Boiling Thoughts

24 07 2009

Starting is always the hardest part of doing anything. Once you take that first step, everything just goes by so much faster.

This is probably the most useful lesson I’ve learned all summer here in Galveston. Starting this internship was difficult. Although I had decided a long time ago in the Winter to do this internship, leaving home after being there only a week and a half after school was not easy. Starting work on Central Christian Church that first week was not easy. I wasn’t really told how to do what I needed to get done that week. Basically, I was just put out there on my own. But, once I had it figured out and we started getting things done…well…now I’m here at the end of it. I leave Galveston tomorrow morning (even though we should have been out of here last night). It’s so weird that 9 nweeks have seemingly gone by in a flash, but at the same time, I never thought I would get out of here, at times. There were some emotional highs and lows, and there was drama more often than not, but really, it never overshadowed the good things that we accomplished here. I met some people here that I don’t think I could ever forget. I think the most amazing thing that I experienced this summer was that the work we did is a beautiful patchwork. What Paul and Morgan from Columbus, Georgia did the first week outside the church (putting up the plywood walls, tearing out old gutters, putting in windows, and more), people from Missouri took over the next week and finished up. What Kyle, Dwight, and I accomplished at Second Christian Church one week, was taken over and improved upon the next week by a group from Colorado. People from all over worked together to get all of this work done. While they never met each other, a little part of each one of the people here lives in these walls and together they have made these two churches we’ve been working on new life and new spirit through the love and effort they put in their work. That’s so empowering to me. In the end, I just have this feeling that this is what I am supposed to do with my life. While it hasn’t always been easy, I have loved it and have become such a better person for this. That’s what I got right now…


21 06 2009

If you are looking for another President update…it’s coming. Basically, I got done with the semester and that last thing I wanted to do was more research and writing. Now that I’m an intern, I don’t have much time for either. But…I’m not going to stop until I finish. It just may take a while. Lincoln is getting close to being done, however. I’m making little steps in that direction when I have time and feel like doing something productive in my off time.

I saw something this week trhat really upset me. We’ve been working with different groups down here in Galveston, but this past group was all CYF kids from Kansas. One of the girls had a devotional book, which on the surface appeared to be a really cool thing, but I looked closer at the cover, and it’s tagline was something about, “How to Fight Against the Pressures of Being a Teenager” or something else along those lines. It has these cool, hip looking kids standing as a group looking at these gross looking skeletons in the foreground of the cover. These skeletons had in their possession the typical things that pressure teenagers: alcohol, cigarettes, a syringe (presumably for drugs), and other things. But…there was one thing smack in the middle of this ensemble that was both impossible to miss and strategically placed. It was a book entited, “Sex Education”. That bothered me on so many levels, and I just felt terrible for the girl. I was so shocked to even see that on the cover. I really believe that a huge problem in our culture today is that people just don’t know enough about various topics, and a devotional book that is quite literally demonizing sex education is just continuing this major issue. If the best kind of decision is an educated one, doesn’t it follow that we should allow our grade school students to be educated on everything possible, without reservation? Why do people think knowledge is so evil? I think Galileo said it best:

“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”

Just because someone is educated completely on a topic such as sex, that doesn’t mean that they are going to believe that sex is ok or that they are going to go out and have sex immediately. If anything, the knowledge they could gain from really learning more about a subject could further their position on that subject. I wrote that out really fast, and I don’t have time to go deeper, but…yeah. I hope it makes sense.

There’s this big oil refinery in Texas City. And everytime I pass it, it just amazes me. This refinery is the 3rd largest in the country, and literally goes on for a good stretch of road. At night, you can see these huge towers over the plant that are just spewing out big flames. Supposedly, these towers just burn the gases that aren’t useable by the refinery. There’s one tower the bruns a brilliant orange hue, and another that burns a deep blue with flashes of orange and yellow. Against the pitch black sky, these two flames just shine, and capture my gaze everytime I drive past them. I can’t help but be captivated by those flames dancing in the night. I want to be like those flames. I want to make something so beautiful and shining from the “waste” of the world. I want to be as dependable as those flames are to me.

