Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Harry S. Truman’

Whistle-Stop Campaign

Posted by Admin on June 9, 2015

Every once in a while, you’ll hear or read about a whistle-stop campaign, and it’s usually in the weeks leading up to an election (although not always).    A whistle-stop campaign refers to a series of brief appearances in a string of stops along a set route.

Of course, whistle-stop campaigns left the railway and took to the highways in 1992 when Bill Clinton decided to he and Al Gore would run with a whirlwind intercity bus tour to meet the people.  But the more traditional whistle-stop campaign had a good run — and continues to have good runs from time to time — with the railroads that criss-cross America.

On May 15, 1976 the Gadsden Times reported on the showdown battle between Ronald Reagan (6 February 1911 – 5 June 2004) and President Gerald Ford (14 July 1913 – 26 December 2006).  It was part of the “red, white and blue Presidential Express” train and the headline read, “Ford On Whistlestop Campaign.”

On September 14, 1964 the Lawrence Journal World newspaper announced that wife of Lyndon B. Johnson (27 August 1908 – 22 January 1973) would be making the first ever whistle-stop campaign by a First Lady.  The train was aptly named the “Lady Bird” and was scheduled to travel 1,682 miles from start to finish.  The editor okayed the headling, “Mrs. Johnson Plans Whistle-Stop Campaign.”

On March 1, 1956 the Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph announced that President Dwight Eisenhower (14 October 1890 – 28 March 1969) stated that leading up to the election, he wouldn’t engage in “whistle-stop” talking while Democrats trumpeted the fact that their candidate would be making multiple personal appearances in a vigorous campaign.  The article was entitled, “Whistle-Stop Campaign Ruled Out By President.”

Back in 1948 when Harry S. Truman (8 May 1884 – 26 December 1972) was running for President, he decided to visit Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California by train.  A special platform was set up at the rear of the train and it was from that Pullman railway carriage platform that Harry Truman gave speeches, sometimes as often as eight speeches each day.

Time magazine compared the campaign to a vaudeville act, and in Seattle, someone in a balcony shouted out, “Give ’em hell, Harry!

SIDE NOTE 1:  This phrase entered politics as a slogan meaning blunt, straight-forward campaigning.

Senator Robert A. Taft (8 September 1889 – 31 July 1953) stated to the media that Truman was “blackguarding Congress at every whistle station in the West” during his campaign tour.  Taking the Senator’s comments in stride, Truman stated that Los Angeles was the biggest whistle-stop he had visited on the tour.

While it’s true that campaigning via the railroad wasn’t new when Truman ran in 1948 (it had originated in 1896 with Democrat William Jennings Bryan (19 March 1860 – 26 July 1925) who traveled 18,000 miles by rail and gave 600 speeches in an attempt to unseat President William McKinley (29 January 1843 – 14 September 1901) who chose to campaign from his front porch in Canton, Ohio), after his comments about Los Angeles, such campaigns were noted in the media as being whistle-stop campaigns.

Four years later, on October 11, 1952 the Associated Press sent out a story to the newspapers titled, “Whistle Stopper Truman Pours It On In New York.”  The article began by stating this:

Whistle stopper Harry S. Truman lends a hand to Adlai Stevenson here today in the biggest “whistle stop” of them all.

He turns his “give ’em hell” technique from the rear platform of his 16-car campaign train to a park in Harlem to try to help build up a big enough Democratic margin in New York City to overcome normal Republican majorities upstate.

Two years before the first whistle-stop campaign, George Taft and Ava Gardner starred in a 1946 movie entitled, “Whistle Stop” that was based on the novel of the same name written by author Maritta M. Wolff (25 December 1918 – 1 July 2002).  When her novel was published in 1941 at the tender age of 22, it was declared a literary sensation, and critics referred to it was the most important first novel of the year.  She went on to write five more novels.

When George Bush ran for office in 1992, he did so by taking a page out of Harry Truman’s whistle-stop campaign handbook as he campaigned by train in Ohio and Michigan in a whirlwind trip before returning to Washington, D.C.

