Thursday, June 30, 2016

Book Review: Rightful Heritage - By Douglas Brinkley

I’ve read many books on Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I’ve read about his domestic policy, his foreign policy, his battle to overcome paralysis, his relationship with the Jews, his health and his marriage - to name just a few topics. But, until now, I had not read a work completely dedicated to

Roosevelt’s commitment to conservation. Although a bit of a struggle at times, Douglas Brinkley’s Rightful Heritage: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America is well worth the work. According to Brinkley, FDR was - without a doubt - the single-greatest conservationist president in U.S. history. Bar none. After reading Brinkley’s 626-page effort [including multiple appendices outlining in detail the various FDR projects from 1933 to 1945] I certainly agree. Brinkley acknowledges that FDR’s record is not spotless. FDR’s role in the development and widespread use of pesticides like DDT is detailed in depth. Roosevelt also faces criticism for the environmental damage done by one of his biggest causes - the building of dams to generate hydroelectric power. But Brinkley argues that when errors were made they were made in the interest of conservation.

From an early age, FDR was a world traveler. Indeed, by the time he was 14-years old he had made seven trips across the Atlantic Ocean. Among the many things that fascinated him were the forests of Germany. As Brinkley writes, “Germany was the landscape that most influenced FDR’s views on land improvement in the United States. The German people grappled effectively with the inherent tension between industrial progress and land conservation. The Germans were determined to improve soil, cultivate burned-out land, drain swamps, and take care of their impressive woodlands.”

By the time he ran his first campaign, for the New York State Senate in 1910, FDR considered himself first and foremost a farmer - specifically a tree farmer - on his lands at Hyde Park. Indeed, Brinkley argues that one of the things that helped him win that 1910 election was his ability to connect with farmers on topics important to them. As Brinkley writes, “In a relaxed, confident way, he enjoyed talking about forestry fundamentals with growers of trees, fruits, and vegetables up the Hudson Valley. At the drop of a hat, Roosevelt shared with fellow tree farmers logbooks about planting white pine on his western and northern slopes, and tulip poplar from stock held at a nursery. Part of his agronomist pitch to farmers in the district was that planting trees was, in essence, an insurance policy for the future of their families.” And while some asserted that Roosevelt praised farm life largely for political gain, Brinkley argues there was more to it than that. “Roosevelt, at heart, was truly a Jeffersonian-agrarian in outlook and conviction. Even if he had the luxury of delegating the more brutal chores at Springwood [his property on Hyde Park] to hired help and experienced the sunup-to-sundown pressures of farm life from a certain aristocratic remove, he had still grown up in a hay-strewn world.”

Brinkley does a wonderful job - probably the best I’ve read - in describing the days leading up to Roosevelt’s paralysis and exploring the theory of how FDR contracted the polio virus. Roosevelt – who loved the Boy Scouts of America - visited with a Boy Scout troop at Bear Mountain State Park in late-July 1921. As Brinkley notes, “From a distance, Bear Mountain was idyllic, but on a more minute scale there was a hazard. In the fall of 1920, New York’s Public Health Council dispatched water quality expert Earl Devendorf, a civil engineer, to inspect the sanitary conditions at both Bear Mountain and Harriman State Parks. His findings were startling. The drinking water at [both] parks was compromised by human waste. The pit privies were in an ‘insanitary condition’, and the newly installed chemical toilets weren’t flushing properly. Devendorf reported that the well-water and groundwater had a high probability of contamination because so many potentially dangerous ‘carriers’ were present. Almost all of the water samples Devendorf collected contained specimens of coliform bacteria. Evidence suggests that when Roosevelt went for a swim at Bear Mountain, he contracted the polio virus that would soon fell him. The lake had been contaminated by human waste.”

As with his run for the State Senate eighteen years earlier, his 1928 run for New York Governor was also based to a large degree on conservation. With his return to politics, Brinkley writes, FDR, “preached the gospel of state parks, soil conservation, public utilities, and scientific forestry and took a stand against corruption. While campaigning for the governorship that October, Roosevelt specifically referred to the previous year’s devastating Mississippi River flood. All of his warnings about deforestation - warnings that had begun in 1911 - had been tragically borne out in the Mississippi Delta. Levees had failed in 120 places along the Mississippi, flooding more than 165 million acres. Six-hundred thousand people were left homeless. At least 246 people died. Many more were simply listed as missing. The 1927 flood, in Roosevelt’s mind, was a wakeup call for all Americans to take reforestation seriously. Roosevelt insisted that the Army Corps of Engineers needed a comprehensive national plan to improve levees, replant forests, and construct reservoirs to divert floodwaters, but he also thought some kind of state ‘tree corps’ was needed to help prevent flooding in New York’s Mohawk and Black River Valleys.”

As it turned out, Roosevelt’s gubernatorial victory on November 6, 1928, was only by a slim 25,000 vote margin. According to Brinkley, “All of [FDR’s] outreach to upstate rural districts had paid off. Without farmers, riverkeepers, and conservation-minded voters pushing Roosevelt’s candidacy forward, he probably wouldn’t have been elected governor.”

When Roosevelt ran for President of the United States in 1932, he broke precedent and went to Chicago to address the Democratic National Convention in person. Brinkley writes, “That so much of his Chicago convention speech was about conservation would have pleased Theodore Roosevelt.” In his convention speech Roosevelt said, “It is clear that economic foresight and immediate employment march hand-in- hand in the call for the reforestation of these vast areas. In so doing, employment can be given to 1 million men. That is the kind of public work that is self-sustaining, and therefore capable of being financed by the issuance of bonds which are made secure by the fact that the growth of tremendous crops will provide adequate security for the investment.”

Indeed, Brinkley notes, “It is striking how conservation issues were presented to the voters. The Republicans predictably pounced on Roosevelt for offering ill-conceived blue-sky oratory. If the public actually believed that 1 million unemployed men could suddenly find work reforesting millions of acres of submarginal land, then President Hoover was doomed to be a one-term president. And if FDR’s idea of a forestry corps took hold, then unemployment, erosion, and the nationwide timber famine would all be addressed in short order.”

The star of conservation in the New Deal was the Civilian Conservation Corps [CCC]. As Brinkley writes, “The CCC probably best captured the public’s imagination as the showcase of the New Deal, along with the more grown-up and grandiose, Works Progress Administration [WPA]. Roosevelt knew that large-scale dams and scenic highways would take years to complete. But employing 250,000 young men to cut trails, plant trees, dig archaeological sites, and bring ecological integrity to public lands was immediately effective can-do-ism...There would be three types of CCC camps: forestry [concentrated in national forest sites]; soil [dedicated to combating erosion and implementing other soil conservation measures]; and recreational [focused on developing parks and other scenic areas].”

The CCC was more than ‘just’ a work-relief program. It had a deeper meaning. As Brinkley notes, “What made the CCC more than just a dazzling work-relief program was the professional expertise the local experienced men brought to land reclamation. Skilled young physicians, architects, biologists, teachers, climatologists, and naturalists learned about conservation in a tangible, hands-on way. If not for the Great Depression, these workers would have found themselves engaged in upwardly-mobile jobs. But by a twist of fate, as many of their diaries and letters home made clear, these local experienced men were indoctrinated in the New Deal land stewardship principles. Later in life, after World War II, many became environmental warriors, challenging developers who polluted aquifers, and unregulated factories that befouled the air.”

There is, however, a significant, sour note. Indeed, tainting the success and achievement of the CCC is the institutionalization of racial prejudice it allowed. Brinkley notes, “Although Roosevelt had originally considered integrating the CCC, the program wasn’t sold to Congress as a civil rights crusade. Nor did he want to offend his Democratic political base in the south - which had been instrumental in his election - by attacking Jim Crow. Early on the CCC created separate companies for African-American enrollees; 250,000 blacks enrolled in 150 ‘all Negro’ CCC companies throughout the nation from 1933 to 1942.”

