seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Ulysses S. Grant, 18th President of the United States

Ulysses S. Grant, American military leader who serves as the 18th president of the United States (1869 to 1877), dies on July 23, 1883 after a long and painful battle with throat cancer.

Grant is born Hiram Ulysses Grant in Point Pleasant, Ohio, on April 27, 1822 to Jesse Root Grant, a tanner and merchant, and Hannah Simpson Grant. His mother descends from Presbyterian immigrants from Ballygawley, County Tyrone.

Raised in Ohio, Grant possesses an exceptional ability with horses, which serves him well through his military career. He is admitted to West Point, graduates 21st in the class of 1843 and serves with distinction in the Mexican–American War. In 1848, he marries Julia Dent, and together they have four children. He abruptly resigns his army commission in 1854 and returns to his family, but lives in poverty for seven years.

Grant joins the Union Army after the American Civil War breaks out in 1861 and rises to prominence after winning several early Union victories on the Western Theater. In 1863 he leads the Vicksburg campaign, which gains control of the Mississippi River. President Abraham Lincoln promotes him to lieutenant general after his victory at Chattanooga. For thirteen months, he fights Robert E. Lee during the high-casualty Overland Campaign and at Petersburg. On April 9, 1865, Lee surrenders to Grant at Appomattox. A week later, Lincoln is assassinated and is succeeded by Andrew Johnson, who promotes him to General of the Army in 1866. Later he openly breaks with Johnson over Reconstruction policies as he used the Reconstruction Acts, which had been passed over Johnson’s veto, to enforce civil rights for recently freed African Americans.

A war hero, drawn in by his sense of duty, Grant is unanimously nominated by the Republican Party and is elected president in 1868. As president, Grant stabilizes the post-war national economy, supports ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, and crushes the Ku Klux Klan. He appoints African Americans and Jewish Americans to prominent federal offices. In 1871, to help reduce federal patronage, he creates the first Civil Service Commission. The Liberal Republicans and Democrats unite behind his opponent in the 1872 presidential election, but he is handily re-elected. His Native American policy is to assimilate Indians into the White culture. The Great Sioux War of 1876 is fought during his term. In his foreign policy, the Alabama claims against Great Britain are peacefully resolved, but his prized Caribbean Dominican Republic annexation is rejected by the United States Senate.

Grant’s responses to corruption charges, in his federal departments rife with scandal, are mixed, often naïvely defending the culprits, particularly his war-time comrade Orville E. Babcock. But he also appoints cabinet reformers, such as John Brooks Henderson, for the prosecution of the Whiskey Ring. The Panic of 1873 plunges the nation into a severe economic depression that allows the Democrats to win the House majority. In the intensely disputed 1876 presidential election, he facilitates the approval by Congress of a peaceful compromise.

In his retirement, Grant is the first president to circumnavigate the world on his tour, meeting with Queen Victoria and many prominent foreign leaders. In 1880, he is unsuccessful in obtaining the Republican presidential nomination for a third term. In the final year of his life, facing severe financial reversals and dying of throat cancer, he writes his memoirs, which prove to be a major critical and financial success.

After a year-long struggle with throat cancer, surrounded by his family, Grant dies at 8:08 AM at his Mount McGregor cottage on July 23, 1885, at the age of 63. Philip Sheridan, then Commanding General of the Army, orders a day-long tribute to Grant on all military posts, and President Grover Cleveland orders a thirty-day nationwide period of mourning. After private services, the honor guard places Grant’s body on a special funeral train, which travels to West Point and New York City. A quarter of a million people view it in the two days before the funeral. Tens of thousands of men, many of them veterans from the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), march with Grant’s casket drawn by two dozen black stallions to Riverside Park in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Upper Manhattan. His pallbearers include Union generals William Tecumseh Sherman and Philip Sheridan, Confederate generals Simon Bolivar Buckner and Joseph E. Johnston, Admiral David Dixon Porter, and Senator John A. Logan, the head of the GAR. Following the casket in the seven-mile-long procession are President Cleveland, the two living former presidents Rutherford B. Hayes and Chester A. Arthur, all of the President’s Cabinet, as well as the justices of the Supreme Court.

