Presidential history

Newly added to Digital Collections: Harry S. Truman Letters

A2019_001_016DS_webDid you know that President Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) was in correspondence with Melvin Maynard Johnson (1871-1957), the head of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction's Supreme Council during the 1940s and 1950s? A number of recently digitized letters, written from Truman to Johnson on White House stationery are available through the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website. They reveal a friendly relationship, with President Truman beginning his letters to Johnson by addressing him "Dear Mel."

Truman became a Freemason in 1909. By 1940, he was elected Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Missouri. In 1945, Truman was created a 33rd degree Sovereign Grand Inspector General in the Scottish Rite's Supreme Council, Southern Jurisdiction. That same year, the Supreme Council, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, awarded Truman its first Gourgas Medal, the Supreme Council's highest honor.

The letters in this collection include both those from Harry Truman as well as one written by his wife, Bess Truman (1885-1982). The majority of the correspondence in this collection consists of letters written by President Harry S. Truman to his friend and fellow Freemason, Melvin Maynard Johnson (1871-1957). Johnson served as the Supreme Council, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction's Sovereign Grand Commander from 1933 to 1953.

For more about the friendship between Truman and Johnson, have a look at one of our earlier blog posts, A Mason Answers His Country's Call and Receives the Scottish Rite's Highest Award.

There are now over 750 items in the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website. Be sure to visit and check them all out!

Caption:
Letter from President Harry S. Truman to Melvin M. Johnson, 1948 August 3. Collection of Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Lexington, Massachusetts. SC069.


George Washington Silhouettes

The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library is currently researching and digitizing the many prints in our collection that depict first president and Freemason George Washington (1732-1799). Among these are two silhouettes of George Washington. We own many examples of silhouette portraiture in the Museum & Library collection but have only a few profiles of Washington.

Silhouettes, also known as shades or profiles, were a popular and ubiquitous style of portraiture from the mid-1700s through the  1800s. They were less expensive than a painted portrait but declined in popularity with the invention of photography.  The word silhouette was derived from the name of French Minister of Finance Etienne de Silhouette (1709-1767) in the late 1700s. Silhouette cut shadow portraits as a hobby and was well known for his unpopular austere economic restrictions in France under king Louis XV (1710-1774). The term a-la silhouette  became synonymous with cheap. Profilist August Edouart (1789-1861) is thought to have popularized the word silhouette when he began using it to describe his profile portraits. 

There are four basic82_54_22DS1 techniques in the production of silhouettes: Hollow-cut, cut and paste, painted, and printed (engraved or etched). Hollow-cut ones are created by cutting the profile from the center of a piece of paper or other material and mounting it against a background of contrasting color, allowing the silhouette to show through the cut-out space. Cut and paste silhouettes are created by cutting out a profile and pasting it to a contrasting background.  

The Washington silhouette on the left is a bookplate engraving from Washington Irving’s (1783-1859) seminal work Life of Washington, Vol. IV, published in 1857. The engraving is based on the George Washington silhouette cut by Sarah De Hart (1759-1832) in 1783. De Hart, one of the earliest recorded American woman silhouettists, made her hollow-cut profiles without the popular physiognotrace device used to cut silhouettes in the early 1800s.  

The print includes this caption, “From the Original (cut with scissors) by Miss De Hart, Elizabethtown, N. J. 1783, Presented by Mrs. Washington to Mrs. Duer, daughter of Lord Stirling.” Catherine Alexander Duer (1755-1826) was a member of the prominent Livingston family from the Hudson Valley in New York. Her uncle Phillip Livingston (1716-1778), a New York delegate to the Continental Congress, signed the Declaration of Independence. Her family was well acquainted with the Washingtons and George Washington gave her away at her 1779 wedding to Colonel William Duer (1747-1799).86_62_19DI1

The silhouette on the right is an engraved print from Johann Friedrich Anthing’s (1753-1805), Collection de cent silhouettes des personnes illustres et célèbres dessinées d'après les originaux [Collection of 100 silhouettes], originally published in 1791.  Dr. William L. Guyton (1915-2011) and Mary B. Guyton donated these silhouettes as part of a larger donation of George Washington engravings and prints. Guyton, a retired surgeon and World War II combat veteran, was a well-known collector of silhouettes and George Washington prints and books. He donated most of his silhouette collection to the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum at Colonial Williamsburg. To see the newly digitized George Washington engravings, visit our online collection: http://www.srmml.org/collections/online-collections/

Stay tuned for more additions to the online collection in the coming months!