As mentioned earlier, FDR was convinced that dam-building to create hydroelectric power was key to economic recovery. At FDR’s urging, also in 1933, Congress established the Tennessee Valley Authority [TVA]. According to Brinkley, the TVA was created, “to address a wide range of water power needs in Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee, and small sections of other southern states....The TVA, an enormous hydroelectric project, included intensive and extensive agricultural programs, habitat restoration, and educational efforts aimed at people who were often isolated from mainstream avenues of information. In addition, the TVA provided inexpensive electricity.”

And, yet, for all Roosevelt’s good intentions with hydroelectric development, there were unforeseen consequences. Brinkley writes, “The New Deal often ecologically damaged Americas rivers. The Army Corps of Engineers, for example, turned the Mississippi River into one necklace of dams and levees. Likewise, for nearly 1,000 miles, the Ohio River became a series of impoundments. Almost all of California’s rivers were plugged in hundreds of spots to fuel the giant boom of agricultural and urban sprawl.” As for the benefits of rural electrification, “for all the public electricity generated, the once bucolic landscape was marred beyond recognition.”

Next, FDR turned to wildlife protection. The situation was dire. In 1903 - when Theodore Roosevelt established the first federal bird reservation in Florida - there were 120 million waterfowl in North America. Thirty years later, however, that number had dwindled to 30 million. Thus FDR established a Committee on Wildlife Restoration early in 1934. Brinkley writes, the committee’s report led FDR to secure $8.5 million, “to buy marginal stretches of water fowl habitat and then have the CCC plant that land with game.“ New migratory refuges would be set up in the Atlantic, Mississippi, Central, and Pacific Flyways; existing refuges would be restored and expanded.

The results were stunning. Brinkley notes that, because of Roosevelt, “Policies of habitat acquisition and refuge management, fueled by congressional appropriations and the [Department of Agriculture and Department of Interior] public awareness campaign, migratory waterfowl would increase in numbers from 30 million in 1933 to more than 100 million by the onset of World War II. After three years in office, Roosevelt had done more for wildlife conservation then all of his White House predecessors, including Theodore Roosevelt, establishing 45 new wildlife refuges. By the end of the fiscal year 1935, the government had acquired 1.5 million acres - surpassing all prior [federal government] refuge land acquisitions - especially in the upper Midwest.”

Soil was the next area addressed. One of the more famous innovations was Roosevelt’s Shelterbelt Program. As Brinkley writes, “The program entailed the planting of trees and shrubs as windbreaks along the borders of croplands and pastures to reduce wind speeds and decrease the evaporation of moisture from the soil. Running along a carefully configured patchwork from the Canadian border to Abilene, Texas, this great American wall of trees would protect crops and livestock and even contain the huge dust clouds...Roosevelt’s Shelterbelt was the most ambitious afforestation program in world history. Unfortunately, it was also certain to offend Great Plains farmers and ranchers who didn’t like the federal government interfering with their land.”

But Mother Nature was stronger than the federal government.  On April 14, 1935, a ‘black blizzard’ blew south from the Dakotas. Brinkley writes, “No amount of Shelterbelt plantings or national grassland designation could have prevented this environmental catastrophe, which destroyed over 50 million acres across the panhandle of Texas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska; western Kansas; southeastern Colorado; and northeastern New Mexico - the area known in 1935 as the Dust Bowl.”

After the Dust Bowl, Brinkley notes, Roosevelt decided, “The U.S. government needed to acquire submarginal lands, consolidate farms, relocate inhabitants, restore land, and return the reclaimed land for ‘commercial use’ under ‘the watchful eye of Uncle Sam’. This tall order was intended to ecologically restore cropland to grass and thus halt the dusters and revitalize agriculture. Here was an unexpected foray by Roosevelt into government planning and soil conservation on a very large scale.”

In his second term, FDR devised a brilliant method of raising money to increase federal aid to wildlife. On September 2, 1937, he signed the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act [to take effect July 1, 1938], which featured a tax on hunting licenses. As Brinkley notes, “President Roosevelt realized, with considerable pride, that he had achieved a legislative miracle with the act. It was one of the New Deal’s finest moments. And the tax (generated by the law) yielded results: thanks to the law, the American deer population swelled from fewer than one million animals to almost 30 million by the 21st-century.”

The law was also known as Pittman-Robertson because of the two sponsors [Senator Key Pittman of Nevada and Rep. A. Willis Robertson of Virginia]. As a result of Pittman-Robertson, Brinkley writes, “Within two years, whitetail deer, wild turkeys, and wood ducks all started to make startling come backs. That year, almost $3 million in Pittman-Robertson revenue was allocated by the federal government to the states - real money during the Great Depression. A catastrophic situation had been reversed by Roosevelt’s environmental activism and, in fact, the law proved so successful that, in the 1950s, similar legislation was enacted for fish populations.”

Even with his preparing for war, environmentalism still meant a great deal to Roosevelt. Still, World War II obviously changed priorities. Congress refused to continue funding the CCC after Pearl Harbor and, on August 11, 1942, the last CCC ‘boys’ were dismissed. Brinkley writes, “A phenomenal era in conservation had ended. From 1933 to 1942, the CCC had enrolled more than 3.4 million men to work in thousands of camps across America. Roosevelt had used the CCC as an instrument for both environmentalism and economic revitalization. Its erosion control programs alone benefited 40 million acres of farmland. The success the agency had in building up American infrastructure is impossible to deny: 46,000 bridges; 27,000 miles of fencing; 10,000 miles of roads and trails; 5,000 miles of water supply lines; and 3,000 fire lookout towers. Credited with establishing 711 state parks, the CCC also restored close to 4,000 historic structures and rehabilitated 3,400 beaches. Nobody could deny the CCC’s enduring legacy from 1933 to 1942: combating deforestation, dust storms, overhunting, water pollution, and flooding.”

Even with the dismantling of the CCC, Brinkley concludes “The New Deal conservation revolution had already made a difference. Even while American troops were fighting in Europe and the Pacific, back home American lands brimmed with native grasses and cottonwoods, desert oases and high-country evergreens. The American land was healing and, in some regions, thriving. Around 3 billion trees had been planted by the CCC boys. The CCC was the single-best land rehabilitation idea ever adopted by a U.S. president and it rescued more than natural resources.... In its nine years of existence, the CCC introduced young American men to the rigors of outdoor living. By and large they had comported themselves well. It wasn’t intended as a form of military preparation, as was the Hitler Youth in Germany, but a generation of toughened CCC enrollees indeed became a wave of GIs during the war. Pick any CCC company roster from 1933 to 1942, and you will find alumni who went on to win Purple Hearts, Bronze Stars, and Silver Stars during World War II. Approximately one out of every six men drafted to fight during World War II was an alumnus of the CCC. Sadly, there was also a long list of heroic CCC alumni who were killed in action at Midway, Okinawa, Normandy, and Luzon, among other far-flung locales.”

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Book Review: Five Presidents - My Extraordinary Journey with Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford, By Clint Hill with Lisa McCubbin

Clint Hill may be the most famous Secret Service agent in history: he was the man who climbed onto the Kennedy limousine in Dallas and kept Jacqueline Kennedy from falling out of the vehicle after her husband's murder. With the exception of his testimony before the Warren Commission and an ill-conceived interview with Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes in 1975 after his retirement from the Service, Hill had never spoken with anyone about that day in Dallas - not even with his wife. Hill first told his story in Gerald Blaine's excellent book [2011] The Kennedy Detail [Blaine was also an agent on the Presidential Detail that day]. After finding his conversations with Blaine cathartic, he agreed to write about his days heading Mrs. Kennedy's security detail - with co-writer Lisa McCubbin. Hill and McCubbin teamed up on a second book - about the five days in November 1963. Five Presidents is their third effort, and deals with the five presidents under whom Hill worked from 1958-1975.

