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April 2017

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Apr. 9th, 2017

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Supreme Court: James Francis Byrnes

On this date in 1972, James Francis Byrnes died. Born on May 2, 1879, he was 92 years 342 days old, making him number three on the list of longest-lived Supreme Court Justices.

Byrnes represented South Carolina in the House of Representatives (1911-25) and the Senate (1931-41), before his friend and long-time political ally Franklin Roosevelt appointed him to the Court in July 1941. Byrnes was the last person appointed to the Supreme Court who did not attend law school, but instead was admitted to practice by reading law. His tenure on the Court was brief: 15 months after taking his seat, Roosevelt asked him to resign, in order to head up the Office of Economic Stabilization (which later became the Office of War Mobilization). In this role, with Roosevelt's acquiescence, Byrnes' authority within the government grew, as he assisted the President far and wide.

Following Roosevelt's death, Byrnes was one of Harry Truman's closest advisers (they had joined forces in the Senate), and in July 1945, Truman appointed Byrnes the 49th Secretary of State. But their relationship grew strained, and Byrnes resigned in January 1947. In 1950, he was elected governor of South Carolina, serving one term.

Byrnes is one of the few people to serve in all three branches of the government, as well as a leadership position in his own state.

Apr. 8th, 2017

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First Lady Betty Ford

On this date in 1918, Elizabeth Anne Bloomer was born in Chicago, Illinois. She was a professional dancer and a fashion coordinator for a department store. In 1942, she married William C. Warren, but they divorced in 1947. In October 1948, she married Gerald Ford, who in 1974 would become the first Vice President to succeed to the Presidency following his predecessor's resignation.

Betty Ford was a very outspoken First Lady, one of the first to take on causes that not only weren't her husband's, but at times seemed to disagree with his positions (including women's rights and abortion rights). She also spoke openly of her battles with breast cancer and drug and alcohol abuse, and later founded the Betty Ford Center for treating such addictions.

Betty Ford died on July 8, 2011, aged 93 years 91 days. She is number 3 on the list of longest-lived First Ladies (following Lady Bird Johnson and Bess Truman), while her husband leads the list of longest-lived Presidents.

Apr. 7th, 2017

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Presidential wedding anniversary: the Trumps (first marriage)

On this date in 1977, future President Donald J. Trump married Czech model Ivana Zelnícková (he was 30, she was 28). They had three children: son Donald Jr. (born December 31, 1977), daughter Ivanka (born October 30, 1981), and son Eric (born January 6, 1984). Ivana became a naturalized United States citizen in 1988. Donald and Ivana divorced in 1990.
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Vice President William R.D. King

On this date in 1786, William Rufus deVane King was born in Sampson County, North Carolina. Perhaps most famous for something he nearly didn't do, King grew up to be a lawyer, politician, and diplomat. He represented North Carolina in the House of Representatives from 1811 to 1816. He left the House to work in the US mission to Italy and then Russia, and when he returned to the States, he moved to Alabama. He was a delegate to the convention which organized Alabama's state government, and when Alabama became a state, in 1819, he became one of the new state's first Senators. He served in the Senate until 1844, when he became US Minister to France. He returned home in 1846, and was again elected to the Senate in 1848. While serving in the Senate, he was President pro tempore twice, from 1836 to 1841, and then from 1850 until he resigned from the Senate on December 20, 1852. His resignation came after the election of 1852, when he was elected Vice President on Franklin Pierce's ticket. King died in mid-April 1853, after less than two months in office, and none of that time in the capital.

Apr. 6th, 2017

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Presidential wedding anniversary: the second Benjamin Harrisons

On this date in 1896, the grandson of a US President married the niece of a US First Lady. Sounds kind of ho-hum, until we realize that grandson was himself a President -- Benjamin Harrison -- and the First Lady in question was his first wife, Caroline. On this date, 121 years ago, three years after he left office, 23rd President Benjamin Harrison married Mary Scott Lord Dimmick, who was 25 years younger than he, and the niece of his deceased first wife (Caroline died October 25, 1892, about a week before Benjamin lost his bid for re-election). Mary had been living in the White House, helping her aunt with her First Lady duties, and kept on First Ladying until the end of his term. They claimed to have fallen in love sometime after he left office. Mary also had known death: her first husband died three months after they had married in 1881.

