No Summer, No Vacation, No Fun, No Kidding – WIF Into History

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Global Impact

of the Year

Without a Summer

The year 1816 was the first since the onset of the French Revolutionary Wars in which the western world was at peace. In Europe, the nightmare of the Napoleonic Wars began to fade. In North America, Washington DC began the process of rebuilding after being burned by the British Army during the War of 1812. Global commerce was expected to thrive, unimpeded by the raiding ships of nations locked in a death grip with each other. Farmers expected strong markets for their crops, shippers looked forward to record profits, manufacturers hoped the return of peace would create demand for their products. But then a funny thing happened. There was no summer. As late as August of that year, hard freezes in the farmlands of upper New York and New England destroyed what little crops had been planted during a spring of continuous snow and freezing weather.

1816 was the year of no summer, not just in North America, but across the Northern Hemisphere. Record cold, freezing rains, floods, and frosts occurred throughout the months in which warmer weather could be reasonably expected, given centuries of its showing up more or less on schedule. It did not, and without global communication to understand why, the underpinnings of civilization – farming and trade – suffered across the globe. The year with no summer is now understood to have been the result of a series of geological events which masked the sun with volcanic dust, but to those who endured it, it was simply an inexplicable disaster. The commercial effects continued to be felt for years, as financial markets roiled from the unexpected disruption of trade and investment. For those unconcerned with climate change it remains a stark, though wholly ignored, warning of the power of nature. Here are just a few of its impacts.

10. Thomas Jefferson found his indebtedness increased by drastic crop failures

In 1815 former president Thomas Jefferson, living in retirement at his Monticello estate, offered his personal library as replacement for the losses suffered by the Library of Congress when the British burned the American capital. The sale was a gesture which gained Jefferson some temporary praise, but more importantly to him it provided an infusion of badly needed money. The former president was broke, and the $23,950 (almost $400,000 today) he received alleviated some, but by no means all, of his indebtedness. Jefferson was relying on a strong crop from his Virginia farms in 1816 to reduce his debts further. In his Farm Book for 1816 Jefferson noted the unusual cold as early as May; “repeated frosts have killed the early fruits and the crops of tobacco and wheat will be poor,” he wrote.

Jefferson struggled with the bizarre weather throughout the summer months, recording temperature and rainfall data still used by scientists studying the phenomenon, but he was unaware of its cause. He did lament its effect. Jefferson’s corn and wheat crops were reduced by two thirds, his tobacco even more so, and the former president slipped yet more deeply into debt, as did most of the farmers of the American states of Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee, and all of New York and New England. The failure of tobacco crops was particularly devastating, ships which normally would have carried the cured leaves to Europe lay idle, and British tobacconists shifted to plantations in Africa as the source of the weed, in high demand in Europe. During the summer, Jefferson reported frosts in every month of the year in the higher elevations of Virginia, and in every state north of his farms.

9. Prices of grains spiked as the summer went on, and remained high for nearly three years

In Virginia, oats were a crop which was considered essential to the survival of the economy. Oats were consumed by humans in the form of porridge, and in oat breads and cakes, but the grain was also an essential part of the diet of horses. Horses were of course critical in the early 19th century as motive power for plows and transportation. The shortage of oats caused the farmers who produced it to respond to the insatiable demand for the grain by raising their prices on the little they were able to harvest. According to Jefferson and other Virginia farmers, oats cost roughly 12 cents per bushel in 1815, a price already inflated by the demand placed on the crops by the recently ended War of 1812, when armies needed horses for cavalry and as draft animals.

By midsummer of 1816, oats had increased to nearly $1 per bushel, an increase which most were unable to pay. The shortage of grain, (as well as other fodder) meant what horses were available were often undernourished. European markets were unable to make up the shortage, as Europe too was locked in the grip of the low temperatures and excessive rains. In Europe the cost of maintaining horses increased dramatically, and the use of horseback for individual travel became the privilege of the wealthy few. A German tinkerer and inventor by the name of Karl Drais began experimenting with a device consisting of a piece of wood equipped with a seat upon which a person would perch while moving the legs in a manner similar to walking. Called variously the velocipede, the laufmaschine, and the draisine, it was the precursor for what is now known as the bicycle.

