If you're in Los Angeles and you want to see a completely amazing art and zine fair then stop by this Saturday. I'll be the guy behind a table with all the vice president and octopus prints.
If there were ever a United States vice president who looked haunted, it was John C. Breckinridge. Look at those otherworldly eyes. You might be forgiven for thinking that he was descended from a raccoon. And indeed, Breckinridge had a life that was high in drama that led him on a long and winding road. It's also his birthday today.
Breckinridge is America’s youngest ever vice president, where he was largely ignored by his boss James Buchanan. When Lincoln was elected, Breckinridge returned to being a senator for Kentucky until 1861 when he jumped ship for the Confederacy. The U.S. government was not happy about his decision. The U.S. Senate cast him out by a vote of 36-0 and charged him with treason. Breckinridge was made a Brigadier General for the South, and after distinguishing himself in battles like Shiloh and Chattanooga, he eventually was appointed the Secretary of War. So when General Lee’s army surrendered in 1865, he knew he had to get out of town or face his treason charges.
Breckinridge fled through the malarial, alligator-infested swamps of Florida, hi-jacked a sailing ship (which is a pretty piratey thing to do) and made for Cuba. Along the way, he fought off a pirate attack, survived two tropical storms and came close to starving before eventually making it to shore. From there he traveled to England. In 1868, President Andrew Johnson pardoned Breckinridge and all other Confederates.
You can check out a print of Breckinridge and many others over at the Veeptopus Etsy Store.
Happy Birthday to Richard M. Nixon. He would be 102.
Nixon fought to be vice president, unlike many of his predecessors.
By the time that Dwight D. Eisenhower decided to run for president, Nixon had made a name for himself as being a dogged foe Communism, a friend to California’s monied class and an utterly ruthless campaigner. He seemed exactly the sort of young, vital politician that the Eisenhower campaign needed to balance off the ticket. Then two months after the Republican convention, the New York Post ran an article about an illegal slush fund for Nixon set up by some of his wealthy supporters. The allegation just about derailed his career. Eisenhower even suggested that he resign. That, however, wasn’t Nixon’s style.
On September 23, 1952, Nixon delivered this “Checkers” speech on national television – an absolute masterpiece of shameless political manipulation. After a detailed rundown on his finances, Nixon admitted that he had in fact received a present from his supporters – a beloved, and adorable, dog named Checkers. Many were appalled by the speech. Journalist Walter Lippmann called it "the most demeaning experience my country has ever had to bear.” Yet Nixon’s plea resonated. 160,000 Americans flooded White House switchboard in support of Nixon. Weeks later, the Eisenhower/Nixon ticket was swept into office.
While Nixon proved to be an able, active and informed vice president, his openly partisan style was also highly polarizing. Hoping for a smooth reelection, Eisenhower considered dropping him from the ticket. The president hoped that he could persuade his underling to leave voluntarily and even offered him the position of Secretary of Defense. Nixon, however, knew that such a career move would be seen as a demotion and declined the offer. Finally on April 16, after weeks of uncertainty, Nixon decided to force his boss’s hand. Summoning some serious brass balls, he walked into the Oval Office in front of his staff and announced, "Mr. President, I would be honored to continue as vice president under you." Nixon stayed on the ticket.
Millard Fillmore's birthday was January 7. He served only 17 months as vice president before his boss, Zachary Taylor - a slave-owner from Louisiana and a hero of the Mexican-American war - suddenly expired. He died either from poison, possibly by fellow slave owners concerned that Taylor might sell them out, or he died from a stomachache after ingesting too much iced milk and cherries. Nobody really knows. They exhumed Taylor's body in 1991 to perform tests but the lab results were inconclusive.
Fillmore went on to be one of America's most forgettable presidents. He presided at a time when the debate over the future shape of slavery was particularly ugly. The compromises he oversaw, including the odious Fugitive Slave Act, probably kept the Union together for another decade, allowing the North to develop the wealth and industry to defeat the South, but they came at a steep moral cost that did little to burnish his legacy. When Fillmore died in 1874, his last words were reportedly, “The nourishment is palatable.”