I thought about it…and, instead of thinking, “Why are things the way they are?”, I am going to start thinking, “Maybe there’s a reason things are that way.” I was thinking about someone, and that came to mind. It’s a subtle difference, but it was such a huge revelation to me today.

Better Know A President XIII: Millard Fillmore

4 03 2009


-Served from 1850-1853.

-He was not elected as a President. He failed to even get the nomination from the Whig party in 1852, and he did not win as the Know Nothing/Whig candidate in 1854 (Yes, there was a political party called the Know Nothings)

-Prior to the Presidency, he was Vice President (obviously), a US Representative from New York, and New York State Comptroller.

-He became an indentured servant to a cloth maker at 14. He later studied law under a prominent judge in New York state. He was admitted to the bar in 1823 and practiced in the town of East Aurora. He later founded a prominent law firm with Nathan Hall, who would become Postmaster General under Fillmore.

-Founded the University at Buffalo. (SUNY Buffalo)

-He was selected as the VP nomination for the Whig party for two reasons: He was from a free state, and he was from New York and would help the Whig Party carry such a large and important state. The fact that he was unknown also helped him, because the party’s leaders did not see him on either side of the split party.

-While he served as Vice President, a Senator from Mississippi pulled a gun on a Senator from Missouri over the Compromise of 1850. The Compromise of 1850 was a major precursor to the Civil War. It reorganized many of the Western territories, and also passed the Fugitive Slave Act. Zachary Taylor’s death was incredibly important to the passing of the Compromise, because he was against it. Fillmore, who was for the Compromise, helped it get passed. California was admitted as a free state, Utah and New Mexico became territories but they were left to decide on slavery on their own, and Texas dropped claims to certain areas of unorganized territory. It resolved some of the disputes that were diving the North and the South at the time, that were centered around the extension of slavery. Fillmore, was against slavery itself, but allowed that the Constitution did not make it specifically illegal.  Of course, the resolution only held off war for so long. However, delaying the Civil War was probably very important to the North, because it gave them time to develop more infrastructure that would be pivotal to their victory in the Civil War.

-While his Presidency was dominated by the Compromise of 1850, he made an unpopular choice to deny safe haven to Lajos Kossuth, a Hungarian revolutionary. He was seen as a Hungarian version of George Washington, and was also highly respected by many people in America. Fillmroe refused him, because he wanted to continue America’s neutrality in European issues. This was an important, unspoken rule among American Presidents prior to Fillmore and established by Washington himself.

-While serving as President, Fillmroe had no vice-president.

-Fillmore was a constant reader and established the White House Library, as there were no books, or any good books, in the White House when he became President.

-Fillmore suggested the idea of colonizing parts of Africa as a solution to the growing conflict between the North and the South.  Colonization would mean that all African-Americans would be removed and placed back in Africa, except ones who were still slaves. Some blacks, however, supported the idea. They thought that a return to Africa was the easiest, most effective resolution to the issue and maybe the only resolution possible. Most Americans were indifferent on the idea. Fillmore said, “There can be no well grounded hope for the improvement of either their moral or social condition, until they are removed from a humiliating sense of inferiority in the presence of a superior race.”

-Although Fillmroe did not win the election in 1854, he achieved 21.6% of the popular vote, one of the best showings from a 3rd party in election history.

-Fillmore later led a group of militia to help in Reconstruction after the Civil War.


When Fillmore announced his need for a new carriage, a White House attendant, Edward Moran, was enlisted to find one. Moran, having hunted far and wide, finally found a handsome vehicle which was being sold at a reduced rate because its owner was moving. Fillmore was troubled: “How would it do, Edward, for the president of the United States to ride around in a second-hand carriage?” he asked. “But surely,” Moran allegedly replied, “Your Excellency is only a second-hand president!”

President Millard Fillmore was once offered an honorary degree (written in Latin) by Oxford University. He declined to accept. “I have not the advantage of a classical education,” he explained, “and no man should, in my judgement, accept a degree which he cannot read.”


It is not strange… to mistake change for progress.

May God save the country, for it is evident that the people will not.