Attendance at the New York funeral tops 1.5 million. Ceremonies are held in other major cities around the country, while Grant is eulogized in the press and likened to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. His body is laid to rest in a temporary tomb in Riverside Park. Twelve years later, on April 17, 1897, he is reinterred in the General Grant National Memorial, also known as “Grant’s Tomb,” the largest mausoleum in North America.


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Birth of John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States

John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Irish American politician who serves as the 35th president of the United States, is born in Brookline, Massachusetts on May 29, 1917. He serves from 1961 until his assassination in 1963 during the height of the Cold War, with the majority of his work as president concerning relations with the Soviet Union and Cuba.

Kennedy is born into the wealthy, political Kennedy family, the son of Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., a businessman and politician, and Rose Kennedy (née Fitzgerald), a philanthropist and socialite. All four of his grandparents are children of Irish immigrants. He graduates from Harvard University in 1940, before joining the United States Naval Reserve the following year. During World War II, he commands a series of PT boats in the Pacific theater and earns the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his service.

Following a brief stint in journalism, Kennedy, a Democrat, represents a working-class Boston district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1947 to 1953. He is subsequently elected to the U.S. Senate and serves as the junior senator for Massachusetts from 1953 to 1960. While in the Senate, Kennedy publishes his book, Profiles in Courage, which wins a Pulitzer Prize.

Kennedy meets his future wife, Jacqueline Lee “Jackie” Bouvier (1929–1994), while he is a congressman. Charles L. Bartlett, a journalist, introduces the pair at a dinner party. They are married a year after he is elected senator, on September 12, 1953. Following a miscarriage in 1955 and a stillbirth in 1956, they produce three children, Caroline, John, Jr., and Patrick, who dies of complications two days after birth.

In the 1960 presidential election, Kennedy narrowly defeats Republican opponent Richard Nixon, who is the incumbent vice president. His humor, charm, and youth in addition to his father’s money and contacts are great assets in the campaign. His campaign gains momentum after the first televised presidential debates in American history. He is the first Catholic elected president of the United States.

Kennedy’s administration includes high tensions with communist states in the Cold War. As a result, he increases the number of American military advisors in South Vietnam. The Strategic Hamlet Program begins in Vietnam during his presidency. In April 1961, he authorizes an attempt to overthrow the Cuban government of Fidel Castro in the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion. He authorizes the Cuban Project, also known as Operation Mongoose, in November 1961. He rejects Operation Northwoods, plans for false flag attacks to gain approval for a war against Cuba, in March 1962. However, his administration continues to plan for an invasion of Cuba in the summer of 1962.

In October 1962, U.S. spy planes discover Soviet missile bases have been deployed in Cuba. The resulting period of tensions, termed the Cuban Missile Crisis, nearly results in the breakout of a global thermonuclear conflict. He also signs the first nuclear weapons treaty in October 1963.

Kennedy presides over the establishment of the Peace Corps, Alliance for Progress with Latin America, and the continuation of the Apollo space program with the goal of landing a man on the Moon. He also supports the civil rights movement, but is only somewhat successful in passing his New Frontier domestic policies.

On November 22, 1963, Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson assumes the presidency upon Kennedy’s death. Marxist and former U.S. Marine Lee Harvey Oswald is arrested for the state crime, but is shot and killed by Jack Ruby two days later. The FBI and the Warren Commission both conclude Oswald had acted alone in the assassination, but various groups contest the Warren Report and believe that Kennedy was the victim of a conspiracy.

