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‘His Accidency,’ ‘Silent Cal,’ and the vice president who did the least

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William Rufus King served as vice president for six weeks, never making it to Washington, D.C. (Image in the public domain)

“William Rufus King” was my answer.

Some friends and I were swapping stories about the vice presidents of the United States. I was asked what vice president did the very least while in office.

In the early days of the republic, the person who got the most votes was president and the runner-up was vice president. That was changed after Jefferson defeated Aaron Burr by one vote. If things had remained the same, can you imagine how long Donald Trump’s first term in office would have been with Hillary Clinton as his vice president?

John Tyler, the first vice president to take the office of president after a president’s death, was often called “His Accidency.” (Image in the public domain)

The first vice president to take over as president upon the death of the president was John Tyler when William Henry “Tippacanoe” Harrison died after one month in office. That was in 1841. Some tried to keep Tyler from office, but he prevailed though his opponents called him “His Accidency.”

Today a lot of back-room maneuvering takes place trying to balance the ticket. That wasn’t the case in 1840 — Harrison and Tyler were neighbors in Virginia.

Tyler hardly left his mark on history, his greatest accomplishment being the admission of Texas to the Union — and James K. Polk tried to lay claim to that.

After leaving the office of president, Tyler served in Congress — but it was the Confederate Congress. John Quincy Adams also later served in Congress — but it was the one that met in Washington, D.C.

An interesting tidbit is that the Tyler descendants (there are many as John had 14 children) still live in the family home.

When Mlllard Fillmore took over as president upon the death of Zachary Taylor, it was said that he looked presidential, but looks aren’t everything. I’ve read that he installed the first bathtub in the White House. Before that, what did one do? Maybe a bird bath?

By the way, the man he replaced, Zachary Taylor, was living in Jefferson County below Rodney when he was elected. His wife Margaret opposed his running for president. She said it would kill him.

It did.

Hannibal Hamlin from Maine lost his chance to be president when Lincoln decided to replace him as vice president during the Civil War, choosing in his place Andrew Johnson of Tennessee who hated the Southern aristocracy, as he had grown up a sho-nuff red neck. Incidentally, do you know who was our youngest vice president?

It was John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky, who served under Buchannan and ran against Lincoln. He was 36 at the time of his inauguration. Breckinridge was later a Confederate general and was among those who watched the ironclad Arkansas from the top of the Old Court House as it took on the Union fleet in 1862.

Chester Alan Arthur took over the presidential office in 1881 when James A. Garfield was assassinated. Under his leadership, a lot of civil service legislation was passed. He has been forgotten, but he wasn’t a bad president. At least he didn’t disgrace us.

Theodore Roosevelt became president in 1901 after the assassination of William McKinley. It is rumored that Roosevelt was made vice president to get him out of office in New York, that as VP he could do no harm and would be forgotten. Wrong! After being elected president in his own right, there was a story that he had a new chandelier installed in the vice president’s office, commenting that when the wind blew it would cause the prisms to clink, thus keeping the vice president awake.

When Roosevelt ran again on a third-party ticket —called the Bull Moose because he said that was how mad he was — his running mate was John Milliken Parker who grew up in Port Gibson, served the Confederacy, moved to Louisiana where he was elected governor — and was Mary Lincoln’s first cousin:

Calvin “silent Cal” Coolidge. (Photo courtesy Gordon Cotton)

Next to ascend to the presidency because of the death of the president was Calvin Coolidge, often called “silent Cal” as he spoke but little. His predecessor was Warren G. Harding. About all I know about him was a comment made by my favorite history professor, Dr. Martha Bigelow at Mississippi College. When a student asked her what Harding died of she replied, “A stroke — a stroke of good luck for the country.”

One of Coolidge’s friends was Will Rogers, America’s great humorist. On one occasion while visiting the president, he advised him that he had just come from the office of the vice president “and he inquired as to your health.” There’s also the story of when Coolidge’s friends from back home in Vermont were invited to dinner at the White House. They were not sure of proper protocol, so they decided to do what the president did. When Coolidge took his coffee cup and set it aside, then poured his cream into the saucer, they did the same. Then Coolidge placed the saucer on the floor and called the cat.

My favorite Coolidge story is the one where he came home from church, Grace asked him where he had been.

“Church,” he replied.

“What did the preacher preach about?”

“Sin.”

“What did he say about it?”

“He’s against it.”

Franklin Roosevelt had several vice presidents. One was John Nance Garner from Texas who undiplomatically announced the arrival of the King of England to address Congress with “The British are coming!”

Garner was replaced by Henry Agad Wallace of Iowa, so left wing that he was replaced in 1945 by a Southern senator, Harry S. Truman. Truman had little formal education — he never went to college — but he was endowed with good common sense and made some tough decisions. He’s ranked as one of our strongest presidents.