Harrison's grown children, Russell and Mary, were not at all pleased with the pairing (the fact that their new stepmother was younger than them probably didn't help matters), and they refused to attend the wedding (which did have Harrison's former Vice President and several former Cabinet members in attendance). The second Mrs. Harrison had one daughter, in 1897, who grew up to marry her father's Secretary of State's grandnephew. Benjamin died in 1901, Mary in 1948, and they're buried together (along with the first Mrs. Harrison) in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Apr. 5th, 2017

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Cabinet: Philander C. Knox

On this date in 1901, William McKinley appointed 47-year-old Philander C. Knox as the 45th Attorney General. He stayed on in that post under Theodore Roosevelt, and resigned on June 30, 1904, to take his seat in the Senate representing Pennsylvania. He left the Senate in March 1909, when William Howard Taft appointed him the 40th Secretary of State. Following the end of Taft's term, Knox went back to practicing law. In 1916, he was again elected to the Senate, and died in office in 1921.

Knox is one of 13 Cabinet Secretaries to serve under three or more Presidents.

Apr. 4th, 2017

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President William Henry Harrison

On this date in 1841, 68-year-old William Henry Harrison set a probably unbeatable record, one no one else is interested in nearing, when he died in office. One month earlier, Harrison had been inaugurated as the ninth US President, the oldest (to that time) to take office. Following the oath, he gave one of the longest inaugural addresses on record, lasting more than an hour and a half (and remember, this was before there was such a thing as electronic sound amplification). It was a rainy, cold, nasty day (one of a piece with most of the weather that year, which prompted Mrs. Harrison to stay home in Ohio, planning to join her husband in the White House later in the spring). While most of our Presidents are known for what they did in office, either good or bad, for world events in which they played a part, or for their relations with other people, William Henry Harrison is the President known almost exclusively for his death.

Before his incredibly brief tenure in the White House, Harrison had been a member of the House of Representatives (1799-1800, representing the Northwest Territory), Governor of the Indiana Territory (1801-12), a general during the War of 1812, a member of the House of Representatives (1816-19, representing Ohio), a member of the Senate (1825-28, representing Ohio), and the US Minister to Colombia (1828-29).
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Cabinet: Clifford M. Hardin

On this date in 2010, Clifford M. Hardin died. From January 1969 to November 1971, he had been the 17th Secretary of Agriculture. Previous to that, he had been Chancellor of the University of Nebraska. Born on October 9, 1915 in Indiana, Hardin died at the age of 94 years 177 days, the sixth longest-lived Cabinet Secretary.

Apr. 3rd, 2017

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Cabinet: Ron Brown

On this date in 1996, Ron Brown (the 30th Secretary of Commerce) and 34 other people died when the airplane they were flying in crashed while on approach to Cilipi Airport in Croatia. The 53-year-old Brown had joined the Cabinet with Bill Clinton's election. Prior to that, he had been the chairman of the National Democratic Committee, a lawyer, and had worked on several Presidential campaigns.
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Cabinet: Walter Q. Gresham

On this date in 1883, 51-year-old Walter Q. Gresham joined Chester Arthur's Cabinet as the 31st Postmaster General. A year and a half later, Arthur shifted Gresham to be the 35th Secretary of the Treasury. Gresham resigned that post 55 days later, days before Grover Cleveland was elected President. When Cleveland was elected to his second term, eight years later, he appointed Gresham the 33rd Secretary of State. Gresham served from March 7, 1893, until he died in office on May 28, 1895.

Gresham was the 12th of 22 Cabinet Secretaries to die in office. He was also one of only four men to head three or more separate Cabinet departments.

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