8. Temperatures throughout the Northern Hemisphere were abnormally cold, especially in New England

The New England states were particularly hard hit during the summer of 1816 by abnormally low temperatures. In the New England states, which were at the time still mostly agricultural, every month of the year suffered at least one hard frost, devastating crops in the fields and the fruit trees which had managed to blossom during the long and wet spring. On June 6, a Plymouth, Connecticut clockmaker noted in his diary that six inches of snow had fallen overnight, and he was forced to wear heavy mittens and his greatcoat during his customary walk to his shop. Sheep were a product of many New England farms, well adapted to grazing on the hillsides in pastures too small to accommodate cattle herds. Shorn in late winter, as was customary, many died in the unexpected cold, and the price of lamb and mutton reached record highs.

By the end of June, temperatures in New England had begun a rollercoaster ride which they would retain for the rest of the summer, further damaging crops and livestock. Late June in western Massachusetts saw temperatures reach 101 degrees only to plummet to the 30s over the Fourth of July. Men went about in their hayfields harvesting their sparse yields dressed in overcoats. Beans – long a staple crop of New England – froze in the fields. From Puritan pulpits across the region, the weather was attributed to a righteous judgment of God. In August there was measurable snowfall in Vermont, and though winter wheat crops yielded some harvests, the cost of moving the grain to market was often prohibitive. New Englanders, especially in the rural areas, began to forage off the land in the manner of their ancestors, surviving on what game and wild plants they could find in the woods.

7. The lack of summer provided one of literature’s most infamous characters

Most people had no idea what were the scientific reasons behind the bizarre weather in the summer months of 1816. Many of the wealthy, better able to weather the storm, so to speak, went about their business despite the adverse weather conditions. In Europe, a group of young English writers and their guests summered at Lake Geneva, Switzerland. The group included Lord Byron and an English poet named Percy Shelley, who brought with him his wife, the former Mary Wollstonecraft. Housebound by the continuing inclement weather (Mary later wrote that it was an ungenial summer), the group was forced to find ways to entertain themselves. Bored of playing parlor games one of the members, probably Lord Byron, suggested that each member of the group write a story, along the lines of a ghost story, for the entertainment of the rest.

Mrs. Shelley at first balked at the idea, unable to come up with a plot until mid-July, when she confided to her diary that at the group’s nightly discussions she arrived at the idea of “Perhaps a corpse could be reanimated.” She began writing a short story, which grew into a full length gothic novel which she entitled,  “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.” Her husband was later credited with assisting Mary with the work, though the extent of his contributions to the classic tale of horror remains disputed by scholars. Mary Shelley later credited her inspiration to a waking dream which came upon her during one of her long walks in the woods around Geneva, immersed in the gloom of the strange weather that summer. Shelley wrote that while her husband Percy – who committed suicide in 1822 – helped her with technical aspects of the writing, the tale wholly originated with her.

6. The year with no summer coincided with the end of the Little Ice Age

The year without summer is commonly ascribed to the summer months of 1816, though its effects were felt for three years, part of the final months of what is known as the Little Ice Age. Crop failures were acute in the first harvest season of the period, and such continued for at least another two years. Wet and cold weather impeded planting in the spring as well as harvests in the fall, and the size of the harvests from North America to China were insufficient to support the populations. Hunger became famine in many areas, including Europe and China, residents of rural communities migrated to urban areas in search of food through begging, and population density grew those diseases which strengthen among hungry populations, including cholera and typhus. Medicine of the time was inadequate to treat either.

The result was a globally felt – at least in the Northern Hemisphere – calamity, which encompassed starvation, diseases, and popular unrest for a period of three years. Hundreds of thousands of former soldiers, veterans of the Napoleonic Wars, roamed Europe seeking the means to feed themselves and their families. In England sailors who had manned the ships of His Majesty’s Navy found themselves unemployed as warships were decommissioned, and the absence of crops reduced the amount of goods available for international trade. Ships rotted at their moorings. By the summer of 1817 organized groups of former soldiers across Europe were rioting in the belief that government warehouses held grain being kept from the starving people. In the United States, especially in still largely agricultural New England, failed crops caused farmers to pull up stakes and head for the promised lands west of the Ohio River.

5. The Swiss disaster of 1816-1817 was among the worst of the global catastrophe

Over a period of 153 days between April and September, 1816, Geneva, Switzerland recorded 130 days of rain. The temperature remained too cold for the snow in the Alps to melt, which prevented the disaster from being far worse. The streets, and more importantly the sewers and drains, of Geneva were flooded, and Lake Geneva was too swollen with rain to absorb the runoff. Meanwhile local crops were drowned by the incessant chill rains, and the harvest of 1816 was a complete failure, leading to the last recorded famine on the European continent. The lack of fodder led to the demise of hundreds of thousands of draft animals and cattle and oxen died in the waters in the fields and alongside the Swiss roads. Hundreds of thousands of Swiss were rendered homeless, living in the streets and fields unable to feed themselves, as the brutal cold of an Alpine winter settled upon them.