Captions:

George Washington, ca. 1857, Unidentified Engraver; G. P. Putnam and Co., publisher; Sarah De Hart, silhouettist, United States, Gift of Dr. William L. and Mary B. Guyton, 82.54.22

Washington, ca. 1791, Johann Friedrich Anthing, Germany, Gift of Dr. William L. and Mary B. Guyton, 86.62.19.

References:

Alice Van Leer Carrick, A History of American Silhouettes: A Collector's Guide-1790-1840, Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1968.

E. Nevill Jackson, Silhouettes: A History an Dictionary of Artists, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1981.

 

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Digital Collections Highlight: 1860 Republic Party Ticket

A2008_058_1DSWith the presidential election coming up next month, we thought it might be fun to highlight an item in our collection from the presidential election of 1860. While we might still use phrases like the "party ticket" or "split-ticket voting," we are no longer talking about actual printed tickets. But tickets were once just that: paper slips listing all of a political party's candidates. These tickets, often handed out at polling stations or printed in and clipped from newspapers, effectively functioned as ballots. In an era before state-printed election ballots listed candidates from all political parties on a ballot, party leaders could insure straight ticket voting by supplying voters with these tickets, which voters then placed in ballot boxes for their vote. Massachusetts, one of the earlier adopters of state-printed ballots, did not implement the practice until almost twenty years after the 1860 election, with the passage of  "An Act to Preserve the Purity of Elections" [PDF] in 1879.

Pictured here - and available at our Digital Collections website - is the Massachusetts Republican Party's ticket for Worcester County for the 1860 presidential election, held on Tuesday, November 6, 1860. Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) tops the ticket, along with Vice Presidential candidate Hannibal Hamlin (1809-1891). At the bottom of the ticket is Velorous Taft (1819-1890), of Upton, Massachusetts, running for on one of three County Commissioner seats for Worcester County.

Lincoln, of course, was elected President in 1860, but what about Velorous Taft? He was an incumbent, up for re-election in 1860 and, like Lincoln, he and was also victorious in 1860. Taft, in fact, served as one of the Worcester County Commissioners from 1858-1875.

If you like this document, be sure to check out the Library & Archives Digital Collections website where, in addition to a rich collection of Scottish Rite documents, Masonic certificates, and lots of other important documents related to the history of Freemasonry, we also have some other election-related material, like this advertising pamphlet featuring presidential candidates for the year 1884, a campaign letter from Richard Nixon from 1960, as well as a broadside promoting the Antimasonic Republican ticket for the 1835 Massachusetts state election.

For a couple of quick reads about the use of tickets as ballots during nineteenth-century elections, check out the following:

University of California, San Diego's Library blog, "That’s the Ticket: Voting in the 19th Century"

The Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection blog, "That’s the Ticket! Getting Out the Vote in the 1860s"


"In McKinley We Trust, In Bryan We Bust": Presidential Campaign Memorabilia from the Collection

It's election season! As political parties78_35_2DP1DB prepare for their respective conventions, we decided to spotlight a couple of the wonderful presidential campaign items in the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library collection.

Glassware, pins, canes, flags, and bobble heads are just some of the types of campaign materials made and sold over the past one-hundred and fifty years. Campaign memorabilia and ephemera present a graphic record of past political climates, personalities, societal concerns, and political slogans. Although the way in which candidates campaign has changed, the goal of rallying support and winning the highest seat in American politics is the same.  The memorabilia, some whimsical, some tongue-in-cheek, echoes some of the same concerns steeped in present day politics.

Grover Cleveland (1837-1908), who served as the 22nd and 24th President of the United States, is the only president to date who served two nonconsecutive terms. This 1884 whiskey bottle in the form of presidential candidate Grover Cleveland’s bust was one of the many political souvenirs from his 1884 bid for the white house against Republican James G. Blaine. The bottle was a souvenir from a political dinner in California during the campaign.

Political campaign canes, also 77_29_2DP2DB referred to as walking sticks, were once popular campaign items and often used during political torchlight parades. In 1977, Henry S. Kuhn (1895-1984) donated a William McKinley political campaign cane to the Museum & Library. Family history relates that Samuel Kuhn (1866-1920), Henry’s father, received this cane during the aforementioned presidential stop in Cleveland, one day before McKinley’s assassination in Buffalo. The words “preferred choice” are inscribed on the cane. This phrase was one of the slogans for the 1899 McKinley/Roosevelt campaign. The cane was one of the many McKinley artifacts and campaign materials sold to supporters and visitors.