Originally, the term whistle-stop meant any small towns along the railroad lines that were of little to no importance to anyone except those who lived there, and those who visited there.  Of course, you’d be hard-pressed to refer to any town or city on a political whistle-stop campaign as being of little to no importance to anyone, most especially the candidate!

And now for a little history lesson:  For those who aren’t aware of the history of how railroads came to be, it was in 1851 that the Illinois Central was chartered to build a railroad to open up the entire state of Illinois to development and commerce, with an eye on transcontinental travel.  It required that federal legislation be enacted to allow for the first land grant railroad, and it set a precedent for all other railroad routes stretching back and forth across the United States.

SIDE NOTE 2:  The first presentation to Congress on the subject of a transcontinental railroad for the U.S. was made by Asa Whitney  (1791 – August 1874) in 1845, after returning from a trip to China from 1842 to 1844.

Back when the railroad was stretching across the country, not every town with a station could count on the train stopping.  In fact, most often, if a passenger wanted to disembark, he had to ask the conductor to inform the engineer to stop and let him (or her) off at the specific train station.  The conductor would pass along the message to the engineer by pulling on the signal cord, and in return, the engineer would sound the whistle twice to let the conductor know he’d gotten the message.  This is how some town became known as whistle-stop towns.

So while there were whistle-stop towns for decades before Harry S. Truman ran his campaign in 1948, it was indeed in 1948 that the idiom whistle-stop campaigning was coined by Harry S. Truman, with a considerable amount of help from Senator Robert A. Taft.

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Lunatic Fringe

Posted by Admin on January 28, 2013

Have you ever asked yourself where the lunatic fringe really comes from and how someone becomes part of the lunatic fringe? To find those answers, it’s important to understand that people who are fanatical, extremist, or irrational are oftentimes said to be part of the lunatic fringe. Where did this term come from originally?

On 9 May 2009, Jonathan Curling, Executive Secretary for the Birmingham Faith Leaders Group wrote a Letter to the Editor of the Birmingham Post and Mail newspaper in which he discussed the diverse community in Birmingham, and the good relationships between faith communities with the community. The letter was entitled, “Diversity Too Good To Waste By Apathy” and included this comment:

Over the next three weeks, you will hear these voices as the local and European elections approach, questioning the kind of community we seek to build.

It is easy to dismiss such forces as a lunatic fringe that will never gain ground. Such a view would be a serious error. In a time of economic trouble, some claims of the extremists can appear beguiling. In fact, they will lead us down a road towards a bitter, divided, society.

The first step is that we should all vote.

On 1 September 1994, the Middle East newspaper posted an article that was republished in a number of other mainstream media newspapers. The article was entitled, “Believers and Belligerents: Muslims In The UK.” Midway through the article, the following was written:

The third event which raised the hackles of traditionally tolerant British society was a gathering of an estimated 8,000 Muslim fundamentalists at Wembley Arena, avenue more usually associated with rock groups that religion.

Organised by a group known as Hizb-Ut-Tahrir, or HUT, the event typified what many westerners have come to regard as the lunatic fringe of extremism.

Journalists and photographers were banned from attending the conference and some were threatened with violence when they tried to speak to delegates as they left the conference which attracted many Muslim dissidents from the Middle East.

Jumping back 40 years, the New London Day newspaper of New London (CT) published a news article on 10 May 1954 reported on an address given to the National Press Club by the former president that dealt with the need for unity and bipartisanship, and the claim that Republicans were undermining those two issues.

Harry S. Truman urged President Eisenhower today to use vigorous action rather than pious phrases against “political assassins” and a GOP “lunatic fringe” which he said are destroying unity and the basis for a bipartisan foreign policy.