After Kennedy’s death, Congress enacts many of his proposals, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Revenue Act of 1964. Despite his truncated presidency, he ranks highly in polls of U.S. presidents with historians and the general public. His personal life has also been the focus of considerable sustained interest following public revelations in the 1970s of his chronic health ailments and extramarital affairs. He is the last U.S. President to have been assassinated as well as the last U.S. president to die in office.

(Pictured: John F. Kennedy, photograph in the Oval Office, July 11, 1963)


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Gerry Adams Meets Bill Clinton for the First Time

For the United States Congress‘s annual St. Patrick’s Day luncheon on March 16, 1995, Newt Gingrich, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, invites Ireland’s new Taoiseach, John Bruton, to be the main event. However, the first handshake between President Bill Clinton and Gerry Adams, the head of Sinn Féin, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), steals the spotlight.

Some of the fifty people at the luncheon, most of them Irish American members of Congress, think Clinton might forgo a handshake because he is under tremendous pressure from Britain’s Prime Minister John Major not to give Adams a warm embrace. But Clinton does not hesitate although the handshake comes after photographers have left the room.

“Gerry was concerned about the protocol of how he should go up to the President, but when he walked up, the President gave him a very big handshake,” says Representative Peter T. King, a Republican from Seaford, Long Island, who sits to the right of Adams at the lunch. After an awkward moment of silence, the room explodes with applause.

The President and the Sinn Féin leader speak for five minutes. Later Adams says, “The engagement was positive, was cordial.”

According to Rep. King, Clinton says he is committed to making the Irish peace effort succeed and, while talking to Adams, puts his fist in front of him and says, “This is going to work.” Adams says Clinton does not urge him to make sure the IRA disarms, something Major asked the President to do. Clinton invites Adams to a White House reception scheduled for the following day and, according to his aides, plans to speak to Major over the weekend in an effort to patch up their differences.

The tone at the luncheon is often light. Clinton jokes that finally he is at a place where people will not criticize him for taking a drink of Guinness. Also, Bruton hails Gingrich as an honorary Irishman, noting that his mother apparently descended from the Doherty clan of County Donegal.

Wearing a white carnation tinged with green, Gingrich gives the Taoiseach a bowl of Georgia peanuts and a book on the history of the United States Capitol. Telling Gingrich that he is not the first person to consider overhauling welfare, Bruton gives him an 1840’s book about welfare reform in Ireland.

Some attendees joke that there are almost as many Kennedys at the luncheon as there are Republicans. There are Senator Edward M. Kennedy and Representative Joseph P. Kennedy, both of Massachusetts, Representative Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island, and Jean Kennedy Smith, the American Ambassador to Ireland.

The menu would make any Irishman proud: boiled corned beef and cabbage, boiled potatoes, soda bread and lime sherbet.

(From: “Gerry Adams Shakes Hands With Clinton” published in The New York Times, March 17, 1995)


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The Provisional Congress of the Confederate States Convenes

The Provisional Congress of the Confederate States, also known as the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States of America, convenes in Montgomery, Alabama on February 4, 1861. As many as 30,000 Irish-born fight on the Confederate side during the American Civil War including Chaplain John B. Bannon. A number of Irish rise to senior leadership in the Confederate army including Patrick Cleburne and Henry Strong. Strong is killed at the Battle of Antietam while on the opposite Union side on that awful day, 540 members of the Irish Brigade are killed.

The Provisional Congress of the Confederate States is a congress of deputies and delegates called together from the Southern States which become the governing body of the Provisional Government of the Confederate States from February 4, 1861 to February 17, 1862. It sits in Montgomery until May 21, 1861, when it adjourns to meet in Richmond, Virginia, on July 20, 1861. It adds new members as other states secede from the Union and directs the election on November 6, 1861, at which a permanent government is elected.

The First Session of the Provisional Congress is held at Montgomery from February 4, 1861, to March 16, 1861. On February 8, the Convention adopts the Provisional Constitution of the Confederate States, and so becomes the first session of the Provisional Confederate Congress. Members are present from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas. It drafts the provisional constitution and sets up a government. For president and vice president, it selects Jefferson Davis of Mississippi and Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia.