Want to learn more about our political campaign collections?  Or, which presidents were Freemasons? Visit our online exhibition “Who Would you Vote For? Campaigning for President” to explore the collection and learn more about past presidential campaigns. 

 

 

Captions:

Grover Cleveland Figural Whiskey Bottle, ca. 1884, unidentified maker, United States, Gift of Dr. Sanford Moses, 78.35.2. Photograph by David Bohl.

William McKinley Political Campaign Cane, 1890-1900, unidentified maker, United States, Gift of Mr. Henry S. Kuhn, 77.29.2. Photograph by David Bohl.

 

 

 

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President William McKinley: Fraternity Man and "Idol of Ohio"


William McKinley (1843-1901), the 25th president of the United States, was born on January 29, 1843, in Niles, Ohio. At the age of 58, shortly after being re-elected to his second presidential term, he was shot in the chest twice at close range while attending the Buffalo Pan-American Exposition. Gangrene set into his wound and he died eight days later on September 14th, 1901, in Buffalo, New York. McKinley is one of four presidents assassinated in our country’s history.

A76_023_7DS1


The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library owns several interesting artifacts related to the death and memory of William McKinley. McKinley was a Freemason like many presidents before him. He received the first three degrees at Hiram Lodge No. 21 in Winchester, Virginia, in 1865, during his Civil War service. According to a story recounted by General Horatio C. King (1837-1918) at a New York banquet in 1906, McKinley witnessed a friendly exchange between a Union doctor and some wounded Confederate soldiers. When the doctor imparted to McKinley that the soldiers were “Brother Masons,” McKinley is quoted as stating “...if that is Masonry, I will take some of it myself.”  He returned to Ohio and affiliated with Canton Lodge No. 60 and Eagle Lodge No. 431, later renamed William McKinley lodge No. 431. Fellow Mason Horatio C. King's story about McKinley's interest in Freemasonry was allegedly rooted in a conversation he had with McKinley in Washington, D.C., just months before his assassination.


McKinley could be described as a fraternity man due to his active involvement in local fraternal groups including: Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Grand Army of the Republic, Military Order of the Loyal Legion, Knights Templar, Royal Arch Masonry and Knights of Pythias. In a 1959 biography by Margaret Leech (1893-1974) McKinley is described as a "great joiner with a keen sense of group loyalty." McKinley went on to have a storied political career serving as an Ohio state Congressman from 1877 to 1891 and as Ohio's Governor from 1892 to 1896. One hundred and twenty years ago this year, he won his 1896 presidential bid with Garret Hobart (1844-1899) as Vice President. 2013_036_49DS1

Before his assassination in 1901, McKinley was invited to a Templar reception hosted by California Commandery No.1, Knights Templar, in San Francisco, California. He accepted the invitation and included a visit to the reception as part of a previously planned national tour with his ailing wife Ida (1847-1907). He made stops in El Paso, Denver and Los Angeles on his way to San Francisco. On May 22nd he addressed a crowd of twelve thousand people including fourteen hundred Knights Templar. He thanked his "Brother Masons" and spoke about brotherhood in the context of  American citizenship and the preservation of liberty. He and his wife returned to the White House on May 30, 1901, and he died three months later.2013_036_48DS1

A national mourning period for McKinley produced many commemorative memorial artifacts like the mourning poster above and these stereocards. The images in these stereocards show the Knights Templar marching in McKinley’s funeral procession in Canton, Ohio, on September 19, 1901, and floral wreaths for his funeral service at the Church of the Savior United Methodist Church. To learn more about another McKinley mourning object, a 1901 commemorative glass platter, see our previous blog post here.

To see political textiles from William McKinley’s  presidential campaign visit the museum to view the exhibition Who Would You Vote For? – Campaign Banners from the Robert A. Frank Collection, which is on view through December 10, 2016.

Captions:

We Mourn Our Loss, ca.1901, unidentified maker, United States, Museum Purchase, A76/023/7.

President McKinley Memorial, 1901, B.W. Kilburn, Littleton, New Hampshire, Gift of Michael T. Heitke, 2013.036.49.

Knights Templar at President McKinley's Funeral, 1901, The Whiting View Company, Cincinnati, Ohio, Gift of Michael T. Heitke, 2013.036.48.


References:

Ray V. Denslow, William McKinley: Soldier, Statesman, Freemason, President, 1949, Trenton, MO: reprinted from Proceedings of the Grand Commandery Knights Templar of Missouri, 1949.