Beginning in early 1817 the death rate in Switzerland, already well above normal due to starvation and disease, increased by more than 50%. Oxen, horses, and cattle dead from starvation and rotting in the fields became sources of food for the desperate populace. Aid from European neighbors was nonexistent, as the harvests on the continent and in England were similarly sparse. France had but recently survived its revolution and the ravages of the Napoleonic Era, it was short of manpower, and its newly restored monarchy was inadequate to the challenges of the disaster which had befallen. As the seemingly unending winter lengthened it soon became obvious to the people of Europe that those of wealth and privilege were better able to cope, and that the burden of suffering was being borne by the urban and rural poor.

4. The Year with no summer was well documented by the educated and wealthy, including Thomas Jefferson

In the United States, former president Thomas Jefferson left behind a record of meteorological events which was so detailed it remains in use by scholars and scientists studying the global disaster two centuries later. In modern times it is compared to scientific data acquired through means not understood in Jefferson’s day. For example, the studies of tree rings cut from trees which were alive during the catastrophe in Vermont indicate that for the period including 1816 there was little or no growth, which corresponds to the notes left by Jefferson in his Farm Book and other diaries, recording observations he made hundreds of miles to the south. Among the observations left by Jefferson are records of rainfalls, which while devastatingly heavy in some areas were scant in others, including Jefferson’s Virginia.

Jefferson wrote to Albert Gallatin towards the end of the summer of 1816 describing the shortage of rainfall which had been prevalent during the ending growing season, as well as the unseasonably cold temperatures. Jefferson, who used the records he had prepared every year since occupying his “Little Mountain” as a basis, informed Gallatin that an average normal rainfall for the month of August was 9 and 1/6 of an inch. Rainfall for August 1816 had been less than one inch; “we had only 8/10 of an inch, and still it continues”. He also noted the continuing cold weather conditions, including the frosts well to the north of Virginia, of which he had learned through his voluminous correspondence. Yet not Jefferson, nor any other student of science or the weather of the time, was able to postulate the global disaster had been due to a natural event, occurring many thousands of miles away.

3. In England, the army was called out to crush urban uprisings of the starving

England, which had been instrumental in the formation of the coalitions which crushed Napoleon, was particularly hard hit by the lack of a growing season. Unable to feed itself with the best of harvests, England found its own crops devastated by the adverse weather and its trading partners unable to provide food in sufficient quantities to make them affordable for most of its population. England had already endured years of shortages as the nation threw its might behind the wars with Napoleon, and the people by 1816 had had enough. As early as in the spring of 1816 food and grain riots were experienced in the west counties. In the town of Ely armed mobs locked up the local magistrates and fought the militia which mustered to rescue them.

By the following spring mobs in the urban centers of the midlands were common. Ten thousand armed and angry people rioted in Manchester that March. The summer of 1817 saw the British Army called to quell riots and other uprisings in England, Scotland, and Wales, while the transports to the newly established penal colonies were increased. Local landlords and magistrates often ignored the pleas of the authorities in London, establishing their own mini-fiefdoms through the promises of bread and grain. In England, as well as on the European continent, demands from the wealthier classes led to an increase in more authoritarian governments and the subsequent loss of civil liberties – such as they were at the time – in response to the international demand for food. On the other side, the suspicion that governments were hoarding food and grain at the expense of the poor led to a rise in radical thought, especially in France and the German principalities.

2. The Great Migration from New England to the west began in 1816

 

Most history books attribute the movement of the American agricultural population to the west following the War of 1812 to the end of the threat from the Indian tribes formerly supported by their British allies. The end of British influence was no doubt part of the mass migration, but it takes more than just the potential of new lands to uproot families from farms held by their ancestors for generations. The catastrophic crop failures which began in 1816 were a large part of the motivation for the movement to the west, as indicated by the massive depopulation of the New England states which began during the Year with no Summer. Particularly hard hit were Vermont and New Hampshire, as residents packed up and left for the west. For many of them, it was a journey away from divine punishment, a new exodus to a promised land, a view encouraged from pulpits.

family from Vermont was one of them, which headed to the west into the lands which are now upstate New York, Indian Territory before the American victory during the War of 1812. The move coincided with a religious revival across America which became known as the Second Great Awakening, a return to the fundamentalism which had protected Americans from the ravages of an angry God, in the view of many. The family which settled for a time in New York were the Smiths, of Sharon, Vermont. While in their new home one of them, a son named Joseph, experienced the visions which eventually led to his discovery of the Book of Mormon. Without a rational explanation for the seemingly apocalyptic weather, divine explanations sufficed, not only among the Smith family, but with thousands of families fleeing what they were unable to understand, in search of an explanation and deliverance.

