Posts Tagged ‘Presidents Day’

George Washington’s Westchester Gamble: August 1781

February 21st, 2013 No comments

220px-Gilbert_Stuart_Williamstown_Portrait_of_George_Washington The following blog post was written by a special guest of the Westchester Library System, Dr. Richard Borkow. 

“The Westchester Library System blog is a fitting place, and Washington’s birthday a fitting time, to highlight a critical decision made by General George Washington in Westchester County in the summer of 1781, a decision that led to victory in the Revolutionary War.

The decision was made in mid-August, 1781, during the 7th year of the war. That summer the allied American and French armies, under the command of Generals Washington and Rochambeau, were encamped side by side in lower Westchester. Washington deployed the American troops to the west of the Sprain Brook, in Dobbs Ferry and Ardsley, and reserved sites to the east, in Hartsdale and White Plains, for the French.

General Washington chose lower Westchester as the site of the allied encampment  because he hoped, with the help of the French, to gain a major battlefield victory by driving the British army from Manhattan, which had been seized by Britain in 1776.

It was a grim time for the 13 United States. The British and American sides were locked in military stalemate, and political prospects for the young republic were poor. The conviction was growing in Paris that the War for American Independence was unwinnable. The French government was hoping to extricate itself and end the war through a settlement determined by the Great European Powers at a conference in Vienna.

It was understood that a Vienna settlement would impose highly unfavorable terms for the United States: The country’s independence would still be contested, and its territory truncated. Most likely the entire South and the trans-Allegheny West would be retained by Great Britain under the Vienna terms, and the so-called United States confined to a northeastern coastal strip. Moreover, the French would terminate their military support, and British armies would be poised to resume hostilities at any time that seemed favorable to them.  Yet Congress, discouraged by the long, inconclusive war, instructed its representatives in Paris (John Adams and Benjamin Franklin) to accede to this plan.

Washington understood the danger to his country, but he believed that a major victory on the battlefield could change everything. If the British were to suffer a significant military defeat, London might be willing to end the war on much more favorable grounds, making a conference in Vienna moot.

In July the allied French and American armies probed for weakness in General Henry Clinton’s British forces on Manhattan, but they quickly learned that British defenses on Manhattan were formidable. By early August, Washington reluctantly had to conclude that there was little chance that the allied armies could defeat General Clinton’s troops.

Then, in mid-August, 1781, Generals Washington and Rochambeau received a correspondence sent from the West Indies by French Admiral De Grasse, which caused them to alter their strategy.  Historian Robert Leckie has called De Grasse’s communication “possibly the most momentous message of the entire war.”

Admiral De Grasse informed the generals that he was bringing his large fleet from the West Indies to the Chesapeake Bay, and that he would be ready to cooperate with them in a joint land and sea campaign against General Cornwallis’s troops in Virginia.

Upon considering De Grasse’s communication and after weighing his options, Washington abandoned his plan to attack the British in New York, and made the decision to risk a secret march of more than 400 miles, from the Hudson to Virginia. Urgent plans for the march were made from August 14th until August 19th.

Washington risked all on this march. Success would require almost perfect coordination of several armies and fleets at great distances. Success would also require the utmost secrecy, for it was essential not to reveal to General Clinton in New York or General Cornwallis in Yorktown, Virginia, that Virginia was the destination of the allied armies.

The allied armies broke camp at Dobbs Ferry, Ardsley, Hartsdale and White Plains on August 19th, 1781; on that date French and American troops took the first steps of the march to Yorktown. It was the beginning of the Yorktown campaign. Two months later, on October 19th, 1781, Cornwallis surrendered his army of 7,500 men to General Washington. The victory at Yorktown was decisive, and led to uncontested independence for the United States.”

51ltNYUWY+L._SL500_SS500_Richard Borkow is the author of George Washington’s Westchester Gamble: The Encampment on the Hudson and the Trapping of Cornwallis (The History Press, May, 2011) 

Follow this YouTube link for Pulitzer Prize winning historian, David Hackett Fischer’s comments about the decision that won the Revolutionary War.



President Franklin Delano Roosevelt by Assemblymember Shelley Mayer

February 19th, 2013 No comments

220px-FDR_in_1933The following blog post was written by a special guest of the Westchester Library System, Assembly District 90 Assemblymember, Shelley Mayer.

“American history is replete with remarkable presidents, but for me Franklin Delano Roosevelt – or FDR– embodied several values I hold most dear – personal and professional persistence and a commitment to public service.

