Dublin Chief Inspector Peter McGarr of the An Garda Síochána (Guardians of the Peace) features in a series of krimies set in Ireland. They are rich in local detail and meticulously plotted with a variety of characters from lowlifes to highlifes. At times the inner compulsion to finish a job sees McGarr venture into Northern Ireland during The Troubles.

This installment in the series rests on James Joyce’s 'Ulysses.' Say no more. I had to read it. A scholar from Trinity College who lectures in the thriving business of Bloom’s Day is murdered. The suspects include academic rivals, jealous lesbians, a much put upon wife, a street gang, and ... well that is enough.

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While his team interview and re-interview these prospects, and walk over the Bloom’s Day tour time and again retracing both Leopold Bloom’s and Stephen Dedalus’s footsteps, McGarr sits in the warm June sun in the garden at home reading 'Ulysses' in search of a context for all these people and their interactions, connections, meetings, conflicts, and associations. No Dubliner can admit to not having read 'Ulysses' so McGarr says he is re-reading it.

It is a clever premise and it is carried off with grace and good humor.

Harold Stassen (1907 – 2001) sought the Republican nomination for president 13 times between 1940 and 2000.

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By the 1960s his perennial candidacy had become a national joke, but there he was all the same, joke or not, shaking hands, smiling, talking to whoever would listen. The fact is, though, he did two things no one had ever done before and which everyone has done since. He explicitly declared that he sought the 1948 nomination in 1946. There are two points here.

(1) That he overtly and explicitly said he wanted the nomination. In those days the myth was that the parties sought the nominees who waited for the call, not that the candidate sought the nomination. Stassen did. Moreover, he did it two years in advance. Again, unprecedented. No one before had ever before admitted to the ambition so far ahead of schedule, though someone like Henry Clay in the 19th Century worked four years in advance to get nominations, he never admitted it.

(2) That Stassen would contest for the nomination through the primary election. That was likewise unprecedented. Though primaries had a long existence after the waves of the Populists and Progressives at the advent the Twentieth Century they were an empty ritual at the top of the ticket. State party committees decided whom to vote for in the national nominating convention. Stassen, lacking the connections of rivals like Senator Robert Taft, the public profile of General Douglas MacArthur, and the tested staff of Thomas Dewey, based his campaign on winning primary elections. The delegates he won would not secure the nomination, went the reasoning, but the publicity of winning and the press coverage would convince state party committees that he was a winner and they would switch to him. Stassen entered every primary going and ignored the state Republic Party committees in each one of them. Not a good longterm strategy but one he persisted in. These committees then retaliated by arranging primaries so as to disadvantage upstarts like Stassen. Yet he never learned from this feedback.

Now both these steps are common practice. Aspirants start organizing and fundraising years in advance, and they work almost exclusively through the primary election calendar.

Stassen was -- wait for it -- a liberal Republican. Is it any wonder that his name cannot be dredged up on the Republican National Committee’s web site. In deference to the Tea Party zealots the Republican Party continues to delete its own history, erasing Herbert Hoover, George Norris, Thomas Dewey, Arthur Vandenberg, John Lindsay, Wendell Wilkie, Earl Warren, Margaret Chase Smith, Henry Cabot Lodge, Nelson Rockefeller, along with Stassen.

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In Stassen’s time and place, being a liberal Republican meant: (1) internationalism rather than isolationism, (2) pro civil rights, and (3) cooperative with organized labor. Anti-communism was a given for all concerned. Internationalism meant working through the United Nations. Recognition of civil rights and organized labor meant not assuming that every black or trade unionists was a communist. He always referred to himself in that way, a ‘liberal Republican,’ yet the authors change that to ‘progressive Republican’ for reasons best known to themselves.

Stassen’s early career seemed charmed. He went from country attorney, an elected office, in 1938, to governor of Minnesota at 31 years of age, without seeming effort, defeating an entrenched incumbent.