1. During the global cooling, the Arctic experienced warming and ice melt

As nearly all of the Northern Hemisphere in the climes occupied by humans felt decreased temperatures and abnormal rain patterns, the Arctic, including the ice cap, experienced a sharp increase in temperature which led to a melting of the ice at the top of the world. The receding ice cap allowed explorers, especially those from the United States and Great Britain, to travel deeper than ever before into the polar region, using waterways which until then had been unwelcoming sheets of ice. Since the days of Henry Hudson and the earliest English exploration of North America, the quest for the fabled Northwest Passage had occupied the minds of explorers and adventurers, and the opportunity presented by changing weather conditions was too good to pass up. 1818 was the first year in a new series of English led Polar Expeditions which continued for most of the 19th century.

Among them was an expedition led by Englishman John Ross which included a counter-clockwise navigation around Baffin Bay, which had the salutary effect of opening the waters for the exploitation of whaling ships. Though the Northwest Passage eluded him, as it did so many others over history, the boon to the whaling industry was immediate, and whalers from Great Britain and the United States were soon delivering the fine oil for illumination to ports around the world. By 1820 the effects of the Year with no Summer were relegated to history, a part of family lore in which elders described to children the weather events of the past as far more consequential than those of the current day. Unknown to them, the real effects continued for decades, and in some ways continue to this day.


No Summer, No Vacation, No Fun, No Kidding –

WIF Into History

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 215

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 215

…In fact, Thomas Jefferson and others would actually run national lotteries to pay for non-budgeted expenditures…

As part of his second Inaugural Address, Roy Crippen may well have quoted scenes from the beloved (by buffs) Science Fiction series in his globally televised speech. His accentuation of the SOL Project would blend in nicely with the film, amplifying the need for spanning spatial distances quickly. Selling his country on the expensive proposition is not going to be easy, even in light of the President’s overwhelming popularity.

B-U-D-G-E-T; 6 unassuming letters {5 if you’re a rotten speller BUGIT or bad with numbers} that spell fear in the heart of recent Presidents, ever since the USA’s spending has exceeded its income, sometime after George Washington took office. Although the fiscal dynamics of a fledgling nation is absolutely unvarnished by contrast, the “Father of Our Country” still needed to deal with the relation between exports & imports and expenditures vs. revenue.

In his first term, “Prez Roy”, the nation’s affectionate label for him, is the 48th such aspiring budget balancer. Previously Washington, George only knew the meaning of the word debt, in the days before unbridled credit. His administration and several succeeding others, spent only as much as it took in. In fact,Thomas Jefferson and others would actually run national lotteries to pay for non-budgeted expenditureslike wars.

“I think we have done very well,” Roy told the nation last month. “In 2034 we had our first balanced budget since 1997 and we have managed to do the same, every year since then. Have we all made sacrifices? Yes. And has not the long arm of the Federal revenue collecting been altered? Yes… mostly, but only because we ran out of things to tax.”

Yet even before the wheels of said responsible government would to grind away on Related imageJanuary 21st 2037, 25 trillion dollars had been borrowed and flushed down the toilet, protecting the world from itself and paying for those who refuse to take responsibility for their own affairs.

He goes on, “Productivity is not just another word. It is the foundation of industry, as well as a reasonable demand for services rendered. We are now all pulling on the same end of the rope.” When President Roy speaks it, it makes perfect sense & people listen. If a segment of society does not buy into his formula, it is isolated and dealt with.


THE RETURN TRIP

Episode 215


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Contents TRT

 

Presidential Fun Facts

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 Fun Facts About American Presidents

It’s kind of a given that the President of the United States should be pretty smart. Despite what hack comedians will tell you about George W. Bush, an idiot can’t just walk into the White House and run the country. But even by the standards of the office, some of America’s most impressive minds could do some pretty ridiculous things.

10. Lyndon B. Johnson Could Find Out Everything about a Person

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At an impressive 6 ft 3 1?2 in (192 cm), Lyndon B. Johnson is the second tallest President in history. The tallest U.S. President was Abraham Lincoln at 6 ft 3 3?4in (192.4 cm). Johnson was well aware of his height, and often used it to his advantage to intimidate or coerce both political opponents and allies. He used what became colloquially known as “the treatment,” where he would use his massive frame and dominating presence to get all up in someone’s grill before making them spill their guts.

