Chicago Dental Society’s 2018 Midwinter Meeting

I just got back from my annual trip to Chicago for Dental Tribune, where I covered the Chicago Dental Society’s annual Midwinter Meeting. We published three issues of our ‘today’ daily newspaper — one published in advance, two more live on site.

The night before the meeting started, I covered Oral Health America’s Annual Gala & Benefit at the Marriott Marquis. My article about the event is posted to the Dental Tribune website, link here. During the meeting I interviewed Michael Cataldo, CEO of Convergent Dental (pictured above) about his company’s laser technology, article posted here. I also photographed dozens of company booths in the exhibit hall, and my photo gallery from the event is posted here.

We stayed at the Sheraton Grand. Here’s the view from my hotel room:

View from Sheraton Grand in Chicago

Reading a book on every president

In early 2017, I decided to make a commitment to read at least one biography of every president, in order. As of today (Feb. 18, 2018) I have finished everyone up to Lincoln, the 16th president. For some presidents — Washington, Madison and Jackson — I have read two books. I also finished biographies of Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, the Marquis de Lafayette and Harriett Tubman.

How do I decide which author’s book to read on a particular president? One of my favorite sources is Stephen Floyd’s excellent website, My Journey Through the Best Presidential Biographies, and his very helpful list of book reviews, located here. There is also a good listing by Natalie Jennings and Sean Sullivan on the Washington Post’s “The Fix” blog, located here. I also consult the reviews on Amazon, and The New York Times Book Review is helpful for more recently published books.

I prefer to a cradle-to-grave, one-volume book, and I prefer to get a new, hard copy (I do not like to read an e-Book). Because I have hang-ups about germs, getting a clean copy is important to me! I prefer paperback to hardcover, because paperbacks are a bit lighter weight and easier to carry around.

How do I find time for so much reading? I try to devote at least an hour every night after dinner (so much less TV viewing time for me) and on long flights. If I go to lunch or dinner by myself, I bring my current book.

Fred Michmershuizen Dental Tribune


Before I move on to Andrew Johnson, the 17th president, I intend to read at least one more book on Lincoln, plus I also want to throw in Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Frederick Douglass.

I will continue to post my “book reports” as I continue reading, learning and reflecting.

Abraham Lincoln

It was during his second inaugural address that Abraham Lincoln used the words “with malice toward none, and charity for all.” The year was 1865, and the country had been in the grips of a tragic Civil War for the past four years. The Union was on the verge of victory over the Confederacy, and many who had assembled on the steps of the Capitol might have been eager to hear the Commander in Chief lash out at the secessionists. But instead this great man called on our nation to come together and heal. If Washington was the father of our country, Lincoln was its savior.

Lincoln was a gifted writer and orator. His second inaugural address is among the best speeches ever given. So is the Gettysburg Address. Today these words are inscribed in marble inside the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

I learned a lot reading about the 16th president, including a few things that some people (including myself until recently) might not know.

For example, the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates took place not for the presidential election of 1860, but for the 1858 Senate election in Illinois, in which Lincoln was running against the incumbent Democrat. There were seven debates in all, each attended in person by thousands of citizens and widely published in newspapers throughout the country. Although Lincoln lost the Senate seat to Douglas, it was the publicity from the debates that brought Lincoln to national prominence. It had been the second time Lincoln had run for the Senate and lost.

Another thing I learned, is that the Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves in the states and parts of states that were in rebellion. It did not apply to any slaves in the four border states (Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland and Missouri) that had not joined the Confederacy. Lincoln used his war powers to justify the Emancipation Proclamation. Shortly thereafter, it was under Lincoln’s leadership that Congress passed the 13th Amendment, ending slavery once and for all.

Oh, and I did not realize this either but Appomattox Court House is the name of the town in Virginia (not the building!) where Lee surrendered to Grant, thus ending the Civil War.

Nicknames included Honest Abe and the Rail Splitter. He was also sometimes called Father Abraham. Lincoln had opened a store in Illinois that went out of business, leaving him in debt when he was a young man. He could have skipped town, as most would have probably done, but Lincoln paid off all his creditors, which took him years. That might have inspired Honest Abe. The Rail Splitter had to do with Lincoln’s prowess in his youth with an axe, building fences. Lincoln was really good with an axe. He was strong. He could wrestle too.

More fun facts about Lincoln:

  • Born in a log cabin! The log cabin was in Kentucky, but his family moved to Indiana and then to Illinois.
  • He liked to read a lot, and when he read, he read aloud. So did Mary Lincoln, and they often read aloud to each other.
  • He did not drink, smoke or swear.
  • At various times in his early life, Lincoln slept in the same bed with another man. It’s not clear to me if he did this because it was the custom back in those days? Or maybe he liked to share a bed with another man? Or maybe there was a bed shortage in the 19th Century?
  • He was often photographed, but there are no audio recordings of his voice.
  • He started his political career as a member of the Whig party. He served in the Illinois state legislature, and then one single term as a Whig in the U.S. House of Representatives. Polk was president, and Lincoln challenged him on justification for going to war with Mexico.