When he was 33 he was the keynote speaker at the 1940 Republican national convention, and that gave him a national profile, and he caught Potomac Fever, and never recovered from it. (Other keynote speakers have later become nominees, think William Jennings Bryan or Barry O’Bama.)

He easily won re-election as governor in 1940 and 1942. That was his last elected office at 35.

In 1946 he declined to run for the Senate from Minnesota when he returned from the Navy so that he could concentrate on that presidential run in 1948. (His 1940 campaign was the creation of a few supporters at the nominating convention inspired by his keynote address. His 1944 candidacy was managed by Minnesota supporters for as a serving naval officer he was forbidden from political activity.)

President Franklin Roosevelt appointed him to the American delegation of six to the San Francisco deliberations that created the United Nations, of which Stassen remained a lifelong advocate. He worked closely with Doc Evatt at the time.

In the 1948 Republican nominating convention he finished third, behind Thomas Dewey and Robert Taft. To block the anti-labor, isolationist, anti-civil rights Taft, Stassen supported the cool and aloof Dewey who went on to lose the unloseable election to Harry Truman.

Between 1948 and 1952 Stassen served as president of the University of Pennsylvania, one of Ivy League universities. He brought to the job a reputation as a good organizer capable of working with a variety of people and a national profile. His mission was to raise funds for the University. He took the job on the condition that he would continue his political activities. This was never a good idea, and it failed. Though it should be said that he somehow managed to protect Penn from the Red-baiting witch-hunting of the self-appointed anti-Communist crusaders who purged professors at Columbia, Harvard, and Brown.

In 1952 he supported Dwight Eisenhower against Mr. Republican, Robert Taft. But it was not clear whether Eisenhower would leave the army for politics, Stassen’s support for him also positioned him as the fallback candidate if Eisenhower declined the honour. Eisenhower did accept the nomination and won the subsequent election.

President Eisenhower appointed him to several administrative positions, which he handled well.

There follows all those other campaigns that seem like those action film stars today who keep slugging it out with Computer Generated Imagery in their 60s. He never seemed to learn from his failed campaigns and tried to do the same thing again next time, until it just became a habit. Perhaps those effortless early successes convinced him a destiny awaited, and he kept making himself available for the call. In addition to his quadrennial presidential campaigns he ran for governor, Congress, mayor, several times, and lost each time.

Stassen’s approach was low-key. At the podium he was an average speaker, but shone in question and answer sessions where he took an interest in what people had to say, no matter how many times he had heard it before or how uninformed it was, and responded in a way that communicated to the audience, farmers, factory workers, students, or voters on street corners. Likewise, he was an effective organizer and administrator who preferred to talk things over with people rather than pronounce glittering phrases that could be quoted.

Most of all he is an example of that person who proclaims ‘40 years of experience,’ when the truth is that it is one year of experience repeated 39 more times. He never learned from experience.

In 1968 he was on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial when Martin Luther King gave that speech, having marched there with King (and many others). Full marks for that. Given the snide and gratuitous remarks President Ronald Reagan offered about Dr. King, it is doubtful that any Republicans these days would stand with him.

The obvious comparison is that other boy-wonder from Minnesota, Humbert Humphrey, who is scarcely mentioned in these pages. Humphrey did go into the Senate and as a result had a higher profile than Stassen ever did after 1948.

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The authors keep some distance between themselves and the subject, sometimes contradicting Stassen’s own assertions. There is also much evidence of archival research. That said, I found the book hard going. It offers neither a chronological nor a thematic approach but goes back and forth between the two. It is not a biography, despite that subtitle -- ‘The Life...’ -- and so we never learn much about the man behind all the activities which are listed in pointless detail. The repetition suggests that the chapters were written by different co-authors. Furthermore, three-quarters of the book concerns the years 1944-1956, twelve years of his four score and thirteen.