Margaret Leech, In the Days of McKinley, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1959.

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A Mason Answers His Country's Call and Receives the Scottish Rite's Highest Award

As a somber nation mourned the death of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in April of 1945, Harry S. Truman, Roosevelt’s successor, received this telegram message that resides in the Archives of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library:


Telegram from Melvin M. Johnson to President Harry S. Truman
Telegram from Melvin M. Johnson to U.S. President Harry S. Truman, [undated].

President Harry S. Truman
Washington


The God of Truth and wisdom will be with you and you will succeed in the great task to which you have been called. I shall ask you for nothing except to be of service if and when I can be helpful in the least degree. 

Shall be back in Boston Monday. 

Melvin M. Johnson


For the past two years, Johnson, the Sovereign Grand Commander of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction  of the Scottish Rite and a Masonic brother of Truman, had sought to award him with the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction’s highest award, The Gourgas Medal, for Truman’s work leading the Truman Committee, a Congressional oversight body which oversaw the war effort by probing into charges of corruption. And while Truman had always been flattered by Johnson’s request, Truman's sense of duty to his country and to the Fraternity had led him to decline the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction’s most prestigious honor.

  Senator

Letter from U.S. Senator Harry S. Truman to Melvin M. Johnson, September 8, 1944.

 

“I think you are exactly right,” Senator Truman wrote Johnson on September 8, 1944, “about the postponement of the program so far as I am concerned. No matter how deserving it might be under the circumstances it would look exactly as if it were a political program.”

Now, in April of 1945, anxious to make Truman the first recipient of the Gourgas Medal, Johnson petitioned the busy President once more.

"I hope you may find it possible to attend a session of our Supreme Council on Tuesday, September 25, 1945, at 10 a.m., or the following day, in order that I may have the honor of making you the first recipient of the Gourgas Medal."

With the war concluded and the political battles of 1944 behind him, sometime during the spring of 1945 President Truman had a change of heart, which he expressed to Johnson from the White House on May 2, 1945.

“I hope it will be possible for me to attend the meeting to receive The Gourgas Medal," Truman wrote Johnson.

Johnson wrote back to the President in September of 1945, “If it is agreeable to you, I should like to make the presentation [of the Gourgas Medal] at The White House, or wherever else you may select. I hope, however, we can make arrangements far enough in advance so that invitations may be extended to the members of Congress who are also members of our Supreme Council . . . .”

On November 21, 1945, President Harry S. Truman received the Gourgas Medal for his service to country and humanity. After the ceremony on the White House lawn had concluded, a subdued President Truman led the delegation back to his office where the President “looking down at the medal” said quietly, “I appreciate this more than anything I have received.”

 

Letter from U.S. President Harry S. Truman to Melvin M. Johnson, May 2, 1945.
Letter from U.S. President Harry S. Truman to Melvin M. Johnson, May 2, 1945.
Presentation of Gourgas Medal to Illustrious Harry S. Truman, 33°
Presentation of Gourgas Medal to Illustrious Harry S. Truman, 33°

Captions

Telegram from Melvin M. Johnson to U.S. President Harry S. Truman, [undated]. Assistant to the Sovereign Grand Commander: Subject Files. Gift of the Supreme Council of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, SC 069.

Letter from U.S. Senator Harry S. Truman to Melvin M. Johnson, September 8, 1944. Assistant to the Sovereign Grand Commander: Subject Files. Gift of the Supreme Council of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, SC 069.

Letter from U.S. President Harry S. Truman to Melvin M. Johnson, May 2, 1945. Assistant to the Sovereign Grand Commander: Subject Files. Gift of the Supreme Council of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, SC 069.

Presentation of Gourgas Medal to Illustrious Harry S. Truman, 33°, page 136. Supreme Council, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite (1945). Illustrious Harry S. Truman, 33°, President of the United States, Received the Gourgas Medal. In Abstract of Proceedings of the Supreme Council, (pp. 136 – 140). [Boston: Supreme Council].

References

Letter from Melvin M. Johnson to U.S. President Harry S. Truman, April 26, 1945 [copy]. Assistant to the Sovereign Grand Commander: Subject Files. Gift of the Supreme Council of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, SC 069.

Letter from Melvin M. Johnson to U.S. President Harry S. Truman, September 19, 1945 [copy]. Assistant to the Sovereign Grand Commander: Subject Files. Gift of the Supreme Council of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, SC 069.