“It is a national disgrace that our Presidents, after having occupied the highest position in the country, should be cast adrift, and, perhaps, be compelled to keep a corner grocery for subsistence.”

“The man who can look upon a crisis without being willing to offer himself upon the altar of his country is not fit for public trust.”

“God knows that I detest slavery, but it is an existing evil… and we must endure it and give it such protection as is guaranteed by the Constitution.”

Better Know A President XII: Zachary Taylor

3 03 2009


-Served from 1849-1850. (Only 16 months)

-Elected from Virginia.

-Never served a previous political post. Taylor was the first President to have done so. He gained fame through his 40 year military service. He served in the War of 1812, the Blackhawk War, the 2nd Seminole War, and the Mexican-American War (where he really gained his fame.)

-During the War of 1812, he served in Indiana Territory. He successful defended Fort Harrison (near modern day Terre Haute) against Tecumseh and his confederacy. He then led a group of soldiers as a Captain in the Battle of Wildcat Creek, which eventually led to an American defeat by the hadns of the Native Americans. He resigned after the war, but re-enlisted after one year.

-Taylor led an infantry in the Blackhawk War, and personally received the surrender of Chief Black Hawk. He also served in the Seminole Wars in Florida, and by the end, he was made a General and was the head of all American troops in Florida. Then, prior to the Mexican-American War, he was made a Commander of all American troops in the Southern United States.

-In the Mexican-American War, he won two decisive battles in Palo Alto and Monterrey. In the Battle of Palo Alto, Taylor used a artillery strategy called “Flying Artillery”, in which lighter artillery is used to make a quick, decisive attack and then move somewhere else and attack again. In the Battle of Monterrey, Taylor was outnumbered heavily. After 3 days of attempting to take the city, the American forces were at a stand-still. Taylor devised a plan, with the help of the Texas Rangers, to take nearby hills and fire cannons from those hills into the city to force a surrender. Even though Taylor had won and taken the city from the Mexicans, he was ostracized for allowing the Mexicans to negotiate a cease-fire, eventual two-month armistice, and allowing them to walk away with their full honors and their arms. Still, the battle was a major victory for America.

-The battle that made Taylor a hero, however was Buena Vista. Santa Anna (that guy who killed everyone at The Alamo) escaped from exile and quickly rounded up forces to attack the Americans. Apparently he was still upset about the whole Texas independence thing. Taylor took a strategic position at Buena Vista mountain pass, and prepared for the coming attack. Taylor’s forces were vastly outnumbered by Santa Anna’s troops (4,500 to 16,000) Through strategic battle formations, and much better weapons, Taylor repelled Santa Anna’s attack and he was forced to retreat. His words to Captain Bragg “Give them a little more grape” became legendary and were used as a campaign slogan in his election campaign in 1848. (His real words, however, were “double-shot your guns and give them hell, Bragg”) He earned the nickname, “Old Rough and Ready” through his many military campaigns. The Battle of Buena Vista was his last in the military service.

-He ran as the Whig’s Nomination, but he didn’t really believe in most of their platforms. In fact, Taylor never voted in his life. He lacked a permanent residence, and therefore could not vote. His political views are not completely known, because he never made strong statements about them. Abraham Lincoln said of him, “The people say to Taylor: If you are elected, shall we have a national bank? He answers, Your will, gentlemen. Not mine. […] If you do not desire them, I will not attempt to force them upon you.” He was, however, completely against the seccession of the southern states, even though he was both a slave owner and from a southern state himself. He thought that seccession was pointless and only caused more problems. (Guess he had that one right). He was also against the expansion of slavery into new states.

-As President, his major contribution was the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty. The treaty was an agreement between Britain and American that any potential canal in Central America that would connect the Atlantic and Pacific would be non-exclusive toward either side. It marked a change in American policy from Manifest Destiny, and was an important first step in American and British cooperation.

-He died after 16 months in office of gastroenteritis or the stomach flu (although this is still speculated by some historians). On the 4th of July, Taylor had a large celebration and ate many different goods made by many different people who attended the celebration. Some historians believe that he died from poisoning, but an autopsy that was performed on his remains in the 80’s showed no signs of poisoning.

