, mundane System.

He was not popular, he wasn’t celebrated, in fact he was mocked. They jokingly referred to him as “His Rotundness”. John Adams was not George Washington, but that wasn’t his problem. I doubt a second Washington would have lived up to the scrutiny of Washingyon’s shadow. Adams problem was also his virtue, he was John Adams.

Was he perfect? Are you and I? He had faults yes, but he also had virtues. Adams was asked to defend a group of soldiers that had killed five civilians in a skirmish. He knew taking the job would hurt his reputation.

What defense was he to use? He selected something that, at the time, was unpopular. Adams chose the truth. “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”  – John Adams

In this same trial, he promoted a concept that would become a pillar of our judicial system. The importance of innocence. He showed that while the eyes of Justice are restricted, her heart is open.

“It is more important that innocence be protected than it is that guilt be punished, for guilt and crimes are so frequent in this world that they cannot all be punished.

But if innocence itself is brought to the bar and condemned, perhaps to die, then the citizen will say, “whether I do good or whether I do evil is immaterial, for innocence itself is no protection,” and if such an idea as that were to take hold in the mind of the citizen that would be the end of security whatsoever.”

The result, six of those men were acquitted. He may not have been shaped like a soldier, but he was a champion of individual freedom. Adams never owned slaves. Decades before President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, Adams abolished it officially in the Massachusetts State Constitution. This man who left the Presidency unwanted, left behind many gifts to our country.

While President, he prevented a costly war with France. He sent William Vans Murray on a peace mission to France. This succeeded in securing peace, and in even winning over the future Emperor Napoleon. This was more than most of Europe could boast.

Adams appointed John Marshall as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Marshall established the principle that laws passed, when contradictory to the Constitution, can be overturned.  Before his death, he would see his son, John Quincy Adams, follow him into the Presidency. Many more of the Adams’ line would serve in public office.

After years of political rivalry, the post Presidency allowed him to rekindle a friendship.  Thomas Jefferson and himself, former friends, had become political enemies. Now, out of the public conflict, they could rediscover what they liked about one another.

Learn this lesson of friendship, what separates you doesn’t have to dissolve your relationship. Be honest about you disagreements, but remain friends. Friendship isn’t compromise, it’s friendship. The Lord Jesus referred to Judas as a friend even during the act of betrayal. Please understand, Judas betrayed the friendship, Jesus never did!

The Church can disagree with certain points of view without a mean spirit. We can voice our problems with certain practices, while still practicing friendship with its practictioners. Adams and Jefferson were still themselves, but they were friends with different views. The Lord, who lead a sinless life, is still the sinner’s greatest friend.

Christ came neither to condone or to condemn, but to connect. Adams, the Un-Washington, was awkward, but he helped to establish the United States Of America. In this day, your Faith may be called out of date, but it’s no accident that this is the time that God placed you in.

Love,defend, and befriend. Adams did. As a result, he left his imprint on our country’s foundation. At the end of your term on this Earth, you’ll be surprised at what you see. In the end, you are exactly what God wanted you to be. You are you, and with God’s help, the combination of Him in you, will change the world.

Hisbits: Theodore Roosevelt Part One

Col RooseveltTheodore Roosevelt was an American. It may be a strange thing to say, but more than almost any other President, he personified the United States. Many people know only four things about him. First that he was President, second, the caricature of his features, thirdly the teddy bear is named after him, and finally, he was a soldier. All of those things are part of him, but there was much more to him than most Americans know.

Some know that he was a sickly child, who through perseverance and difficulty strengthened his feeble frame. A few know that it was his Father that inspired him to do so. Many don’t know that he lost his first Wife, and his Mother on the same day. This devastated the man behind the myth. He left his life as a State Assemblyman to become a rancher and also served as a Deputy Sheriff. This rough adventure helped to build the man we know today.

When he returned to New York, he remarried and returned to politics. Along with his daughter Alice from his first marriage, five children were born into the Roosevelt home. These children were the delight of his life. He served on the Civil Service Commission, was a New York Police Commissioner, and became the Assistant Secretary of the Navy.

War in Cuba caused him to resign his position and formed the volunteer regiment “The Rough Riders.” While serving, after Colonel Wood was promoted to Brigadier General of the volunteer forces, Roosevelt was placed in charge of his regiment. He was promoted from Lieutenant Colonel to Colonel. Upon his return to civilian life, many would refer to him as either T.R. or Colonel.

He described that day at San Juan Hill as the happiest day of his life. He lead two very important charges that day, and was nominated for the Medal Of Honor. It would later be awarded posthumously, after his son received it for exemplary service in World War II. He gladly left the halls of power for the battlefield, and cherished his service there.

He was elected Governor of New York, and did so much to weed out corruption, that the “Boss” of his party nominated him to the Vice Presidency, just to get rid of him. In one of my favorite stories, the Colonel outsmarted the politician. Party boss Thomas Platt promised to support Roosevelt’s bid for Governor if he agreed to meet with him before acting. Roosevelt agreed, and true to his word met with him. Then, he would proceed to do exactly what he felt was right, instead of what Platt wanted. This lack of corruption propelled him to the second highest office in the land.