First, let me say, that one of the first conclusions you reach after reading Five Presidents is this: it's a small miracle that every president isn't assassinated. At least, it's a miracle that Presidents Eisenhower, Johnson, and Nixon did not have active attempts on their lives while in office. Time and again, Hill provides detailed stories of the Secret Service going to great effort to secure an area or route for a presidential visit, only to have that perimeter the president himself. Either demanding to ride in an open top car - and we are talking about after JFK in Dallas - to stopping a motorcade to get out of the car and press the flesh while frantic agents scramble to keep up.

Hill provides a brief history of the Secret Service. In one of the more ironic - tragically ironic - parts of Abraham Lincoln's last days, the legislation to establish the Secret Service Division of the United States Treasury was on Lincoln's desk, awaiting his signature, the night he was assassinated. That legislation, though, did not charge the Secret Service with presidential protection. That only occurred in 1901, after the assassination of William McKinley, when Congress assigned the duties of presidential protection to the Secret Service.

Hill's title is a bit misleading in that he did not directly serve on the Presidential Security Detail for all five presidents [Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford], although he served on either the First Lady [Mrs. Kennedy] or Vice Presidential Security Detail [Spiro Agnew] before being promoted to Secret Service headquarters in 1971.

Hill started on the protective detail of Eisenhower's mother-in-law, Elvira Doud, in September 1958. He was then transferred to the White House Detail on November 1, 1959. Hill's first foreign trip with Eisenhower was exhaustive: 22,000 miles in 19 days visiting 11 nations with Eisenhower appearing before tens of millions of people.  Hill was stunned at how vulnerable the President was in such situations. For one thing, when in a foreign land, at that time the Secret Service relied heavily on the law enforcement forces of the home country.

That didn't always work. During this first trip, while in India, the Indian police lost control of the situation during the motorcade carrying Eisenhower and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. As crowds of tens of thousands began swarming around the car, Hill writes,  "the Indian security forces had completely lost control of the situation. Suddenly, Prime Minister Nehru got out of the car and started swinging a stick at the people. I could hardly believe my eyes. The Indian prime minister was hitting his own people!" But it did the trick - it cleared a path for the motorcade to continue. This was repeated more than a few times during the motorcade before Eisenhower and Nehru safely reached their destination. As humorous as the image of Nehru flailing away to clear a motorcade path is, the reality was that, most of the time, Ike's personal security was not guaranteed; he drove in open cars where the Secret Service would never be able to protect him if there had been a credible threat.

Upon the election of John F. Kennedy, Hill was shocked and disappointed when he was informed in November 1960 that he was to be assigned to the First Lady-elect's detail. As amazing as it is to think about today, in November 1960, Hill was one of just two agents on Jackie Kennedy's detail.

Still, Hill had great proximity to JFK during the many hours the president and Jackie were together - both public and private. Hill liked JFK right away, and noticed immediately that - unlike Eisenhower -  JFK took it upon himself to learn the first names of every Secret Service agent responsible for guarding he and his family. Eisenhower had just called everyone, "Agent". Indeed, Hill writes, "There was no doubt that this administration was going to be entirely different from the last. Our job is to protect - we had no political allegiance - but from the very beginning, the courtesy and respect with which both Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy treated all of the agents set the groundwork for what would become one of the most memorable times in not only my life, but for my colleagues lives as well."

Life in the Kennedy White House was never dull. One of the more amusing moments came when Hill was preparing for the Kennedy's 1961 trip to Europe which would conclude with Jackie having a solo vacation in Greece.  Hill was surprised to be called to the Oval Office. When he entered, he found not just President Kennedy but Attorney General Robert Kennedy as well.  President Kennedy looked directly at Hill and said, "The Attorney General and I want to make one thing clear [to you]… And that is: whatever you do in Greece, do not let Mrs. Kennedy cross paths with Aristotle Onassis."

This was not the only time that such instructions came from the president.  When Hill was preparing for Jackie Kennedy's vacation in early 1962 on the Amalfi coast in Italy, President Kennedy again called Hill into the Oval Office with the following orders: "I don't want to see photos of her at luncheons with eight different wines in full view or jet-set types lolling around in bikinis."  Hill writes of JFK, "He told me do what you can to remind her to be aware of that. And above all, no nightclub pictures."

In the heated environment of the Cuban Missile Crisis, being a Secret Service agent - and the sacrifices that entailed in terms of their own families - came with a key reminder of what it would mean to 'sacrifice'.  As Hill writes, "The Secret Service was on heightened alert for whatever might happen. We were braced for the evacuation of key personnel by helicopter, and knew exactly who would go in which helicopters. We all knew that in the event of a nuclear attack there would be people scrambling to get on board helicopters. If people who were not authorized tried to get on, as an absolute last resort, we would have no choice but to shoot them. It was a sickening thought, but this was the reality of the situation we faced.... The worst part for all the agents was that we could not discuss the situation with our own families, and if something happened - if there were a nuclear attack - we would go with the president and his family to an underground facility, and our families would most likely perish. It was truly unthinkable."

Hill has written extensively about November 22, 1963, in his two previous works. Still, there are new remembrances in Five Presidents. For example, Hill reveals that - on that day - it actually would have been a more direct route for them to drive JFK and his entourage directly from Fort Worth to the Trade Mart in Dallas. Hill writes, "Instead we drove from the Hotel Texas in Fort Worth to Carswell Air Force Base, boarded Air Force One, flew into Love Field, then drove through downtown Dallas toward the speech site. All of this to get a photo of President and Mrs. Kennedy coming off Air Force One in Dallas and to have a motorcade for maximum exposure."

Hill's remembrances of the events are chilling.  He writes, "It would be nearly 50 years before I could recount the details of what happened in Dallas - not because I was sworn to secrecy or because I had anything to hide. The reason is simple: the memories were just too damn painful. To this day, every moment is still vivid in my mind."

Although the week before - during an open procession in Florida - Kennedy had ordered the Secret Service not to ride on the car in which he was riding, because the crowds were so large in Dallas, Hill made the decision to disobey the edict and jump out of the follow-up car and jump onto the rear step of the president's car, and then alternated between that and the backup car. He hoped JFK wouldn't notice him if he moved back and forth.

As they turned onto Dealey Plaza, because the crowds had thinned, Hill left the back of the president's car and returned to the backup car.  After hearing a loud noise and realizing that it was a gunshot, Hill writes, "I jumped off the running board [of the backup car], hit the pavement, and ran. My sole intention was to get onto the SS 100 X [the president's car] and place myself between the shooter and the president and Mrs. Kennedy. My adrenaline was flowing, as the [president's] car kept moving forward,  I raced with all my might to catch up." Hill heard a second shot that he believes is the one that hit Governor John Connally. Then, when he heard the third shot, "I heard it and felt it. The impact was like the sound of something hard hitting something hollow - like the sound of a melon shattering onto concrete. In the same instant, an eruption of blood, brain matter, and bone fragments exploded from the president's head, showering over Mrs. Kennedy, the car, and me."

