April 5, 1792: George Washington Issues First Presidential Veto

On this day in 1792, President George Washington exercised the first presidential veto on an issue that still remains relevant in this day and age.

George WashingtonOn this day in 1792, President George Washington exercised the first presidential veto on an issue that still remains relevant in this day and age.

The legislation Washington vetoed would have divided up the number of Congressional seats in a manner that gave a larger portion to northern states. After serious deliberation with his advisors and fellow Virginian Thomas Jefferson, Washington chose to veto the bill on the grounds that it was unconstitutional and set a dangerous precedent for future abuse. With the veto, he offered a proposal of apportioning Congressional seats based on one representative for 33,000 U.S. citizens, which the Congress accepted.

Today, a member of Congress represents approximately 650,000 people with his or her state legislatures mapping out the district every ten years based on the U.S. census figures. One only needs to look at the controversies that arise with each state’s redistricting cycle to see how prophetic the first presidential veto truly was.

March 20, 1854: Republican Party Founded

On this day in 1854, the Republican Party was founded in a schoolhouse in Ripon, Wisconsin as an anti-slavery party. By 1860, the party controlled the northern states and the White House, following the election of Abraham Lincoln.

Republican Party LogoOn this day in 1854, the Republican Party was founded in a schoolhouse in Ripon, Wisconsin as an anti-slavery party. By 1860, the party controlled the northern states and the White House, following the election of Abraham Lincoln.

Two political parties have always generally dominated the U.S. political system. The Democratic Party, founded in the 1790s, is the oldest, and has participated in every election since then.  Before 1854, several parties vied to be that dominant second major party. There was the Whig Party, the Free Soil Party and the Know-Nothing Party. Members of the all of those parties found a home in the Republican Party.

Both the Democrats and Republicans have changed with the country. Aside from a few unique instances in American history, most notably the third party candidacies of Theodore Roosevelt, George Wallace and Ross Perot, the Democrats and Republicans have seen no viable threat to their dominance of U.S. politics.

 

 

 

February 26, 1931: Robert Novak Born

Robert NovakOn this day in 1931, Robert David Sanders Novak was born in Joliet, Illinois. He would go on to be one of the best political columnists in American history.

Early in his career, Novak covered Washington for the Associated Press, then The Wall Street Journal. In 1963, he and Rowland Evans started Inside Washington, a syndicated weekly column. When Evans retired from publishing the column in 1993, Novak continued it.

In addition, Novak authored numerous books and became a fixture on CNN’s Crossfire and numerous political talk shows. While the latter received mixed reviews at best, his writings were always pure gold. In an era where many columnists’ M.O. is to regurgitate the same news in the loudest and pithiest manner, Novak always offered a new nugget of information in each of his column. I heard him speak in 2007 on his autobiography, “Prince of Darkness: 50 Years Reporting in Washington,” and the level of access that this man had to the White House and Congress was incredible.

That access, of course, got him in trouble late in his career, as it was Novak’s column that leaked Valerie Plame’s identity and cover as a CIA operative. The story has been covered in detail by the media, Hollywood and in Novak’s autobiography, and remains sore partisan subject to this day.

In August of 2008, Novak retired after being diagnosed with a brain tumor. He passed away on August 19, 2009.

Up to the end of his career, Novak’s columns remained relevant and potent. Below are a few gems that he penned in his final six months on the job.

February 22, 1885: First “President’s Day” Celebrated

On this day in 1885, all federal offices were closed for the first time in honor of President George Washington’s Birthday. The holiday, which has come to be known as President’s Day was eventually moved to the third Monday in February. President’s Day seems to be more fitting as there are other commanders-in-chief whom we like to celebrate… often for our own personal reasons.

On this day in 1885, all federal offices were closed for the first time in honor of President George Washington’s Birthday. The holiday, which has come to be known as President’s Day was eventually moved to the third Monday in February.  President’s Day seems to be more fitting as there are other commanders-in-chief whom we like to celebrate… often for our own personal reasons.

It is as impossible to not celebrate Washington as it is to understand or relate to him. Although biographies by George Washingtonauthors like Ron Chernow have humanized our first president, he still remains mythical in the eyes of most Americans. But Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln are a little more accessible and nowhere is our nation’s constant struggle between luck and labor better displayed than in these two men.

Both Lincoln and Jefferson appear on Mount Rushmore, have their own memorials and remain ranked among the Siena Research Institute’s five most effective presidents.  Yet they adopted radically different approaches to achieve their success.  As you stare in to Lincoln’s tired eyes or reflect on the symbolism surrounding Jefferson, you realize are fascination with them are often more about the way all Americans work to succeed in our country than what either of these men contributed to it.  In life, and especially in politics, you are either a Lincoln or a Jefferson.

Thomas JeffersonBorn into wealth, Thomas Jefferson authored the Declaration of Independence at age 33. In his final years, he designed the University of Virginia.  During his tenure as our third president, he kept our young nation out of the Napoleonic Wars and negotiated its largest land growth to date with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.  Despite this expensive acquisition, he still reduced the national debt by a third.

Jefferson excelled outside politics as well.  Monticello is chocked full of inventions designed by its owner.  Jefferson’s awe of Jesus’ philosophy – but doubtfulness of Christ’s divinity – caused him to write his own Jefferson Bible from the ancient scriptures, a task aided by his fluency in Greek and Latin.  Jefferson was also a skilled violinist whom The Washingtonian lists as a member of the Washington Music Hall of Fame, along with the likes of Duke Ellington and Patsy Cline.

Abraham Lincoln is not in the Washington Music Hall of Fame.  He isn’t even considered brilliant, or quite frankly, even handsome.  Lincoln achieved his success through a relentless drive.  Born of humble origins in Hardin County, Kentucky, Lincoln worked tirelessly to educate himself and eventually become a lawyer and Illinois State legislator.  Law partner William Herndon once said, “His ambition was a little engine that knew no rest.”

On occasion, that engine stalled.  Despite his drive, Lincoln’s pre-presidential career was topsy-turvy.  He lost several elections and suffered two nervous breakdowns before squeaking into the White House in a three party race in 1860.

During his presidency, Lincoln slept very little and grew gaunt as he led the nation through the Civil War and then forged a peace with the Confederacy afterwards. He accomplished this amazing feat as he dealt with an unhappy Congress, a crazy wife, and the death of one of his sons.  Even if you are a NYC-is-the-center-of-the-universe Yankee or a Rebel flag waving southerner, there is no argument that the Civil War remains America’s darkest period and its defining moment.  Despite intense hostility, Lincoln also managed to beat Democrat George McClellan in the election of 1864, thus making him the first two-term U.S. president in thirty years.  Lincoln embodied the little engine that could.

This is, of course, a black and white representation of both Lincoln and Jefferson.  Just because Jefferson is celebrated as an intellectual stallion doesn’t mean he wasn’t a workhorse.  And Lincoln did not save the Union by sweat alone.  I’m sure he could play an instrument, too.  Still Jefferson is remembered as the dreaming, sophisticated genius; Lincoln, the pragmatic hard-worker.

You cannot like both men equally, and even more, you cannot see yourself in both of them.  They are representative of the Type A and B personalities that keep Washington thriving.  You are either a Lincoln or a Jefferson.