What made it so effective was Johnson’s incredible ability to find out exactlywhat made people tick. Johnson was able to find out basically everything about a person, from how they felt about political issues to their shoe size, and could recall all of it without error and with just the right tone of voice to persuade or bully someone to do whatever he wanted. This allowed Johnson to bring even staunch opponents who totally disagreed with him around to his way of thinking in a matter of minutes by overwhelming them with his intricate knowledge of their politics, ideas and flaws.

9. JFK Knew How to Shake Hands Perfectly

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Considering that John F. Kennedy allegedly slept with more beautiful women than a copy of Cosmo, it’s not going to come as a surprise that he was known as a fairly charismatic dude. However, President Kennedy wasn’t just charming and handsome — he was a borderline hypnotist when it came to influencing people.

For example, President Kennedy once commissioned an entire study on the art of shaking hands, all so that he could set the tone of a relationship from the instant he met someone. JFK’s handshake was so comforting and warming that it wasn’t uncommon for him to return after a long day of meeting people with ascratched up hand from the sheer amount of people clambering to grasp at his magical palm.

When it came to talking to people, JFK was known to be able to sway an entire crowd with nothing more than his smile, as you can see in this video of himkilling it in a question and answer session. What makes this more impressive is that JFK could reportedly turn on the charm at will, being able to influence people to his way of thinking even if they didn’t fully agree with it. We guess Magneto was right — JFK really did have a mutant superpower.

8. Teddy Roosevelt Could Read an Entire Book Before Breakfast

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There’s little we could say about how awesome Roosevelt was that wouldn’t just be us repeating ourselves, but few people realize that Roosevelt was both an unflinching badass and a huge nerd. It’s estimated that Roosevelt read in excess of 10,000 books, many of which were in foreign languages because even when it came to reading Roosevelt liked to challenge himself.

Roosevelt’s inhuman ability to eye-punch knowledge came about as a result of him teaching himself to speed-read, which allowed him to quickly gloss over a book while still retaining about 90% of the information it contained. This meant that Roosevelt could read a book or magazine in a matter of minutes or hoursand hold detailed, lengthy conversations about its contents like he’d studied it for years. Roosevelt’s thirst for knowledge was so great that he reportedly read a book before he ate breakfast every single day. Kind of makes you want to finish reading that novel you’ve had sitting around for a month and a half, huh?

7. Calvin Coolidge Only Lost One Election

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While Calvin Coolidge may not be the most well-known President, he’s noted as being one of the most electorally successful — in his entire political career he only lost once at the ballet box.

When Coolidge applied to be a member of Northampton, Massachusetts City Council in 1898, he won. A year later he was re-nominated but applied to be a City Solicitor instead, and won. This trend continued for the next few decades as Coolidge went from being a member of city council to a State Legislator, to a Mayor, to a Governor, to a Vice President and finally to being the President himself, winning almost every time by a landslide. In fact, when he became President Coolidge won the vote in every State with the sole exception of the home state of the guy running against him. When the time came for Coolidge to run again he politely declined, saying that 10 years in Washington was too much, even though many agree he would have won again. He retired with an almost flawless political record. The only loss Coolidge ever suffered was when he campaigned to be a member of a local School Board, because he didn’t have kids that went to that school.

6. James Garfield Could Write in Two Languages at the Same Time

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James Garfield is mostly remember alongside William McKinley as being one of the Presidents who was shot but didn’t have a cool hat or nice eyes. Which is a shame, because James Garfield is possibly the smartest man to ever hold office. Garfield had an exceptionally keen mind, teaching himself to be proficient in a multitude of disciplines and subjects. After just a year at college he was teaching classes on literature and ancient language, when previously he’d worked there as the janitor.

Garfield was also known to be ambidextrous, which he would show off to friends and colleagues by asking them to pose him a question before writing down the answer in Latin with one hand and Greek with the other, all while maintaining unflinching eye contact.

5. John Adams Had a Silver Tongue

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Even if your knowledge of American history is limited to whatever you managed to glean from Assassin’s Creed 3 in-between stabbing wolves, you can probably tell what happened at the Boston Massacre from the name alone. If you’re still a little fuzzy, the short version is that in 1770 eight British soldiers opened fire on a crowd of people in the middle of Boston, killing five people.

When the soldiers walked into the courtroom, almost everyone expected the sentence to be death. But with just a few words the future President was able to convince the entire jury that the men were innocent because they acted in self-defense, resulting in six of them walking free while the other two were given the equivalent of a slap on the wrist.

