Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2007 Issue

Seven Forgotten Presidents?

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Herbert Hoover, Warren Harding, "His Accidency" John Tyler, "Old Kinderhook" Martin Van Buren.


By Michael Stillman

CNN recently issued a list of seven American presidents nobody remembers. I remember them. So much for CNN being the voice I can trust. Perhaps forgettable rather than forgotten would have been a better title, except then we would have had to include some more recent names we wish we could no longer recall.

Atop the CNN list is Herbert Hoover. Huh? Hoover may not be beloved, but he certainly isn't unknown. His name is synonymous with the Great Depression, which he did not cause, but which fell on his watch. It is too bad, for Hoover was a great humanitarian during both of the great wars, providing food for countless displaced persons. However, when the Depression struck, he could never get past his laissez-faire economic principles, which led him to take few actions to reduce the misery surrounding him. People interpreted this as heartlessness.

Warren Harding makes the list, and he is fairly obscure. Harding, a decent gentleman but by his own admission over his head, trusted too many corrupt aides. His name is now synonymous with Teapot Dome and scandal, though Harding died in office before most of the bad news hit the fan. Harding pledged to return the country to "normalcy," and corruption being "normal" for Washington, he can be considered a success.

An easy choice for this list is "His Accidency," John Tyler. Tyler became president after William Henry Harrison died barely a month after taking office. Tyler served the remaining 47 months as one of the most despised presidents in history. His entire cabinet resigned on him, his political party, the Whigs, disowned him, but he found no support among the rival Democrats either. He was refused his party's nomination when his term expired in 1844. Tyler would return the disrespect he received from his nation in 1861 when he was the only U.S. President to support the rebellion that sought to dismantle it.

Martin Van Buren, "Old Kinderhook," was a wily politician. He survived Andrew Jackson's purge of his cabinet in 1831, and became Jackson's vice-presidential nominee when the President dumped his first V.P., secession-minded John Calhoun. Van Buren was Jackson's hand-picked successor and successful presidential candidate in 1836, but like Hoover, was the victim of brewing economic problems the following year. Naturally, he was held to blame. He lost his bid for reelection in 1840, and a bid for president as the nominee of the Free Soil Party in 1848.

Millard Fillmore has become so synonymous with obscurity that everyone knows his name, though little about him. Fillmore was another accidental president, succeeding Zachary Taylor when the latter died in 1850. Fillmore, like the two presidents who succeeded him, tried to compromise the nation out of civil war, ultimately to no avail. Fillmore was denied the nomination of his Whig Party in 1852, but it mattered little as the party was well on its way to total disintegration. He did run again in 1856, this time as the nominee of the anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic No Nothing Party, which promptly followed the Whigs into oblivion.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Caius Julius Hyginus, <i>Poeticon Astronomicon,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1482. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Giovanni Botero, <i>Le Relationi Universali... divise in Sette Parti</i>, Venice, 1618. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> <i>L'Escole des Filles</i>, likely third edition of the first work of pornographic fiction in French, 1676. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin on vellum, Flanders, early 16th century. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes Regiomontanus, <i>Calendarium,</i> Venice, 1485. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Pedro de Medina, <i>Libro d[e] gra[n]dezas y cosas memorables de España,</i> Alcalá de Henares, 1566. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b><br>Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> Salamanca, circa 1496-97. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Andrés Serrano, <i>Los Siete Principes de los Ángeles, válidos de Rey del Cielo,</i> Spain, 1707. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes de Sacrobosco, <i>Sphaera mundi,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1478. $15,000 to $20,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> A Rare 3-rotor German Enigma I Enciphering Machine. $70,000 to $90,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Important collection of correspondence between Werner Heisenberg and Bruno Rossi. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Walt Whitman Autograph manuscript containing his thoughts on death. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> David Roberts. <i>Holy Land</i>. Six volumes. 1842-1849. First edition. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Extensive collection of Ray Bradbury's primary works, most signed or inscribed. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Peter Force. Declaration of Independence. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Steinbeck. <i>Grapes of Wrath</i>. A fine copy of the first edition. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Lewis & Clark. <i>Travels to the Source of the Missouri River</i>... First English edition, extra-illustrated. 1814. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Manuscript document signed by Nuno de Guzman relating to Hernan Cortes, 1528. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> “Nos los inquisidores..." The first book in English printed West of the Mississippi. [1787]. $5,000 to $8,000.

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