Wednesday, June 20, 2018

A Small Dinner Party In Paris and a Brief History of the Statue of Liberty

Although historians don’t typically play the game of What If, it's hard to know if the United States could have won independence from the British without the aid of the French.

At critical times during the Revolutionary War, the French provided munitions, ships, money and men and some Frenchmen, including the Marquis de Lafayette, became high-ranking officers in the Continental Army. It was, as one historian proclaimed, “an alliance of respect and friendship that the French would not forget.”

According to historians at the American Park Network:

One hundred years later, in 1865, after the end of the American Civil War, several French intellectuals, who were opposed to the oppressive regime of Napoleon III, were at a small dinner party. They discussed their admiration for America's success in establishing a democratic government and abolishing slavery at the end of the civil war.

The dinner was hosted by Edouard Rene Lefebvre de Laboulaye...scholar, jurist, abolitionist and a leader of the "liberals," the political group dedicated to establishing a French republican government. During the evening, talk turned to the close historic ties and love of liberty the two nations shared...

As he continued speaking, reflecting on the centennial of American independence only 11 years in the future, Laboulaye commented, "Wouldn't it be wonderful if people in France gave the United States a great monument as a lasting memorial to independence and thereby showed that the French government was also dedicated to the idea of human liberty?"


Laboulaye's proposal intrigued one of his guests, Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, a successful 31-year old French sculptor. Years later, recalling the dinner, Bartholdi wrote that Laboulaye's idea 'interested me so deeply that it remained fixed in my memory.'” And so was sown the seed of inspiration that would eventually become the Statue of Liberty!

Once conceived, Bartholdi set out to design and promote the statue. Work began in Paris in the winter of 1875, and, in 1876, the right arm and torch, consisting of 21 separate copper pieces, were completed, assembled, dismantled, packed and shipped to the Philadelphia International Centennial Exhibition, where it was assembled as a feature exhibit.


In 1880, work on the iron framework for the tower began in Paris, and, during the next three years, the inner structure and "outer skin" were assembled, piece by piece, to the statute's full height of 151 feet. Finally, in June, 1884, the statue was completed and then dismantled, packed into 214 crates, and shipped to the United States in early 1885.

The official unveiling of the statue on October 28, 1886 was declared a public holiday, with leaders from both France and the United States in attendance. President Grover Cleveland, formerly the governor of New York, presided over the event. After some introductory speeches, Cleveland addressed the cheering crowd, proclaiming that the statue's "stream of light shall pierce the darkness of ignorance and man's oppression until Liberty enlightens the world."

One hundred years later, on July 4, 1986, the United States threw "a special birthday party" for the Statue of Liberty. With a golden sunset glowing in the background, President Ronald Reagan declared, "We are the keepers of the flame of liberty; we hold it high for the world to see." Later, Reagan pressed a button that sent a laser beam across the water toward the statue. Slowly, dramatically, majestically, a light show unveiled Liberty and her new torch while spectacular fireworks exploded across the sky."

Monday, June 18, 2018

William Henry Harrison, the Election of 1840, and a Brief Constitutional Crisis

William Henry Harrison took the Oath of Office on a freezing cold day. Standing in the frigid weather without a coat or hat, the 68-year-old military hero delivered the longest inaugural address in American history. At more than 8,000 words, it took nearly two hours to read (even after Daniel Webster had edited it for length!).

A few days later, Harrison caught a bad cold which quickly turned into pneumonia. Doctors tried to cure the president with opium, castor oil, Virginia snakeweed, and other remedies, but the treatments only made Harrison worse, and he died on April 4, 1841. The first American president to die in office, Harrison served only 31 days.


Only lasting a month, Harrison's presidency is too short to provide insight into his culinary habits, but one thing is certain: his death caused a constitutional crisis involving presidential succession. The question was whether Vice-President John Tyler would be “acting” as President or actually become President upon Harrison's death.

Article II of the Constitution could be read either way. The relevant text states:

In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the VicePresident...

Did "the Same" mean the Office of the Presidency itself or merely the powers and duties of the office?

After consulting with Chief Justice Roger Taney (who responded with extreme caution, saying he wished to avoid raising "the suspicion of desiring to intrude into the affairs which belong to another branch of government"), Harrison’s advisors decided that if Tyler simply took the Oath of Office, he would become president. Despite his own strong reservations, Tyler obliged and was sworn in as the 10th president of the United States on April 6, 1841.

When Congress convened in May, it passed a resolution that confirmed Tyler as president. Once established, this precedent of presidential succession remained in effect until the Twenty-Fifth Amendment of the Constitution was ratified in 1967.


FOOD FACT: Used by Harrison's doctors, castor oil comes from the seed of the castor bean plant. It, along with many other plants, herbs, oils, and weeds has been used to treat human disease for thousands of years. In the food industry, castor oil is used in all kinds of additives, flavorings, and candies.

