Tuesday, April 22, 2014

"Other than that, Mrs Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?

Rocky: "I can't see nothin, you gotta open my eye.
 Cut me, Mick."
 Mick: "I don't wanna do it."
 Rocky: "Go ahead, cut me."
Being so busy training for upcoming marathons (they are about to rerun the entire Murphy Brown series on Encore, and there's always the Rocky marathons on TCM) that I neglected to write about this on April 14,  I hope today is not too late to learn about something that was probably on one of those "Rest Of The Story" deals that Paul Harvey used to do.

April 14, 1865 looked like a pretty good day for President Abraham Lincoln.  Although he had no way of knowing that we'd still be arguing about it in 2014, the Civil War had ended with Robert E. Lee surrendering at Appomattox, VA.  All of the soldiers were sent home, with prisoners freed and sent home as well. The nation was set for Reconstruction, and all prospects pleased Lincoln, except that his wife wanted him to go see a play.  "It's only one night," he probably thought as he went about his presidential business, signing this and proposing that.

One of the bills he signed that day, the last day of his life, created the “Secret Service Division of the Department of the Treasury.”   That's what we call the Secret Service today, men and women who accompany the president on his travels, protecting him, and also getting drunk and having intoxicated arguments with prostitutes around the world.  Lincoln could not have predicted this that day. He signed into law the bill that created the agency that today protects the president, we hope, and went off to see "Our American Cousin," devoid of protection.  Because?

Because the reason for the creation of the Secret Service in those pre-FBI days was to stop the flow of counterfeit currency.  They figure that one-third of all American money in circulation in those days was fake.  With diligent effort and hard work, today we're down to just one-quarter of our folding money being bogus. People wishing to make counterfeit nickels might as well go ahead, since it takes so many of them to buy anything anyway.

But rooting out the scourge of fakeout dollars was the prime focus of the Service for decades, until presidents James Garfield (1881) and William McKinley (1901) were assassinated.  Presidential security became their goal after McKinley was shot by a man inevitably referred to as "crazed anarchist Leon Czolgosz." (Garfield - the president, not the cartoon feline - was shot by the man inevitably referred to as "disappointed office-seeker Charles J. Guiteau.") Theodore Roosevelt, McKinley's uneasy successor, was the first president given Secret Service protection, and also the namesake of the Teddy Bear.

All high school history students may feel free to print the above and turn it in as evidence of how hard they studied over spring break.  All the facts are true,  just made more amusing with the addition of whimsy, which is in short supply these days.

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