Hill had just reached the president's car when the driver began to speed up.  Hill recalls, "Somehow - I honestly don't know how - I lunged and pulled my body onto the car, and my foot found the step. In that same instant, Mrs. Kennedy rose up out of her seat and started climbing onto the trunk. The car was really beginning to pick up speed, and I figured she was going to go flying off the back of the car or, God forbid, be shot by the next round. Her eyes were filled with fear as she reached out and grabbed a piece of the president's head that had flown onto the trunk. I realized she didn't even know I was there. She was in complete shock. Her husband's head had just exploded inches from her face. I thrust myself onto the trunk, grabbed her arm, and pushed her back into the seat. When I did this, the president's body fell to the left onto her lap.' My God! They have shot his head off!', Mrs. Kennedy screamed. Blood was everywhere. The floor was covered in blood and brain tissue and skull fragments. The president's head was in Mrs. Kennedy's lap, his eyes fixed, and a gaping hole in the back of his skull. 'Get us to a hospital! Get us to a hospital!', I screamed at the driver, Bill Greer. Gripping the left door frame with my left hand, I wedged myself between the left and right sides of the vehicle on top of the rear seat trying to keep my body as high as possible to shield the car's occupants from whatever shots might still be coming as we raced down Stemmons Freeway. The time between the moment I heard the first shot and the impact of the fatal third shot was less than six seconds. Six seconds to change the course of history. Six seconds I would relive more than anyone can imagine. Not a day would go by, for the rest of my life, that something would remind me of President Kennedy and that day in Dallas. One gunman. Three shots. Six seconds."

When they arrived at the emergency room, initially Jackie Kennedy would not let go of JFK's body. Hill looked her in the eye and gently said, "Mrs. Kennedy, please let us help the president." But still Mrs. Kennedy wouldn't move. Hill recalls,  "Knowing her as well as I did, I finally realized that she knew. She knew he was dead. She would not let go [of his body] because she didn't want anyone else to see him like this. I took off my suit coat and placed it over his head and upper torso and as I looked at her sad, hollow eyes, she finally let him go."

Once inside the emergency room, as doctors worked frantically on JFK, Hill found himself called to the phone. It was the Attorney General. "What's going on down there?!" Robert Kennedy asked. Hill told him, "'Both the president and the governor have been shot', I began. 'We are in the emergency room at Parkland Hospital in Dallas.' And then the president's brother asked me something that haunts me still. 'Well, how bad is it?' I did not have the courage to tell Robert Kennedy that his brother was dead. So I simply said, 'It's as bad as it can get'."

As the group returned to Air Force One and the somber flight back to Washington, just before the swearing-in ceremony of Lyndon Johnson, Hill writes, "I was notified that Mrs. Kennedy wanted to see me in the presidential cabin. I walked through the aircraft, past President Johnson and his staff, and into the compartment. 'Yes Mrs. Kennedy, what can I do for you?' Still in her pink suit, encrusted with blood, she walked toward me and grasped my hands. 'What's going to happen to you now, Mr. Hill?' I clenched my jaw and swallowed hard. How could she be thinking about me? 'I'll be OK, Mrs. Kennedy'. I said 'I'll be OK'."

In the aftermath of the assassination, Johnson requested Secret Service protection for Jackie Kennedy and the children. Jackie specifically requested Hill. He was now in charge of the Kennedy Protective Detail, not the White House Detail.

Hill is clear about what the assassination did to him.  He writes, "In hindsight, there is no doubt I was suffering from what is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. I'm sure Mrs. Kennedy, along with everyone else in the presidential limousine and in the follow-up car - the other Secret Service agents, Governor and Mrs. Connally, Dave Powers, and Ken O'Donnell - were all suffering the same mental distress I was. But none of us talked about it - certainly not with each other.  There was no counseling. We each just went on with our lives the best we could." And although the Warren Commission report exonerated the Secret Service - in fact it praised them - Hill writes, "For those of us on the White House Detail, the Report didn't change anything. President Kennedy was dead. We had failed. I had failed. And I would have to live with that for the rest of my life."

After a year protecting Mrs. Kennedy after the assassination, Hill was transferred to the President's Detail in November 1964. Johnson at first, though, didn't like Hill because he considered him loyal to the Kennedys. In fact, LBJ initially wanted Hill transferred immediately. After the Secret Service chief talked to Johnson in detail about Hill and his loyalty to the United States, LBJ relented. Hill recalls, "I was surprised that President Johnson had agreed to allow me to stay on his detail, but I also knew that all it would take was one minor mistake and I'd be transferred to a field office far from Washington, D.C."

Simply put, Lyndon Johnson was a bear for the Secret Service. Hill writes, "He believed surprise was the best form of defense against anyone who might try to harm him, and that included not informing his Secret Service agents of impending activity. We had to continually be on our toes, ready for movement by foot or car. President Johnson would be in the house [on the LBJ ranch]  and suddenly decide to take a drive. He'd just go right out the back door, dressed in his tan gabardine ranch trousers and matching pocket jacket, a western style hat, and boots, headed for the carport, usually with several of his guests in tow. Rarely did he give advanced warning to the agents, so as soon as one of us saw what was going on, we would radio the command post and race for the Secret Service follow-up cars.... President Johnson refused to allow an agent to drive him around on his own ranch, and most times forbade any of us from being in the same car with him." Indeed, while trying to protect him at the ranch, "you could never predict where he would go or what he do next. The Hill Country of Texas was his backyard playground, and while he knew every inch of it, along with everyone who lived there, we did not. There were a number of ranches the president visited frequently, and sometimes we would get to a neighboring ranch by car only to find out he had changed his mind and went to go to a different ranch in the opposite direction, by helicopter. We'd have to hightail it to the new destination to get there before the helicopter arrived. He was constantly changing his plans at the last minute, which resulted in enormous and frustrating logistical problems."

LBJ's 1965 inauguration was the biggest operation for the Secret Service since the assassination in Dallas. Hill writes, "The two mile stretch between the Capitol and the White House was checked and rechecked multiple times, with every building on Constitution and Pennsylvania Avenues inspected and every window along the route ordered to be closed. Manhole covers were sealed, agents would be flying in helicopters overhead, and for the first time a three sided barrier of bulletproof glass was installed around the podium were Johnson and his Vice President, Hubert Humphrey, would take their oaths."

Hill further recalls, "Four years earlier, President and Mrs. Kennedy had ridden the entire length of the parade in an open top car as one million spectators waved and cheered. Now, for the first time in America's history, the president was relegated to riding in an enclosed vehicle, and although it may be hard to believe, the car in which president Johnson rode through the streets of Washington, D.C. on January 20, 1965, was the same car in which his predecessor had been assassinated. After being transported from Dallas back to Washington in a C-130, guarded continuously by Secret Service agents, the SS 100 EX had been scrupulously inspected for evidence and then sent back to the Hess and Eisenhart facility in Cincinnati to be refurbished. Because the Secret Service had a lack of vehicles, because it would've taken two or three years to design and build a brand-new car - at a much higher cost - the decision was made to take what we had and improve it. A non-removable roof made of bulletproof glass was installed, along with titanium plating in the trunk and around the backseat area; the floor was reconstructed of steel to withstand a grenade attack; and all the windows were replaced with thick bulletproof glass. The additional weight required a new more powerful engine, and an additional air conditioning unit was installed to compensate for the greenhouse effect of all the thick glass. Finally, at President Johnson's request, the exterior paint color was changed from midnight blue to black. The refurbished car had been put back into use in May 1964, But because I had been with Mrs. Kennedy up until November, this inaugural parade was the first time I had worked a motorcade with the car since that day in Dallas...By sheer coincidence or cruel irony, [as in Dallas] I had been assigned to the left rear of the car, next to the First Lady." The car would be used again in Richard Nixon's first inaugural parade, with Hill again trailing behind it.