Nor is it clear how Stassen made a living as a perennial candidate who took unpaid leave to campaign. Who paid for the buses and planes in his campaigns after 1952 is never mentioned. Did he have a core of financial backers, or just one, like Newt Gringrich, who will pay any price continually to have a message delivered, however badly? Then there is the question of his wife, whose name is mentioned now and then, and nothing more.

I met Harold Stassen in 1960 without much of idea of who he was. One of his earliest and most loyal supporters lived in Hastings and Stassen came through when campaigning in the Republican primary.

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The name stuck with me, though nothing else did except that he was wearing a wig, and I have now got around to scratching it.

22 Germinal 221
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Nothing reminds us of the essential irrationality of the world than, there before our eyes everyday, the calendar.

Consider the numbers: the moon’s cycle is 29.53049 days which does not yield a nice set of months. Helios is no better. The earth orbit of Sol is 365.242199 days which yields 12.36827 months. These calculations were done by ancient civilizations around the world. Some of which had enough sense to stop there. The others formed committees.

(The hole gets deeper, if we ask what ‘a day’ is. And why, oh why, the seven day week? Let’s not go there, just now.)

The Julian calendar is one compromise, amusingly portrayed in John Maddox Robert’s novel 'The Year of Confusion' (2010) when Caesar tired of the squabbles among the expert committee he assembled to solve this problem. As always the defining feature of an expert committee is disagreement. After exhausting the treasure and patience of Caesar, the committee produced in 46 BCE a calendar that differed from the prevailing calendar by 0.0024 of a day! The committee did have enough sense among its cantankerous members to flatter its patron with that month ‘July.’

Pope Gregory repeated the exercise in the 16th Century with the result that the months range from 28 to 31 days, and inserted every fourth year a catch-up with Leap Year. No mathematical perfection there to please the Pythagorean in our souls.

‘Pope’ did I say ‘Pope?’ Yes, the Catholic Church owned that new calendar and completely colonized it with Saints’ days, feast and fast days, and more.

When the French Revolution ushered in the Age of Reason in 1793 it was as much a revolt against the Catholic Church as the Ancien Régime. All those saints’ and fast days had to go, and they went! They were rooted out right down to the calendar itself. The year of the Revolution was Year Zero, and that was 190 years ago and April is Germinal.

Another committee was formed..... It produced violent disagreements and incomprehensible technical disputes that led some of its member to the guillotine. How else to get a consensus but with a sharp edge? So the chair of many an expert committee has asked. Iain Pears's charming Jonathan Argyll stumbles, as always, on just such a deranged committee chair in 'The Titian Committee' (1999), and though committee members are murdered one-by-one, the remainder are no closer to agreement. So true. Discordant unto death which in Latin, sort of, is 'discordat usque ad mortem.'

The French Revolutionary Calendar made the irrational world, briefly, rational with decree after decree. The day, the week, the month, and the year, all had to change. And change they did (remember that sharp edge for those who clung to the forbidden, corrupt past).

As long as the earth spins, the irrationality remains despite what a committee in Paris does. The only solution is .... Yes, more committees. In the long outfall of the French Revolution, another French committee -- inspired by the success of the platinum metre -- tried again in the middle of the Nineteenth Century, but it soon fell apart and one member, the irrepressible August Comte, proceeded on his own with the Positivist Calendar with months named after Moses, Homer, Aristotle, Archimedes, Descartes, Fredrick the Great, Dante, ... and Bichat. Bichat? [I don’t know.] Each week also got a name, e.g., Socrates, Confucius, Mohammed... So did every single day!

The Russian revolutionaries made their own calendar with the result that their own October Revolution retrospectively moved to November! It does get confusing when time is relative. Vide Einstein.

There came another committee at the League of Nations, which produced the International Fixed Calendar, dividing the year into thirteen months, each of 28 days with an extra day at the end. Not heard of it? Few have. It died with the League to be buried alongside that other bold effort at rationality, Esperanto.

The next effort to control time was when Adolf Hitler decreed that all of Nazi subjugated Europe keep Berlin time regardless of sun or moon. Megalomaniacs all.