Politics seems to be where most news stories mentioned a lunatic fringe, so it comes as no surprise that in the March 13, 1935 edition of the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix that the word figured prominently in the headline as well as in the story itself. Entitled, “General Johnson and the Lunatic Fringe” the story began by stating the following:

When a few weeks ago, General Hugh Johnson “cracked down” on Senator Huey Long and Father Coughlin as being demagogues appealing to “the lunatic fringe,” he started something which is likely to last for a while.

It would have been comparatively easy for the general to dispose of the Louisiana dictator and the radio priest by themselves. They are both very vulnerable. But, unfortunately, his reference to the “lunatic fringe” hits the hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens who have been following the great promiser from the south and the powerful non-office seeking cleric from the north, who have been sending telegrams and letters to their representatives at Washington.

In reading the archives of the New York Times, I found this passage in an article entitled, “We Can Have Sing Sing And Reform, Too” that was published on February 15, 1916:

Unfortunately there is around this modern conception of crime that “lunatic fringe” to which Colonel Roosevelt once referred as the unavoidable adjunct of every advanced movement and cause, including his own. Sentimentalists have taken it up, as well as men of sense and practicality, and the result has been a somewhat widespread feeling that the tendency of the reformers was toward an offensive, even a disgusting, coddling of criminals, and the complete transfer from them to “society” of all, or nearly all, of moral responsibility for their acts.

Now many sources attribute the phrase to former U.S. President, Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919), who is citing as having coined the expression in the book “History as Literature” published in 1913.

There is apt to be a lunatic fringe among the votaries of any forward movement.

Apparently, he liked the expression so much, he used it in a number of magazine articles as well as in his autobiography wherein he wrote:

Then, among the wise and high-minded people who in self-respecting and genuine fashion strive earnestly for peace, there are foolish fanatics always to be found in such a movement and always discrediting it — the men who form the lunatic fringe in all reform movements.

The fact of the matter is that the expression wasn’t something he coined at all, but rather a unique use of an expression that already existed. What Roosevelt appears to have done was take an expression that referred to a specific kind of hairstyle that was considered unconventional at best, and eccentric or bizarre at worst, and modified somewhat.

In a Letter to the Editor published in the New York Times edition of March 21, 1880, a defense of the lunatic fringe was written by someone known only as S.E.K.

“Your article on “Montague” curls this morning is very one-sided, and, to say the least, exceedingly short-sighted; it proves also beyond a doubt that you are very unobserving. In the first place, the much-abused adornments are “flat, odious, hideous, and disfiguring” only when in course of preparation: as soon as the bandoline is dry the curls are combed out into soft, pretty, and graceful rings, making by far the most becoming way of wearing the front hair that young ladies have adopted for years. Every man made a dreadful “fuss” when “bangs” first came in fashion. I am sure “Montagues” are a vast improvement on those straight abominations, or if you prefer a more complimentary and man-like name, “lunatic fringe.” Please may I ask why you do not attack the mode young gentlemen have of wearing their hair and whiskers a la footman, combing them on each side toward their nose as though they designed a happy meeting when the “prolific side-boards” shall have attained their growth. Audi alteram partem.”

First side note:  Audi alteram partem is a Latin phrase that means “to hear both sides.”

Second side note:  Bandoline was a glue-like hair preparation used from 1840 through to the 1880s that was used to smooth, gloss, or wave hair.

In Oliver Optic’s Magazine For Young And Old” edited by Oliver Optic, in Volume 15, No. 247 published in February 1874, the story entitled “Four Days” by Sophie May made mention of the lunatic fringe. This passage appeared under the chapter heading “Independence Day.”

“Well, now, I am glad if Adelaide has been improving her time for the last few weeks in the kitchen; it speaks well for her,” said Mr. Waters, with such an insinuating smile that his niece knew something more was coming. “You have had quite a rest from the store since Jimmy got back — haven’t you Addie? But what think wife? I’ve got an order from Pinkham & Co. to supply a couple of thousand jewelry boxes! ‘Twill be a pretty profitable job, and I shall have to set both the girls at work. Think you can spare ’em for a while?”

