Friday, December 30, 2011

Germany's first female doctor ...

Dorothea Erxleben became Germany’s first licensed female doctor in the mid-1700s, but it wasn’t without a long struggle against societal norms. As a teen, she displayed an aptitude for intellectual pursuits, although there were few opportunities outside of the house and home for women. Her father, a doctor in the German city of Quedlinburg, encouraged and supported her academic study, however. She studied medicine under his watchful eye, and was admitted, even as a woman in that day, to the University of Halle, which she attended for a time with her brother. But when her brother was drafted into the military, societal norms prevented her -- a young, single woman -- from continuing her education at the university. She returned to her home town and later married a widower with several children, and subsequently the couple had several children of their own. Her husband became ill, and to support him and the children, she began treating patients. Her activities brought charges of "quackery" from three local physicians (including Henricus Grasshoff, one of my direct ancestors!) after one of her patients died.

Londa Schiebinder, in her book The Mind Has No Sex?: Women in the Origins of Modern Science, writes that “Erxleben considered her enemies accusations ‘gross insults to truth’ and concluded her letter by offering to take a qualifying exam – but only on the condition that her accusers also take the exam. The doctors, of course, refused to take such an exam, and claimed that ‘the dear lady considers herself a doctor, only by virtue of the fact that she can toss around some broken Latin and French. Such is her feminine understanding.’”

After Erxleben passed her exam in 1754, the university rector announced that she "proved herself a man." She practiced medicine without further trouble until her death in 1762.

Friday, December 23, 2011

George Washington's Christmas Day decision ...

In December 1776, George Washington’s Continental Army was in bad shape, but that changed a bit for the better on Christmas Day, thanks in large measure to a quick decision he made in the face of an extreme challenge on that very day.

As 1776 neared its end, Washington and his men had been driven out of New York and westward across much of New Jersey by British forces. The American fighting force faced mounting problems as soldiers’ enlistment periods expired, food and supplies were in short supply, and desertions increased. But these desperate times gave birth to one of the key American victories in the war – the crossing of the Delaware and subsequent defeat of British-hired Hessian mercenaries at the Battle of Trenton on December 25, 1776.

As the river-crossing plan was put into play, almost everything went wrong. Preparations for the crossing, to be carried out by American forces at three points along the Delaware, ran hours behind schedule. The weather turned worse, with an strong wind accompanied by sleet and snow. Floating chunks of ice and ice jams threatened the boats, and several inches of water in most of them made the soldiers they carried even colder and wetter. Some men fell overboard, into the icy water.

Under those conditions, only one of the three American crossings – the one that happened to carry Washington – was successful. In despair, Washington came close to calling off the entire operation, and probably would have done so had going back been even more dangerous for his men than pushing on. In his 2006 book Washington's Crossing, historian David Hackett Fischer described the scene:

“On the Jersey shore Washington wrapped himself in his cloak, sat on a wooden box that had once been a beehive, and brooded over the demise of his plan. The operation was now three hours behind schedule. Later he wrote that the delay ‘made me despair of surprising the Town, as I well knew we could not reach it before the day was fairly broke.’ … But desperate as the mission had become, he decided that it might become more difficult to abandon it. Washington wrote, ‘As I was certain there was no making a Retreat without being discovered, and harassed upon repassing the River, I determined to push on at all Events.’”

So in a single moment, one man's simple, on-the-spot decision -- to go or not to go --gave American patriots a badly needed victory, one without which the American Revolution might have fizzled.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

When European-Americans Didn't Celebrate Christmas ...

Were America’s early English settlements home to widespread mirth and joy during the Christmas season? Did many of America’s English settlers – especially the most pious groups, such as the Puritans -- have a strong affinity to Christmas celebrations and what they represent?  The answer, perhaps surprisingly, is no. In fact, some of those first people to successfully settle in the New England had a strong aversion to Christmas celebrations, notes historian Stephen Nissenbaum in his book The Battle for Christmas.