By the way, the French Revolutionary Calendar is essentially a blank calendar template in which nothing ever changes, as per that phrase. The more things change, the more they remain the same.
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Having read three of Tuchman’s other books with relish, I moved on to this one. This book seems to this reader to be -- superbly written, true to say -- a glib festival of hindsight, with some self-indulgence thrown in.

It is certainly true that governments, the focus in these pages, persist in failed polices, at times with an irrational fervor. It was said of Phillip II of Spain that ‘no experience of the failure of his policy could shake his belief in its essential excellence’ and it could be said of many others, too. (The same is also true of the corporate world, too, but that is another matter.)

That painful, self-destructive persistence takes some explanation. But it is not to be had here.

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First is the indulgence: She, the doyenne of (at least) popular history, starts with the Trojan acceptance unquestioned of that wooden horse. Hey, that is the Iliad, which is fiction at best and myth at least! People do foolish things in novels and plays as plot devices. A false note at the start is not a good start.

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There follow flawless accounts from the vantage of Olympian hindsight of the popes generating the Reformation, of England precipitating the American Revolution, and the United States trying to destroy itself in Vietnam. Each is certainly a remarkable example of political failure, each replete with fascinating personalities and stories which she tells far better than most; likewise much of it has been well told many times before. Another telling adds what?

The method is to identify the critics and naysayers, whom history proved right, starting with Cassandra. The naysayers show that there was doubt and that there was an alternative that was eschewed as time and effort instead went into the mistake approach, which she calls policy, a term to which we shall return below. Therein lies the rub.

There are always, I repeat, always naysayers. That they existed proves nothing. That fate in perfect hindsight vindicates some of them is no help. The naysayers are very often wrong. How can one discern the true negatives among all those negatives?

Look around, anything you see, a building or an institution, a custom or a practice had its naysayers. There is a Newton’s Law in society: for every action there is a reaction, though not aways equal, and not always opposite. One day cricket, oral vaccines, art deco buildings, trams, credit cards, women wearing pants, all of these had loud, heated, persistent naysayers, and some of them still do, by the way. The book about the March of Naysayers would fill every library shelf in the world. The file would be too big for Kindle.

So what? If everything stopped because someone feared the worst, nothing would happen.

These pages offer no way to distinguish a naysayer worth listening to from one not worth listening to. Remember that Cassandra had been against everything all her life. Like that boy who cried wolf, she had spent her credibility long ago, that is part of the joke that Homer has, the one time she was right was of paramount importance, but everyone was way past hearing her.

The very word ‘policy’ is part of the problem here. In the 1970s political parties discovered this term and began to use it to distinguish themselves. They no longer had programs, practices, procedures, or even promises, let alone principles, they had policies. Of course, no one has ever been quite sure what ‘policy’ means as distinct from all those other ‘p’ words, but it does at least mean consistency. These policies have been painted in ideological and partisan colours. Once the opposition has embraced a policy, its opponents can no longer touch that policy. Thus is the political world divided.

The media has fixed onto that consistency and first tirelessly demands that a policy be stated, and then attacks the stater for any deviation from it. It is win-win for the media. Though political parties started this game they are now reaping the whirlwind.

Pity the politician who offers no policies. Yes, I know Margaret Thatcher scorned the word but she practiced what she did not preach under the heading of principle which in her case was ‘policy’ sans le mot.

Never mind that the world is a wild beast, that circumstances change, that reality testing often returns negative results, that the same response does not always fit all cases.

The standard is consistency.

It is as though, we should demand that medical doctors prescribe the same therapy for each patient, regardless of medical history, circumstances, prognosis, capacity, etc., rather than try to tailor the therapy to the individual.

Policy, that is, consistency, is itself sometimes itself the problem. Yet the demand is always for more policy, another policy.