“The girls!” exclaimed Miss Lizzie, lifting her eyebrows till they met the “lunatic fringe” of hair which straggled uncurled down her forehead. “The girls! As if I could stop to fuss with that old paste-pot! Why, father, I’m making my black silk polonay, nine flounces, hand-stitched, and puff trimming up and down in front. Of course it’s Addie’s business to help you if you want her to; but you needn’t count on me. Now, mother, can’t you make him understand?”

The reason it’s important to understand the use of the phrase as it pertains to hairstyles, is to better understand how the expression came to mean those who are fanatical, extremist, or irrational.

It’s easy to see why the “lunatic fringe” that was described so well by S.E.K. in her letter to the New York Times could be considered extreme. The name alone implies that those who favor a “lunatic fringe” may have suffered from some sort of intermittent insanity at the time the “lunatic fringe” rose to popularity with teenage girls across the country. And although the original article to which S.E.K. refers isn’t in evidence, based on S.E.K.’s Letter to the Editor, it can safely be assumed that the article didn’t speak well of the “lunatic fringe.”

Even Laura Ingalls Wilder (February 7, 1867 – February 10, 1957) sported a “lunatic fringe” back in 1881 and 1882, as the style was the rage even in the Dakotas. She wrote about it in her book “Little Town On The Prairie.”

While the current sense of the phrase cannot be attributed solely to Theodore Roosevelt, it can be said that he certainly popularized the expression in the 20th century. However, the sense of the phrase traces back to the hairstyle and how it was perceived by society as a whole which, it would appear, was not favorable with the majority of people.

Likewise, those who are considered part of the “lunatic fringe” in this day and age hold opinions that are not favorable with the majority of people.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Buck Stops Here

Posted by Admin on December 2, 2010

The expression “the buck stops here” was made famous by U.S. President Harry Truman.   The “buck” Truman meant came from the phrase “to pass the buck” — a euphemism that means the shifting of responsibility to another person to escape any possible repercussions yourself. Most often the phrase referred to moving the blame up along the chain of command to one’s superior or boss.

In 1945, United States Marshal for the Western District of Missouri, Fred M. Canfil saw a sign with the phrase “the buck stops here” while visiting the Federal Reformatory at El Reno, Oklahoma in 1945. He thought the phrase might appeal to  Truman and arranged for a copy of it to be made and sent to him. It was seen on the President’s desk on and off throughout the balance of his presidency.

But even before then, during WWII, Colonel A. B. Warfield was the commandant of the Lathrop Holding and Reconsignment Depot at Stockton, California.  Over the course of numerous years, he kept a sign on his desk and was photographed with it in October 1942 for a story in the Reno Evening Gazette.  Based on the sign alone, the phrase “the buck stops here” may have been used as early as 1931.

In July of 1902, The Oakland Tribune, ran a piece in their newspaper that read in part:

[Oakland City Attorney] Dow – ‘When the public or the Council “pass the buck” up to me I am going to act.’

The reporter’s use of quotation marks around pass the buck indicates it was a relatively recent phrase within the context the reporter was using it, and it was certain that because it was a commonly used phrase in those parts already. 

In July of 1865, the  Weekly New Mexican reported that:

They draw at the commissary, and at poker after they have passed the ‘buck.’

That being said, Mark Twain cited the phrase “passing the buck” as common slang in Virginia City when he was a reporter working there in 1862.  Not long afterwards, the phrase was associated with the act of dodging responsibility.

But in the end, the phrase “to pass the buck” itself was taken from the game of poker.  Poker became very popular in America in the mid 1800s. Players were very sensitive to the probability of cheating among players and to minimize cheating and quell suspicions, it was agreed that the deal would always change hands during sessions.  

Whoever was next in line to deal was given a marker — most often a knife with a buck horn for a handle — and it’s this marker that was known as the buck. When the dealer’s turn was done he ‘passed the buck.’   When silver dollars replaced knives as markers, the habit of referring to the dollar as a buck became the rage.

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