During Zachary Taylor’s presidency, visitors to the White House were invited to collect an unusual souvenir: horse hairs from Whitey, the president’s old Army horse. And where could Whitey usually be found? Grazing on the White House lawn of course.

When he was first mentioned as a possible candidate for Presidency, Taylor said to the man, “Stop your nonsense and drink your whiskey!”

Taylor did not have an ego. One Virgina officer had experience with him that goes as follows: “You feel at once comfortable and easy in his society. He paid me a visit the other day; I was sitting on a trunk writing at the time; I arose and offered him the seat, remarking that I had but a poor seat to offer himl oh, never mind, said he, all I am afraid of is that I will spoil the trunk, and he sat down and conversed in the most sociable and familiar manner for some time.”

He hated wearing his regal military uniform as well. Once, when he was to meet another officer who was always dressed in his full uniform, he decided to be cordial. He went through his things and found an old uniform to wear, and painstakingly fixed it up to please the other officer. When the other officer appeared, he was wearing his civilian clothes to appeal to Taylor’s laid-back style. The meeting was full of apologies. Taylor afterward, threw away the uniform and said he would never do it again.


“For more than half a century, during which kingdoms and empires have fallen, this Union has stood unshaken. The patriots who formed it have long since descended to the grave; yet still it remains, the proudest monument to their memory….”

“The idea that I should become President seems to me too visionary to require a serious answer. It has never entered my head, nor is it likely to enter the head of any other person.”

“Upon its preservation [the United States] must depend our own happiness and that of countless generations to come. Whatever dangers may threaten it, I shall stand by it and maintain it in its integrity to the full extent of the obligations imposed and the power conferred upon me by the Constitution.”

Better Know A President XI: James K. Polk

26 02 2009

-Served from 1845-1849.

-Elected from Tennessee

-He was 49 at the time of his election, making him the youngest man to serve as President at that point. (Yes, Tyler was previously the youngest President.)

-Previously had served as a US Representative and US Senator from Tennessee, and also as Speaker of the House.

-He was seen as an outside contender for the Presidency in the 1844 Election. Former President Van Buren, future President James Buchanan, and others were seen as much more likely winners in the Democratic Party. However, Polk was supported by Andrew Jackson, which made a tremendous difference. After a deadlocked convention, Polk was picked as a compromise between the various groups.

-He is most notable for his accomplishments in foreign policy. He led the country successfully through the Mexican-American War, and intimidated Britain with war to establish partial ownership of the Pacific Northwest. The Mexican-American War paved the way for American ownership of land all the way to the Pacific. The treaty that ended the war forced Mexico to cede land in California, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, and Colorado. Many politicians against the war saw it as America Britain ceded land, which would eventually become Oregon Territory. He also tried to purchase Cuba from Spain in 1848 for $100 Million dollars, but Spain refused because it was such a major financial support for their economy.

-He is seen as one of the most successful Presidents in history, because his plans coming into the White House were all fulfilled. He wanted to annex Texas (Tyler did this before Polk became President, just to spite him. He detested Polk.) and he wanted to establish land ownership out west with California and Oregon Country. These were the issues that secured his election victory in 1844 over Henry Clay (that guy just couldn’t win an election). After the election, he established two more important goals: an independent treasury (just like Andrew Jackson, he was against the Bank of the United States. However, Polk actually succeeded in his efforts to remove the bank), and the removal of many tariffs, which he saw as hurtful to America. Both of these goals were also accomplished.

-His time in the White House weighed heavily on him. The stress of the Presidency made him susceptible to disease, and he caught Cholera shortly after leaving office. He died only 103 days after leaving office (the shortest retirement ever).


Polk was so against a national bank and the use of paper money that he literally carried around sacks of gold and silver wherever he went.

Because of Polk’s surprise nomination, Henry Clay and the Whig’s would often exclaim “Who is Polk?”.

Polk was so “physically undistinguished” that he was often ignored when he entered a room. To increase respect for her short, unkempt husband, First Lady Sarah Childress Polk one day decreed that whenever he entered the room a Marine band would play an old Scottish anthem. It soon became traditional to mark every presidential entrance with the song: Hail to the Chief.


