Newsletter

August-September, 2016


1. I took August and most of September off from research and writing, and tried to reconsider the whole Cleveland project. My conclusion is that, in addition to extending the time frame, I have to rework the entire book to bring issues of slavery more to the foreground. It's impossible to write about a life in the Civil War period and avoid the question. I have no direct evidence at all, so I need to supply a lot of context and see what I can infer. By doing this, I add wordage and substance to the book. X is not going to pressure me at all: their instructions are to take as much time as I need to do it right. My guess is that it may mean a year or more. I'll work on a two-pronged approach: a. revise the earlier chapters to include more about slavery as a moral and political issue before the Civil War; and b. begin researching the war years, starting with 1862.

2. Monroe will probably have to fade into the background completely for the moment. I plan to keep accumulating data on Wilson, to have a project to turn to when Stubborn Independence runs into a temporary roadblock of some kind. (I hope that won't happen, but it usually does.}

July, 2016


1. I have a publisher for Stubborn Independence! It's a major university press, but since I haven't signed a contract I'll just call them X. X likes the idea and what they've seen of the text, but they want more -- 20,000 words more. I could go back and enlarge the chapters with new material on the bachelor subculture, on the psychology behind Cleveland's rebellious personality, and descriptions of Buffalo and Syracuse. A contact in the Syracuse area tells me that new data has come to light on Fayetteville, where Cleveland grew up. But the easiest way to add words is simply to lengthen the time frame, ending in 1865 rather than 1861. During most of that time Cleveland was acting D.A. of Erie County, a lot of responsibility for a twentysomething. What kinds of cases did he handle? What did he have to do? How did the Civil War affect his work? Who were the defendants, judges, and court personnel he worked with? It sounds like a lot of research, another year at least. I guess had better get busy while X and I work out the exact terms.

2. Meantime, I continue learning more and more about the background of Wilson's years in Columbia. I learned thus month that the South Carolina State House was not finished until 1907, During Wilson's three-year stay it was a majestic ruin, with a makeshift roof. Likewise, the bridge across the Congaree River had not been rebuilt, I believe. Belton Townsend's essays about Reconstruction are interesting, too, as he graduated from South Carolina College during the Wilsons' stay.


June, 2016


This month I revised Chapter 14 to include the new information I learned in May. It is now a 20-page chapter, longer than I expected. It ends during the winter of 1860-1861, the tense period just before Fort Sumter and the outbreak of war -- but the war is hardly mentioned, because I can't find any evidence that Cleveland was very concerned with it. I'll address that problem more directly in my final chapter, 15, on which I've written five pages. As always, it's exciting to be this close to the end of a book. I still don't have a publisher.

May, 2016


1. My research trip to Buffalo and Ithaca was quite successful. (Not Ithaca, actually: although I like to be on the Cornell campus, the collection turned out to be disappointing.) I learned a lot about Cleveland's debut in practical politics at age 23. Also learned of his early membership in a rather prestigious Buffalo men's organization. I'll have to revise what I've written substantially.

2. Revisiting the Wilson home recently, I noticed a reference to a soda shop in downtown Columbia he patronized in his teens. It was new to me, and I want to track down the source. At the same time, I thought of a walking tour of downtown Columbia sites connected with his residence here -- all three years, not just the Hampton Street house. A possible list of sites would be 1. the family home on Hampton Street; 2. the Howe home; 3. the Theological Seminary; 4. the Seminary chapel where Wilson was saved; 5. the railroad depot on Gregg St. from which he left for Davidson; 6. First Presbyterian Church on Marion Street; 7. the soda shop; 8. the new city hall with its stage or "opera house"; 9. the Columbia Male Academy where he played baseball and may have attended a semester; 10. the rock in the Congaree river where he and his friends liked to swim; 11. the residence of his best friend Douglas McKay; 12. the new State House, under construction during his residence; and 13. the old Hampton/​Preston house, now owned by Reconstruction governor Franklin Moses, a white politician from Sumter who was working with the biracial government to the horror of proper white Columbians. Pursuing this idea would help with my biography and also create a useful community service.