How Southern was he? He was a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and Mrs. Truman was in the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Henry Agad Wallace was forgotten, though he did run for president on the Progressive Party ticket in 1948. I was just a lad, but I remember him making a speech at Mount Beulah in Edwards. He drove his own campaign car — an old DeSoto. That same year, Fielding Wright of Rolling Fork ran for vice president on a third-party ticket called the Dixiecrats. Wright was Mississippi’s governor.

Lyndon Johnson, called “Landslide Lyndon” because of a questionable victory in a Texas election, became president when John F. Kennedy was murdered. Lyndon’s legacy is probably the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He later became president in his own right, and my father thought his vice president, Hubert Horatio Humphrey, was his life insurance policy.

When Richard Nixon resigned as president, the vice president who took over was Gerald Ford, but that wasn’t his birth name — he was born Melvin King. Later his stepfather, Mr. Ford, adopted him. That brings to mind that Billy Jeff Clinton was really a Blythe. As a teenager, he chose his third stepfather’s name — Clinton.

There have been a lot of other vice presidents, and many having been forgotten. Case in point: Schuler Colfax.

In my lifetime, there have been two women who had the nomination for vice president from their parties: Geraldine Ferraro for the Democrats and Sarah Palin for the Republicans. If the left-wing press hadn’t attacked her politically, there is no doubt Palin would have been the best looking vice president in history.

There’s another story about a vice president I particularly love. A few years ago, while watching “Jeopardy,” there was a question I could answer (that I admit is rare) but none of the contestants could: Who was vice president of the Confederate States?

The answer is Alexander Hamilton Stephens of Crawfordville, Georgia.

Stephens was a brilliant man and small in stature at 5-feet-7-inches. He served in both the Senate and Congress for the U.S., and after the war went back to Congress for the U.S. One day a Northern senator said of Stephens something to the effect of, “You little shrimp. I could swallow you whole,” to which Stephens replied, “If you do, Sir, you will have more brains in your belly than you have in your head.”

Who was the president who didn’t have a vice president? It was Franklin Pierce whose vice president was to have been William Rufus King of Selma, Alabama. King was very ill and went to Cuba for his health. There, he was inaugurated vice president by special dispensation from Congress. He recovered enough to come back home to Alabama where he died the next day.

And that’s why he’s my nomination for the vice president who did the least.


Gordon Cotton is the curator emeritus of the Old Court House Museum. He is the author of several books and is a renowned historian.

History

A piece of Vicksburg history is officially no more

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The former WQBC studio, (photo by Thomas Parker)

WQBC radio was believed to be the oldest radio station in the state of Mississippi. Operating on AM frequency 1420, the call letters were reportedly for the words “We Quote Better Cotton” from radio’s heyday when farm market prices were a staple of daily programming.

The station dates back to 1928 when it was first licensed to Utica. In 1931 the station was purchased by the Cashman family and moved to Vicksburg. FCC rules against cross ownership with a newspaper forced the family to sell the station.

Notable alumni include world renowned blues musician Willie Dixon, Adrian Cronauer, who was the inspiration for the movie “Good Morning Vietnam,” and Woodie Assaf, who cut his teeth in radio before becoming the nation’s longest serving weather man on WLBT.

On Sept. 28, 2020, the last owners, COSTAR Broadcasting, surrendered the license to the Federal Communications Commission.  

The station last operated from a studio and tower location on Porter’s Chapel Road. Those facilities have been torn down. With the license surrender, a piece of Vicksburg and Mississippi broadcasting history died along with it. 

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Buffalo Bill’s Wild West in Vicksburg: ‘a scene to delight a boy’s heart’

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Buffalo Bill Cody in 1903 (Photo in the public domain)

As shots rang out just above the trees, the boys who were perched among the branches “came out of those trees like overripe pears falling,” wrote the late Vicksburg historian V. Blaine Russell .

The lads thought they had found the perfect — and free — vantage point to see the show at the fairgrounds. The man with the gun, who pretended he didn’t see the youngsters, was William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody who brought his Wild West Show to Vicksburg Nov. 17, 1908.

It was a typical performance, complete with a cast of hundreds. There were stagecoach holdups, Indians, cowboys and pretty girls and, of course, the star of the show, Buffalo Bill.

It wasn’t the first time he had brought his show to Vicksburg. His troupe had come to the River City Nov. 26, 1874, and had staged “The Indian Ball Play” featuring 30 Choctaws, but the show, including a dance afterward, wasn’t much of a success, according to John G. Cashman, editor of The Daily Vicksburger.