Fred Michmershuizen

Thousands of books have been written about Lincoln. If you go to the Strand Bookstore on Broadway and 12th Street in New York City, the section is about five feet wide from the floor to way above my head. Online, you can find lists of the “Top 5 biographies” or the “Top 25 biographies” of Lincoln, there is even one list that includes 86 titles. I selected “A. Lincoln: A Biography,” by Ronald C. White. I was deeply moved by this book, and at many times it had me literally in tears. The book includes many helpful photographs and illustrations, and a few maps. In my view, White does an amazing job of sharing with the reader the way Lincoln thought about things and the way his views developed over time. As White explains quite well, Lincoln was constantly thinking things through, looking at a problem from all sides, trying to understand what his opponents might be thinking. This author demonstrates that while Lincoln made many mistakes, as all leaders invariably do, he always learned from these mistakes and rarely repeated them. White also explains in great depth the evolution of Lincoln’s moral and religious beliefs over time, and how he used the Bible as inspiration for many of his speeches.

I’m going to read more about Lincoln, and about the Civil War, but this book was an excellent starting point.

President Obama with the Emancipation Proclamation
President Barack Obama views a framed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation with a group of African American seniors, their grandchildren and local schoolchildren. This is an official White House photo taken in the Oval Office on Jan. 18, 2010.

James Buchanan

James Buchanan was our nation’s 15th president, the immediate predecessor to Lincoln. Elected in 1856, Buchanan served in the White House from 1857 to 1861. During his single term, two of the worst things to ever happen to our country took place.

Just days after Buchanan took the oath of office, the Supreme Court issued its infamous decision in the Dred Scott case, which invalidated the Missouri Compromise and ruled that it was unconstitutional for the federal government to regulate slavery in the territories. Even worse, the court ruled that nobody of African descent was or could ever be an American citizen.

Buchanan had hoped (naively? stupidly?) that this court ruling would settle once and for all the controversy over slavery, which had been getting worse and worse especially in Kansas. There is some speculation that Buchanan knew about the Dred Scott decision in advance or even perhaps influenced the court behind the scenes.

It was also on Buchanan’s watch, in the closing weeks of his presidency, that seven of the Southern states finally seceded, led by South Carolina in December 1860 and followed in 1861 by Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas, thus precipitating the Civil War. When this happened Buchanan wrote a long letter, published widely in the papers, blaming secession on the abolitionists and the Republican party. Like Fillmore and Pierce before him, Buchanan thought the abolitionists were a bunch of dangerous troublemakers.

When Buchanan first entered politics he was a Federalist, but he soon became a Democrat. He was always trying to get his fellow Democrats in Pennsylvania and around the country to follow his lead, but he was not always successful at that. The Democrats were always fighting amongst themselves.

Before becoming president, Buchanan served in the U.S. House of Representatives and in the U.S. Senate. In those days Senators were elected by state legislatures, not by popular vote. Andrew Jackson, who did not particularly like Buchanan or trust him, sent him on a diplomatic mission to Russia (likely to get him out of the way for a while). He later became Secretary of State under Polk, during which time he was constantly throwing hissy fits when he did not get his way, and often threatening to resign. Pierce sent him to England to negotiate a treaty.

As president Buchanan is credited with opening up trade channels with Asia, and with strengthening ties with Great Britain. He adhered to the Monroe Doctrine. He attempted but failed to purchase Cuba from Spain, and he attempted but failed to take more territory from Mexico. Oh, and there was also the Panic of 1857, a financial crisis that affected not only the United States but also much of the world economy at the time.

A few fun facts James Buchanan:

  • Born in a log cabin!
  • He was the first president whose inauguration was photographed.
  • He was the only president from Pennsylvania.
  • He was a lifelong bachelor. Many historians have speculated that he was probably gay. This is based in part on a letter in which he told a friend that he had not been able to find male companionship and that he was prepared to settle for an “old maid” provided she would cook and clean for him and not expect any romantic affection from him in return.
  • When he was in Russia he charmed the Czar and Czarina, and when he was in England he made a good impression with Queen Victoria.
  • As president Buchanan hosted the Prince of Wales for a state visit, and it was the first time a member of the British Royal Family came to the United States. It marked a turning point in the relationship between the two countries.

Fred Michmershuizen

Buchanan is often ranked as the very worst, or among the worst, of all the presidents. In his 429-page “President James Buchanan: A Biography,” author Philip S. Klein attempts to rehabilitate Buchanan somewhat, arguing that Buchanan did the best that he could under the circumstances, and that by placating the South he was trying to preserve the Union. Writing in 1961, Klein also makes a pretty good case that a lot of his negative image throughout the decades was the result of an unfair smear campaign carried out in the press by the Republicans during the Civil War. Perhaps, but I am still not going to let Buchanan off that easy. In my view he always seemed to favor the slaveholding South, and he tended to put politics over right and wrong, thus landing on the wrong side of history.

Toward the end of the book, a year before he died, the now former president Buchanan wrote a long public letter in which he argues forcefully that African Americans should not have the right to vote. As my sister Peggy would say, “That guy’s a jackass.”