What Happened to the Losers?

In American history, the most notable winners and losers have been presidents and their opponents.  Some elections were landslides; some were so close that a few votes made the difference, and in one the winner who was announced in bold headlines had his fortunes reversed the next morning.

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Thomas E. Dewey was the governor of New York before, during and after his failed 1944 and 1948 bids for the presidency, causing Alice Roosevelt Longworth to quip, “A soufflé doesn’t rise twice.”  The second campaign is the more remembered because the Chicago Tribune ran a story before the polls closed that he had beat Harry Truman.  Eventually Truman got 49.5 percent of the popular vote, and had his picture taken with the infamous front page.

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Dewey, who in his younger years couldn’t decide between a career in professional music or politics, served as district attorney and prosecutor for New York.  Known for his efforts to rid the state of organized crime, he was elected to one more term as governor after 1948, and then returned to private law practice.  He was instrumental in Dwight D. Eisenhower’s campaign in 1952 and the choice of Richard M. Nixon as his running mate.  Dewey was offered the nomination of Supreme Court Justice twice, but turned it down.

DeWitt Clinton

Does this man look like he’s got a headache?  DeWitt Clinton had plenty of things on his mind during his lifetime.  His first job was working for his Uncle George, New York’s longtime governor and twice the vice president of the United States.

The younger Clinton worked his way up through the New York State Assembly, the New York State Senate and the United States Senate.  He ran for president in 1812 but James Madison had the edge.  The loss did not deter DeWitt Clinton from working to get the Erie Canal built in upstate New York, connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes.  He eventually accomplished his goal while serving as governor.  Had he been elected president in 1812, would the canal have been built so soon?  Our railway systems and subsequent economic progress depended on the trail blazed by the Erie Canal.

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Not many Americans live to their hundredth birthday.  Alfred Landon, the Republican candidate for president in 1936, did; the photo above shows President Ronald Reagan’s visit to him in 1987. Landon was a popular governor from Kansas whose party thought had the best chance against Franklin D. Roosevelt.   He carried just two states in the biggest defeat in 116 years.

Portrait of Alfred M. Landon, 1936

Alf Landon.  Kansas Historical Society.

Landon’s daughter, Nancy Kassebaum, served in the United States Senate from 1977 to 1997.  She was the first woman ever elected to a complete term in that office and now, at age 86, has been quoted as saying she couldn’t think of better coattails to have ridden on than her father’s.

The Library of Congress offers the list of presidential “Also Rans,” which I have copied below.  More than one ran again and was elected.   Which are new to you?  No telling what other stories are behind these determined men.   Well, wait a minute, there probably is.  And I will probably do it.

1796                                                                                                                            Thomas Jefferson

Aaron Burr
Charles C. Pinckney
Charles C. Pinckney

DeWitt Clinton
Rufus King
John Quincy Adams
Henry Clay
William H. Crawford
Andrew Jackson
John Quincy Adams
Henry Clay
William H. Harrison
Martin Van Buren
Henry Clay
Lewis Cass

Winfield Scott
John C. Fremont
John Bell
John C. Breckinridge
Stephen A. Douglas
George McClellan
Horatio Seymour
Horace Greeley
Samuel J. Tilden
Winfield S. Hancock
James G. Blaine
Grover Cleveland
Benjamin Harrison
James B. Weaver
William J. Bryan

William J. Bryan
Alton B. Parker
William J. Bryan
Theodore Roosevelt
William H. Taft
Charles E. Hughes
James M. Cox
Robert M. Lafollette
Alfred E. Smith
Herbert Hoover
Norman Thomas
Alfred M. Landon
Wendell L. Willkie
Thomas E. Dewey
J. Strom Thurmond
Henry A. Wallace

Adlai E. Stevenson
Adlai E. Stevenson
Richard M. Nixon
Barry M. Goldwater
Hubert H. Humphrey
George C. Wallace
George S. McGovern
Gerald R. Ford
John Anderson
Jimmy Carter
Walter F. Mondale
Michael Dukakis

George Bush
H. Ross Perot
Robert J. Dole
H. Ross Perot
Al Gore
Ralph Nader
John Kerry
Ralph Nader
John McCain
Ralph Nader
The Library of Congress needs to update!  Can you name the losers in presidential elections since 2008?




Sources: nytimes.com, eriecanalmuseum.org, loc.gov, history.house.gov.


This Old (White) House

The White House was gutted in the early 1950s for an emergency renovation  (www.smithsonianmag.com).