April, 2016


I only have Cleveland to report on this month. I finished Chapter 14 and am at 52,000 words. The final chapter, in which Cleveland's story dissolves (to use a cinematic analogy) into the Civil War years, requires a little more research -- not on Cleveland himself, but on Buffalo on the eve of the war. So I am planning what may be my last research trip to upstate New York, to Buffalo and Ithaca. In this month's research into the actual process of voting and campaigning in the pre-Civil War years, I discovered two useful and wonderful books: Altschuler and Blumin's Rude Republic, and Bensel's American Ballot Box in the Mid-Nineteenth Century. Anyone who reads these two will never idealize early American politics again. The ignorance, chicanery, and meanness they narrate are at times laughable, at times depressing. And Cleveland was in the middle of it all.

March, 2016


1. Grover Cleveland. I've written ten more pages on Chapter 14. The current word count is 49,000, just a little shorter than I would like, but I'll wait until I have a publishing house and see what it wants. Sent off my first book proposal. This month I've been in touch with a very well-informed Grover Cleveland enthusiast and have enjoyed swapping data and ideas. He also plans a book on Cleveland, but fortunately for me he's interested in the mature years, while I'm only interested up to age 24. We still have a lot to share.

2. James Monroe. I've done nothing on Monroe this month.

3. Woodrow Wilson. I finished my report on Woodrow Wilson's Columbia years, which will be a useful starting point if I go deeper into his early life. Being a minister's son who changed colleges after his freshman year, Wilson lived in a number of different places before he entered Princeton. I count six residences in four different localities, as follows: a. Augusta, GA, corner of Ellis and Seventh Streets, until late 1870; b. Columbia, SC, corner of Blanding and Pickens Streets, with the family of George W. Howe, until late 1871; c. Columbia, SC, corner of Plain and Henderson Streets, until September, 1873; d. Davidson College, Davidson, NC, until June, 1874; e. Wilmington, NC, corner of Front and Nun Streets, until June, 1875; and f. Wilmington, NC, corner of Fourth and Orange Streets, until September, 1875. A logical next step for me would be to put together some background on Wilmington.

February, 2016


At 76, I probably have time for just one more book. But just in case, I am working on three presidents right now: Grover Cleveland, James Monroe, and Woodrow Wilson.


1. Grover Cleveland. I'm working on Chapter 14 of a full-sized book. Most of it was written in the years from 2004 to 2010; then I abandoned it for a few years to publish the Harrison and Ford books. This book is not far from finished: I'm hoping by the end of this year. I don't yet have a publisher. At the moment, I've stopped to do some more research on an important part of Cleveland's young life: fishing in the Niagara River.

2. James Monroe. I have two 10-page finished chapters on Monroe's experiences in the Revolutionary War, and a third chapter half written. They all take place in the year 1777, a historic year that began with the Battle of Trenton and ended with Valley Forge. Monroe was personally involved in both. There's an enormous amount of background material to examine, so progress is slow. I'm not sure what to do with these chapters -- use them as the nucleus of a book, or publish them separately. They are on the back burner right now.

3. Woodrow Wilson. I've just become engaged in a project to examine the 3 1/​2 years Wilson spent in Columbia, South Carolina, during Reconstruction -- who his friends were, and how much he was concerned with the social and political upheavals around him. I'm still discovering and locating the source material. The first product will be a research report some time this spring. Probably next I will want to add background and narrative structure to turn it into an article. That would happen later this year.

In coming months, I'll try to keep you informed regularly how each of these endeavors is going.

Selected Works

books
Gerald R. Ford and His World, 1913-1935
Books
William Henry Harrison and his world, 1773-1798
Calvin Coolidge and his world, 1885-1895
James A. Garfield and his world, 1844-1852
Andrew Jackson and his world, 1767-1788
popular short biographies