“In New England, for the first two centuries of white settlement most people did not celebrate Christmas,” writes Nissenbaum. “In fact, the holiday was systematically suppressed by Puritans during the colonial period and largely ignored by their descendants.  … It was actually illegal to celebrate Christmas in Massachusetts between 1659 and 1681 (the fine was five shillings) … Puritans were fond of saying that if God had intended for the anniversary of the Nativity to be observed, He would surely have  given some indication as to when that anniversary occurred.” Indeed, many scholars report that there is no biblical reference to December 25 as the date of Jesus Christ’s birth.
Nissenbaum also notes, among other interesting details, that Puritans had other reasons for opposing Christmas celebrations, too, based largely on what they had witnessed of those events – “… rowdy public displays of excessive eating and drinking, the mockery of established authority, aggressive begging (often involving the threat of doing harm), and even the invasion of wealthy homes.”

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Franklin Roosevelt and Al Capone's car ...

On December 8, 1941 – one day after the Japanese surprise attack on American forces at Pearl Harbor -- U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt was set to make one of the most important speeches of his political career.  He was to address Congress (and millions of Americans via radio broadcasts) from the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol, noting the “Day of Infamy” and seeking a declaration of war against Japan.

But before he could do that, there was a problem to overcome. Government regulations had prohibited spending more than $750 for a car, even for the president. So on previous trips around Washington, Roosevelt had used a typical, non-bullet proof car. But on this day, when suspicions ran unusually high so soon after the Pearl Harbor attack, the possibility that Japan might have agents in place to try to kill the president couldn’t be easily dismissed. So riding in a standard, off-the-rack-type of car from the White House to the Capitol seemed to be a tremendous risk for the American leader.

Steven M. Gillen’s 2011 book Pearl Harbor: FDR Leads the Nation Into War offers the resolution to the problem. According the Gillen, it went down like this:
   “'Mr. President, I’ve taken the liberty of getting a new car,’” White House Secret Service head Mike Reilly said to Roosevelt after he stepped out of the White House for the trip to the Capitol. “‘It’s armored, I’m afraid it’s a little uncomfortable, and I know it has a dubious reputation.’
   ‘Dubious reputation?’ FDR asked inquisitively.
   ‘Yes sir. It belonged to Al Capone. The Treasury Department had a little trouble with Al, you know, and they got it from him in the subsequent legal complications. I got it from treasury.’
   Roosevelt seemed amused. ‘I hope Al doesn’t mind,’ he said.”

Al Capone was a notorious gangster who was convicted in 1931. Roosevelt continued using Capone’s car for trips into 1942, when it was replaced by a specially designed armored car that the federal government leased from Ford Motor Co. for $500 annually.
The Capone car has been in private hands for many decades, according to a history of the car provided by RM Auction in 2006. Wonder where it is now ...

(The History Insider note: More recent information suggests that this story is false, despite what would seem to be evidence from a solid source here.)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Jefferson, Adams, and Shakespeare's chair ...

(Welcome, and please consider showing your support for The History Insider by clicking on the ads displayed on the right. Thanks!)

Not long after America won its independence from England, Thomas Jefferson was appointed the U.S. ambassador to France and John Adams was appointed the U.S. ambassador to England. In 1796, Jefferson traveled to England to work with Adams in negotiating commercial treaties with some other countries. As those efforts dragged on, the two Americans decided to take time to tour the English countryside together. Their travels included a visit to Shakespeare’s home at Stratford-on-Avon, as noted in David McCullough’s 2001 book John Adams.

“Told that an old wooden chair in a corner by the chimney was where the bard himself had sat, the two American tourists cut off souvenir chips … ,” McCullough writes. McCullough also reports that Adams himself later wrote, in describing the visit, that the American tourists’ souvenir-taking act was “according to the custom.”  

Despite the continuing damage the chair might have suffered at the hands of like-minded visitors, did it survive? Possibly, if in fact it is the same Shakespeare’s chair sold at auction in London for $223, as noted in the March 25, 1877 edition of The New York Times. Or could it have been another chair, such as this “courting chair”? And what became of the chips that Jefferson and Adams cut? Did they make it back to America?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Janis Joplin writes to her parents ...

