Appointments to Supreme Court Have a Long History of High Drama

Chief Justice Earl Warren swears in John F. Kennedy on the cover of the Jan. 27, 1961, edition of Time magazine. This copy, signed by Kennedy, sold for $1,135.25 at a December 2012 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

On June 25, 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced Chief Justice Earl Warren’s intention to retire and the nomination of Associate Justice Abe Fortas to replace him. However, after three months of acrimonious, partisan debate, the Senate refused to vote on the Fortas nomination. When Fortas asked the president to withdraw his nomination, Chief Justice Warren withdrew his resignation. “Since they wouldn’t confirm Abe, then they will be stuck with me!”

And, true to his word, Chief Justice Warren did not retire until June 1969, when President Richard Nixon replaced him with U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Warren Earl Burger.

In a bizarre twist, Justice Fortas had come under intense scrutiny and it was revealed that he had a questionable relationship with Louis Wolfson, the first modern corporate raider, according to Time magazine. This led to the resignation of Fortas – the first Supreme Court Justice to do so under these ethical circumstances.

Nixon was ecstatic that he would get to make a second nomination and he carefully chose judge Clement Haynsworth from the U.S. Court of Appeals-Fourth Circuit as part of a “Southern Strategy.” Congress seemed supportive, but to the president’s anger, frustration and embarrassment, the Judicial Committee found clear evidence of financial improprieties. Like Fortas, nothing illegal, but he went down 55-45 in a display of principled equality.

The president quickly countered with Judge Harrold Carswell, an undistinguished ex-District Judge with only six months of experience on the U.S. Court of Appeals. It was clearly an act of vengeance, intended to teach the Senate a lesson and downgrade the Court. Then, suspicious reporters dug up a statement to the American Legion in 1948: “I yield to no man in the firm, vigorous belief in the principles of white supremacy.”

Oops, there went the Southern Strategy, and the Senate voted him down.

It was another bitter defeat for the president, so Nixon turned North and picked Harry Blackmun of Minnesota and an old friend of Chief Justice Burger. He sailed through 94-0 and there would be no further vacancies for 15 months, when Nixon found himself in yet another imbroglio.

In September 1971, terminal illness compelled the retirement of Justices Hugo Black and John Marshall Harlan II, the two most influential figures and veritable giants of the law. Rather than a diligent search, Nixon tried the trial-balloon strategy and floated the name of U.S. Representative Richard Poff of Virginia, but his civil rights skeletons were easy to uncover and he withdrew. Then Nixon sent six nominees to the American Bar Association for review, but they quickly criticized them as manifesting “a relentless pursuit of mediocrity” and urged the president to “add some people of stature.”

In a dramatic television broadcast, Nixon revealed his “formal nominees” … Lewis F. Powell Jr. and a youthful (47) William Rehnquist (approved after three months of wrangling), who would serve on the court for 33 years – 19 as Chief Justice.

Whew! Next stop: March 20, 2017. Good luck, Judge Neil Gorsuch. This is a tough crowd.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

McNamara a Fascinating Executive with a Fascinating Career

A large photograph of John F. Kennedy and his original cabinet, signed by cabinet members including Robert McNamara (fourth from left), sold for $7,500 at a December 2016 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Lieutenant Colonel Robert McNamara had planned to return to Harvard after his stint in the military since he truly enjoyed the Cambridge lifestyle and teaching statistics was his first love. However, in a bizarre twist of coincidence, he and his wife Margaret contracted polio. They were still hospitalized in August 1945 when World War II. His mentor, Tex Thornton, persuaded him to consider a new, higher-paying career in the private sector to help with the family hospital bills.

McNamara and the other Whiz Kids excelled at the Ford Motor Company by utilizing the skills they honed in the Army: control the organization by converting facts and numbers into meaningful information that was actionable. This was particularly valuable at Ford and its archaic operations … pitted against its main competitor General Motors and its classic style of highly accountable, decentralized profit centers. McNamara became the unofficial leader when Thornton left Ford for greener fields in aerospace.

McNamara rose quickly, as Henry Ford II was new and unsure of himself. To Ford, McNamara offered reassurance; when questions arose, he always had answers, not vague estimates, but certitudes, facts and numbers … and a lot of them. On Nov. 9, 1960, McNamara was promoted to president at Ford. It was the first time someone outside the Ford family was in charge.