Just let that stew for a moment. John Adams managed to convince a jury to acquit a bunch of British soldiers charged with shooting people in the street at a time when revolutionary fervor was growingWe can’t even convince employees at Subway to give us extra ham.

4. Lincoln Trumped a 13,000 Word Speech In Two Minutes

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The Gettysburg Address is one of those speeches that will never be forgotten, mostly because you could write it on the back of a napkin. Clocking in at just 272 words and delivered in a little over two minutes, Lincoln’s speech was barely longer than the previous entry on this list and yet it’s consistently ranked as one of the greatest speeches ever given.

A fact that’s often overlooked is that Lincoln’s speech was never supposed to bethe Gettysburg Address. That honor originally belonged to the two hour, 13,000 word long speech given by Edward Everett. His speech, which is regarded as a masterpiece of oration given by a man famed for his abilities as a speaker, was trumped by little more than an off the cuff utterance from Lincoln. Immediately after Lincoln gave his speech, Everett, who’d spent weeks crafting his magnum opus, knew that he’d been bested and the next day he penned a letter to Lincoln saying that he was happy to come close with two hours to what Lincoln had accomplished in two minutes.

3. Andrew Jackson Managed to Pay Off All of America’s Debts

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Did you know that there’s only ever been one time in America’s history that the country’s been entirely debt free? It was all thanks to Andrew Jackson and how much he hated owing people money. When Jackson took office in 1829, he vowed that he’d eliminate America’s 58 million dollars of debt, the equivalent of paying off about 800 million today. Six years later, America was debt free — Jackson had somehow managed to pay off every cent through careful planning, frugal spending and telling creditors where to stick it.

Jackson’s feat has never since been equaled. Even worse is that America was only debt free for a year before it once again needed to borrow money. Still, Jackson accomplished something many thought to be impossible just because he really didn’t like the idea of running a country that owed someone money.

2. Thomas Jefferson Could Read Five Books at Once

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When it comes to smart Presidents it’s hard to top Thomas Jefferson. An expert in almost every subject he put his mind to, Jefferson could converse with anyone about anything effortlessly. President Kennedy once famously addressed a room filled with Nobel Prize winners by saying:

“I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

Nothing sums up Jefferson’s intelligence better than this, an invention personally created by Jefferson so that he could read five books simultaneously. Jefferson was a prolific writer who liked to consult multiple books while penning essays and letters, so to make this easier Jefferson created a revolving book stand that would allow him to read and consult multiple texts. We really think these should still be made so that we can see what happens if we stick 5 iPads to it.

1. George W. Bush Didn’t Need To Have Meetings Because He Already Knew It All

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Just to be clear, yes, we’re talking about the same President Bush who once said “Rarely is the question asked: is our children learning?” the same President Bush who coined the term “Misunderestimate” and the same President Bush who once tried to exit a press conference through a locked door. Although pop culture has painted Bush as a buffoon, stupid people don’t get to be President of the United States. Part of the reason Bush is often seen as inept is his strong southern accent, which studies have shown makes someone appear less intelligent regardless of their educational background. In regards to Bush, while he wasn’t an amazing student he was by no means a poor one.

According to aides and people who’ve interviewed him George W. Bush is a remarkably smart man, with one interviewer describing him as “60 IQ points smarter in private than he was in public.” During his time as President, many commented on his ability to recall and absorb information with an extraordinary level of speed and comprehension. It’s said that Bush would often hurry people through presentations about complex policies because he’d already read through their notes and didn’t want his time wasted.

Presidential Fun Facts

Philosophical Differences – In America (of all places)

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10 Great American Philosophers

 

When one thinks of great philosophers (which probably isn’t too often), one most likely thinks of dead Europeans. Almost all writers studied in a philosophy class will be European, and in some classes there will be absolutely no mention of American philosophers at all. There are good reasons for this —

America really hasn’t existed for all that long, and there perhaps hasn’t been as much general emphasis on philosophy as in some other countries like the big three of France, Germany and Great Britain. But in its relatively short life span America has produced some great thinkers, including…

10. John Dewey

Portrait of John Dewey

John Dewey was a leading scholar in the American philosophical school of pragmatism. This isn’t the same pragmatism spoken of by politicians, but is instead a rejection of the notion that thought is meant mainly to describe or mirror reality. It could be described as a realist point of view — essentially, it claims that most philosophical topics should be viewed in terms of their usefulness, as opposed to purely on their representative accuracy.

Although he made contributions to philosophy and psychology, perhaps Dewey’s greatest impact was as an educational reformer. In Dewey’s view, it’s vital that classroom activities focus on meaningful activity in place of rote learning. Students should be invested in what they are learning and the curriculum should seem relevant to their lives. He viewed learning by doing to be an important factor missing from American education. In the early days of American education there was a great focus on memorization, such as remembering all the state capitals. But the influence of Dewey and others started to move education towards focusing on teaching children how to think critically.

