andrew dickson white

William Henry Harrison memorial lapel ribbon, 1841.

The gift of Benjamin Harrison Walker to the BHPS, this pin expresses the nation’s sadness at the tragic death of President Harrison. Time and distance have relegated W. H. H. to the role of punchline president. “Died in a month, didn’t get much done,” the Animaniacs sang in 1993. Contemporary cynicism masks the fact that the first death of a president in office was nothing less than a national tragedy, boarding on catastrophe. American diplomat Andrew Dickson White, a contemporary of Benjamin Harrison, recalled sixty years after the fact, “as if it were yesterday” his mother waking him to tell him that President Harrison had died. “I wondered what was to become of us.” Only when John Tyler assumed the presidency did the nation sigh relief. At least the nation could survive.

Courtesy of the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site.

In all modern history, interference with science in the supposed interest of religion, no matter how conscientious such interference may have been, has resulted in the direst evils both to religion and to science, and invariably; and, on the other hand, all untrammeled scientific investigation, no matter how dangerous to religion some of its stages may have seemed for the time to be, has invariably resulted in the highest good both of religion and of science.
—  Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918), from the introduction to A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, 1896

Emperor Nicholas I was a very impressive man. To use the words of a recent historian: “With his height of more than six feet, his head always held high, a slightly aquiline nose, a firm and well-formed mouth under a light moustache, a square chin, an imposing, domineering, set face, noble rather than tender, monumental rather than human, he had something of Apollo and of Jupiter … Nicholas was unquestionable the most handsome man in Europe.” Many of the contemporaries of the emperor shared this extravagant judgement, eulogies of his appearance and his presence being by no means limited to his own camp, that is, to the Russian court circles, and to their Prussian and Austrian counterparts. For instance, Andrew Dickson White wrote in his autobiography as he reminisced about his diplomatic service in Russia:

“The Czear at that period, Nicholas I, was a most imposing personage, and was generally considered the most perfect specimen of a human being, physically speaking, in all Europe. Colossal in stature, with a face such as one finds on a Greek coin, but overcast with a shadow of Muscovite melancholy; with a bearing dignified, but with a manner not unkind, he bore himself like a god … Whenere I saw him … there was forced to my lips the thought: “You are the most majestic being ever created.”

Nicholas Riasanovsky: Nicholas I and Official Nationality in Russia 1825-1855