The Second Session of the Provisional Congress is held at Montgomery from April 29, 1861, to May 21, 1861. It includes the members of the First Session with the additions of Virginia and Arkansas. John Tyler, the tenth president of the United States (1841–1845), serves as a delegate from Virginia in the Provisional Confederate States Congress until his death in 1862.

North Carolina and Tennessee join the Third Session of the Provisional Congress which is held at Richmond from July 20, 1861, to August 31, 1861. Membership remains unchanged for the Fourth Session on September 3, 1861.

The Fifth Session of the Provisional Congress is held at Richmond from November 18, 1861, to February 17, 1862. All previous members are present with the additions of Missouri and Kentucky. One non-voting member is present from the Arizona Territory.


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Birth of Edward Hand, Soldier, Physician & Politician

Edward Hand, Irish soldier, physician, and politician who serves in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, is born in Clyduff, King’s County (now County Offaly) on December 31, 1744. He rises to the rank of general and later is a member of several Pennsylvania governmental bodies.

Hand, the son of John Hand, is baptised in Shinrone. Among his immediate neighbours are the Kearney family, ancestors of United States President Barack Obama. He is a descendant of either the families of Mag Fhlaithimh (of south Ulaidh and Mide) or Ó Flaithimhín (of the Síol Muireadaigh) who, through mistranslation became Lavin or Hand.

Hand earns a medical certificate from Trinity College, Dublin. In 1767, he enlists as a Surgeon’s Mate in the 18th (Royal Irish) Regiment of Foot. On May 20, 1767, he sails with the regiment from Cobh, County Cork, arriving at Philadelphia on July 11, 1767. In 1772, he is commissioned an ensign. He marches with the regiment to Fort Pitt, on the forks of the Ohio River, returning to Philadelphia in 1774, where he resigns his commission.

In 1774, Hand moves to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he practices medicine. On March 13, 1775, he marries Catherine Ewing. Lancaster is the region of some of the earliest Irish and Scotch-Irish settlements in Pennsylvania. As a people, they are well known for their anti-English and revolutionary convictions. He is active in forming the Lancaster County Associators, a colonial militia. He is a 32nd degree Freemason, belonging to the Montgomery Military Lodge number 14.

Hand enters the Continental Army in 1775 as a lieutenant colonel in the 1st Pennsylvania Regiment under Colonel William Thompson. He is promoted to colonel in 1776 and placed in command of the 1st Continental, then designated the 1st Pennsylvania. Promoted to brigadier general in March 1777, he serves as the commander of Fort Pitt, fighting British loyalists and their Indian allies. He is recalled, after over two years at Fort Pitt, to serve as a brigade commander in Major General La Fayette‘s division.

In 1778, Hand attacks the Lenape, killing Captain Pipe‘s mother, brother, and a few of his children during a military campaign. Failing to distinguish among the Native American groups, he had attacked the neutral Lenape while trying to reduce the Indian threat to settlers in the Ohio Country, because other tribes, such as the Shawnee, had allied with the British.

After a few months, he is appointed Adjutant General of the Continental Army and serves during the Siege of Yorktown in that capacity. In recognition of his long and distinguished service, he is promoted by brevet to major general in September 1783. He resigns from the Army in November 1783.

Hand returns to Lancaster and resumes the practice of medicine. A Federalist, he is also active in civil affairs. Beginning in 1785, he owns and operates Rock Ford plantation, a 177-acre farm on the banks of the Conestoga River, one mile south of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The Georgian brick mansion remains today and the farm is a historic site open to the public.

Hand dies from typhoid fever, dysentery or pneumonia at Rock Ford on September 3, 1802, although medical records are unclear with some sources stating he died of cholera. There is no evidence Lancaster County suffered from a cholera epidemic in 1802. He is buried in St. James’s Episcopal Cemetery in Lancaster, the same church where he had served as a deacon.