The unmistakably voice of blues singer Janis Joplin, so filled with raw emotion, was silenced with her demise from a heroin overdose in 1970. Only 27 at death, the Port Arthur, Texas native – who attended school there with t.v. football commentator and former NFL coach Jimmy Johnson and actor G. W. Bailey – had struggled with substance abuse, particularly alcohol, for years. Her addictions became so threatening in 1966 that her friends in San Francisco, where she lived, successfully encouraged her to return to her hometown in Texas to get a better grip on her life. There, she was able to avoid alcohol and other drugs, entered college, and sometimes went to Austin to perform alone. But soon, the appeal of the life she had led in California became too much, and on one trip to Austin, she continued on to San Francisco, one of many episodes that filled her short life as chronicled in Alice Echols’ book Scars of Sweet Paradise: The Life and Times of Janis Joplin.

Upon arriving in California in mid-1966, Joplin wrote to her parents, in an effort to explain her move to them. Published in the book Letters of the Century: America 1900-1999, edited by Lisa Grunwald and Stephen J. Adler, the letter begins:  “Mother & Dad, With a great deal of trepidation, I bring the news. I’m in San Francisco. Now let me explain – when I got to Austin, I talked to ... who gave me a spiel about my singing w/ a band out here.” And later,“I’m sure you’re both concerned about my self-destructive streak has won out again but I’m really trying. I do plan on coming back to school – unless, I must admit, this turns out to be a good thing.” And in the final paragraph, “I’m awfully sorry to be such a disappointment to you. I understand your fears at my coming here & must admit that I share them, but I really do think there’s an awfully good chance I won’t blow it this time.” ... "And please believe that you can't possibly want for me to be a winner more than I do."

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Scopes "Monkey" Trial ... behind the scenes (Part 3)

The bizarre nature of the Scopes Trial, which was documented so well by Edward J. Larson in his book Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion, seemed to follow some of the main participants after the proceedings.

  • Only five days after the trial, prosecution team member William Jennings Bryan was in Dayton, Tennessee. He died in his sleep as he napped on a Sunday afternoon, about a year before the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled on the appeal of John Scopes’ conviction. Bryan was 65 at death.
  • Defense team member Clarence Darrow retired from full-time practice after the Scopes Trial, but later suffered financial difficulties as a result of the Depression.  Needing money, he came out of retirement in 1932 to defend a group of Anglo-Americans charged with the murder of a Japanese-American in Hawaii’s infamous Massie Trial (see David E. Stanner’s book Honor Killing: How the Infamous "Massie Affair" Transformed Hawai'i), which became national news much in the tradition of the Scopes Trial. Darrow was 80 when he died in 1938.
  • John Scopes, the accused, gave up teaching soon after the trial. He then studied geology at the University of Chicago before taking a job with an oil company in Venezuela. He returned to the U.S. years later, working at a Louisiana refinery. He was 70 when he died in 1970.
  • George Rappleyea, the businessman who engineered the trial as a publicity/economic development stunt, later became vice president of the boat company that designed and built innovative landing craft that put Allied troops on enemy beaches during World War II. Later, in 1948, he served one year in prison for violating federal firearms laws in an attempt to ship weapons and ammunition to British Honduras. In the early 1950s, he reportedly developed and promoted “Plasmofalt,” a construction material composed of molasses, sand, and plastic, which was featured in Popular Mechanics magazine. Rappleyea was 72 when he died in 1966.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Scopes "Monkey" Trial ... behind the scenes (Part 2)

The publicity-stunt origins of the Scopes trial continued into the trial itself. People supporting the prosecution succeeded in enlisting three-time presidential candidate and conservative Christian William Jennings Bryant, noted for his oratory skills, as a volunteer member of the prosecution team. In response, nationally recognized defense attorney Clarence Darrow, known for his opposition to government overreach, volunteered to join the defense team. Bryant and Darrow’s participation helped ensure national interest in the trial, which lasted seven days.

The trial was the first in American to be broadcast on the radio, and was filmed for newsreels, to be shown in movie theaters throughout the country. To accommodate these efforts, microphones replaced the jury box, and a cornfield outside of town was cleared for an airfield to for airplanes to pick up newsreel film daily.
The circus nature of the trial probably reached its zenith when Darrow put Jennings on the stand, in an apparent effort to show that Jennings’ literal belief in some biblical stories was irrational. The judge later ordered Jennings’ testimony to be stricken from the record, which in effect then prevented Jennings from putting Darrow on the stand.

