How To Pick Out A Birthplace by Edgar Wilson Nye

Story type: Literature

Every American youth has been told repeatedly by his parents and his teachers that he must be a good boy and an exemplary young man in order to become the president of the United States. There is nothing new in this statement, and I do not print it because I regard it in the light of a “scoop.” But I desire to go a trifle further, and call the attention of the American youth to the fact that he must begin at a much earlier date to prepare himself for the presidency than has been generally taught. He must not only acquire all the knowledge within reach, and guard his moral character night and day through life, or at least up to the time of his election, but he must be a self-made man, and he should also use the utmost care and discretion in the selection of his birthplace.

A boy may thoughtlessly select the wrong state, or even a foreign country, as the site for his birthplace, and then the most exemplary life will not avail him. But hardest of all, perhaps, for one who aspires to the highest office within the gift of the people, is the selection of a house in which to be born. For this reason I have selected a few specimen birthplaces for the guidance of those who may be ignorant of the points which should be possessed by a birthplace.

Take, for instance, the residence of Andrew Jackson. No one has ever retained a stronger hold upon the tendrils of the Democratic heart than Andrew Jackson. His name appears more frequently to-day in papers for which he never subscribed than that of any other president who has passed away.

Andrew Jackson was a poor boy, whose father was a farm laborer and died before Andrew’s birth, thus leaving the boy perfectly free to choose the site of his birthplace.

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He did not care much about books, but felt confident at the start that he had chosen a good place to be born at, and therefore could not be defeated in his race for the presidency. Here in this house A. Jackson first saw the light, and here his excellency sent up his first Democratic whoop. Here, on the back stoop, was where he was sent sorrowing at night to wash his chapped feet with soft soap before his mother would allow him to go to bed. Here Andrew turned the grindstone in the shed, while a large, heavy neighbor got on and rode for an hour or two. Here the future president sprouted potatoes in the dark and noisome cellar, while other boys, who cared nothing for the presidency, drowned out woodchucks and sucked eggs in open defiance of the pulpit and press of the country.

And yet, what a quiet, peaceful, unostentatious home, with its little windows opening out upon the snow in winter and upon bare ground in summer. How peaceful it looks! Who would believe that up in the dark corner of the gable end it harbors a large iron-gray hornets’ nest with brocaded hornets in it? And still it is so quiet that, on hot summer afternoons, while the bees are buzzing around the petunias and the regular breathing of the sandy-colored shoat in the back lot shows that all nature is hushed and drugged into a deep and oppressive repose, the old hen, lulled into a sense of false security, walks into the “setting room,” eats the seeds out of several everlasting flowers, samples a few varnished acorns on an ornamental photograph frame in the corner, and then goes out to the kitchen, where she steps into the dough that is set behind the stove to raise.

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Here in this quiet home, far from the enervating pousse cafe and carte blanche, where he had pork rind tied on the outside of his neck for sore throat, and where pepper, New Orleans molasses and vinegar, together with other groceries calculated to discourage illness, were put inside, he laid the foundation of his future greatness.

Later on, the fever of ambition came upon him, and he taught school where the big girls snickered at him and the big boys went so far away at noon that they couldn’t hear the bell and were glad of it, and came back an hour late with water in both ears and crawfish in their pockets.

After that he learned to be a saddler, fought in the Revolutionary War, afterward writing it up for the papers in a graphic way, showing how it happened that most everybody was killed but himself.

Here the reader is given an excellent view of the birthplace of President Lincoln.

The artist has very wisely left out of the picture several people who sought to hand themselves down to posterity by being photographed in various careless attitudes in the foreground.

In this house Mr. Lincoln determined to establish for himself a birthplace and to remain for eight years afterwards. In fancy, the reader can see little Abraham running about the humble cot, preceded by his pale, straw-colored Kentucky dog, or perhaps standing in “the branch,” with the soothing mud squirting gently up between his dimpled toes.

Here a great heart first learned to beat in unison with all humanity. Late one night, after the janitor had retired, he pulled the latch-string of this humble place and asked if the proprietor objected to children. Learning that he did not, the little emancipator deposited on the desk a small parcel consisting of several rectangular cotton garments done up in a shawl-strap, and asked for a room with a bath.

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Our next illustration shows the birthplace of President Garfield. He was born plainly at Orange, Cuyahoga county, Ohio. Here he spent his childhood in preparing for the presidency, lying on his stomach for hours by the light of a pine-knot, studying all about the tariff, and ascertaining how many would remain if William had seven apples and gave three to Henry and two to Jane. He soon afterward went to work on a canal as boatswain of a mule. It was here he learned that profanity could be carried to excess. He very early found that by coupling the mule to the boat by the use of a cistern pole, instead of coming into direct contact with the accursed yet buoyant end of the animal, he could bring with him a better record to the class-meeting than otherwise. He then taught school, and was beloved by all as a tutor. Many of his pupils grew up to be ornaments to society, and said they had never seen tuting that could equal that of their old tutor.

Mr. Garfield availed himself of the above birthplace on the 19th of November, A. D. 1831. He then utilized it as a residence.

Here we are given a fine view of the birthplace of President Cleveland. It is a plain structure, containing windows through which those who are inside may look out, while those who are on the outside may readily look in.

Under this roof the idea first came to Mr. Cleveland that some day he might fill the presidential chair to overflowing. If the reader will go around to the door of the shed on the other side of the house, he will see little Grover just coming out and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

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On the door of the barn can be seen the following legend, scratched on its surface with a nail:

“I druther be born lucky than blong to a nold Ristocratic fambly.

S. G. C.”

Here we have an excellent view of Mr. Harrison’s birthplace from the main road. It hardly seems possible that a man who now lives in a large house, with a spare room to it, gas in all parts of it, and wool carpets on the floor, should have once lived in such a plain structure as this. It shows that America is the place for the poor boy. Here he can rise to a great height by his own powers. Little did Bennie think at one time that people would some day come from all quarters of the United States to see him and take him kindly by the hand and say that they were well acquainted with his folks when they were poor.

These various birthplaces prove to us what style is best calculated for a presidential candidate. They demonstrate that poverty is no drawback, and that frequently it is a good stimulant for the right kind of a boy. I once knew a poor boy whose clothes did not fit him very well when he was little, and now that he is grown up it is the same way.

That poor boy was myself. But I can not close this research without saying that the boys alone can not claim the glory in America. The girls are entitled to recognition.

Permit me, therefore, to present the birthplace of Belva A. Lockwood. I do not speak of it because I desire to treat the matter lightly, but to call attention to little Belva’s sagacity in selecting the same style of birthplace as that chosen by other presidential candidates. She very truly said in the course of a conversation with the writer: “My theory as to the selection of a birthplace is, first be sure you are right and then go ahead.”

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We should learn from all the above that a humble origin does not prevent a successful career. Had Abraham Lincoln been wealthy, he would have been taught, perhaps, a style of elocution and gesture that would have taken first rate at a parlor entertainment, and yet he might never have made his Gettysburg speech. While he was president he never looked at his own hard hands and knotted knuckles that he was not reminded of his toiling neighbors, whose honest sweat and loyal blood had made this mighty republic a source of glory and not of shame forever.

So, in the future, whether it be a Grover, a Benjamin, or a Belva, may the President of the United States be ever ready to remove the cotton from his ears at the first cry of the oppressed and deserving poor.

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