No president who performs his duties faithfully and conscientiously can have any leisure

Peace, plenty, and contentment reign throughout our borders, and our beloved country presents a sublime moral spectacle to the world.

There is more selfishness and less principle among members of Congress than I had any conception of, before I became President of the U.S.

Better Know A President IX: William Henry Harrison

23 02 2009

-Served a total of 32 days in office. Easily the shortest tenure of a US President.

-Oldest man elected until Ronald Reagan.

-Last president to have been born before American independence.

-Formerly had served as governor of Indiana Territory, a US Representative, and US Senator from Ohio.

-He was elected as a delegate from the new Northwest Territory, which constisted of present day Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and some of Minnesota. During this time, he wrote a piece of legislation called the Harrison Land Act, which allowed settlers in the area to buy land at a much cheaper rate. This vastly increased the population in the area, leading to Ohio’s eventual statehood in 1803. After Ohio became a state, the remaining area was renamed Indiana Territory, because of it was the Indian’s land.

-Harrison became governor of Indiana Territory at the recommendation of the President John Adams. who chose him because he had lived in the area for many years, and because he was fairly moderate in his political beliefs.

-While serving as governor of Indiana Territory, he led American forces in the Battle of Tippecanoe (So named because of the river near the battle site). Tecumseh, an Shawnee Indian, was trying to form a confederacy of Indian tribes to combat the expansion of Americans headed West.  Indians in the territory had already begun to sell their land to America, which angered Tecumseh. He thought that the land was owned by all the Indians and that they should not sell any land without everyone’s approval. He went around the area to get support to form a group to fight American expansion. Harrison also wanted Indiana Territory to gain popularity among settlers so it could achieve statehood. At the time, the Indian confederacy that Tecumseh was leading was a major threat to the expansion movements, so Harrison took forces from Corydon (then the capital of Indiana Territory) and marched towards the Indian town of Prophetstown (near present day Lafayette, Indiana) to quell the movement. After the success of the battle, Harrison became known as “Old Tippecanoe”. He became even more famus during the War of 1812 with the Battle of Thames.

-Harrison was in retirement when he was asked to run for President. He had been running a large corn operation and built a distillery to make whiskey. Harrison narrowly lost the 1836 election against Van Buren. This was probably because the Whig Party had more than one name of their ticket (4 in total). During the 1840 election, he was called Granny Harrison, the petticoat general, because he resigned from the army before the end of the War of 1812. He also was called “out of touch” because he would rather “sit in his log cabin drinking hard cider” than serve his country. He adopted this image, and began putting up posters and selling bottles of hard liquor in the shape of log cabins. While the popular vote was close, Harrison won the electoral votes in a landslide.

-His slogan during the 1840 election, “Tippecanoe and Tyler too!” is one of the most famous slogans in campaign history.

-He gave his Inauguration address on March 4th, which happened to be a snowy, cold, and wet day in Washington. He did not wear a coat or hat, and gave a two hour long address, the longest in history. He died 32 days later of a cold. Historically, he got the cold the day of his Inauguration, but modern historians believe that he caught a cold, and the stress and pressures of the presidency put his health in jeopardy. Even while he was sick, people still demanded his presence. The medications he received from his doctors didn’t help either. He was given castor oil, opiates, and snakeweed (which is poisinous).

-His death put the modern succession of the Presidency in effect. Harrison was the first President to die in office.


While President, a farmer went to visit Harrison on a rainy day. The servant let him in the house, but left him in the entryway. When he found out, Harrison said to the servant, “Why did you not show the man into the drawing room, where it is warm and comfortable? […] The man is one of the people, and the carpet and the house, too, belong to the people.”

During the 1840 Presidential election, there was a chant that the Whig Party would sing:

Old Tip he wore a home-spun coat, he had no ruffled shirt-wirt-wirt,
But Matt he has the golden plate, and he’s a little squirt-wirt-wirt!

At wirt-wirt, the singers would spit tobacco juice out of their mouths.


“But I contend that the strongest of all governments is that which is most free.”