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Mary Robinson Inaugurated 7th President of Ireland

Mary Robinson, Irish lawyer, independent politician, and diplomat born Mary Teresa Winifred Bourke, is inaugurated as the seventh President of Ireland on December 3, 1990, becoming the first woman to hold the office. She later serves as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) from September 1997 – September 2002.

Robinson is born on May 21, 1944 in Ballina, County Mayo. She is educated at Trinity College and the King’s Inns in Dublin and at Harvard Law School in the United States. She serves at Trinity College (University of Dublin) as Reid Professor of penal legislation, constitutional and criminal law, and the law of evidence (1969–1975) and lecturer in European Community law (1975–1990). In 1988 she and her husband establish the Irish Centre for European Law at Trinity College.

A distinguished constitutional lawyer and a renowned supporter of human rights, Robinson is elected to the Royal Irish Academy and is a member of the International Commission of Jurists in Geneva (1987–1990). She sits in Seanad Éireann, the upper house of the Oireachtas, for the University of Dublin constituency (1969–1989) and serves as whip for the Labour Party until resigning from the party over the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, which she feels ignores unionist objections. She is also a member of the Dublin City Council (1979–1983) and runs unsuccessfully in 1977 and 1981 for Dublin parliamentary constituencies.

Nominated by the Labour Party and supported by the Green Party and the Workers’ Party, Robinson becomes Ireland’s first woman president in 1990 by mobilizing a liberal constituency and merging it with a more conservative constituency opposed to the Fianna Fáil party. As president, she adopts a much more prominent role than her predecessors and she does much to communicate a more modern image of Ireland. Strongly committed to human rights, she is the first head of state to visit Somalia after it suffers from civil war and famine in 1992 and the first to visit Rwanda after the genocide in that country in 1994.

Shortly before her term as president expires, Robinson accepts the post of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR). As high commissioner, she changes the priorities of her office to emphasize the promotion of human rights at the national and regional levels. She was the first UNHCHR to visit China, and she also helps to improve the monitoring of human rights in Kosovo. In 2001 she serves as secretary-general of the World Conference against Racism held in Durban, South Africa. In 1998 she is elected chancellor of Trinity College, a post she holds until 2019.

After stepping down as UNHCHR, Robinson founds the nongovernmental organization Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative (2002–2010). Its central concerns include equitable international trade, access to health care, migration, women’s leadership and corporate responsibility. She is also a founding member of the Council of Women World Leaders, serves as honorary president of Oxfam International, a private organization that provides relief and development aid to impoverished or disaster-stricken communities worldwide, and is a member of the Club of Madrid, which promotes democracy. She also holds various posts at the United Nations and, in 2010, she establishes the Mary Robinson Foundation—Climate Justice, which operates until 2019.

Robinson is the recipient of numerous honours. In 2004 Amnesty International awards her its Ambassador of Conscience Award for her human rights work. In 2009 she receives the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. Her memoir, Everybody Matters: My Life Giving Voice (cowritten with Tessa Robinson), is published in 2012.

(Pictured: Mary Robinson during her inauguration as president in 1990, photograph by Matt Kavanagh)


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Gerry Adams & David Trimble Meet at Stormont

On November 4, 2002, Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble and Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams meet face-to-face for the first time since the suspension of Northern Ireland‘s power-sharing government in an attempt to break the deadlock in the peace process. They meet at Stormont as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Paul Murphy, continues his round of meetings with the political parties in an attempt to find a way to end the deadlock.

The province’s institutions are suspended on October 14 following a row over allegations of Irish Republican Army (IRA) activity, including alleged spying within the Northern Ireland Office (NIO).