9. John Rawls

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John Rawls was one of the most important political thinkers of the 20th century. After serving in the Pacific during World War Two, he came back and got a PhD in moral philosophy from Princeton, and would go on to teach there and atCornell, MIT and Harvard. Rawls is best known for his defense of egalitarian liberalism in his work A Theory of Justice.

In the book, he attempts to find common ground between the two seemingly conflicting concepts of liberty and equality. Rawls ultimately concludes that it’s important that we define justice as fairness. He states that “each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty,” meaning freedom of thought, freedom of expression, etc. In Rawls’ view, we have certain basic rights that should not be infringed upon. He also claims that we should have a “fair equality of opportunity.” This means society and government should be set up to give equal opportunities to each person, as best as can be done. Because of these two requirements, Rawls views both strict communism and laissez-faire capitalism as unjust. And so, we as a society must strive for a middle ground, trying our best to find a balance between liberty and equality.

8. Jonathan Edwards

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Jonathan Edwards was one of the greatest influences on American protestant theology. Born in Connecticut in 1703, Edwards was one of the leaders of the Puritan movement, which seeked to distance Protestantism from Catholicism. Puritans believed that the Bible itself should be the final word on what we should do, and disliked the Catholic traditions that didn’t come from the Bible directly.

Because of this focus on the Bible, education and literacy was emphasized. Edwards himself attended Yale University at age 13, and would go on to write extensively on religious topics ranging from metaphysics to ethics. Perhaps Edwards’ most influential idea was his defense of theological determinism, within which he stated that God is the ultimate and final cause of everything that happens. This has had both positive and negative effects — if people believe God is the ultimate cause, then they will believe it vital to do what God has ordained. This could vary from something as noble as feeding poor children to something as stupid as “witch” burning. So, for both good and ill, Edwards had a huge impact on American religion and, by extension,  society.

7. Cornel West

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Cornel West is one of the most publicly known philosophers today, and perhaps the most well known African American philosopher. While West has taught at Harvard, Princeton and Yale, he is also a very active social commentator and political activist. His writings tend to deal with relevant real world issues — in his books, he has analyzed wide ranging social problems having to do with race, class and justice.

Many of his main beliefs stem from his Christian background, which he mixes with his belief in democratic socialism, a somewhat rare combination. Growing up he was influenced largely by the church his family attended, but also by the Black Panther Party and the writings of Karl Marx. West has sometimes come into conflict with administrators because of his activism, which eventually led to his resignation at Harvard. His most famous and influential book was Race Matters, a series of essays that came out soon after the Rodney King beating. In it, he discussed the problem of African American poverty, and argued against recommendations from black leaders that he felt were unlikely to solve the problem.

6. Michael Sandel

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Michael Sandel, a professor of government at Harvard, is most likely the most popular living political philosopher. He is very well known for his lectures and books, even outside academia. His class on justice at Harvard routinely has more than 1000 students, and he has taken an adapted lecture version on the road, speaking in America, India and countries in East Asia. The entire course can also be viewed on Harvard’s website for free.

Sandel believes that in order for us to be good citizens we must first grapple with hard ethical choices. In his lectures he acts somewhat like Socrates did, asking questions of his audience and expecting answers. In this way, he engages the audience and encourages them to question why they believe what they believe. Sandel thinks this is especially important considering the modern emphasis on being neutral. He argues that we can’t really be neutral, and will always make value judgments of some kind. Because of this, it’s vital that we confront our beliefs and engage in deep reflection over what it means to be good.

5. Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Ralph Waldo Emerson was the leading figure of American Transcendentalism, and had a great influence on later thinkers. Transcendentalism was largely a reaction against rationalism and Calvinism. In his book Nature, Emerson argues that nature acts as an intermediary between man and the divine. Emerson thought that it’s possible to legitimately have beliefs that are not falsifiable. He believed we should look within ourselves to gain “transcendental” knowledge, or intuitive belief we derive from our inner mentality.

Because of this, Emerson was a great believer in the supremacy of the individual over the group, a viewpoint rarely held throughout history. Transcendentalists like Emerson believed that groups corrupt the individual, and thus it’s crucial to decide for ourselves what’s important. This focus on the individual would greatly influence the thought of American intellectuals and the public.