Supreme Council, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite (1945). Illustrious Harry S. Truman, 33°, President of the United States, Received the Gourgas Medal. In Abstract of Proceedings of the Supreme Council, (pp. 136 – 140). [Boston: Supreme Council].

 


Summer Vacation through Postcards

2013_July blog post_postcardsAt our July Collections Committee, we accepted a gift of approximately 400 postcards from Michael Heitke.  Many of these postcards show images of national monuments in the United States and over half the collection are items showing images from Wisconsin, the home state of the donor.  They range in date from 1907 through 1950s.

As Americans are taking their summer vacations, it is revealing to take a look at 1950s postcards. Some of the same destinations that were popular in the 1950s are just as popular today. 

Mount Rushmore  National Monument is a typical tourist destination in South Dakota (see postcard at the left).  Gutzon Borglum (1867-1941) was the artist who supervised the sculpting of Mount Rushmore and many other American public sculptures.  Borglum was an active Freemason and raised in the Howard Lodge No. 35 of New York City in 1904.  He served as its Worshipful Master from 1910 through 1911.  He received his Scottish Rite degrees in the New York City Consistory in 1907.  

Noteworthy is that among the four presidents carved into stone at Mount Rushmore, two of them were well-known Freemasons--George Washington (1732-1799) and Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) and two were not.  Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) was not a Freemason.  Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) petitioned to join Tyrian Lodge of Springfield, Illinois after his nomination for president in 1860, but never followed through on receiving his membership.                                      

The Dells of the Wisconsin River is a popular destination especially for Americans in the Midwest (see postcard below). Created by early glaciers, the "Jaws of the Dells" is the sandstone gateway, or corridor to the Upper Dells of the Wisconsin River.  It is located in south central Wisconsin.  Access by boat is the only way to see these natural sandstone formations.  Henry Hamilton Bennett (1843-1908) was the landscape photographer who made the Wisconsin Dells a popular tourist destination by his photographs.  This postcard of the Wisconsin Dells is a 1950s reproduction from the H. H. Bennett Studio.  As far as I can tell Bennett was not involved with Freemasonry, though he lived through the "Golden Age of Fraternalism." 2013_July blog post_postcards_2

                               Captions

Postcard of Mount Rushmore National Monument, ca. 1950. Gift of Michael Heitke, USM 082, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library.

Postcard of Gateway to the Upper Dells of the Wisconsin River, ca. 1950. Gift of Michael Heitke, USM 082, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library.


How Many Presidents were Freemasons?

79_34_1T1 It never ceases to amaze me how much inaccurate information is out there concerning Freemasonry. One of the most common questions circles around how many U.S. presidents were Freemasons – and from there, many people wonder about how many Freemasons signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The answers to these questions range from well-established – how many U.S. presidents were Freemasons – to less clear-cut – how many signers of the Constitution were Freemasons. When searching the internet for more information about this topic, be warned!  There are many websites with inaccurate information. So, allow me to offer an accurate, clear answer.

Fourteen U.S. presidents have been Freemasons, meaning that there is conclusive evidence that these men received the Master Mason degree: George Washington; James Monroe; Andrew Jackson; James Polk; James Buchanan; Andrew Johnson; James Garfield; William McKinley; Theodore Roosevelt; William Taft; Warren Harding; Franklin Delano Roosevelt; Harry S. Truman; and Gerald Ford.

Nine of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence were Freemasons during their lifetime, though not necessarily in 1776: William Ellery; Benjamin Franklin; John Hancock; Joseph Hewes; William Hooper; Robert Treat Paine; Richard Stockton; George Walton; and William Whipple. 77_75_6DI1

Things get a little less clear when it comes to the Constitution. It seems that at least nine of the signers can be conclusively documented as Freemasons: Gunning Bedford Jr.; John Blair; David Brearly; Jacob Broom; Daniel Carrol; John Dickinson; Benjamin Franklin; Rufus King; and George Washington. Some sources suggest that an additional four men were Masons, while other sources make the total number even higher. Additional research – and debate – is welcome. It is also important to be clear about how you are defining a Freemason: Is it men who have received the Master Mason degree? Or is it any man who took the Entered Apprentice degree? Do “Masonic signers” have to be Freemasons when they signed the document, or at some point in their life? Let me know what you think in a comment below!

For more information about Freemasonry, please visit the National Heritage Museum website. Also, you may want to check out an excellent Masonic website that is the brainchild of Paul Bessel: www.bessel.org.  It includes much useful information about American Freemasonry.