FAST FACT: Harrison’s death resulted in three presidents serving in one year (Martin Van Buren, Harrison, and Tyler). This has happened on only one other occassion in American history. In 1881, Rutherford B. Hayes was succeeded by James Garfield, who died from an assassin's bullet later that year, and Chester Arthur became president.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Lyndon Johnson's Barbecue Diplomacy and a Brief History of Father's Day


Some historians say that the origins of Father’s Day can be traced to a young woman by the name of Sonora Smart Dodd, who reportedly came up with the idea while listening to a Mother’s Day sermon in Spokane, Washington in 1909. Raised by her widowed father, a Civil War veteran who had lost his wife after the birth of their sixth child, Sonora felt that her father should be honored in the same way that mothers were on Mother’s Day.

Toward that end, a special Father’s Day observance was held on June 19, 1910. Although that celebration was a local affair, the idea of a national Father’s Day picked up steam when it was endorsed by President Calvin Coolidge in 1924, but it would take another thirty years before Father’s Day was recognized by a Joint Resolution of Congress. Then, in 1966, the first presidential proclamation honoring fathers was issued by Lyndon Johnson, who designated the third Sunday in June as Father's Day.

Although it’s hard to say what Johnson ate on that particular day, it’s likely that the Texan native requested a barbecue. Barbecuing, of course, has been used as a tool in American politics since the early nineteenth century, but no politician ever used “the conviviality and informality of cooking and eating outdoors” more than Johnson.


But the most important barbecue ever planned for the LBJ Ranch never took place. This is what happened:

It was scheduled for November 23, 1963, when President Kennedy, Johnson, and their entourages were planning to dine beneath the oaks on the Pedernales. But a few hours before they were to board the choppers from Dallas to Johnson City, on November 22, Kennedy was assassinated two cars in front of Johnson as they drove in a motorcade.

A month later, the Johnson family retreated to the ranch on Christmas Eve. West German Chancellor Ludwig Erhard was scheduled to visit the President to discuss the Soviet threat, the Berlin Wall, and other important matters. Rather than return to Washington for a formal State Dinner, Lyndon invited Erhard on down to what historians claim was the first official Presidential barbecue in history. Yes, Johnson's first state dinner was a barbecue for 300 catered by Walter Jetton on December 29, 1963.

When his staff realized it would be chilly that day, the sit-down part was moved indoors to Stonewall High School gymnasium, about two miles away. Workers did an admirable job of creating an outdoorsy feel with bales of hay, red lanterns, red-checkered table cloths, saddles, lassos, and mariachis. According to Lady Bird's diary, "there were beans (pinto beans, always), delicious barbecued spareribs, cole slaw, followed by fried apricot pies with lots of hot coffee. And plenty of beer."


Although those recipes may have been lost to posterity, some Johnson family favorites included Pedernales River Chili, Chipped Beef with Cream, Beef Stroganoff, Tapioca Pudding, and Lady Bird enjoyed handing out her recipe for Barbecue Sauce. If you’d like to add a little zip to your Father's Day celebrations this weekend, here's a great recipe to try and here's Lady Bird's original recipe:


¼ cup butter
¼ cup vinegar
¼ cup ketchup
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
Salt, pepper, red pepper flakes to taste

Melt butter in a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat. Add other ingredients and bring to a boil. Add Tabasco sauce to taste.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Andrew Jackson Benne Wafers

Andrew Jackson was so strong-willed that his enemies called him King Andrew I, portraying him as a tyrannical ruler who abused presidential powers and trampled on the constitution.

During his two terms of office, Jackson vetoed the recharter of the Second Bank of the United States, signed the “Tariff of Abominations” which led to the Nullification Crisis and ignored an important Supreme Court decision protecting Native American rights.

Jackson was also no stranger to slavery. More than 150 slaves worked day and night at his stately Tennessee mansion "The Hermitage" where cooks prepared his favorite southern foods, including Braised Duck, Chicken Hash, Old Hickory Soup and Wild Barbecued Goose.


Popular in the south throughout the nineteenth century, Benne Wafers were another Jackson family favorite. Today, these delightfully light, crisp, paper-thin cookies can still be found in bakeries and candy shops throughout the south.

If you'd like to whip up a batch of Benne Wafers today, here's a a recipe to try from CookinCanuck.com and here's another one that's simple to make and tastes simply delicious!


¾ cup sesame seeds, toasted
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter, softened
1 egg, lightly beaten
½ cup all purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325º F. Cover cookie sheet with parchment paper or lightly grease it. In a heavy skillet over medium heat, toast the sesame seeds until they are golden brown, about 4 minutes.

In a medium bowl, beat the brown sugar and butter together until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the egg. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder, then add to the butter, sugar and egg mixture and mix until well-combined. Stir in the sesame seeds and vanilla.

Drop by teaspoonful onto prepared cookie sheet about 3 inches apart. Bake for 10 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned. Let cool for a few minutes and then transfer to a rack to continue cooling.

Credit: Jackson in 1824, painting by Thomas Sully.