One day in 1948 as First Lady Bess Truman was entertaining  in the Blue Room of the White House, the chandelier began to sway.  She sent someone upstairs to find the cause, who reported it was the butler, Alonzo Fields, walking across the room to get “the boss” a book (he was taking a bath).  This was enough to threaten collapse of the ceiling over the heads of members of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

The next year, the legs of Margaret Truman’s piano punctured the private dining room floor and the ceiling below.  That did it: Congress made a study of the 150 year-old structure, and it was promptly condemned.  The Trumans, evicted from their home, moved to Blair House across the street for a few years while the massive work was done.

Robert Klara writes a most interesting story in The Hidden White House: Harry Truman and the Reconstruction of America’s Most Famous Residence (Thomas Dunne Books, 2013).  The future home of the Presidents of the United States of America was begun in 1792 after George Washington put down the cornerstone on loamy, marshy soil.   John and Abigail Adams were the first first couple to move in, in November of 1800.  It was not quite finished.

Architect James Hoban’s drawing of the executive mansion.  Hoban also helped with rebuilding after the British burned it during the War of 1812 (Library of Congress).

Andrew Jackson began adding pipes for running water in the 1830s;  James K. Polk installed pipes for gas lights during the next decade.  These improvements put a great deal of extra weight on floors and their wooden support structure.

An early photograph of the executive mansion, 1868 (www.whitehousemuseum.org).

The house was redecorated often enough, but Theodore and Edith Roosevelt carried out a major overhaul in 1900 which moved offices from the second floor to a new west wing and reworked family living spaces.  The firm of McKim, Mead and White, limited by time, stabilized with steel beams.  It turned out to be triage leading to the time of the Trumans.

The Blue Room in 1902.  TR officially changed the name from Executive Mansion to White House, and added buffalo heads to walls here and there (www.whitehousemuseum.org).

President Truman thought he heard ghosts walking through the hallways and knocking on doors when he first stayed there (Bess and Margaret were back home in Missouri).  It turns out at least some of the commotion came from old Virginia pine snapping as the air cooled at night.  When floor beams were examined, they were also found to have many five-inch notches, deliberately cut at an undetermined time.

Some thought the 132 rooms should be torn down and redesigned.  The president disagreed.  When its restoration was complete, the White House stood over a poured concrete basement and bomb shelter, and had new central air conditioning and heating.  The grand staircase was moved to adjoin the entryway.  Missing, though, was a substantial part of the former interiors, which the author reports could have been saved.  Truman had had foundation beams sawed into paneling for several rooms, but some materials were carried across the Potomac River to be used in army bases.  All the work had cost $5,700,000 in contrast to the home’s $230,000 original price tag.

Also in Klara’s fascinating saga are how furnishings and art were stored, which piles of rubbish turned into souvenirs, and the sordid politics among people involved.  The name of the head contractor was deleted from the official renovation report.Mr. Truman's Renovation: White House Key

President and Mrs. Truman return to reside in a safer White House in 1952 (www.whitehousehistory.org).

Subsequent commanders-in-chief and their wives have improved the heritage of the White House, replacing the reproduction tables and chairs of 1952 (some likened them to hotel furniture) with authentic antiques.  Jacquelyn Kennedy took the case to private organizations with stunning results, as shown in her nationally televised tour of the rooms.

But it was Harry who saved the place.  For all of us.

# # # # #

Mrs. Kennedy’s program was not the first televised tour of the White House.  On YouTube may be seen a charming 12 minute video of President Truman leading the public, and a very young Walker Cronkite, through his reno.

Presidential Arts

John Quincy Adams played the flute; Thomas Jefferson, the violin.  How many other of our country’s commanders-in-chief had more than a passing interest in fine arts?

Ulysses Grant displayed talent as early as age eighteen, when he painted the landscape below.  Other works show Indians and horses in great detail.
Painting by U. S. Grant


The banjo was Chester Arthur’s instrument of choice, while Calvin Coolidge and Ronald Reagan liked to play the harmonica.  Harry Truman was recorded and shown on the new medium of television:

Dwight D. Eisenhower took up landscape painting, but gave a disclaimer as noted under the picture below.

http://www.mentalfloss.com “They would have burned this ____ painting if I wasn’t President of the United States.” 

In addition to being an accordion player, Richard Nixon was accomplished in composing for and playing the piano.  These facts, as well as his breakthrough visit to China, have been obliterated by what happened at the end of his presidency.

Bill Clinton gave a popular performance on his saxophone on the Arsenio Hall show in 1992.