4. Charles Sanders Peirce

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Charles Sanders Peirce was a mathematician, chemist, and geodist (a mixture of applied math and earth science), but he considered scientific philosophy, particularly the study of logic, to be his calling. He had an extraordinary range of interests, writing on subjects as different as astronomy and economics. In his most well known writings, he argued that the scientific method was the superior method for determining truth. Pierce is known as the founder of pragmatism, but he disliked the way others used the term. In fact, he was so concerned about misuse he relabeled his own method as pragmaticism, to distinguish it from pragmatism’s new meanings.

He also argued against determinism, the idea that all events are ultimately decided outside of will. He believed that the universe displays degrees of habit, but even with the same input there is variation. Because of his greatly varied contributions, Pierce is something different to different people. A psychologist, a logician, a physical scientist and a philosopher will all have something to learn by studying different aspects of his writing.

3. Thomas Jefferson

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Thomas Jefferson is of course best known for being one of the founding fathers of the United States. He wrote much of the Declaration of Independence and served as the third President. He was a politician, but his political actions and beliefs were greatly influenced by his basic philosophical beliefs. In fact, Jefferson was a member and, for a time, the president of the American Philosophical Association.

Much of his writing described abstract principles as opposed to concrete political doctrines. Jefferson was a defender of democracy, and he argued for a will of the people. But he also realized that the majority could abuse those not in agreement with them, and so he was one of the first defenders of civil rights in America. Unfortunately, his belief that “all men are created equal” didn’t extend to non-white men, as he was a slave owner all his life. Despite this hypocrisy, his philosophical arguments for freedom put forth in the Declaration were eventually used by others in various human rights movements that extended civil rights farther than they had ever been. Because of his wide ranging influence, Jefferson is certainly one of the most important political philosophers in American history.

2. Henry David Thoreau

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Henry David Thoreau held many occupations during his life — teacher, lecturer, surveyor, naturalist, head of a pencil company (seriously, his family sold pencils) — but he always thought of himself as a writer. He probably began writing poetry while in school at Harvard, but his most influential writings would be his philosophical essays and nonfiction. He is often grouped with Transcendentalism, a religious movement that promoted individualism and believed in the inherent goodness of people.

The subject of individualism is perhaps where Thoreau did his greatest writing. In an essay on civil disobedience, Thoreau argued that individuals have an obligation to determine what is right and what is wrong for themselves — just because society says something is correct doesn’t make it so. This applies both to laws and unwritten mainstream beliefs. He believed it critically important for individuals to think for themselves. Part of what differentiated Thoreau from many other philosophers is that he didn’t prescribe one form of the good life; he believed that each person had to figure it out for themselves. He told people not to emulate him, but to search inside themselves to discover what was important to them. This made him a unique modern philosopher, and one of the most important influences on American thought.

1. William James

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William James made important early contributions to both psychology and physiology. Those two fields were where he focused much of his life, but he always threw in some philosophical analysis and would turn increasingly towards philosophy as he aged. His 1,200 page book The Principles of Psychologylaid much of the groundwork for modern psychology, and greatly influenced both Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. But it included not only pure psychology, but also philosophy and personal reflection that influenced many important later philosophers, including Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

James also wrote much about religion from a relativist position, discussing the commonalities of all religions and whether or not religion and science can coexist. He argued against extremism on both sides, coming to conclusions on his own as opposed to always agreeing with one side or the other. Because of the great diversity of subjects that he wrote about, and the ways he mixed them together, William James was one of the most influential thinkers in American history.

Philosophical Differences – In America (of all places)

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Government, Freedom & Liberty

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Thomas Jefferson

“I predict future happiness for Americans, if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.”
― Thomas Jefferson

Abraham Lincoln

“Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.”

― Abraham Lincoln

John Steinbeck

“But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.”

― John SteinbeckEast of Eden

Government, Freedom & Liberty

Bad, Good & Any Luck

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Cormac McCarthy

“You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from.”
― Cormac McCarthyNo Country for Old Men

Bill Watterson

“You know, Hobbes, some days even my lucky rocket ship underpants don’t help.”
― Bill Watterson
Dalai Lama XIV

“Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck.”
― Dalai Lama XIV

Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Shallow men believe in luck or in circumstance. Strong men believe in cause and effect.”
Thomas Jefferson

“I’m a greater believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it”

― Thomas Jefferson

Good Luck – Bad Luck

A Fool and Someone Else s Money

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Thomas Jefferson

“I sincerely believe that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies, and that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale.”

― Thomas Jefferson

“The money Doc Campbell borrowed for his hospital was eventually his undoing.”

Gwenny (Roots: Alpha Omega Campbell 1951)

A Fool and His Money