Top: Presidents of the United States, ca. 1861, A. Feusier, lithographer, and F. Bouclet, publisher, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, collection of the National Heritage Museum, Special Acquisitions Fund, 79.34.1.  Photograph by David Bohl. 

Bottom: The Declaration of Independence, 1840-1880, John Francis Eugene Prud’homme (1800-1892), New York or Washington, D.C., collection of the National Heritage Museum, gift of J. Robert Merrill, 77.75.6.


All the Way with LBJ!

2009_071DP1 In a previous post, we showed a few of the political textiles in the National Heritage Museum collection.  Recently, we were given an object associated with Lyndon Baines Johnson’s (1908-1973) 1964 campaign – a red plastic Stetson-style cowboy hat.

The silver label on the front shows a steer’s head and the initials LBJ.  The donor and her siblings wore this hat during childhood play, but it probably dates to the 1964 Democratic convention.  During the election that year, Johnson ran against Republican Barry Goldwater (1909-1998).  Johnson’s campaign images focused on his identity as a Texan; he was often photographed wearing a hat like this one.

After the shocking assassination of President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) in November 1963, Johnson vowed to continue to pursue the slain president’s goals, particularly working on civil rights initiatives.  Johnson gained popularity during the remainder of Kennedy’s term and it was clear early on that he would be victorious in 1964.  The only question was how large the landslide would be.  Indeed, election night 1964 found Johnson the winner, with 61% of the vote and the widest popular margin in history – more than 15 million votes.

Incidentally, Johnson did receive the first Masonic degree, Entered Apprentice, in 1937 at Johnson City Lodge No. 561, Johnson City, Texas.  But he did not receive the second and third degrees, so is not included on the list of U.S. Presidents who were Freemasons.

LBJ Cowboy Hat, ca. 1964, National Heritage Museum collection, gift of Susan Ward, 2009.071.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Sources:

Roger A. Fischer, Tippecanoe and Trinkets Too: The Material Culture of American Presidential Campaigns, 1828-1984, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988.

Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., ed., Running for President: The Candidates and Their Images, volume 2, 1900-1992, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994.

Jordan M. Wright, Campaigning for President, New York: Smithsonian Books, 2008.


New to the Collection: Mourning McKinley

2008_021_5DP1 Commemorative glass and ceramic platters, mugs and pitchers were popular during the late 1800s and early 1900s – particularly those bearing the likeness of one of our presidents.  But, this glass platter, which was donated to the National Heritage Museum in 2008, the gift of Robert and Edith Zucker, seemed somewhat eerie to me given its inscription, “It is God’s way / His will be done.”

A quick search of the life dates on the platter, “Born 1843 / Died 1901,” confirmed that the man depicted is William McKinley, 25th president of the United States.  McKinley was assassinated while attending the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York.  So, I initially attributed the rather severe verse to vestiges of somber Puritanism or to Victorian mourning ideals.

However, additional research turned up a far more pertinent explanation for the words on this commemorative platter.  According to the New York Times on September 14, 1901, McKinley’s last words as he died that day were “Good bye.  All good bye.  It is God’s way.  His will be done, not ours.”

Born in 1843 in Niles, Ohio, McKinley became a teacher until the Civil War broke out.  He enlisted in the Union Army, eventually achieving the rank of brevet major.  After the war, he became a lawyer in Canton, Ohio.  He also served in the U.S. House of Representatives and held two terms as governor of Ohio.  In 1896, McKinley was elected president of the United States, and was elected to a second term in 1900.  Unfortunately, his life was cut short on September 6, 1901.  On that day, despite the presence of Secret Service agents, anarchist Leon F. Czolgosz shot McKinley while he was shaking hands at a public reception at the Pan-American Exposition.  Despite quick medical attention, gangrene set in around McKinley’s wounds and he died on September 14, 1901.

In addition to his distinguished political career, William McKinley was a Freemason.  He received the first three degrees from Hiram Lodge No. 21 in Winchester, Virginia, during his Civil War service.  After the war, McKinley affiliated with Canton Lodge No. 90, Canton, Ohio, later becoming a charter member of Eagle Lodge No. 431 in Canton, Ohio.  He was also active in Royal Arch Masonry and the Knights Templar.

President William McKinley Commemorative Platter, ca. 1901, collection of the National Heritage Museum, gift of Robert and Edith Zucker, 2008.021.5.  Photograph by David Bohl.