“There is nothing more corrupting, nothing more destructive of the noblest and finest feelings of our nature, than the exercise of unlimited power.”

“The broad foundation upon which our Constitution rests being the people—a breath of theirs having made, as a breath can unmake, change, or modify it—it can be assigned to none of the great divisions of government but to that of democracy.”

“A decent and manly examination of the acts of government should be not only tolerated, but encouraged.”

Better Know A President VIII: Martin Van Buren

18 02 2009


-Served from 1837-1841

-Elected from New York. (The first man to have done so, but not the last. New York leads the nation in Presidents)

*To clarify, New York leads the nation in Presidents to be elected from that state, and is tied with Ohio in that regard. Virginia (which claims to be the birthplace of Presidents) is home to 8 Presidents, but only 5 Presidents were ever elected from Virginia. This is a subtle difference, but I think that having a President being elected from a particular state is more important than them being born there. If this were true, Lincoln would be more closely identified with Kentucky (where he was born) than Illinois (where he actually started his political career)

-First President to serve that was not of English descent. He was Dutch. Dutch was also his primary language, not English.

-First President to be born an American citizen, not a British subject.

-One of only two people to have served as Sec. of State, Vice-President, and President. (The other being Thomas Jefferson) He also served at a US Senator from New York and it’s Governor for a little more than a month.

-The main event in Van Buren’s presidency was the Panic of 1837. Although he was blamed for it at the time, the large amount of the burden goes to Jackson and his financial policy. He thought that the government should let the market fix itself (a la Adam Smith). Rapid inflation, caused by the production of paper money without gold and silver backing up that money, is seen as one of the main causes. The panic ended around 1843, well after Van Buren’s Presidency.

-Van Buren was a pacifist. He tried to deal with opponents as diplomatically as possible. He wanted to deal with Mexico diplomatically instead of causing a war, after the Texas Revolution He was refused Texas annexation because of this. He also remained neutral in his refusal to help Joseph Smith and the Mormons, after persecution in Missouri, and his refusal to help the slave ship Amistad. He wasn’t a pacifist when he forced the march of over 13,000 Cherokee Indians to Oklahoma Territory, also known as the Trail of Tears. He ordered them to be round up, placed in camps, and then forced march them to Oklahoma.

-He failed to get reelected in 1840. The blame for the financial crisis largely went to the Democrats, you did poorly in the years before 1840 in Senator and Representative elections. After failing to get reelected in 1840, he tried to run again in 1844 and 1848, failing both times. In ’40, he wasn’t even nominated, and in ’48 he was nominated for the Free Soil Party. The Free Soil Party is one of the more important 3rd parties in American history. They, along with the Whigs, gave rise to the modern Republican party. Although their numbers were small, they had a strong representation in Congress. 2 Senators and 14 Representatives from the party were in Congress at one time.

-An episode of Seinfeld featured a gang calling themselves the Van Buren Boys with the secret sign of the number 8 because Van Buren was the 8th president. They apparently picked that name because Van Buren was the man they most admired. The gang is apparently “every bit as mean as he was”. (Shamelessly stolen from Wikipedia)

-In an episode of Pete and Pete, Little Pete gets a piece of cereal up his nose that distincly resembles Martin Van Buren. (Also stolden from Wikipedia. Sorry…Van Buren is pretty uninteresting…)


The term “Van Buren-ness” that was used during his time came from his evasinve attitude in politics. He was also called Martin Van Ruin by the Whigs during the 1840 Election.

A small fire once broke out in the kitchen while he was in the White House. Van Buren personally went to put it out during a dinner meeting. When he came back, Henry Clay, who was decidedly against Van Buren and had been for many years, said to him, “I am doing all I can to get you out of this house; but believe me, I do not want to burn you out.”

He often took the press too personally. Once, after a particularly bad article against him he said, “Why the deuce is it that they have such an intching for abusing me? I try to be harmless, an positively good natured, and a most decided friend of peace.”


“It is easier to do a job right than to explain why you didn’t.”

“No evil can result from its (slavery’s) inhibition more pernicious than its toleration”

“As to the presidency, the two happiest days of my life were those of my entrance upon the office and my surrender of it.”