Editorial: Franklin Pierce to the rescue!
Franklin Pierce and Hugo Chavez. Can you think of two more unlikely names to show up in the same headline? Far-fetched or not, there they were on Page A3 of the Monitor last week – Chavez invoking the memory of Pierce as he clung to power in Venezuela, apparently from a hospital bed in Cuba, where he was being treated for cancer.
Our view: It’s just possible that Chavez might need some better PR folks by his side.
If you missed this (how could you miss this?!), Chavez and his supporters were arguing that even though he was out of the country and illness made him unable to attend his own presidential swearing-in ceremony in Venezuela, he could and should nonetheless take office. His swearing-in, according to him and ultimately to the Venezuelan Supreme Court, was just a formality and easily postponed. That wouldn’t interfere with the legal start of his third six-year term.
To justify that argument, the court pointed to the case of U.S. Vice President William King, who served with President Franklin Pierce.
Pierce (the only president ever elected from New Hampshire) ran successfully with King (Alabama’s highest-ranking official ever) as his running mate on the Democratic ticket in 1852. But in 1853, when it came time to be sworn in, King – like Chavez! – was in Cuba, in his case being treated for tuberculosis.
King and Pierce, an obscure and generally poorly rated president, sure seem like a hapless duo now, but at the time the partnership made sense to the party bigwigs. Pierce was from the North; King was from the South. Pierce was a well-regarded lawyer whose pro-Southern sympathies could earn him votes all across the country. King had been one of his state’s first U.S. senators. He was a former minister to France and, under Millard Fillmore, essentially acting vice president.
Among some historians with a bit too much time on their hands, there’s also a theory that King was our first gay veep. They point to his extra-close relationship with James Buchanan, Pierce’s successor and a man once known to schoolchildren as “our only bachelor president.” But that’s a story for another day.
Does the Chavez-King argument make sense? Well, there’s a limit to the logic. King, after all, was only vice president, not president. His absence from the capital was felt much less than the absence of an actual chief executive.
Plus, in the case of King, Congress passed a special law officially making him vice president for the three weeks before he returned to U.S. soil – but really only as an honor to a deathly ill man. After all, everyone thought King was not long for this world.
Alas, they were right: When King finally made it home, he quickly died. And his seat was left vacant for four full years thereafter. As it turns out, not precisely the role model Chavez probably had in mind.
An editorial in the Jan. 10 Monitor incorrectly stated that the New Hampshire Constitution demands a balanced state budget. A state statute requires the governor to present a proposed budget to the Legislature that contains all sources of revenue sufficient to cover proposed expenditures. Those revenue sources may be new or increased taxes, “or otherwise” suggesting that the governor may also include borrowing as a source of revenue.