If all this seems inchoate and abstract, turn to the example of Franklin Roosevelt who never tied his hands with either policies or principles but willingly tried this-and-that to find something that might work. Like Abraham Lincoln, Roosevelt had a goal and he steered toward that, though not always in a straight line, which meant going left sometimes and right other times. One imagines the meal a smirking ABC journalist, or a shouting Fox .... [journalist] would make of that today.

By the way, the best book on American involvement in Vietnam remains Neil Sheehan, A Bright and Shining Lie (1989). J. Paul Vann was Thucydides in this war, and when he died, Sheehan became his amanuensis.
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This is a study of how one Fabian Ware created the funereal symbols we now associate with World War I and subsequent wars. The subtitle is ‘How one man’s vision led to the creation of WWI’s war graves.’

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A reference to ‘war graves’ brings to mind green grass and ranks of white head stones to many of us. A reference to symbols evokes the solemn statuary say in Martin Place, or the dawn ritual of Gallipoli. Each of these and more trace back to Fabian Ware’s Herculean efforts.

Before World War I and Ware’s many efforts, British war dead were left were they fell, unidentified except by their absence at the next roll call, and buried in mass pits or burned with whatever fuel was at hand. The families of wealthy officers might (try to) retrieve the body or have a memorial erected at the site. That was it. And as Britain went so went the Empire.

World War I changed that. The industrial scale of the slaughter, even in the early days of 1914 made the war dead a visible, national issue. Scale tells the story. At Waterloo Wellington’s army had 3,500 causalities. One day at Mons 1914 the British Expeditionary Force had 35,000 causalities. These men were volunteers, but later it would conscripts usually organized geographically. One result was that the eligible manhood of whole villages and towns were destroyed in a battle, say at the hellhole of Ypres, whole cities.

Ware went to France in the earliest days of the conflict as a volunteer ambulance driver. He was a good organizer and soon commanded ever more ambulances and crews. Having been a student in France he spoke the language and loved all things French, apart from the Catholicism. He saw the way the British dead were ignored, and dealt with only as a health hazard or nuisance, and he went to work with a fury.

The metal dog tag, identity disk, was one result of his efforts, along with others. Tommys originally had a cloth name tag on the inside nape of the shirt. In heaps of mangled and rotting dead bodies no one wanted to wade in and cut those out, and most would have impossible to read. Given the staggering number of dead, the British authorities preferred to list the dead as missing to reduce the impact on public opinion. This conspiracy of silence outraged Fare and an outraged Fare was cold, methodical, utterly charming to win over allies, scrupulously rational in argument, and equipped with a mind-numbing array of facts and figures all heated by an evangelical zeal.

Like Thomas Edison and other aliens, Ware needed little sleep working all day driving the ambulance and all night compiling his arguments. In time he shifted his work from ambulances to identifying the dead, and marking and recording the sites where they lay buried.

There was much resistance to this effort but he pressed on and made allies as well as enemies. It is important to note that he was doing this often amid shot and shell. He gathered around him a dedicated team whom he taught, at night after an exhausting and terrifying day’s work, to speak enough French to ask locals about ‘Morts Anglais?’

His work transformed into the Imperial War Graves Commission, and again with a perseverance, tenacity, and wit beyond mere mortal he convinced the Empire dominions of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and India to leave it all to him.

He tried to control everything from the grass to the statuary that arose after the war. Tireless is the only word for it. Megalomania is another.

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He convinced the French government early in 1915 to cede the land English soldiers were buried in to England! Imagine that. (See the note at the end for further explanation.) After the war that led to the consolidation (i.e., digging up thousands of graves and transporting the remains) into large necropolises like that vast expanse at Ypres. Every step was dogged by opposition, religious, familial, national, bureaucratic, political, institutional, church, racial, personal and Ware overcame them all. He anticipated much of this and was sensitive to religious and racial matters in handling the dead that seems enlightened by today’s standards.