As would be a common theme, however, the best security plans often went out the window in trying to protect Johnson.  No sooner had the inaugural parade began, Hill writes, than, "there was a slowing of the pace, bringing the car almost to a complete stop, and the president spotted several band majorettes from South Texas State College, his alma mater. I could hardly believe my eyes when the president opened the rear door, got out, and strolled over to the young ladies to shake their hands. We could have a full-proof security plan, but when the president himself chose to disregard it, all bets were off. Several of us rushed to surround him, urging him to get back into the car. Fortunately, he did as we asked and remained in the car for the rest of the parade."

Johnson's edict that he was going to drive himself at the ranch - with no agents riding in the car - led to another scary moment on the day after Christmas,1965. After driving to and attending church, the Johnsons decided they wanted to visit the newly restored boyhood home of President Johnson. As Hill remembers, "The president drove slowly down Avenue F, and after crossing Main Street, just as he turned a corner, I heard a loud explosion of noise. It sounded like a firecracker. 'Oh God!' Across the street, a teenage boy was walking across the front yard of the home with a .30-.30 rifle in his hands. I jumped out of the car and ran towards the boy with my arms outstretched and waving above my head, yelling 'Put the gun down! Put the gun down!' The boy turned white as a starched shirt as he dropped the gun at his feet. Meanwhile the other agents, with guns drawn, raced just around the president's car as it moved out of sight.... As it turned out, the noise had indeed come from another direction - where a young girl had set off a firecracker. The teenage boy was from San Antonio and happened to be visiting his grandparents, who had known the Johnsons for nearly 30 years. It turned out to be a series of unfortunate coincidences; as the boy said, he picked the wrong time to go hunting. President Johnson was completely unfazed by the incident and carried on with his day as if nothing unusual had happened."

Diplomacy also negatively effected security.  For Johnson's visit to Mexico in 1966, Hill had arranged to have the bulletproof limousine flown to Mexico to allow Johnson and Mexican President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz to ride together - under a closed roof -- down a route that would contain millions of people.  But Mexican officials insisted that President Johnson ride with Ordaz in their convertible presidential limousine - with the top down. Hill writes, "Two vivid memories collided in my mind: the enormous crowds that turned out for President and Mrs. Kennedy's visit to Mexico City four years earlier - two million people along the motorcade route, storms of confetti so thick that by the end the open-top convertible was filled to the brim with the stuff - and the image of President Kennedy's head exploding in Dallas. There was no way we could allow President Johnson to ride through the streets of Mexico City in an open-top car. No way."

Except they had to. Johnson insisted. Hill recalls, "In the end, President Johnson and his staff decided that he would ride with President Diaz Ordaz in the Mexican presidential limousine, with the top down.…The decision was out of my hands, but the responsibility to keep everyone safe was entirely on my shoulders."

By December 1967, Hill had been promoted  to Special Agent in Charge of President Johnson's Detail. When Johnson made a surprise visit to Vietnam in 1967, security was obviously extremely tight. After Johnson landed and began meeting the troops, a Secret Service agent took Hill aside and - pointing to a plane a short distance away - said, "See that aircraft sitting at the end of the runway over there? In the event of incoming missiles, you get yourself, the president, and [General] Westmoreland on board. The pilot has instructions to take off immediately and get you the hell out of here. They've got their engines running, Ready to go."

With the assassinations and violence of 1968, the last full year of the Johnson presidency was a nightmare for the Secret Service. A few hours after Bobby Kennedy was shot, President Johnson ordered Secret Service protection for all of the presidential and vice presidential candidates. Hill writes, "One of the results of Robert Kennedy's death was that the Secret Service was now protecting major presidential candidates, and in order to meet the added responsibilities, the White House Detail...had been cannibalized. Because of the stamina required on the campaign trail, we had moved many of the experienced, younger agents to the candidates' details, and replaced the president's detail with older agents who had plenty of experience but weren't necessarily as fit or agile. The theory was that the new protective details would be much more active because they were constantly on the go, while the president, presumably, wouldn't be traveling so much. This was true, but it concerned me - especially as we headed into the Republican and Democratic conventions with a severe shortage of manpower."

With Nixon's ascension to the White House, Hill's role changed again. Nixon considered Hill a "Kennedy/LBJ Man" and demanded his removal from the Presidential Security Detail. Instead, he headed up the Vice Presidential Security Detail for Spiro Agnew, whom Hill enjoyed working with. Unlike LBJ, Agnew always abided by the Secret Service's wishes. Hill writes, "For me, personally, I got along very well with Vice President Agnew and his wife, Judy. They were genuinely kind, fun loving, and family-oriented, and they treated all the agents with a great deal of respect."

That role lasted only a short time, however, as in 1970 he was promoted to Deputy Assistant Director of Protective Forces, with an office in Secret Service Headquarters. He would now be desk bound. Now, for the first time in seven years, though, he suddenly found himself with too much time to think. Hill writes, "And the thoughts that started creeping back into my mind were the memories of 1963 and the dreadful day in Dallas."

Hill may have been one of the first people in Washington to know that Richard Nixon had installed a voice-activated taping system.  At the end of February 1971, Hill writes, "during my private conversations with fellow headquarters personnel, the most interesting information I learned was that a taping system has been installed in various locations, at the president's request, to capture conversations. Previous administrations had also taped conversations and telephone calls, but what was surprising was how elaborate the system was, especially the fact that most of it was voice-activated. That was new. I was one of the very few people who knew about the taping system, and, as with all types of similar privileged information, it was kept very private, limited to people on a need-to-know basis only."

In 1971, there was another promotion, this time to Assistant Director of the Presidential Protective Division. But, psychologically, the year behind the desk had taken it's toll. Hill recalls,  "What most people didn't know was that I had been having a difficult time concentrating on the job since being moved to headquarters. At some point after President Kennedy's assassination, the Secret Service had begun using the Zapruder film in training classes for new agents.… After I was promoted from the detail and moved to headquarters, every so often I would be asked to attend these training sessions. It was surreal for me to see myself on the film, to see the horror from a different perspective. And they played the film over and over, sometimes in slow motion, so I had to relive it over and over. It was excruciating. The events of November 22, 1963, were ever-present in my mind and affected everything I thought or did. The emotional trauma caused my body to react physically, so I was having physical problems as well. I was being referred to different doctors, and at that point I was seeing a gastroenterologist, a urologist, and an internist. Pills were prescribed, but nothing seemed to work or help. I was providing financially for my family, but emotionally I was not there as a husband or a father. There's no doubt about it now: I was going through post traumatic stress disorder - PTSD. But in the 1970s there was no such diagnosis. I was no longer on a protective detail, and I found that when I got home from the office, a scotch and soda helped me deal with the transition from problems at work to problems at home. I'm not proud of how I handled my issues. But that's how I dealt with it - and it only got worse over time."

In addition to learning about the tapes, Hill got another glimpse into the Nixon psyche after George Wallace was shot. The next day, President Nixon ordered Secret Service protection for Ted Kennedy. However, a few days later, Kennedy requested that the protection be terminated and it was. Then, in September 1972, Alexander Butterfield called Hill and said that Nixon was adamant that Kennedy have Secret Service protection and that he wanted a specific agent to be in charge - Robert Newbrand. Hill informed Butterfield that he already had a Kennedy team ready to go, one with a good rapport with the senator.  Hill next heard from Assistant Secretary for Law Enforcement at the U.S. Treasury Department, Eugene Rossides. After Hill again explained that Newbrand wasn't needed because the Kennedy team was set, Hill writes,  "there was a slight pause, and then Rossides said, 'You apparently don't get the picture, Clint. This is not a request, it is in order'. It sickened me to realize that the president could sink so low as to insist that our organization, which was providing him with protection and enabling him to function as president, place an informant [Newbrand] on a protective detail. There was no question in my mind that this was what was happening. I had always held the Office of the President in extremely high regard. This request, although it did not come directly from the president, obviously emanated from him. It sullied the office and gave me an insight into the character of the man in it." Fortunately, as it turned out, Newbrand - who was close to some of the top Nixon staff - was furious at what Nixon was trying to do.  He agreed to serve on Kennedy's detail, but fed the Nixon team false information about the senator.