As fate would have it, the prior day, on Nov. 8, John F. Kennedy became president-elect of the United States. Their careers would soon be joined in a truly unexpected way.

Kennedy sent Sargent Shriver to offer McNamara either the Secretary of Treasury or Secretary of Defense cabinet position. McNamara was disdainful of Treasury, but eager to take on something much more exciting, assuming his boss would agree (it had been only six weeks since he had taken the reins at Ford).

We all know how this turned out, but perhaps not the financial sacrifice involved. By accepting the Defense position, McNamara left $3 million in stock options.

Robert Strange (his mother was Clara Nell Strange) McNamara served as Secretary of Defense under two presidents (JFK and Lyndon B. Johnson) from 1961 to 1968, the longest tenure in history (10 days longer than Donald Rumsfeld), and during the important build-up years in Vietnam. In 1968, he sent a letter to LBJ advising him that the war was unwinnable and recommending the United States end it. The president never replied and McNamara was finished.

Later, he told his friend, Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, he wasn’t sure if he quit or was fired. She replied, “Are you crazy? Of course you were fired!”

In 2003, Errol Morris produced the documentary The Fog of War, which captures these war years, including a poignant ceremony when McNamara retired and LBJ awarded him the Medal of Freedom. McNamara was so emotional that he had to defer on his acceptance remarks. It is a good flick and recommended since it uses archival film with contemporary comments from McNamara.

A fascinating man and career. He served as president of the World Bank from 1968 to 1981 before dying in 2009 at age 93.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Americans Have Turned Inward Before, in the Days of Richard Nixon

Chicago Sun-Times political cartoonist Bill Mauldin drew this piece shortly before President Nixon resigned in 1974. The original art sold for $2,748.50 at a November 2014 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

On Jan. 20, 1973, surrounded by happy perjurers, Richard M. Nixon celebrated his second inauguration in a three-day, $4 million extravaganza, organized by political operative Jeb Stuart Magruder. Named by his Civil War-buff father after Southern General J.E.B. Stuart, Magruder would later serve seven months in prison for perjury involving Watergate.

The rhetoric of the inaugural address was less a promise of what the government would do than what it wouldn’t. Twelve years earlier, another president of the same generation had vowed that “We’ll pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival of liberty.”

Now, Nixon declared that, “The time has passed when America will make every other nation’s conflict our own … or presume to tell the people of other nations how to manage their own affairs.” At the same time, he prepared to liquidate the domestic programs of liberal administrations. Paraphrasing President Kennedy’s most memorable line, Nixon said, “Let each of us ask — not just what will government do for me, but what can I do for myself?” (Lyndon B. Johnson would die two days later, but presumably from other causes).

As Nixon paused for effect, a faint sound could be heard from several blocks away. A group of youths was chanting “Murderer,” “Out now,” and “End racism.” A woman from Iowa told a New York Times reporter, “Just disgusting. Why can’t they do something about those kids!”

It was certainly indecorous, yet these demonstrations, like the counterculture of the time, were an expression of the deep divisions in America and they had to be endured. There is no practical way to stifle dissent in an open society; if there was, I suspect Magruder and his allies would have tried to use it.

The chanters – about 500 to 1,000 that included yippies, militants and Maoist activists – were the smallest and rudest protestors in the multitude of demonstrators.

So it was – after intervening in foreign conflicts for a third of a century – that the people of the United States turned inward once more, seeking comfort and renewal in isolation. “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” (Last line from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.)

Maybe someday.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

For President Johnson, Goal was Reached with ‘Great Society’ Legislation

lyndon-b-johnson-great-society-bill-signing-pens-from-1965
A complete set of 50 pens President Johnson used to sign “Great Society” legislation in 1965 sold for $18,750 at a November 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Whether Lyndon B. Johnson intended to run a second time for the presidency (after his 1964 election) is uncertain. Many of his predecessors had made it clear that one elected term was enough.

Theodore Roosevelt made a campaign promise not to run again for president and regretted it so much that he later ran anyway (in 1912). Rutherford B. Hayes never intended to run more than once (and was happy he hadn’t), and neither did Harry Truman or Calvin Coolidge. Except for TR, these men were no longer popular by the end of their first elected term, and it most likely would have been a waste of time.