Walter Mondale was easily one of the greatest vice presidents in American history and he got his job because he did his homework. By June 1976, Georgia governor Jimmy Carter had the the presidential nomination locked up. Frank Church, John Glenn and Adlai Stevenson III were all being floated for the number two spot. Yet when Mondale wowed his future boss during an interview because of he actually bothered to sit down and learn all of Carter's positions on every issue. He even read Carter's book, Why Not the Best? Before Carter offered him the job, Mondale made it clear that he didn't want to give up his powerful Senate seat to be just a political figurehead. He wasn't going to do funerals. He wanted to mold policy. Carter agreed. And in the process Mondale reinvented the vice presidency - setting the stage, for better or worse, for strong, politically powerful veeps like Gore, Cheney and Biden.
Of course, Mondale is also remembered for famously underestimating how much Americans want to be lied to by their leaders. During his 1984 presidential campaign, Walter Mondale promised to tell the truth. “Mr. Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I. He won’t tell you. I just did.” He was right. Reagan did go on to raise taxes. Mondale lost the election by a landslide.
Happy Birthday to Andrew Johnson.
His first brush with national office could not have been more inauspicious. Recovering from bad case of typhoid, Johnson downed a glass or three of whiskey just prior to his inauguration. This proved to be a bad idea. Before taking his oath of office, he delivered a speech about his humble origins that quickly turned into a drunken harangue against America's monied class. The rant mortified the audience. One onlooker described Abraham Lincoln's expression as one of "unutterable sorrow." "I was never so mortified in my life," wrote Michigan Senator Zachariah Chandler, "had I been able to find a hole I would have dropped through it out of sight."
Johnson's drunken performance was so embarrassing that radical members of the Republican Party even considered impeaching him. They didn't this time around.
After Lincoln's assassination, Johnson presided during perhaps the most fractious, confused period in American history. Only the ablest and most skilled leader would have lead successfully -- and Johnson was certainly not that. He presided with a baffling stubbornness that frustrated both friend and foe and he ended up alienating just about everyone. So the radical Republicans, who thought he was too lenient with the former Confederate states, impeached him. He was just one vote shy of getting convicted by the Senate.
Though defeated, Johnson's immense stubbornness proved to be an asset later in life. After running and losing in 1870 for Senate in Tennessee, Johnson won in 1874. He was swore in by Ulysses S. Grant's second VP Henry Wilson along side fellow Lincoln veep Hannibal Hamlin, who was became the Senator of Maine.
You can get a print of Andrew Johnson here.
So last week, Veeptopus made it's first foray into the physical, non-net world. Earlier this year, my friend Ana and I were wait listed from the Renegade Fair. The event features vendors who all sorts of cute things that Etsy-shopping, NPR-listening type people like -- hand-woven scarves. Artisan soaps. Children's T-shirts that reference Japanese architects. S'mores with bacon. I was looking for new ways to get Veeptopus out in the market so I was bummed that we didn't get in.
Yet Ana, who runs the great site Cha Cha Covers - if nail art is your thing check it out -- and who is a veteran with the art fair scene, was undaunted. "Let's just show up the day of and see if there are any last minute cancellations." And on the day, after a tense couple hours waiting and haggling, we actually got in. We had a plot of a land at the corner of the fair wedged between a dog park and City Hall.
Lots of people stopped by. Most laughed at the concept. Many bought a print or two. One guy glowered at me as if I insulted him and walked away. He didn't buy anything. Overall, it was a very positive, if exhausting, experience. One that I hope to do again soon.
Veeptopus is going to take a break for Christmas but next year, I'm aiming to expand. Veeptopus T-shirts and a coffee table book will hopefully be a reality in 2015. Merry Happy everyone.
This past Friday, I was slogging through a dreary freelance writing project I was on the hook for (gotta pay the bills) when I got an email from Kate Walton who runs a great site called Workstew. It's filled with essay, articles and podcasts about finding meaning in work. It's an important and interesting subject, and one that I have plenty of opinions. But Walton didn't want to talk to me about my checkered sojourns into the workforce. She wanted to talk about vice presidents and octopuses. So an hour or so later, I'm on the phone with Walton. As she wrote on her site:
"For many of us, the past few weeks have been especially hard and depressing. As a nation, and as individuals, we are grappling with a host of painful issues. And grapple we must; bending that long arc towards justice is arguably the one job we all share. That said, it’s a tough job, making moments of comic relief not only acceptable, in my view, but necessary.