Curiously, Darrow wanted a conviction so that the issue could be appealed to a higher court for a test of the entire law in question, rather than just a decision on Scopes’ guilt or innocence.  At the end of the trial, Darrow even asked the jury to convict Scopes for that very reason. Scopes, too, wanted a conviction:  “Scopes had urged … students to testify against him, and coached them in their answers,” wrote Edward J. Larson in his book Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion. Indeed, Scopes never testified in the trial, probably because it was less than certain, or at least subject to interpretation, whether he had actually taught evolution in the classroom.
After the trial, the jury couldn’t use the jury room for deliberations because it was filled with newsmen working on their stories. But no matter, because jurors, meeting only about 20 seconds in a hallway, followed Darrow’s request and agreed to a conviction.

Upon appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court, the conviction was overturned, but only because the judge had imposed Scopes’ $100 fine instead of the jury – and without review of the statute as desired by Darrow, Scopes, and others who disagreed with it.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Scopes "Monkey" Trial ... behind the scenes (Part 1)

A 1925 trial officially known as the State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes, but more commonly called the Scopes “Monkey” Trial, is widely recognized for its influence on issues related to teaching human evolution in the nation’s schools. But the Scopes trial's origins are more closely linked to a publicity campaign for a small town with a dying economy, and John Scopes – the teacher on trial – never directly taught evolution, as noted in Edward J. Larson’s 1997 book Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion.

As told in the book, George Rappleyea, manager of a coal mine near Dayton, Tennessee, approached Frank Robinson, chair of the local school board, after learning that the American Civil Liberties Union would defend teachers who taught human evolution in violation of a new Tennessee law prohibiting it – a law that the ACLU deemed unconstitutional.  Rappleyea was sympathetic to the ACLU’s position. To support his beliefs, he convinced the school official, who also owned the local drug store, that a trial on this issue would bring national attention – and thereby new economic possibilities – to Dayton. They needed a willing, cooperative teacher to be brought up on charges of violating the law, however, and thought of 24-year-old John Scopes.

Scopes, who taught general science (not biology), coached football, and was unmarried teacher who had nothing to lose compared to the regular biology teacher, a family man and school administrator. Scopes was summoned to the drugstore, later writing this (as relayed in Larson’s book) about the meeting: “Robinson offered me a chair and the boy who worked as a soda jerk brought me a fountain drink. ‘John, we’ve been arguing,’ said Rappleyea, ‘and I said that nobody could teach biology without teaching evolution.’ ‘That’s right,’ I said, not sure what he was leading up to.” Then, a copy of the state-approved biology text was brought out. “‘You have been teaching ‘em this book?’ Rappleyea said. ‘Yes,’ I said. I explained that I had got the book out of storage and had used it for review purposes while filling in for the principal during his illness. He was the regular biology teacher,” Scopes recalled. “’Then you’ve been violating the law,’ Robinson said.” Robinson then told Scopes about the ACLU offer, and Scopes recalled what came next. “’John, would you be willing to stand for a test case?’ Robinson said. ‘Would you be willing to let your name be used?’ I realized that the best time to scotch the snake is when it starts to wiggle. The snake had already been wiggling a good long time.”

After a bit of discussion, Scopes agreed to the proposition. But he was never arrested, and in fact went back to a tennis game after the meeting in the drug store.  Rappleyea and Robinson quickly contacted the ACLU and newspapers in Nashville and Chattanooga with the news. (Stay in touch for Part 2 of this fascinating story!)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Andy Rooney ... on World War II

The late Andy Rooney, the well-known journalist who was a nationally syndicated columnist and popular t.v. commentator, offered an excellent account of his experiences and observations as a young World War II correspondent in his book My War. For example:
  • Observing the French countryside in the Normandy region shortly after the Allied landing in June 1944 -- "Our bombers must have destroyed the towns [Montebourg and Valognes] in an effort to cut the German supply lines to Cherbourg and it was the first time it had occurred to me that the French people of Normandy must have felt some ambivalence about the Invasion. It was true that they were being freed but at the cost of the total destruction of everything they had. And there's no question that many of the people of Normandy were sullen in their attitude toward Americans."
  • Noting that correspondents were given guns to protect themselves from German snipers thought to be left behind as Allied forces moved into Germany:  "This made those correspondents liable to execution as spies if they'd been captured, and after a few days in Germany, during which time there was not a single incident of sniper fire from village windows, reporters turned in their guns. That's what was strange. There was no danger at all to an American in a German town once our troops had gone through it."