So it was with LBJ. On March 31, 1968, he took the nation by surprise when he announced abruptly in a televised address from his office, “I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president.”

Johnson had even spoken of resigning, but if anything deterred him, it was the fear of losing his “Great Society” programs in Congress. Even the media-fueled support for Robert Kennedy was threatening, because Johnson never trusted him and was leery of his lack of power with Congress to be sure the programs got enacted. Johnson cared more about his agenda than the presidency.

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President Johnson signs legislation.

Then, shortly after his retirement speech, came the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (April) and Kennedy (June), which stirred even more violence in the streets. The military was on stand-by and ready to pour into Washington if rioting was too much for the police. For the man in the White House, the outside world was a horror show and the idea of returning to his ranch grew more appealing. A long-time colleague from the old days, Congressman Jack Brooks, said the president did not seek reelection because he “kind of wanted to get back home,” adding for those who might not understand, “It’s not so bad out on the ranch, you know.”

Some presidents depart the White House invigorated, but most leave exhausted. For LBJ, the office had drained his vigor and confidence. He also believed that history would never give him credit for achieving the most powerful social agenda since Roosevelt’s New Deal. It was Johnson’s political skill that made it happen, not JFK, but Johnson believed that somehow the applause would inevitably go to his more popular predecessor. Sadly, he was right, but in recent years, a more balanced narrative has evolved.

Republicans nominated Richard Nixon in August 1968 and the Democrats chose VP Hubert Humphrey. LBJ did not attend the convention to share Humphrey’s triumph since he didn’t want to add any Vietnam War baggage to the ticket. During the campaign, the war flared on and LBJ was still impassioned to end it. On Oct. 31, just days before the election, he even announced a halt to the bombing, but it was too late.

On Jan. 14, 1969, President Johnson delivered his final State of the Union to Congress. It was strong, pragmatic and well-received by his old Senate colleagues – and in a venue where he was very comfortable.

Then it was time to pack up and head back to Texas.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Reagan’s Last Christmas in Office Marked by Memorable Snowy Fairyland

1980s-ronald-reagan-win-one-for-the-gipper-signed-photograph
A photograph signed by Ronald Reagan with the inscription “Win one for the Gipper” sold for $8,365 at a November 2014 Heritage auction. It’s considered the most famous line Reagan spoke on the silver screen, in 1940’s Knute Rockne, All American.

By Jim O’Neal

In 1980, Ronald Wilson Reagan became the oldest man (69) to be elected president. He extended his record in 1984 when he was reelected at age 73. For their last Christmas in the White House, the Reagans wanted to make a splash. The East Room was transformed into a snowy fairyland, with full-size trees and a gift-filled sleigh occupied by carolers and drawn by lifelike horses, all powdered with glittery “snow.” It was a vintage Hollywood image.

Thousands of visitors filed by and looked on in both delight and amazement at the dazzling scene. Nothing remotely like this had ever been seen in the White House. It was a playful farewell by two whose roots were as firmly planted in Hollywood as John F. Kennedy’s were in Boston or Lyndon B. Johnson’s on the banks of the Pedernales River.

On his final day in office, Jan. 20, 1989, President Reagan went to the Oval Office early and met with his Chief-of-Staff Ken Duberstein and General Colin Powell, the National Security Advisor. Both of them said reassuringly, “Mr. President, the world is quiet today.” After they left, Reagan also left the office, stopping at the door for one last look. George and Barbara Bush were arriving in the entrance hall below.

On the route from the Capitol to the White House, the incoming President George H.W. Bush and first lady took a cue from the Carters, leaving their car from time to time to walk along Pennsylvania Avenue to greet the crowds. They walked up the driveway on the same path all their predecessors had followed since James Monroe’s second term, 168 years before.

History linked the inauguration of George H.W. Bush and George Washington. It had been exactly 200 years since the first president began serving his first term.

President Bush had an extensive background that included two terms in Congress, ambassador to the United Nations, director of the CIA, liaison to China, and eight full years as vice president. He had easily defeated Michael Dukakis to win the presidency, but in the process famously declared “Read my lips. No new taxes!” – words that would haunt him.

Although favored for reelection in 1992, he got caught in a buzz saw when third-party candidate Ross Perot siphoned off nearly 19 percent of the popular vote and a young governor from Arkansas won with a plurality of 43 percent. William Jefferson Clinton and Al Gore Jr. became the youngest president and vice president in history.