Speaking after a 40-minute meeting with Trimble, Adams says they had had a “useful exchange of views.” But he adds, as expected, “there were very few conclusions in terms of the big picture….I asked Mr. Trimble how he thought things could be sorted out and Mr. Trimble had no particular suggestion to offer. But it was a good meeting.”

The Sinn Féin president says he had suggested to Trimble that each leader could address the executive of the opposite’s party. “He declined. But I hope he will think about the suggestion.”

Trimble says no significant developments came out of the meeting. He adds that the onus is on the republican movement to move the process forward. He dismisses Adams’s suggestion that they should address each others’ parties as a “stunt.”

Elsewhere on this date, Minister for Foreign Affairs Brian Cowen and Northern Secretary Paul Murphy also hold talks with a Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) delegation in Dublin. Among the items on the agenda are how to restore the North’s devolved political institutions and whether or not the next Northern Ireland Assembly elections will be held as planned the following May.

Adams leaves for Washington, D.C. the following day, where he is expected to brief President George W. Bush‘s Special Envoy for Northern Ireland, Richard N. Haass. He also plans to visit New York, New Jersey and Canada for fund-raising events during his six day trip.

(From: “Trimble Adams meeting ‘useful'”, BBC News, news.bbc.co.uk, November 5, 2002)


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Death of Thomas Fitzsimons, U.S. Merchant & Statesman

thomas-fitzsimonsThomas Fitzsimons, American merchant and statesman of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, dies in Philadelphia on August 26, 1811. He represents Pennsylvania in the Continental Congress, the Constitutional Convention and the United States House of Representatives.

Fitzsimons is born in Ireland in 1741. In the mid-1750s his family immigrates to Philadelphia, where his father dies soon thereafter. He has enough education that he begins work as a clerk in a mercantile house. He marries Catherine Meade on November 23, 1761 and forms a business partnership with her brother George. Their firm, which specializes in the West Indies trade, operates successfully for over 41 years.

The firm is soon hit by the new revenue measures created to help support the finances of the British Empire, including the much reviled Stamp Act of 1765. Concerned with these ideas, Fitzsimons becomes active in the Irish merchant community in Philadelphia. He is a founding member of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick in 1771 and later, in 1774, a steering committee organized to protest the Coercive Acts.

When Pennsylvania begins mobilizing and organizing a militia to fight the British, Fitzsimons is soon involved. He serves as captain of a company of home guards under the command of Colonel John Caldwalader. Initially his company serves as part of the soldiers who man posts along the New Jersey coast. His unit later serves as part of the reserve at the Battle of Trenton in 1776. Later in the war, he served on the Pennsylvania Council of Safety and heads a board to oversee the newly formed Pennsylvania Navy.

Fitzsimons enters active politics as a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1782 and 1783. He is a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1786 until 1795. He is also a delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention in 1787. Although not a leading member of that convention, he supports a strong national government, the end of slavery, the United States Congress‘s powers to impose a tariff on imports and exports, the granting the House of Representatives, and power in equal to the United States Senate in making treaties. He is one of only two Catholic signers of the Constitution of the United States, the other being Daniel Carroll of Maryland.

After the Constitution is established, he serves in the first three sessions of the House of Representatives as a Federalist, where he favors protective tariffs and a strong navy, co-drafting the Naval Act of 1794 authorizing the original six frigates of the United States Navy. He fails to win re-election in 1794. This was partially attributed to public opinion turning against the Federalist Party over the forceful suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion. Although he never holds elective office again, he serves in 1798 as head of the committee of merchants overseeing the subscription-loan to build a warship at private expense for use in the Quasi-War.