"Yesterday, my moment of comic relief came via the work of artist Jonathan Crow. My response to his Veeptopus series, which I glimpsed by chance in my Facebook feed, was to laugh out loud."
You can listen to the full interview here.
Happy Birthday to Martin Van Buren. Born in Kinderhook, N.Y., Van Buren’s nickname was “Old Kinderhook.” That was shortened to “OK” in rallies for his 1840 reelection campaign. Somehow, that abbreviation evolved into the ubiquitous idiom. You can literally say that Van Buren was OK. He was just an OK president too. He didn't win his re-election campaign.
It's the holiday season. And whether or not you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza or Festivus, you know that it's time of the year where are you socially obliged to start buying things for people. So whether or not your shopping for a loved one, a colleague at work you vaguely resent or your postman who reeked of marijuana, think about the gift of totally strange art. Think Veeptopus.
And to help you get into that holiday frame of mind, we here at Veeptopus international have painstakingly crafted some Christmas themed prints. And they are available only for a limited time.
What says Christmas better than a bevy of murderous badgers? Nothing. Literally. No thing.
St. Nick bedecked with an octopus? Sure. Why not? These are troubling times. Hollywood is making movies about board games these days. Board games. So why not celebrate that fact with this image of a beloved childhood symbol bedecked with a cephalopod? Should we call him Santa Cthulhu now? Or is this how St. Nick gets his jollies? You be the judge.
Three Santas are staring you down. They are very, very disappointed in you. You know what you did. And so do they. You are totally getting some coal in your stocking.
Three prints that will not only spread holiday cheer but are guaranteed to drive your neighbors into a jealous froth.* Get them now because when 2015 rolls around, they will be gone.
* This is not a legally binding guarantee.
Do you have that friend or family member that who is impossible to shop for? That loved one who you pestered for months to give you an idea, any idea, for something to give and all he comes up with is something lame like socks. So you get him socks but you feel sort of like a failure because, really, who gives socks for Christmas?
And then when the following year, your loved one proffers socks again as a gift idea. It’s not like he’s a sock collector or anything like that. He is just maddeningly content with life and not really into the whole self-indulgence thing. So you’re stuck. You’ll be damned if you buy any more freaking socks. Yet if you don’t get socks, then what are you going to get?
May I suggest badgers?
We here at Veeptopus International are excited to announce our new line of prints featuring badgers and the 27th President of the United States, William Taft. We have pictures of William Taft riding a badger. Taft wearing a badger suit. And badgers in top hats plotting murder. In short, something for everyone.
One or two of you out there might be wondering what all this is about. As far as I know, there is no direct connection between the presidency of William Taft and badgers. The closest I could find is that Theodore Roosevelt had a pet badger named Josiah. Roosevelt was also, for a time anyway, a close political ally of Taft. If you can think of a closer connection, let me know. I’m really interested.
Anyway, the genesis of the project came when I got a request to draw a head of state with a woodland creature. So I drew Taft riding a badger. I thought it was funny. Then I though of drawing a picture of a badger riding President Taft. That was funnier. Then from there things sort of got out of control.
Just picture for a moment that holiday morning. Image the face of your loved one when he opens up his present and discovers an image of badgers glowering back at him. Think of the joy, the wonder, and the confusion. I have eleven different badger/ Taft related drawings to choose from at the Veeptopus store and, if that weren’t all, almost four-dozen pictures of cephalopod-bedecked vice presidents. This year, make it a Veeptopus Christmas/Hanukah/Festivus.
You asked and we listened. It's badgers you wanted, so it's badgers you will get. Badgers riding heads of state. Badgers wearing top hats. Badgers plotting murder. Badgers! Badgers! Get your badger pictures here.
Happy Birthday to John Nance Garner AKA "Cactus Jack." He was the Speaker of the House before becoming vice president and the job was something a let down. Garner described the role of the vice president as being "not worth a bucket of warm piss." When FDR decided to run for an unprecedented third term, Garner campaigned against him, hoping to get the job of president himself. He failed, making him the first VP to date to run against a sitting president. Not surprisingly, he was dropped from the ticket.
JFK called him in 1963 to wish him a happy birthday just hours before he was shot. Garner died in 1967, just shy of his 99th birthday, making him the longest lived VP in history. You can get a print of Garner here.
