April 27 - Happy Birthday, Ulysses S. Grant

 Posted on April 27, 2017

Earlier this week we talked about President James Buchanan having a really common first name.

Well, today's presidential birthday has an unusual first name: Ulysses.

Except that wasn't actually his first name! Even though Grant was called "Ulysses" even as a child, his real name was Hiram Ulysses Grant. 

Okay, yeah, Hiram is pretty unusual, too.

I've also talked about the importance of middle names or middle initials to distinguish oneself from others with the same first and last name (giving examples such as John Adams and John Quincy Adams)....But if Ulysses was actually Grant's middle name, where did the initial "S." come from?

From a mistake!

An Ohio Congressman nominated Grant to West Point, and in doing so, he mistakenly repeated the last letter of Ulysses as if it were a middle initial. When he got to West Point, Grant tried to correct the errors - but somehow the middle initial stuck! Even though it stood for absolutely nothing!

Here is some not-too-cool stuff about Grant:

He struggled with addiction to alcohol.

He was pretty terrible at business.

He often looked messy - and he hated uniforms (even though he was the top general in the Union Army!).

Here is some mostly-cool stuff about Grant:

  • He was brilliant at military strategy., according to most historians. And of course he won the Civil War against another brilliant strategist, Robert E. Lee. 
  • When he could, he utilized displaced, formerly-enslaved people into an effort to win against the Confederacy.

  • He regretted not being by Lincoln's side when the latter was assassinated. You see, Grant was supposed to go to the theatre with President Lincoln that night but had to cancel because his wife made other plans. Even though he would himself have been a target, too, Grant felt terrible that he hadn't been there, because he was convinced that he would have stopped John Wilkes Booth.
  • He implemented Reconstruction efforts, even though that meant working against then-President Andrew Johnson.
  • He enforced civil rights and voting acts and prosecuted the KuKluxKlan, attempting to right as many of the wrongs inflicted by slavery as he could.
  • He followed a peace policy with the rest of the world, ending tensions with Britain and avoiding war with Spain, and he tried to follow a peace policy with Native Americans as well.
  • He responded more to charges of corruption than any other president of his century - but he still got saddled with a reputation for tons of corruption and scandals. Let's put it this way: apparently he himself was not guilty of corruption, but there was a lot of it around him - and although he worked on and succeeded in enacting reforms, he was the chief executive during this high point of corruption.
  • He wrote his memoirs after two terms as president, and they turned out to be a very important literary work that brought financial success to his heirs.
  • Another thing Grant did after leaving the presidency is traveling around the world for two years and seven months on a "diplomatic tour." This was not something a president or former president had ever done before, and it was a positive thing for Grant's reputation and for the nation's reputation.

Historians ranking Grant gave his presidency very bad "grades" back when I was a child, reading about the presidents, but since then historians have noted all the successes he had in regards to civil rights, and so he earns more praise from today's historians.

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April 26 – Confederate Memorial Day

Posted on April 26, 2017

Did you know that several states celebrate Confederate Memorial Day? 

In Texas, it's called Confederate Heroes' Day, and it's celebrated in January.

In Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Mississippi, it's a public holiday celebrated near the end of April or the beginning of May. Georgia used to celebrate it, too, but last year it dropped the name "Confederate Memorial Day," moved it to the closest Monday, and called it "State Holiday."

The reason for this timing of this holiday is that April 26, 1865, was the surrender of the last major filed army at Bennett Place, North Carolina.

This holiday has been celebrated in many Southern states since the first-year anniversary of the Civil War's end, in 1866. It is a chance for Southern folks to honor the more than 258,000 men who died "in the line of duty" in the various branches of the Confederate armed forces.

As much as I shudder at the sight of the Confederate flag, knowing how closely associated it is with murders - including lynchings - of African American people...

As much as I recognize that the secession from the Union was probably illegal, and that the Confederate soldiers have been seen as "rebels" fighting for an unjust cause...

I am also saddened by all the needless deaths of all those men, many of them young and strong; all of them, surely, loving toward their families and beloved by their families; most of them courageous and also afraid, proud and also miserable, principled and also flawed.

And I realize that, if you and I had been born white, in the South, in 1840-something, we too would probably have been on the wrong side of history, believing with all our hearts in the Confederate cause.

THAT makes me shudder, too!

April 25 – Freedom Day in Portugal

Posted on April 25, 2017

In 1974, Portugal had a revolution.

I'm happy to report that this revolution was not a long, violent war with thousands of people dead and millions injured or homeless. Instead - it was almost entirely a bloodless coup!

I love it when the people of a nation are able to wrest power away from an authoritarian right-wing regime - a fascist government that had ruled for more than 40 years - without violence!

(Sadly, the regime's political police did kill four people before surrendering, but the revolutionaries themselves did not use direct violence.)

This revolution is called the Carnation Revolution. The original overthrow of the dictatorship was planned and accomplished by left-leaning officers in the Portuguese army - a group called the Armed Forces Movement. But, unexpectedly, a huge campaign of civil resistance of the general populace flowed out into the streets. They celebrated the end of the dictatorship by putting carnations into the muzzles of rifles and onto the uniforms of soldiers. 

Not only did the dictatorship, called Estado Novo, fall, but Portugal withdrew from its African colonies and from East Timor, and Portugal became a democracy!

Now that is something to celebrate!


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April 24 – Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day

Posted on April 24, 2017

"Genocide" has to be one of the saddest words ever.

It means the killing of a large group of people who share a particular religion or ethnic or racial label.

Today hundreds of thousands of Armenians will walk to a memorial site to lay flowers at the eternal flame in memory of the people who died in the 1915 Armenian Genocide.

The Republic of Armenia, which is only one-tenth the size of the historical Armenia, is located near Turkey and Azerbaijan. 

Mount Ararat used to be a part of the older, larger Armenia, and although it is now in Turkey, it is still visible in Armenia. This mountain is a symbol of their land and is a part of their national emblem!

Armenia is landlocked (it has no direct access to any ocean or sea), but it is near both the Black Sea and Caspian Sea. 

I grew up eating lavash, a delicious, flat, chewy bread. Lavash is traditionally baked in underground ovens called tonirs

The capital city of Armenia, Yerevan, is known as the "pink city." 

There are beautiful places to see in Armenia!

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