George H.W. Bush became the 10th incumbent president to lose in a bid for reelection after becoming the first sitting vice president to be elected president since Martin Van Buren in 1836.

The strange world of presidential politics. We love it.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

 

With Discovery of Gold, President Polk Opened Massive Migration West

half-plate-daguerreotype-of-california-gold-rush-mining-scene-ca-1850s
This half plate daguerreotype of a California gold rush mining scene, circa 1850, sold for $28,680 at a June 2008 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Reports of gold in California came to the president as early as June 1848. Part of the talk was idle speculation; part was based on tales of settlers and soldiers plus myths of Spanish treasure troves. A succession of adventurers, spies and famous Western characters like Kit Carson had slipped quietly up the stairs into President James Polk’s office to tell of the vast domain far to the west.

The lost mines of El Dorado had long fascinated nearly everyone.

The first official report on “gold diggings” came to Polk in August 1848. Navy Lieutenant Edward Fitzgerald Beale showed the president some actual gold nuggets. Authoritative and “eyewitness” accounts of California gold started popping up in various newspapers. In a message to Congress on Dec. 5, 1848, Polk outlined the possible scope of the precious metal mines and the extraordinary potential that had been corroborated by authentic reports.

Two days later, a courier from California arrived at the War Department with a mysterious package and more dramatic evidence of western riches. As soon as Secretary of War William Marcy unwrapped the parcel, he took it directly to President Polk. It contained a tea caddy crammed full of gold nuggets and dust that weighed over 230 ounces.

They quickly decided to send the largest “lump” to Philadelphia to be minted into coins and put the rest on display in the War Office. Visitors of every class stood in long lines just to see it and it became the dominant subject everywhere. On Dec. 12, Polk predicted the coming 12 months would witness “a large population … attracted to California by its mineral wealth.”

In his History of California, historian Hubert Bancroft wrote of Polk’s prophecy. “The interest in California became all-absorbing, creating a restlessness which finally poured a human tide into San Francisco Bay, and sent hundreds of caravans over the plains and mountains.”

However, the Polks moved out of the White House on Saturday, March 3, 1849, to 10 rooms prepared for them at the Willard Hotel. He had promised to only serve one term and his time in the WH had taken an enormous toll on his health. He had the shortest retirement of any president and died of cholera 103 days after leaving office. Along with George Washington, Andrew Johnson, Chester Arthur, Calvin Coolidge and LBJ, he was one of six presidents to die while their direct successor was in office.

He totally missed the Gold Rush and the massive migration west he was responsible for.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Deep Divisions Within a Political Party Nothing New

andy-warhols-screenprint-teddy-roosevelt
Andy Warhol’s screenprint Teddy Roosevelt (from the Cowboys and Indians portfolio), 1986, ed. 183/250, realized $23,750 at a May 2013 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Theodore Roosevelt assumed the presidency in September 1901 following the assassination of William McKinley. Teddy was 42 years old and remains the youngest man to hold the office (JFK was 43).

When reelected in 1904, it was the first time an incumbent president won reelection after ascending to the presidency upon the death of his predecessor. Calvin Coolidge (1924), Harry S. Truman (1948) and Lyndon B. Johnson (1964) would later match this historic first.

When 1908 rolled around, TR honored his earlier pledge “not to seek a third term” and then maneuvered his associate William Howard Taft into the White House.

At the time, it seemed like a sound strategic transition for the Republicans. But it would turn out to be a colossal mistake that would grow in importance and haunt Roosevelt for the rest of his life.

When he returned from the historic Smithsonian-Roosevelt African Expedition two years later, the group had collected 11,400 animal specimens that took Smithsonian naturalists eight years to catalog. And the political animals had also been busy during his absence.

A major rift developed between President Taft and TR over policies that had become administration priorities. This, in turn, caused a deep divide in the Republican Party that could not be reconciled. It was so serious that neither faction could generate enough support to defeat Democrat Woodrow Wilson in the 1912 election.

Later, many politicians were convinced that Roosevelt was still popular enough to seriously contend for the 1920 Republican nomination. However, this conjecture was never tested since the mighty Bull Moose’s health was broken and he died on Jan. 6, 1919.

He still regretted making “that damn pledge not to run in 1908” and took it with him to the grave.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].