"The time has come... every breeze says change."
-- Daniel Webster
Whatever opinion Sen. John Kerry has of the American military mind or mission, military life comes with plenty of perks. Or so I learned during the 17 years our family alternated between Washington, D.C., New York City, Frankfurt and Berlin, Germany, and an Army post near Columbia County. Our children didn't need to study geography; they lived it.
In fact, it may have been this advanced education that gave one of our sons his superiority complex. Not long after we returned to the States from our second German tour he came home from school visibly upset.
"Mum," he said, "the kids in my class think Bonn is in France. And if they'd said Paris was in Germany, I was going to walk out of class!"
As I explained to my budding genius, Germany is not much bigger than Georgia, and the other European countries are no farther from where we lived than neighboring states are here at home. That meant we could travel to those countries and learn their geography firsthand.
I ponder the results of the recent election, I'm thinking of those learning experiences, one in particular. Three times in three different countries we witnessed an event the ceremonial Europeans call "The Changing of the Guard."
In Copenhagen, Denmark, and again at London's Buckingham Palace, guards in splendid uniforms topped with tall, bearskin hats have a duty to perform beyond the obvious tourist attraction their precision-staged appearances provide. At that time, each guard had a queen to protect during his nearly motionless, two-hour shift outside her palace doors.
The scene is different in (then) East Berlin, where ceremonial, goose-stepping guards change shifts at Die Neue Wache, a monument to the German soldiers who died in World War I. Although this ceremony was more somber than either of the other two, our young sons were more impressed with the German scene. They practiced their "goose-steps" for days.
Mixed emotions, some cheering, some hoping for the best, have followed our current "changing of the guard." But political "guards" have changed many times since our nation's elections began in 1789. Here are a couple of them:
-- With shades of similarity to the 2000 election, no presidential candidate received a clear majority in 1824. Four candidates, including former Columbia County resident William Crawford, shared a total of 261 electoral votes, with first-place candidate Andrew Jackson falling just 32 votes short of the necessary 131 to win. The election was then thrown into the House of Representatives, where second-place finisher John Quincy Adams was declared the winner, after what was considered "a corrupt bargain" between Adams and fourth-place candidate Henry Clay. (Crawford was third.)
In exchange for becoming vice president, Clay offered his 37 votes to Adams. The bargain-makers were successful in the election, but they faced a turbulent four years. Congress rejected most of Adams' programs, and an angry Andrew Jackson made certain Adams served only one term.
-- You might say Jackson waged a four-year campaign for the presidency in 1828, and when the votes between President Adams and himself were counted, there was no doubt who the next president would be. Following charges of corruption and what was called a new high in vindictive, personal abuse, Adams polled only 83 electoral votes to Jackson's overwhelming 178.
But what a "guard change" it was. In contrast to the brilliant, aristocratic Adams, Jackson was a self-educated, earthy man who lacked the upper-class background of all previous presidents. The outgoing "guard" must have cringed on Inauguration Day, when thousands of the new president's equally unpolished fans streamed into the Capitol for the festivities. As one witness reported, "The crowd fell on the refreshments, breaking china, and smashing furniture," before quick-thinking servants moved punch, food and "King Mob" onto the White House lawn.
Whatever his style, chaotic beginning or a two-term presidency described as "the end of reasonable, ordered government and the beginning of mob rule," Andrew Jackson is considered one of the strongest presidents in U.S. history, and one of the most beloved.
So much for preconceptions - in 1828 or 2006.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to seabara at aol.com.)
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