In 1796, FitzSimons, along with James Innes of Virginia, is appointed by President John Adams to serve as one of two American members on the five-man debt commission charged under Article VI of the Jay Treaty with examining the claims of British subjects unable to collect debts incurred by Americans prior to the American Revolution. FitzSimons, Innes and Samuel Sitgreaves, who replaces Innes upon the latter’s death, become annoyed with the arguments used by their British counterparts to inflate the claims total. FitzSimons and Sitgreaves angrily and permanently seceded from the board in July 1799. The claims are eventually disposed of by a lump-sum payment, agreed upon by United States Minister to Britain Rufus King with British Foreign Secretary Robert Banks Jenkinson and approved by President Thomas Jefferson and the Senate in 1802.

While withdrawing from politics, Fitzsimons remains active in civic and business affairs. He serves as president of Philadelphia’s Chamber of Commerce, as a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania, Director of the Delaware Insurance Company and a director of the Bank of North America from 1781–1803. He is a founder of the bank and supports efforts to found Georgetown College. He also helps found the Insurance Company of North America.

Fitzsimons dies on August 26, 1811, in Philadelphia, where he is buried in the cemetery of St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, which is in present-day Independence National Historical Park.


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Death of Andrew Johnson, 17th President of the United States

andrew-johnsonAndrew Johnson, the 17th President of the United States (1865 – 1869), dies on July 31, 1875 at his daughter Mary’s farm near Elizabethton, Tennessee after suffering two strokes.

Johnson assumes the presidency at the time of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln as he is Lincoln’s Vice President. He is a Democrat who runs with Lincoln on the National Union ticket, coming to office as the American Civil War concludes. He favors quick restoration of the seceded states to the Union without protection for the former slaves. This leads to conflict with the Republican-dominated Congress, culminating in his impeachment by the House of Representatives in 1868. He is acquitted in the Senate by one vote. His main accomplishment as president is the Alaska Purchase.

Johnson is born in poverty in Raleigh, North Carolina on December 29, 1808. His grandfather emigrated to the United States from County Antrim in what is now Northern Ireland. He never attends school and is apprenticed as a tailor and works in several frontier towns before settling in Greeneville, Tennessee. He serves as alderman and mayor there before being elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives in 1835. After brief service in the Tennessee Senate, he is elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1843, where he serves five two-year terms.

On October 17, 1853, Johnson becomes the 15th Governor of Tennessee serving for four years until November 3, 1857. He is elected by the legislature to the United States Senate on October 8, 1857. During his congressional service, he seeks passage of the Homestead Act of 1862 which is enacted soon after he leaves his Senate seat in 1862.

Southern slave states secede to form the Confederate States of America, which includes Tennessee, but Johnson remains firmly with the Union. He is the only sitting senator from a Confederate state who does not resign his seat upon learning of his state’s secession. In 1862, Lincoln appoints him as military governor of Tennessee after most of it has been retaken. In 1864, he is a logical choice as running mate for Lincoln, who wishes to send a message of national unity in his re-election campaign. Their ticket easily wins the election. He is sworn in as Vice President on March 4, 1865. He gives a rambling speech, after which he secludes himself to avoid public ridicule. Six weeks later, the assassination of Lincoln elevates him to the presidency.

Johnson implements his own form of Presidential Reconstruction, a series of proclamations directing the seceded states to hold conventions and elections to reform their civil governments. Southern states return many of their old leaders and pass Black Codes to deprive the freedmen of many civil liberties, but Congressional Republicans refuse to seat legislators from those states and advance legislation to overrule the Southern actions. Johnson vetoes their bills, and Congressional Republicans override him, setting a pattern for the remainder of his presidency.

Johnson opposes the Fourteenth Amendment which gives citizenship to former slaves. In 1866, he goes on an unprecedented national tour promoting his executive policies, seeking to break Republican opposition. As the conflict grows between the branches of government, Congress passes the Tenure of Office Act in 1867 restricting his ability to fire Cabinet officials. He persists in trying to dismiss Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, but ends up being impeached by the House of Representatives and narrowly avoiding conviction in the Senate. He does not win the 1868 Democratic presidential nomination and leaves office the following year.