Hill retired from the Secret Service due to health issues on July 31, 1975, at the age of 43.  Shortly after, he made what he later considered to be a grave mistake. He agreed to sit for an interview with Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes. He had been told the piece was on the Secret Service in general and no mention was made of the Kennedy assassination in Wallace's pitch meeting with Hill. Wallace, on camera, naturally asked Hill to recall what happened in Dallas.  Hill broke down, after all of those years, on camera.  The after-effects were chilling for Hill.  He writes, "In the months following the airing of the 60 Minutes episode, I spiraled into a depression off the deep end as time went on. I cut off contact with friends and associates and spent the majority of my time in the basement of my home in Alexandria. I drank as a form of self-medication and smoked heavily. It wasn't until 1982 when a doctor friend told me I would have to change the way I was living, or I would die. I decided I wanted to live and so I quit drinking and quit smoking. Gradually I improved, but it wasn't easy and thoughts of the assassination were still prevalent in my mind."

In 1990, Hill returned to Dealey Plaza in Dallas, for the first time since November 22, 1963. He wanted to see the Book Depository, and re-walk the route of the motorcade. In some respects, it was cathartic - it allowed him to see that there was nothing he could have done to prevent JFK's death.  Hill writes, "I wish I had returned to Dealey Plaza much sooner. I felt better, but instead of spending my retirement years traveling and enjoying life, I continued my reclusive existence, still mired in depression."

In many ways, Hill was as much a victim of what happened in Dallas as Governor Connally, Mrs. Kennedy, or anyone else who survived that motorcade. As a Secret Service agent his duty was to give his life to protect his 'client'. In Hill's case, he gave a lifetime.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Book Review: The First Congress, By Fergus Bordewich

Although the Constitution was ratified by the requisite number of states by 1788, it was the First Congress [1789-1791] that would put into effect that which was only on parchment.  That is the story told by Fergus W. Bordewich in The First Congress. How James Madison, George Washington, and a Group of Extraordinary Men Invented the Government [my nominee for longest title, by the way].  I want to commend Bordewich on adopting the historical style of writing in chronological order - telling the story exactly the way it impacted the players at the time. While sometimes confusing, it provides a true picture of how the men and women who played roles in history often have to juggle many different items at once.  History is not clean and historical events do not happen in chapters that have a beginning and an end. For example, as President Franklin Roosevelt was faced with war on two hemispheres simultaneously, I've always appreciated those books who wrote chronologically, going back and forth between the two wars- often on the same day - just as Roosevelt had to.  That is how Bordewich tells the story of the First Congress,

In that First Congress, in both houses, there was no leadership structure as we know it today.  While there was a Speaker of the House [Frederick Muhlenberg of Pennsylvania], the position was ceremonial. Into that vacuum, James Madison took on a leadership role in the House. But it would be a mistake to consider him the only strong voice in that First Congress. As Bordewich writes, "Madison was only the first among equals in a diverse and individualistic body. The 95 senators and representatives who served in the First Congress were a comparatively youthful lot, mostly in their 40s and 30s...Despite their competing interests and personalities, they would perform a feat of collaborative political creativity that has rarely been rivaled."

The list of accomplishments of that body are impressive: creation of the Departments of State, War and Treasury and the Office of Attorney General; the creation of the Supreme Court, as well as the federal court system; the first ten amendments to the Constitution; the creation of a system of duties and tariffs that provided the nation's first revenue stream; the adoption of a national financial plan; and the creation of a National Bank. And those are just the highlights.

One of the amusing tales in the book is the story of how that First Congress convened. Although it was set to meet on March 4, 1789, there was no quorum. The lack of urgency to arrive on time is noteworthy when compared to 18-months later when every single member would be present for the start of that session.  Even Madison was late, arriving March 14. As Bordewich writes, "Without the quorum, the new government didn't really exist. The ballots for President and Vice President couldn't be counted. No legislation could take place. Courts could not be created. Revenues could not be raised." The House finally reached a quorum on April 1, while the Senate complied by April 5.

Among one of the earliest debates in Congress was the issue of presidential appointments - in particular, whether an appointee could be removed without Congressional [Senate] consent. Here, Madison stepped into the breach and in so doing changed the nation's history in strengthening the presidency.  Bordewich writes, "What Madison said was that the Secretary of Foreign Affairs [soon changed to State], and by implication any other officials named by the president, were to be appointed 'with the advice and consent of the Senate, and removable by the president'. Such language did not exist in the Constitution and implied that once a man had been appointed to office, he would then serve at the discretion of the president alone."

The issue of amending the Constitution was bitterly fought - although today we consider the Bill of Rights to be a natural progression from the Constitutional Convention of 1787. In fact, the term 'Bill of Rights' wasn't even in use at the time, and wouldn't be until the turn of the 19th-century. Debate began June 8 . As Bordewich writes, "Madison had two goals: to win the support of anti-Federalists, and to fend off amendments that would fatally injure the Constitution." In fact, Madison did not even want the amendments, fearing that amending the document so soon after it's ratification would jeopardize the document entirely.  But, Bordewich notes, "Madison believed that if he did not propose the amendments, they would come within three days from the anti-Federalist side. It was better that the amendments should 'appear to be the free gift of the friends of the constitution' than to have been 'extorted' from them by its enemies. Finally, and most important, he predicted, 'it will kill the opposition everywhere, and by putting an end to the disaffection of the government itself, enable the administration to venture on measures not otherwise safe.'"  Yet, when Madison sought to introduce the topic, he was shocked to find that his colleagues in the House were not yet ready to do so.  Bordewich notes, "There was no sense of agreement as to the proper direction to go so, instead, the feeling was to put aside amendments for now and deal with other pressing issues. Thus the amendments would have to wait for now."

Instead, Congress looked at the creation of a federal judiciary. The Constitution empowered Congress to create the Supreme Court and "such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain." Sen. Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut was primary author of what became the Judiciary Act of 1789.  The bill, Bordewich writes, "provided for a Supreme Court consisting of a Chief Justice and five Associate Justices, who would meet twice a year at the seat of government, and the division of the country into 13 judicial districts, each with its own 'inferior' federal court, U.S. attorney, and federal marshal. In a major innovation, the creation of three regional circuit courts consisting of a District Judge and two traveling members of the Supreme Court, would also meet twice annually to hear appeals from the district courts and thus 'carry law to (the People's) homes, courts to their doors', as [Sen.] William Paterson [of New Jersey] put it." The bill also created the cabinet office of Attorney General.

The public at that time was quite distrustful of a judiciary - which in past history had been seen as nothing more than enforcement arms of kings and tyrants.  Thus, Bordewich writes, "For the judiciary to work it had to be accepted by the distrustful public. For that to occur, it would have to be adopted by substantial majorities in both houses of Congress. A close vote in either house would lend credence to the warnings of the bill's enemies." On July 17, it passed the Senate 20-6. The House would overwhelmingly pass it in September.  The importance of the Judiciary Act of 1789 cannot be overstated.  As Bordewich notes, "The bill's full impact would not be felt for many years, even generations, to come. But combined with the rights that were being codified in the first amendments to the Constitution, it would one day become a great dynamic engine that would carry justice into every community and transform American society to its roots."

