“To hell with Grover Norquist. I don’t care about Grover Norquist. Give me a break.”
— Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand, Republican
That’s one Republican seeing the light. Any others?
(h/t Rod Dreher)
I recently stumbled upon the National Archives’ “History Crush” series, wherein archivists confess their undying love for certain historical figures like Susan B. Anthony, Charles Sumner, and Alexander Hamilton. This got me thinking about who mine would be. As a certified history nerd, I have many. But with a gun to my head, I’d probably have to say Theodore Roosevelt.
Edmund Morris’ three-volume trilogy (comprising The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, Theodore Rex, and Colonel Roosevelt) about the 26th president of the United States is teeming with surreal stories and facts about TR, like how he wrote a best-selling book The Naval War of 1812 during college and became a New York assemblyman at 23; or how in Dakota he single-handedly chased down and captured three outlaws who stole his riverboat and escorted them back overland in a forty-hour marathon with no sleep while finishing a Tolstoy book; or how as NYC police commissioner he patrolled the city at night to shape up the city’s cops and along the way met poor people who would later partly inspire his progressivism; or how he bonded with John Muir at Yosemite and later single-handedly created the national parks system; or how he was shot in the chest while giving a campaign speech in Milwaukee but finished the speech anyway; or how he blazed down the Amazon River, acquiring a deadly amount of abscesses, dysentery, and malaria along the way and lived to write about it.
Of course, so much of the pomp surrounding TR’s legacy was partially created by TR himself – he had an insanely swollen ego that would have gotten him in a lot more in trouble had he not been beloved for most of his life. But I would argue that he earned the acclaim he craved for many reasons, not the least of which being he was brilliant, a voracious reader (a book a day (!) on average—sometimes I can barely muster the energy to read a chapter a night), and renowned historian who wrote constantly and could talk to any dignitary, scholar, or layman about literally any subject.
But the most interesting thing about TR, to me, is he was a walking contradiction. He was a sickly boy with chronic health problems, but basically said Screw it and let his unbounded energy drive himself to a full live but an untimely death. He was a wealthy Harvard aristocrat yet happily fraternized with the poor people whom his buddy Jacob Riis called “the other half” of society. He was an ardent environmentalist before there was such a thing, but had an insatiable lust for battle and killing—yet even when he went on a safari and slaughtered hundreds of wild animals, he donated a lot of them to museums for scientific study. Or he just dissected them himself, having acquired biology and ornithology as hobbies at a very young age. He distrusted and helped break up the big-business monopolies that had close ties to his very own Republican Party. He remade a paltry navy into a world-class fleet, but avoided war during his presidency and even won a Nobel Peace Prize.
Both Democrats and Republicans try to claim TR as their own, but he defies a label. In spite of his weaknesses and failures, he was his own man who made an indelible mark on the presidency and the country. For that, Theodore Roosevelt is one of my history crushes.
Part of the Cool Civil War Names series.
Opinions abound about this guy, but I think the nickname Lincoln gave him describes him best: the Wily Agitator. An Ohio-born lawyer and Congressman with Southern ancestry, Vallandigham took it upon himself to lead a crusade against the anti-slavery Republican Party before and during the war and assumed leadership of the Copperheads, a coalition of pro-Confederate Northern Democrats who wanted to settle with the CSA and generally make Lincoln’s life miserable.
It’s one thing to lead the opposition; it’s quite another to be a dick about it. Vallandigham vocally hoped for Northern defeat and threw all kinds of hyperbolic vitriol at Lincoln and the North. He eventually pissed one too many people off and got himself arrested and jailed for sedition. But Lincoln of all people commuted his sentence to banishment to behind Confederate lines. Yet instead of staying below the Mason-Dixon, Vallandigham took to Canada, where he declared himself a candidate for Ohio governor. He might have won if not for Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg in mid-1863. He kept up his opprobrium against Lincoln, but ol’ Abe decided not to arrest him again and instead let him shoot himself in the foot. It worked because the 1864 Democratic platform, which Vall helped write, failed spectacular in the election when Lincoln was decidedly reelected.
The strangest part of his story, though, was its end. Vallandigham ACTUALLY SHOT HIMSELF in 1871 during a trial while trying to prove his client’s innocence. The client walked free, but Clement did not. Karma’s a bitch.
Up next in CWWN, the law-breaking LAMBDIN P MILLIGAN.