Despite the poor attendance, the troupe came back July 2, 1886, and put on “a grand Indian Ball Play and War Dance” according to the Vicksburg Herald. The paper also stated that “Sixty genuine scalp-taking Redmen” would parade downtown.

When the show returned to Vicksburg in 1908, it wasn’t just with dancing Indians but with a variety show. A writer for The Vicksburg Evening Post described it as “a thrilling piece of acting as the Indians ride like mad after the coach filled with terrified passengers. From the top of the swaying vehicle the fearless cowboys pour in a steady fire on the galloping redskins. The driver lashes the horses into a wild run. This is a scene to delight a boy’s heart and make one’s pulse beat a little faster.”

Cast of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West in 1890. (Photo in the public domain)

The Buffalo Bill show included 550 horses, and the Post noted that “no bolder or better horsemen have ever been seen. … the fiercest bucking broncos were ridden with grace by the hardy cowboys and cowgirls. … Picking up handkerchiefs from the ground. while running their ponies at breakneck speed was something the girls did to elicit applause.”

There were a variety of other acts, too, including precision drills by a company of Zouaves, Indian war dances and a horse that “did the hoocheecoochee dance — quite remarkable.”

Another act was possibly the forerunner of donkey basketball popular in later years: It was a football game played on horseback. The horses wore breast plates, knee pads, shin guards, boots and nose pads. The riders didn’t touch the ball, but the horses pushed, shoved and kicked it.

The highlight of the show was not the dancing girls, Indians and horses but Buffalo Bill himself, “gray and old, still robust and active and quick of eye, who was tumultuously applauded …” He was noted for his ability to shoot, and he gave a demonstration as “from the back of a galloping horse the old scout and hero of a hundred Indian fights was able to crack every glass ball pitched into the air, no matter how fast or furious the tossing was done.”

The day before his Vicksburg performance, Buffalo Bill had set up a tipi at the Kleinston landing where admirers visited with him while his workers set up the props for the show.

The old man told a Post reporter that his show had been on the road for 30 years, and he had missed only two performances.

Buffalo Bill Cody in 1911. (Photo in the public domain)

He interrupted the conversation once, saying “Here, have a cigar. I have this kind made for me by thousands.” The reporter wrote that “the old scout puffed on a big black cigar and then there was good opportunity to watch those bright blue eyes in thought as he gazed alternately out of the tent and then at the curling smoke. His hair has turned snow white but he has plenty of it. He is six feet tall and straight as a young Indian.”

The newspaper said about 8,000 people had seen the two performances paying either 50 cents or a dollar for a glimpse of life as it used to be. “In this prosaic age of the trolley and pullman and the steamboat, it is hard for us to appreciate conditions that existed on the Western prairies …” The show was said to be “clean, moral and wholesome and provided lessons for the young and refreshes the memories of the old.”

Buffalo Bill had brought a taste of the Old West to the Old South.


Gordon Cotton is the curator emeritus of the Old Court House Museum. He is the author of several books and is a renowned historian.

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Today marks the 19th anniversary of 9/11

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The north face of Two World Trade Center (south tower) immediately after being struck by United Airlines Flight 175. (Photo by Robert on Flickr - This file has been extracted from another file: UA Flight 175 hits WTC south tower 9-11 edit.jpeg, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17340779)

Today marks the 19th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Hijackers connected with al-Qaida in the Middle East took control of four jets, using them as missiles to destroy and kill. Two of the jets crashed into the north and south towers of the World Trade Center complex in Manhattan. A third was flown into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. Passengers on the fourth plane, which was headed toward Washington, D.C., managed to thwart the hijacker’s plan. It crashed into a field in Pennsylvania.

In all, 2,977 people died in what remains the deadliest terrorist attacks in the world. Another 25,000 were injured, either directly or through exposure to toxins at the crash sites, causing long-term consequences. The attacks also cost more than $10 billion in infrastructure and property damages.

The attacks precipitated wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as part of the U.S. War on Terror, although none of the hijackers came from either of those countries. Of the 19 attackers, 15 were Saudi citizens, two were from the United Arab Emirates, and one each from Lebanon and Egypt. Osama bin Laden, who planned the attacks, was also from Saudi Arabia. U.S. forces killed bin Laden in 2011 in Pakistan.

The war in Afghanistan, which began Oct. 7, 2001, to deny al-Qaida a place of refuge, is the longest U.S. war in its history.

Although the U.S. officially ended its war in Iraq after more than eight years in 2011, thousands of U.S. soldiers and contractors continue to be stationed there.

More than 2,300 U.S. soldiers have died in Afghanistan and another 4,500 in Iraq.

Children born after the 9/11 attacks, who have never known a world without a War on Terror, have begun to enter voting booths.

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