Monday, October 31, 2011

Ben Franklin on immigrants ...

Despite its reputation as a melting pot of the world’s people and cultures, America often feels threatened, in the past and today, when large groups of immigrants, speaking languages other than English and not appearing to assimilate quickly enough into American life, arrive on its land. Even in the mid-1700s, Benjamin Franklin was concerned when a new group of immigrants – the Germans – began populating Pennsylvania. H.W. Brands, author of The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin, quotes this most famous and legendary founding father:  “Few of their children in the country learn English; they import many books from Germany. ... The signs in our streets have inscriptions in both languages, and in some places only German. They begin of late to make all their bonds and other legal writings in their own language, which (though I think it ought not to be) are allowed good in our courts, where the German business so increases that there is continual need of interpreters; and I suppose in a few years they will also be necessary in the Assembly, to tell one half of our legislators what the other half say.”

Monday, October 24, 2011

Stalin's fear of wristwatches ...

As World War II ended, each of the major victorious powers -- the United States, the Soviet Union, and Britain -- pushed hard for its share of the spoils of war and to determine its place in a new world order. Many decisions were made at the Potsdam Conference in Germany in the summer of 1945. Participants were U.S. President Harry S. Truman, who had recently entered the presidency following the death of Franklin Roosevelt in May; Soviet Union Communist Party General Secretary Joseph Stalin; British wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill; and then Churchill's successor, new Prime Minister Clement Attlee, who stepped into the role after Churchill's party lost its leadership role following British elections.

Generally, the U.S. and Britain feared Soviet expansionism and worked to control Stalin's efforts to install communism where it hadn't existed prior to the war. But Stalin feared something else, as noted in Charles L. Mee Jr.'s book Meeting at Potsdam (Pax Americana Series), originally published in 1975. "(Stalin) perceived a new and vital danger:  millions of Russian soldiers had seen foreign lands, foreign wealth, foreign freedom. Thousands and thousands had traded everything they had with British and American soldieres for -- wristwatches. Wristwatches, gold plated, silver plated, with seventeen-jewel movements: what unimaginable wealth they represented, and every single British and American soldier seemed to have one, and treat it casually, as though it were a mere convenience." As a result, Stalin "did indeed fear that the Russian people would be infected by contact with the West, its wristwatches and its ideas."

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Perceptions rule ...

Perceptions have always played a large role in human events. A great example comes from the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the perception of a worldwide oil shortage led to a panic that was soon replaced by the perception of an oil glut, despite only a small difference in an important measure of the real supply of oil.

In short, the Iranian Revolution of 1979 severely reduced oil exports from that country, leaving the world with an 88-day supply of oil. World oil markets responded with great alarm and oil prices shot up from about $18 a barrel to about $34 a barrel. But in 1983, oil prices fell when the world's 93-day supply was perceived as a glut on the market.

"A margin of just five days made the psychological difference between panic and composure in the West," wrote David Lamb of this situation in his 1987 (updated in 2011) book The Arabs.

Monday, October 17, 2011

When slavery wasn't the issue, so they said ...

Slavery, which was at the core of the North-South split leading to the Civil War, was strangely dismissd as a cause of the war by both sides as hostilities began in 1861. Historian James McPherson wrote in his comprehensive 1988 Civil War history, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, that Abraham Lincoln himself, speaking to Congress in a special session that year, said that he had "no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with slavery in the states where it exists."

Both the North and the South had their reasons for avoiding the issue. McPherson wrote further:  "A concern for northern unity underlay this decision to keep a low profile on the slavery issue. Lincoln had won less than half of the popular vote in the Union states (including the border states) in 1860. Some of those who had voted for him, as well as all who had voted for his opponents, would have refused to countenance an antislavery war in 1861. By the same token, an explicit avowal that the defense of slavery was a primary Confederate war aim might have proven more divisive than unifying in the South. Both sides, therefore, shoved slavery under the rug and they concentrrated their energies on mobilizing eager citizen soldiers and devising strategies to use them."