In time most of this work was at a desk in London, but he would occasionally put down his pen at 6 pm in London and take the overnight boat-train to France for inspections. He descended on his field teams and more than once took a shovel himself. The men who worked for him hated these inspections for he was a strict taskmaster, but admired his commitment to the cause.

Like Steve Jobs he sweated the small stuff as well as the large.

What was that ‘cause’ any way? World War I, he thought, as did many others, was the last war and even more important it was an Empire war that united all the British peoples, all those naive volunteers, all those conscripts, all those lads from the Dominions, together they were everyman. Most had no wealthy families to care for them in death, and, as a Christian, death and those mortal remains had a sanctity that had to be respected. Moreover, the enormity of the death would discourage future wars, if only that enormity were brought home, he thought.

Death is a democrat; it takes all just as we are. Ware was an egalitarian at this level. He prevented many wealthy families from retrieving their beloved dead in contradiction to his vision of a single nation from all walks of life and parts of the world united in death. Imagine the outrage that caused. Only 10% of the one million British and Empire dead were identified, i.e., 100,000 but the families of many of those wanted their -- son, brother, husband, nephew -- to be singled out as an exception and some were willing to campaign for it and to pay for it. Thousands of letters to the Times denounced Ware in every way. Aristocrats petitioned the Palace and lambasted successive prime ministers. There questions in the House! Ware tried to explain his reasoning in response but the abstractions of equality or the vague promise that mass, majestic, silent cemeteries would stay the sword next time meant nothing to the bereaved here and now. The budget cutters in parliament snipped away as did Treasury. A perfect storm! How did he come through it all?

There is more to the story that is best read. And remember the Imperial War Graves stretched from Mesopotamia to East Africa to Gallipoli to Palestine to Greece to Italy and to the Western Front.

It is another of those cases that shows what a single person with intelligence and will -- a Gulliver among the Lilliputians -- can accomplish pretty much singlehanded, at the start, even in the face of vast bureaucracies (the Army, the Public Works Office, Treasury) that have other important priorities and in the face of an orchestrated and angry public reaction.

The story is much more powerful than the telling. The book is hard going. Many sentences I had to read twice to get the point. Obscure, elliptic, cryptic, inverted, recessive, these words come to mind in describing the prose.

Note. Ceding the land for cemeteries meant it cost nothing, but much more important it made the very land, say, at Étaples forever British even more permanent than an embassy.

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In 1940 when the German army occupied Étaples it thus occupied British territory as much as the Channel Islands. The British flag flies there by right, not by courtesy. That is a gesture as thoughtlessly magnanimous as Winston Churchill's in 1940 offering to surrender British sovereignty to France by combining the countries as one to continue the war. Another story there.

Recommended for fun

Take two late twenty-something French cosmopolitans, she Helen of Troy beautiful, he devastatingly handsome, on the outs and plonk them down in Seldom (Pop. 398), Nebraska and see what happens. That is the hypothesis of this short novel.

If Seldomites are surprised to see, first, Natalie walking down the dusty road with a roller bag, and then half-a-day later the wild-eyed Pierre burst out of a bus that had no business being there, they did not show it. Owen continued curating his shrine to BIG RED FOOTBALL, Carlo continued to think of nothing and no one but Iona who has ignored him (with some difficulty in this very small town) for years, Mrs. Christensen continued to experiment with jello and kool-aid, but Dick Tupper did notice Natalie, did he ever, and Iona did notice Pierre!

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Natalie understands most English said to her full-face, using dictionary words, in proper constructions, and slowly without idioms. Not a common occurrence in Seldom. As a result, ....

Pierre gets about one word in twenty, which is enough when Owen... Well, read the book to find out.

Seldom, it turns out, has a few surprises of its own to offer. (I now know how CarHenge came about. If you don't know CarHenge, maybe you should inform yourself by visiting: http://carhenge.com)

The setting is in the Sandhills where nature remains hard at work.