Upon the death of McKinley, Roosevelt became President. It seems he was always meant to be President, as a small boy, he witnessed the funeral procession of President Lincoln. Two presidential assassinations would leave their impact on both him, as well as the country.

We’ll continue talking about “The Colonel” in our next Hisbit, Theodore Roosevelt Part Two.

Hisbits: George Washington

GeorgeWashingtonWatercolorTJWe love history at PruittWrites. We hope that you enjoy our first historical article on our first President, George Washington.

Whether your first vision of Washington is behind a President’s desk or wearing a Continental uniform, you see the Great Washington, not the dreaming one. This is not an essay to pick apart the hero. Sadly, that seems to be the trend in biographies in the present world. This man was too idealistic, let’s find his secrets. She was too beautiful, seek out her warts. I submit to you that in the centuries of time, while only One was perfect, He helped many do more than there best.

When we think of great historical men, we think of them, not first as strapping young dreamers, but the great men we know they became.Today I would like to ponder the roadmap of a historical giant. His name, George Washington. I ask that you view him, not with a powdered wig crossing the Potomac. Instead, look on him as a young surveyor in Virginia.

He lost his Father at a young age. Had it not been for help from his brother, he would not have received his chance for a start at a better life. He suffered the loss of a fort in the French and Indian War. However, the lessons he learned would rove invaluable in the near future.

My focus on Washington is not the fact that he held our country together as a General. Although his influence was vital to the success of the revolution. It was his choice to resign from power that even amazed King George III. He chose freedom over power, and then helped to formulate the keystone for a free and open form of government.

George Washington is called the Father of our country, and I believe rightly so. More than that, he was the Friend of our country. He realized that the decisions he made while in office would be the foundation of those who came after him. A precedent is described as the person or thing that becomes the model. Washington was not only presidential, but to coin a phrase, precedental.

Throughout his tenure, He would appear to never forget these two things. The first was that he would be the first of many, and second, that his time would end. All new Presidents do not begin there term thinking about there last day, but they should. When you remember the destination, you’re more careful about the journey.

Great leaders can discover and promote greatness in others when they’re not bogged down by ego. Even when they show very little sign of greatness. Such was the case with a member of President Washington’s cabinet, who had been part of General Washington’s staff.

His peers were of the opinion that this aide de camp was aristocratic, stubborn, and arrogant. Alexander Hamilton’s nickname was “The Little Lion”. In contrast to his young subordinate, Washington had learned when to roar and when to keep silent.

Washington was able to look past opinions to see virtue. Because of this, Hamilton impacted Washington’s administration and the history of the United States. He made a difference, but it was by Washington’s invitation only.

Another incident occurred that he did not invite, it was called The Whiskey Rebellion. Congress passed an excise tax on distilled whiskey that was highly unpopular. A group organized an armed rebellion. Among the President’s responses, dusting off his uniform and saddling his horse.
President Washington lead an army roughly the same size as the Continental Army into Pennsylvania. He sent a message that was essentially saying, that he had fought for his country once, and he was willing to once more.

We make the mistake of imagining Washington’s terms as easy, that wasn’t the case. Part of our Founding Father’s time was spent refereeing between two prominent American sons, Hamilton and Jefferson. Washington’s goal was not to be either Hamiltonian or Jeffersonian, it was to be an American. This meant making decisions based on the needs of the country even when it angered his fellow countrymen. It must have been exhausting. A tired man would have given up, but a tired soldier marched on for another term.

Today, in a cynical world, we cannot imagine anyone not wanting to be President for as long as humanly possible. George Washington was the exception. His two feuding Cabinet members temporarily forged a truce to convince him to even serve a second term. He agreed, but a third term was out of the question. After seeing the country through a revolution and spearheading a fledgling government, he was ready to leave.

When a man leaves something it is his duty to leave a legacy. This is not for his sake, that would be a monument. Others would build Washington’s monument, he was more concerned about scaffolding. A legacy is meant to be like the framework of a building or garden, it provides a means for the future to grow straight and tall. Washington’s farewell address, to this day, is considered one of America’s most important documents. It is read on the floor of the Senate every year. This soldier, this farmer, this surveyor laid the plum line America would hold to for years to come.

Most think his story ends farming in Mt Vernon. It’s a beautiful picture, the man who stood for a nation now planted the seeds for its future. An that’s true,but it wasn’t his farming in Virginia where he sowed. At President Adams’ request, he reluctantly returned to the military to help organize an army that would outlive him.

President Washington would be the first to point out that he wasn’t perfect. After all, If he ever doubted, Valley Forge had reminded him how human he was. It’s told that a very human general called on a very Divine God of armies in a blanket of snow. In the end my image of Washington is more than dates and events. It’s not merely a canvas and brush strokes. It’s a mixture of humility and nobility, with touches of perseverance, commitment, and consistency.