By August, Congress was ready to address the amendments.  It's important to remember that modern Americans hold the first ten amendments in much higher regard than the Congress did in 1789.  As Bordewich writes, "Considering the gravity that the Constitution's first Ten Amendments have now acquired, Congress' debate over [the subject] was remarkably short, snappish, and driven by the politics of the moment rather than by appeals to lofty ideals." Indeed, Madison allotted only a single week of debate for the proposed amendments.  Madison was adamant about keeping attention focused solely on the ten amendments that he had created, having whittled them down from the 200 or so proposed addendums to the Constitution.

The outcome was not certain. Federalists wanted no amendments at all, while anti-Federalists felt that Madison had not gone far enough with the ten he was proposing. There was also the issue of exactly where in the document the amendments should appear.  Madison strongly believed they should be placed within the body of the Constitution itself, while others argued they should simply be tacked onto the end of the document.

In the end, 17 amendments were approved by the House of Representatives. They then went on to the Senate. That body then compressed those 17 into 12.  Amendments 3-12 are what we recognize as the Bill of Rights [amendments 1 and 2 would not be officially ratified until 1992, over 200 years after Congressional approval].

Bordewich writes that, after the amendments passed, "the collective mood was less one of triumph than of sheer exhaustion. No one in Congress regarded passage of the amendments as much more than an exercise in political housekeeping....Virtually no members of Congress imagined that they had just passed a set of measures that would become, in their own right, part of the sacred canon of American democracy. The members were practical, impatient, and tired politicians, many of whom had regarded the whole debate as at best a distraction from things that mattered: the national revenue, the protection of codfish and molasses, the establishment  of courts, defining (or enlarging) presidential power, and agreeing on a permanent capital.

The rights that the amendments described would be nothing more than paper guarantees until the judiciary discovered them: in 1789, they were for the most part only aspirational and unenforceable." Nor would the Bill of Rights acquire the sacred aura that surrounds it today until well into the 20th-century. Bordewich writes that the esteem in which the Bill of Rights is held today is, "a development that owes less to the foresight of the Founding Fathers than to the determination of morally aroused citizens and the willingness of the modern judiciary to challenge discriminatory and oppressive  state legislation."

It is also worth noting that the order of the amendments actually was accidental and not indicative of the importance placed up on them by Congress.  Bordewich writes, "The final order of the amendments was completely arbitrary. It had no correlation with what the members deemed most or least important. Indeed the First Amendment, as it is known today, became so only by default, when the two proceeding amendments - on congressional apportionment and compensation for members - failed to achieve ratification by enough states."  It is also worth noting that three states - Massachusetts, Connecticut, Georgia - would not officially ratify all Ten Amendments until the sesquicentennial of the debate, in 1939."

With the end of the first session. of the First Congress, Bordewich writes, "To be sure, much work was left undone...that daunting mountain of state and national war debt still loomed, crippling the nation's ability to borrow. Somehow the government would have to find a way to pay for it[self]. By most every measure, however, the session's legislative record was impressive; few, if any, later congresses would come close to matching it. The machine of government had begun to work."  Of all the accomplishments, though, simply persisting in unknown territory was perhaps the greatest achievement of that First Congress.  As Bordewich writes, "Not the least of the session's achievements was that it had continued to function despite so many personal, local, and ideological rivalries and conflicts that, had members exhibited less self-control and commitment to the concept of divergent ideas for the public good, it might easily have transformed political conflict into crippling crisis."

Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton used the time between congressional sessions to write his Report on the Re-Establishment of Public Credit. He delivered the report on January 14, 1790. Although he had wanted to deliver it in person - he knew that the intricate details of finance were beyond the scope of knowledge of most in that First Congress - congressional opponents insisted that he stay away.

The report was colossal and called for a seismic shift in the way most Americans thought about finance. Bordewich boils down the plan nicely: "To address the debt, Hamilton proposed not levying heavy taxes - the conventional course - but refinancing it by borrowing more money, an expedient that horrified many members of Congress and other Americans, who regarded debt as a sin. Hamilton then explained one of his most provocative ideas: that debt could be used as a creative force. As the interest on debt was paid, the debt's value would increase, adding to the creditors' assets, because the borrower - in this case the United States - was proving the trustworthiness of its commitment. The national debt could then become a commodity that could profitably be bought and sold in the financial market place. Creditors would support national stability, in their own self-interest, while the shared debt would help bind the states more closely together, and at the same time create an alliance with the banks that would make possible dynamic economic growth forward. Debt would, in effect, become a substitute for money. In turn, the nation's economy could be stimulated because more capital would be circulating to invest in manufacturing, commerce, and agriculture. Hamilton went further. He proposed that most of the war debts of the states be assumed by the federal government - that is, folded into the federal debt - and that the treasury issue it's own new securities to replace the old ones."

After attempting to digest what Hamilton was proposing, the first issue to come to the fore was the idea of discrimination.  Again, Bordewich does a nice job of concisely explaining: "It quickly became clear that the initial battle over debt would focus on the highly charged issue of discrimination: that is, whether to pay the current holders of securities at face value, or to disfavor them - to discriminate against them - by reimbursing only what they had paid for the certificates, to pay to the securities' original recipients the difference between the face value and whatever fraction of that amount they had sold for."

Into this fire came a separate issue - slavery. On February 12, 1790, Muhlenberg introduced a petition from the nonsectarian Quaker-dominated Pennsylvania Abolition Society. It was signed by a terminally ill Benjamin Franklin.  Bordewich writes, "The language was dispassionate, but its meaning was clear: it was calling for a national commitment to emancipation. It landed like a bombshell. Criticism of the slave trade might be irritating [in Congress], but it was marginally respectable. To members from the lower South, talking openly about abolition was racial treason."

Madison was appalled. His thoughts on slavery by 1790 were not unlike many of the other Founding Fathers who hailed from the South - that it was an abominable but necessary institution that, one day - hopefully - would go away...somehow.  Bordewich writes, "Three things were starkly clear to [Madison]: that slavery contradicted the Revolution's founding commitment to human equality, that southerners [including his own constituents] would resist yielding control over their slaves to a national government where anti-slavery men held any influence, and that political combat over slavery would likely explode the two-year-old Constitutional compact. His present goal was to push the slavery question off Congress' agenda because he believed that it would lead to the destruction of either the planter class, to which he belonged to, or the nation itself."

After Madison adroitly tucked away the slavery petition for the time being, he dealt directly with Hamilton's plan.  On discrimination, Madison believed that the original holders of the debt - almost entirely soldiers - must be wholly reimbursed the full value of the securities. In a stunning defeat, however, the House decidedly rejected Madison's attempt to substitute language calling for discrimination into the bill. The holders of the debt - whoever they were - would receive full value. It was a stunning defeat for Madison and an equally triumphant victory for Hamilton.

On the issue of the federal government assuming the debts of the states, votes were evenly divided.  Bordewich notes, "Opposition would come mainly from Virginia, Maryland, and- it was anticipated, once her delegates arrived - North Carolina [where the Constitution had finally been ratified], which had all paid off their debts. Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and South Carolina were strongly for it, along with elements of the New York, New Hampshire, and New Jersey delegations. Massachusetts and South Carolina - which had suffered the worst from wartime depravations - stood to benefit most."