The result is charming, unexpected, delightful, and finally what you always knew would happen but not quite like that. Think of those screwball film comedies -- It Happened One Night, Bringing Up Baby, My Favorite Wife, You Can’t Take It With You -- from the 1930s and that is the right planet.

Class! Who was the fifth Prime Minister of Australia?

Hum! Don’t know? Well, ignorance is no excuse. Write it down. Alfred Deakin served the fifth term, having done it earlier, and the fifth person to be sworn in as Prime Minister Andrew Fisher.

Now let’s try something harder. Who was the fifth president of the United States? What? James Monroe. Yes! That’s right. Did you peek at the heading? Of course.
Monroe_Portrait.jpgMonroe was the last president to bear arms in the Revolutionary War (1775-1783). While in the Continental Army he warned against the vulnerability of the fledging capital Washington D. C. and proposed defensive measures, which were rejected by the Secretary War at the time, one John Armstrong. The British burned Washington in August 1814 and in September 1814 Monroe was sworn in as his replacement.

Great Britain was much distracted by Napoleon réchauffé and made peace. Monroe was one of the commissioners who negotiated that peace at Ghent in Belgium before Andrew Jackson’s name-making victory at New Orleans. Monroe’s military, administrative, and diplomatic experience together with the patronage of Thomas Jefferson put a presidential stamp on him. There was some talk he would contest the office earlier but he stood aside for another Jefferson favorite, the diminutive James Madison who served two terms. (Monroe had been Secretary of State, had negotiated the Louisiana Purchase, had been ambassador to Great Britain, to Spain, and much else.)

In 1816 Monroe’s time came. Though he was opposed because four the first five U.S. president had been from the Virginia Dynasty. (See if you can guess which is the odd man out.) Nonetheless, he was successful. At this time half of the state legislatures voted for candidates and then transmitted these votes to Congress. In the other half there was a popular vote which did not in all cases bind state delegates. If no candidate received a majority of electoral ballots, then the House of Representatives had a free vote. (All those idiots who idolize the Constitution as a sacred text without every having studied it, might consider this.)

In the event Monroe with the support of the outgoing President Madison and the living god Jefferson won. His re-election in 1820 was nearly uncontested, at least as much because the other major political party dissolved, the Federalists.

Monroe emerges from the pages of this book as a hard-working president who concentrated on foreign relations. This was an imperative because the United States was surrounded by European colonial powers. All were conscious that the United States offered an example of a successful rebellion against distant colonial masters that might be, and was, taken up elsewhere, particularly in Central and South American. There were the British in the Canada from coast to coast. The Russians had a toehold in the Pacific Northwest, while the Spanish claimed everything on the Gulf of Mexico from Florida to Texas, and all of the Caribbean Sea and California’s Pacific coast.

Monroe tried to divide these European neighbors with many separate negotiations. The Spanish were the weakest, and in time, thanks to the impetuous actions of General Andrew Jackson, they yielded Florida and the eternal supply of mosquitoes there.

Spanish weakness raised another specter and that was a French takeover. France rebounded from Napoleon’s second departure and its restored French Bourbon monarchy offered to regain Spain’s restive American colonies from Mexico, Cuba, Colombia, Argentina, and so on. The rumour was that Spain’s Bourbon monarch would transfer its American colonies to France, which would then dispatch a task force to raise the flag.

At the same time, an alliance between Prussia, Hapsburg Empire of Austria, and Russia was rumoured to be planning a move from Alaska into the Pacific coast to San Francisco.

There was a great deal of pressure on Monroe to support the several Latin American rebellions led San Martín, Simon Bolivar, Andre Marti. Monroe resisted this pressure and was criticized far and wide as a coward. (Nothing ever changes.) He was by no means sure how these rebellions would work out and if they failed, the Spanish with other European powers might take revenge on the United States which had proven incapable of defending itself in The War of 1812 a mere nine years ago and since Congress had cut military budgets by half every year… Yet the budget cutters in Congress called the loudest for a declaration of support for everyone, including Greece! (Nothing ever changes.)