Happy Birthday to John Adams, America's first veep. Adams had a brilliant mind and was quick to let everyone know it. Pompous, arrogant, abrasive, he wasn't what they call now a people person. Adams led a month long debate on the proper title of the President of the United States. One name he pushed was “His Highness the President of the United States of America, and Protector of their Liberties.”
It is Theodore Roosevelt's birthday today. He was only vice president for a short time before ascending to the Oval Office thanks to an anarchist in Buffalo, making him the youngest president to date. He was a man of great ambition and unbelievable energy. He read several books a day, often in foreign languages. He was the governor of New York and a bona fide cowboy. He once wanted a pet so he tamed a badger. Happy Birthday, TR.
But who I really want to talk about is Richard Mentor Johnson, America’s ninth vice president. Today is his 234th birthday. If you ever wanted to get a sense of just how weird the slavery debate was prior to the Civil War, look no further than Johnson.
While out on the frontier during the War of 1812, Johnson first made a name for himself by allegedly shooting Shawnee chief Tecumseh. At the time, Johnson was already a representative for the state of Kentucky to the House of Representatives. Being a bona-fide war hero, however, put him in the political limelight.
By all accounts, Johnson didn’t really care much for convention. He rarely combed his hair. He once described his upbringing as being “born in a cane brake and cradled in a sap trough.” English author Harriet Martineau, who sat opposite him in a White House function, described him thusly: “If he should become President, he will be as a strange-looking a potentate as ever ruled. His countenance is wild, though with much cleverness in it, his hair wanders all abroad, and he wears no cravat. But there is no telling how he might look if he dressed like other people.” The doorkeeper of the U.S. Senate was more blunt, calling him "the most vulgar man of all vulgar men.”
Yet this was the age of Andrew Jackson. Being rough around the edges was considered to be a political asset. Before he became Martin Van Buren’s running mate in 1836, he angled to become Jackson’s. In short, Johnson, for all his eccentricities, seemed to have a bright political future.
Except for one thing. He was in a common-in-law marriage with his mulatto slave Julie Chinn. Johnson had inherited Chinn from his father and soon fell in love with her. Chinn ran Johnson’s plantation as the lady of the house during Johnson’s long absences in Washington. He even had two (reportedly gorgeous) daughters with Chinn -- Imogene and Aledine. Johnson made sure that both of his children were properly educated and that they both ended up marrying white men.
But don’t mistake Johnson for being some forward-thinking love revolutionary. When Chinn died of cholera in 1833, Johnson took up with another slave, Chinn’s niece. The only problem was that she was already married to another slave and refused his affection. So he pulled ultimate asshole power play - he sold her off. Then he took up with her sister.
Johnson’s complicated personal life, not surprisingly, scandalized some in Washington. Amos Kendall, a close personal associate with Andrew Jackson, described Johnson’s companion as "a young Delilah of about the complexion of Shakespeare’s swarthy Othello." She was "said to be his third wife; his second, which he sold for her infidelity, having been the sister of the present lady."
Nonetheless, as a war hero and a Westerner, Johnson was considered to be a good counterbalance to Van Buren’s East coast fussiness. During the election of 1836, he campaigned with Van Buren to the jingle, “Rumpsey Dumpsey, Rumpsey Dumpsey, Colonel Johnson killed Tecumseh.” On election night, Van Buren got enough electoral votes to win. Johnson didn’t. Southern electors clearly didn’t approve of Johnson’s private life. So for the first time in US history, a vice president was appointed by the U.S. Senate.
Just imagine how American history would have been different if Van Buren died in office. The wild man from Kentucky might have be president and, for all intents and purposes, a black slave might have been first lady. Of course, that didn't happen and in 1840 both Van Buren and Johnson were voted out of office.
Years later, Johnson ended up the butt of a joke during the famous Lincoln-Douglas debate of 1858. “I will add to this that I have never seen to my knowledge a man, woman or child who was in favor of producing a perfect equality, social and political, between negroes and white men,” said Abraham Lincoln. “I recollect of but one distinguished instance that I ever heard of so frequently as to be entirely satisfied of its correctness – and that is the case of Judge Douglas’ old friend Col. Richard M. Johnson.”