Johnson returns to Tennessee after his presidency and gains some vindication when he is elected to the Senate in 1875, making him the only former president to serve in the Senate. In late July 1875, convinced some of his opponents are defaming him in the Ohio gubernatorial race, he decides to travel there to give speeches. He begins the trip on July 28, and breaks the journey at his daughter Mary’s farm near Elizabethton, where his daughter Martha is also staying. That evening he suffers a stroke but refuses medical treatment until the following day. When he does not improve two doctors are sent for from Elizabethton. He seems to respond to their ministrations, but suffers another stroke on the evening of July 30 and dies early the following morning at the age of 66.

President Ulysses S. Grant has the “painful duty” of announcing the death of the only surviving past president. Northern newspapers, in their obituaries, tend to focus on Johnson’s loyalty during the war, while Southern ones pay tribute to his actions as president. Johnson’s funeral is held on August 3 in Greeneville. He is buried with his body wrapped in an American flag and a copy of the U.S. Constitution placed under his head, according to his wishes. The burial ground is dedicated as the Andrew Johnson National Cemetery in 1906 and, with his home and tailor’s shop, is part of the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site.


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Birth of James Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore

james-cardinal-gibbonsJames Cardinal Gibbons, American prelate of the Catholic Church, is born in Baltimore, Maryland on July 23, 1834 to parents Thomas and Bridget (née Walsh) Gibbons who had emigrated from Toormakeady, County Mayo. In his role as Archbishop of Baltimore from 1877 to 1921, he serves as a bridge between Roman Catholicism and American Catholic values.

Gibbons is taken by his parents from Baltimore to Ireland in 1837. Following his father’s death in 1847, at the height of The Great Hunger, his mother moves the family back to the United States. He spends the next eight years as a grocer in New Orleans. In 1855 he enters a seminary in Baltimore, becoming a priest in 1861. He rises through the ranks of the Roman Catholic Church quickly, and by 1868 he is the youngest bishop in the United States. During a short stay in North Carolina, he writes The Faith of Our Fathers (1876), a defense of Catholicism that proves exceptionally popular, selling more than two million copies. He is elevated to Archbishop of Baltimore in 1877. He assumes a leadership role as the presiding prelate at the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1884, and in 1886 he is made a cardinal by Pope Leo XIII.

As a leader of the Catholic Church hierarchy in the United States, Gibbons is outspoken in his praise for American democratic institutions and he advocates Americanization — the rapid assimilation of Catholic immigrants into American culture and institutions — both as a means to counter Protestant Americans’ suspicions toward Catholics and to avoid the fragmentation of the Catholic Church in the United States along ethnic lines. He is also sympathetic to the cause of organized labour and works to overcome suspicions within the Catholic Church toward the Knights of Labor, which has been considered a secret society by many clergymen.

On education, as on other social issues, Gibbons seeks ways of harmonizing the tenets of the Catholic faith with the principles of American democracy. He enters the controversy over control of parochial and public schools in 1891 when he defends Archbishop John Ireland’s experimental plan for cooperation between Catholic and public schools in the Minnesota towns of Faribault and Stillwater. To the dismay of conservative bishops, he refuses to condemn public education and encourages efforts to find common ground between the two systems. The Faribault-Stillwater plan remains controversial despite Gibbons’s support, and acrimony between the plan’s supporters and conservative opponents lingers until 1893.

During World War I, Gibbons is instrumental in the establishment of the National Catholic War Council, and afterwards supports the League of Nations. Although initially opposed to women’s suffrage, when the Nineteenth Amendment passes Gibbons urges women to exercise their right to vote “…not only as a right but as a strict social duty.”

James Cardinal Gibbons dies at the age of 86 in Baltimore on March 24, 1921. Throughout his career he is a respected and influential public figure. Although nonpartisan, he takes positions on a variety of foreign and domestic policy issues and is personally acquainted with every U.S. president from Andrew Johnson to Woodrow Wilson.