Instead Monroe took his time and in a later State of the Union address he declared that the United States would not tolerate further European colonization in the Americas, nor tolerate a transfer of existing colonies to another European power. He was no Jefferson as a wordsmith, and the speech is guarded, qualified, indirect, and convoluted. The more so because the United States was hardly in a military position to enforce such an aspiration, it did by then, through some of those separate negotiations mentioned above, have a silent partner with such capacity and which partner did not want to see any other European power gain ground in the Americas. Class, see if you can infer which power that might be.

This assertion became known, thirty years later, as the Monroe Doctrine of the independence of the Western Hemisphere from Europe. It has been evoked several times since, by Teddy Roosevelt to warn off a German naval expedition to collect debts from Venezuela in 1904. Instead Teddy offered to broker an arrangement to deal with the debts which was accepted. The same had been done earlier (1865) and would be done later (1915) to impede French incursions into Mexico. Regrettably the Monroe Doctrine was also a cloak drawn over some unsavory shenanigans in Central America for two generations, and as a result became an object of resentment throughout Latin American by the time the Cold War came around. Then it was again cited, but by then its moral fiber was worn threadbare.

Monroe oversaw the reconstruction and furnishing of the White House after the British bonfire, and entertained in it at a punishing rate. Three to four dinners a week with 20-30 guests, a reception for 100 to 150 guests once a week. These occasions were all at his own expense but they were expected in a small town where there was little else to do. He was absolutely formal on these occasions. He did not particularly like this enforced society and he refused all invitations to visit others on the grounds of the dignity of the office. He was no communicator or glad-hander.

To manage the work of the office he made use of his family at no pay, his brother, his son, nephews, and cousins, while his wife and daughters managed the social side.

He maintained a strict neutrality in the election of his successor in 1824, which alienated all the candidates, John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson, and John C. Calhoun.

Calhoun was his Secretary of War and he seems to have been a competent administrator with some strategic sense. It pains me to recognize any virtues in this violent and destructive man. It was his building program that led to the construction of Fort Sumter, later to be the flashpoint of the Civil War. Ironic that.

The petty bickering over personal and party preferment which characterizes Washington D. C. today has a long history. In 1817 when Monroe was to be sworn in the practice was for Senators to go the House of Representatives to witness the event in that chamber together with those who could fit into the public gallery once the Senators had been seated.

Henry Clay, a disgruntled candidate for president, was the Speaker of the House of Representatives. No friend of Monroe he. When the Senators proposed that they bring their own red leather chairs and put them on the floor to leave more room in the public gallery, Clay opposed this break with tradition. He was adamant, no red Senatorial chairs will ever sit in the House of Representatives!

Time pressed, and the result was to move the ceremony outside, where it has stayed ever since.

By the way, because of dispute over electoral ballots that changed nothing his second inauguration led to two days during which there was no president of the United States. Monroe’s first term, together with that of his Vice-President, expired on Friday 2 March per the Constitution at the time, but the dispute delayed his inauguration one day. For that one day, there was no one to exercise the presidential office. The succession arrangements in the Constitution at that time did not apply to such a problem. Then Monroe took the oath on Sunday, on which day it could not be communicated to Congress until Monday. The gap was then two days.

Monroe left office deeply in debt and the Congressional grant (in lieu of a pension) he had counted on covered less than half of it. He sold land and property (including tableware) to pay the rest. He died a poor man five years later, like Jefferson and Adams before him, on the 4th of July.
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The volume is a part of series on presidents and it is confined to his presidency. Accordingly it does not mention at all Monroe’s support for the American Colonial Society’s efforts to transport freed blacks to West Africa, which became concentrated on Liberia, and in the city of Monrovia, as we know it today, which was given its name while Monroe was president.

The book is competent and thorough. It does stick rigorously to the presidency of James Monroe. It is not a biography then, and this reader got very little impression of Monroe the man, his family, his life before and after office. All of that is outside the remit of the series.

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