Meanwhile, the issue of the slavery petition hung over the chamber.  Bordewich writes, "The Quakers' campaign had no practical effect but was not without significance. It palpably deepened southerners' suspicion of the North, which would soon manifest itself with renewed toxicity in the coming debate over the establishment of the federal capital. It also created an unofficial 'gag rule', which in the 1830s would explicitly bar any discussion of slavery in Congress.  Still more lasting was the coalescence of a pro-slavery polemic so well thought out that - refined, polished, and endlessly reiterated - it would be used in debates for the next seventy years, until it finally led to the secession and civil war that the southerners of 1790 so loudly threatened." There was also a fear was that the anger caused by the slavery debate had ruined any chance of southern support for Hamilton's assumption and funding plans.

Thus, by May 1790, the tension among the members of Congress was severe. Indeed, Bordewich notes, the "public disgust with the paralysis at Federal Hall - and by extension with the new government itself - was also reaching an ominous pitch."

It was in this tense climate that perhaps the greatest random encounter in American history took place to present a solution.  Walking to meeting at President Washington's home, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson happened upon a distraught Alexander Hamilton wandering the streets outside the President's House. Hamilton looked awful.  As Bordewich writes, "As they paced back-and-forth in front of Washington's door, Hamilton, looking haggard and disheveled and 'dejected beyond description,' according to Jefferson, pleaded that the integrity of the union hinged on assumption. If it failed to pass, he intended to resign. Could Jefferson speak to his southern friends and try to bring them around? The Virginian replied, why not sit down with Madison for a 'friendly discussion?' Later that day, Jefferson sent notes to both men, inviting them to dinner the next day at his home, adding genteelly that 'men of sound heads and honest views needed nothing more than explanation and mutual understanding to enable them to unite in some measures which might enable us to get along.'"

At dinner, the two men struck a bargain: Madison would provide enough votes for Hamilton's plans to pass, while Hamilton would provide enough votes to move the capital permanently to an as-yet-undesignated site on the Potomac.  Bordewich writes, "Madison's strategic patience, Jefferson's fortuitous arrival on the scene, and Hamilton's exhaustion of his other options produced a bargain that could probably not have been accomplished earlier. That it took place at all seems obvious only with hindsight. Many members of Congress feared, with reason, that without a compromise to drain off bile-filled sectional jealousies, a collapse of the government would soon ensue. But the figurative, and perhaps actual shake [of hands] across the dinner table was just the beginning."

When the second session of the First Congress convened on December 4, 1790, there were no quorum problems.  This was indicative of the strength the new government was gaining, even with the rise in tensions.  As Bordewich writes, by convening on December 4, it was "almost the first time since the Revolutionary War that any Congress had assembled so close to its appointed time - a sufficiently remarkable event that the French minister saw fit to report it to Paris as a sign of the increasing stability of the American government. Indeed, the punctuality of members was, in its prosaic way, a vital symbol of the commitment that they felt to this new form of government, which two years earlier many feared might never work at all."

No sooner had they reconvened than Congress was presented with the next phase of Hamilton's plan, a proposal for a national bank.  Hamilton, Bordewich writes, argued that,  "the national bank would be an invaluable asset to the country: providing a repository for government funds, creating a trustworthy paper currency, servicing the national debt, managing foreign-exchange, and creating a permanent pool of investment capital that would foster economic growth. Hamilton proposed an initial capitalization of $10 million." Passage in the Senate was never in doubt, as it did 10-6 on January 20, 1791.

The House was a greater challenge.  As Bordewich notes, "As much as any other issue facing the First Congress, the short but divisive battle over the Bank widened the fissures between centralists and advocates of states' rights, and between the advocates of liberal versus strict construction of the Constitution, a rift that in turn nourished the growth of the political parties that would soon become the organizing engines of American politics."

Madison led the opposition in the House, arguing that the Bank was unconstitutional. The argument revolved around 'implied' powers in the Constitution: pro-Bank forces believed there were implied powers [that is, not specifically stated], while anti-Bank foes believed there were not.  Bordewich writes, "[For Madison] the proposed Bank was in no way 'necessary' to government; at best, it was merely 'convenient'. The Constitution [Madison argued] granted the federal government only limited and enumerated powers and no others." Simply speaking: there were no implied powers. Bordewich writes, "The speech was a startling demonstration of how far Madison had traveled from principles that he had espoused as recently as the first session, when he was the driving engine of the [Washington] Administration's centralizing agenda. Now his assault against federal power sounded indistinguishable from that of the anti-Federalists he had once scorned.". Why? Why did Madison change so quickly?  Bordewich says Madison's motives were mixed.  Certainly, he says, some of it was simple politics - he feared that with the Bank being chartered in Philadelphia for twenty years that might jeopardize the relocation of the capital to the Potomac.  Still, Bordewich,  writes, "Nevertheless, the arguments he made were compelling. He feared, with some reason, that the Bank would instigate a surge of unbridled speculation, and he genuinely worried that if loose construction of the Constitution prevailed, executive power might never again be reigned in."

In the end, the House easily passed. the Bank Bill  The battle was not yet done, though, as Washington needed to sign it. Would he? It went to the President on February 14 and he had ten days to sign or veto it; if he did nothing, it would become law without his signature. Madison made a final effort to kill it, writing a report to Washington with the salient points arguing why he should veto the bill.

There was a wild card - the exact location of the capital on the Potomac. On January 24, 1791, Washington informed Congress that he'd chosen the absolute southern-most section of the Potomac site permitted under the law - much further south than anyone thought he would. In fact, he wanted it amended to allow for it to be extended even further south. Considering that doing so would mean that lands owned by Washington, members of his family and other friends, would now skyrocket in value. Anyone but Washington would have been publicly accused of larceny. Privately they complained, but no one would publicly attack Washington. This now set up a quid-pro-quo with the Bank in return for the location of the Capital.

Hamilton worked, at Washington's request, on a response to Madison's arguments to veto it. Hamilton argued that Madison was wrong: there were implied powers - and he used Madison's own words to make the point.  In The Federalist, Bordewich writes, Madison argued that, "If the Constitution had to include a full enumeration of all the powers 'necessary and proper' to government, it would not only be ludicrously long, but also have to take account of 'all the possible changes which futurity may axiom is more clearly established in law or in reason that wherever the end is required, the means are authorized; wherever a general power to do a thing is given, every particularly power for doing it is included'." Here was James Madison [albeit circa 1787] arguing in favor of implied powers.

Washington signed the Bank Bill February 24. Bordewich writes, "With the Bank's future assured, Congress speedily passed by a large majority the president's bill to extend the federal district southward to include Alexandria, Virginia."

The First Congress ended March 3, 1791.  Bordewich writes, "from a piece of paper, the members of the First Congress had made a government: the republican dream had been breathed into life, given political flesh and bone, pushed to its feet, and made to walk."

Still, Bordewich does have criticism. He notes, "The most consequential failure of the First Congress was its evasion of the corrosive problem of slavery when confronted with the Quaker petitions. Even members who loathed slavery figured that the new government could not risk an open debate on the subject without its splintering. They may have been right. But for the next seven decades this evasion encouraged southerners to bully any northern politicians who challenged slavery by threatening secession and war, as the number of enslaved Americans swelled from 323,000 in 1790 to almost four million in 1861, and the moral problem of slavery became ever more deeply enmeshed with the politics of states rights."

In the end, though, Bordewich argues it was an unmitigated success.  He writes, "The First Congress gave new and dramatic force to the republican idea. It did not create a democracy; that would evolve only slowly over time. Nearly all the political men of the 1790s, including George Washington, still believed that government was the proper province of the wealthy and well born. Yet, the triumph of the First Congress was not only a victory by, or for, the governing class. Madison and his colleagues had transformed the Constitution's parchment plan into muscular and enduring institutions that would be flexible enough to accommodate in years to come the rising power and democratic demands of Americans whose voices had been heard only distantly before in the corridors of power."