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Jefferson wrote because others needed elsewhere ...

In his book American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson, historian Joseph J. Ellis takes us to Phildelphia in summer 1776, when "the writing of the Declaration of Independence did not seem nearly so important as other priorities," such as each state's own constitution. But after Virginia's Richard Henry Lee introduced to Congress a resolution establishing the American colonies to be "free and independent states," a five-member committee -- including John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson -- was appointed to draft a document that could implement the Lee proposal. Jefferson's writing skills were recognized, but that reputation was not prime in determining which of them would draft the document. "Jefferson was asked to draft the Declaration of Independence ... in great part because the other eligible authors had more important things to do," writes Ellis.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Washington's last fear ...

Doctors, family members, and slaves witnessed George Washington's final hours and death at 67 in December 1799. Sickened with an infection in his throat, causing a part of it to swell so much that breathing became impossible, Washington's final deathbed words were "Tis well" as he took his own pulse before taking his last breath.

But before that final observation, he spoke more stridently to an assistant:  "I am just going. Have me decently buried, and do not let my body be put into the vault in less than two days after I am dead ... Do you understand me?"  That directive, relayed to us today by historian Joseph J. Ellis in his 2004 book, His Excellency: George Washington, exposes a particular fear of the first president.

"Washington believed that several apparently dead people, perhaps including Jesus, had really been buried alive, a fate he wished to avoid," writes Ellis.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Nixon's New Jersey escapade ...

Richard Nixon "had a nose for political manipulation," whether he was doling it out or the victim of it, said his longtime associate Leonard Garment in an interview on CSPAN's Booknotes television show. Garment, author of Crazy Rhythm: From Brooklyn And Jazz To Nixon's White House, Watergate, And Beyond, told of the night that he and Nixon were to spend as guests of a mover-and-shaker in New Jersey in 1965. Nixon had a speaking engagement the next day, and the plan was for the two men to spend the night at a housing development. But "(Nixon) ... realized that the next day, he was going to walk out of this house ... and on the porch would be photographers from the (housing facility) and that he was going to become a prop in a merchandising promotion," Garment said. So the two men drove some 40 miles back to their host's house, arriving to find the gates locked and no other way through the surrounding wall. "Come on, Garment. Over the wall we go," Nixon cajoled. The two men climbed up and over, spending the night in a guest house by a swimming pool.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Ancient Rome ... another side

Ancient Rome a tolerant place? Pretty much, when it comes to religion, writes Pacific Lutheran University Assistant Professor of Classics Eric Nelson in The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Roman Empire. In fact, there's a strong argument that acceptance of other cultures and religions helped subdue and incorporate into the Empire conquered people throughout the Mediterranean for long periods, in turn helping guarantee Rome's success and longevity. But even as the Romans had no problem with tolerating the gods and religious practices of most of the people they conquered, they did take issue with those of some groups -- such as Christians -- that didn't recognize the authority of the Roman government. They were considered a threat, a view that led to their persecution.

"Christians' personal religious practices contradicted state practice in a manner that could not be solved without one party giving way," writes Nelson. "Neither was very good at that."

Friday, September 2, 2011

The 3 a.m. president ...

In Confessions of a White House Ghostwriter: Five Presidents and Other Political Adventures, former presidential speechwriter (for Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, and Reagan) James C. Humes offers a tremendous insight into the decision-making processs:  "Sometimes -- even if the general details of a legislation message have been hammered out -- unagreed matters remain because of fights between competing departments. As the various drafts of the proposed message are relayed to various cabinet heads for approval, one cabinet secretary knocks out one word or item and his rival puts it back in. A change goes in -- then it's taken out ... The hours pass from late night into the wee hours of the next day, when the president is scheduled to deliver the message. Finally, the department heads go to bed and final decision is left to the (speech)writer -- hence the 3 a.m. president."

"I remember one message on mass transit by President Nixon. The bone of contention was funding," from either the gasoline tax or general revenues. "I had to decide. I chose general revenues. Strangely, my decision drew no backlash. Everyone assumed the president had made the decision."