Former presidents Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush have benefited charities with the sale of their paintings.
Self-portrait painting by President George W. Bush. Photo by Grant Miller.

Our current chief executive doesn’t do a bad job singing about his hometown, either.  And while some have admitted they didn’t themselves possess the ability (Edith Roosevelt said dryly, “We play the Victrola”), she and Theodore, as well as John and Jaqueline Kennedy, invited legends to perform for musical soires at the White House.  Pablo Cassals played the cello for both first families sixty years apart.

Gerald Ford said, “The future of our nation depends on providing our children with a complete education that includes music.”   George Washington was first in noting the importance of the Arts and Sciences to “the prosperity of the State and to the ornament of human life…”

Legislators need to take a hint from our leaders, who know firsthand that art and music have been neither optional nor inconsequential for Americans, young and old.


More Noise

When primaries wind down, campaigns shift to political party conventions of the summer.  Americans running for office will make noise and more noise, positive for themselves and negative for their opponents.  Name-calling and rumors are nothing new.  But perhaps they are more hard to ignore in our time because of the many and diverse kinds of media, and it is harder to decipher the truth.  Unless you’re up in the mountains off the grid (which often sounds superlative) you’re probably not going to avoid the spin.



When Aaron Burr fatally shot Alexander Hamilton in their famous duel of 1804, it was after a dozen years of high profile conflict.  Like Thomas Jefferson, Burr was a Democrat-Republican.  Then he ran for the governor of New York as an independent, and Hamilton, the Federalist, set out to thwart the campaign.  His mistrust of the candidate was great.

The two were still insulting each other as Burr, now Vice President, challenged Hamilton to a duel.  A meeting of seconds was not successful.  At the chosen site in New Jersey, Hamilton was said to have fired prematurely; however moments later it was he who was wounded, and died the next day.  Burr was arrested but never tried for murder.  He was later tried and acquitted for treason and his final years were spent in obscurity.


In this 1834 cartoon, Kentucky senator Henry Clay tries to sew Andrew Jackson’s mouth shut to stop his talk of ending the Bank of the United States.  Jackson believed its purpose was to benefit the wealthy.  He had conflicts with many and was never afraid to address them directly.

Ten years earlier, Old Hickory had won more popular and electoral votes for the presidency than John Quincy Adams, but lost in the House of Representatives with the help of – Henry Clay.  In the 1828 election, which Jackson won, his opponents publicized Rachel Jackson as a bigamist and she literally died of humiliation before her husband was inaugurated.  This naturally added more fuel to the fire of his political ire.


Most all of us have the image of lanky Abraham Lincoln debating squat Stephen Douglas before the Civil War (there was a one-foot difference in their height, exaggerated by Lincoln’s hat).  Seven times the two engaged in a three-hour debate to help Illinois voters decide who they wanted to fill their senate seat.  Though the incumbent Douglas won, the publicity propelled Lincoln to the presidency in 1860.

Douglas was author of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which gave settlers in new territories the right to decide whether to allow slavery.  He considered Lincoln a radical, who with the new Republican Party believed the country could not endure “half slave and half free.”

According to http://www.greatamericanhistory.net, both men were adamant about preserving the union, but differed in philosophy as to how it could be done.  Douglas died of typhoid fever in 1861, never knowing that his adversary would accomplish the goal.



I’ll bypass the Theodore Roosevelt/Woodrow Wilson rivalry which transcended the 1912 election to World War 1, to talk about T.R. Jr. and his run-in with first cousin Eleanor.  Her husband, Franklin, was not a candidate for the New York governorship in 1924, but they supported Al Smith rather than Ted.  Franklin was critical of Ted’s performance as Assistant Secretary of the Navy.

Ted’s brother Archie was involved with the Sinclair Oil Company, which had been implicated in the Teapot Dome Scandal about oil leases in the west.  Eleanor and her friends drove through the state in a car with a giant steam-emitting papier mache teapot on the roof and denounced her cousin over a loudspeaker.

Smith won and Ted continued in business ventures.  In World War II, though, he was once again a soldier on Utah Beach, on D-Day.  He suffered a fatal heart attack shortly after on the eve of a promotion to Brigadier General.


Amid upheavals there are always small victories, as shown by a favorite story of my aunt’s.  She worked in a senator’s office on Capitol Hill in 1948.  Her boss, angry that Truman had pulled off the presidency, refused to go to the inauguration and gave his tickets to her and her brother.  The two obscure twenty-something Indiana Republicans were ringside at the president’s swearing-in ceremony, much to the chagrin of prominent Democrats who wanted the seats.