Before running for President, FDR attended Columbia University Law School and began practicing corporate law, and soon decided he wanted to take on a role in public service.  After serving in the New York State Senate, where he challenged the Democratic political machine, Roosevelt unsuccessfully ran for US Senate and the Vice Presidency.  Despite these setbacks, Roosevelt learned valuable lessons about professional resiliency.

The political setbacks pale in comparison to the personal and physical obstacles Roosevelt overcame when struck by polio.  When diagnosed, Roosevelt dedicated himself to restoring his health, but he eventually reemerged to become president, demonstrating leadership and compassion for a population suffering deep poverty and economic suffering.

I also started as a lawyer, practicing law in our Family Courts and trial courts.  I liked the practice of law, but I always sought out the political and governmental paths to achieve change.  Many years ago, I sought to run as a County Court judge, but I was unsuccessful.  I took the lessons of that effort with me as I continued to work at making lives better for working New Yorkers.  And like FDR, I worked in the NYS Senate – not  as a Senator, but as the chief lawyer for the Senate Democrats for four years. It was a trying but rewarding experience, full of challenges but more opportunities to learn and to do a better job of delivering for New Yorkers.

In his tenure as president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt not only led the nation to victory in the Second World War, but he saved our economy and our democracy from unprecedented crisis.  He instituted programs that continue to provide security for our seniors and created public programs that put our people to work, the products of which still grace our cities and towns.  With patience and persistence, Roosevelt pushed for laws and new ideas that preserved our economy and restored Americans’ faith in themselves and their country during the most difficult days.  Most inspiring of all, he recognized the importance of engaging the American people in his vision and the hard work that lay ahead.

It was President Roosevelt who once said, “let us not be afraid to help each other – let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us.”  So, as we celebrate Presidents’ Day, I honor Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s leadership, compassion, and persistence and know we all can learn from his remarkable example.”

Shelley-Headshot Assembleymember Shelley Mayer, Assembly District 90


President Ronald Wilson Reagan by Robert P. Astorino

February 18th, 2013 No comments



The following blog post was written by a special guest of the Westchester Library System, Westchester County Executive, Robert P. Astorino.

“The United States has been blessed with many great presidents. They have inspired generations of people around the world. Some were war heroes, some were great legal minds and some were humanitarians. But the president who personally touched me and who holds a special place in my heart is a former actor nicknamed “The Gipper” (from a role he once played in a movie). I am, of course, referring to our nation’s 40th President, Ronald Wilson Reagan.

Reagan was president while I was growing up in Mount Pleasant, going to Westlake High School and working on my degree at Fordham University. His commanding presence on television had an indelible impact on me during these formative years. His likeable yet decisive demeanor impressed me, reassured me and occasionally comforted me.

He touched me personally and there is no doubt that he will go down in history as one of the most influential presidents of all time. With bipartisan support, he slashed federal income tax rates. He fought cumbersome government bureaucracy, and defended individual liberties. Perhaps most significantly, he hastened the end of the Cold War. He was able to do all this, largely because he was an incredible communicator. In fact, he was known as the “Great Communicator.”

Professionally, Reagan got his start announcing Chicago Cubs baseball games on the radio. As a former broadcaster myself, I understand what a wonderful training ground radio can be for learning how to talk to people. There’s an intimacy to radio.  No doubt Reagan’s years behind a microphone and in front of studio cameras prepared him to later connect with an audience of voters.

Reagan’s style was consistent. Whether speaking with Members of Congress, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher or General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, Reagan was respectful but authoritative. In other words, he was the ultimate definition of a leader.

Reagan was able to use modern media – televised press conferences, radio appearances and live addresses from the Oval Office – to persuade, not to manipulate. Reagan was the real deal. What you saw was what you got. Like others, I responded to someone who I thought I could trust. That trust is why people so overwhelmingly elected and re-elected him.

I also admired Reagan’s sense of humor. He had a way of bringing levity even to the most serious situations. In 1981, an attempt was made on his life. As the critically wounded president entered the operating room, he quipped to the surgeons, “I hope you’re all Republicans.”

He even disarmed his much younger opponent Walter Mondale during the 1984 presidential debates, when he famously said, “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

My personal favorite was at a press conference when he addressed support for America’s farmers, saying, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help’.”

But Reagan had a backbone as well as a funny bone. He had the guts to go to Germany, stand at the Brandenburg Gate near the Berlin Wall and challenge Gorbachev to “open this gate” and “tear down this wall.” Two years later, the Berlin Wall was torn down and the Cold War ended, leading to the Soviet Union’s collapse.

In 1981, when more than 11,000 federal air traffic controllers violated a federal law and went on strike, Reagan fired them. He put supervisors and military controllers in their place until new ones could be hired.

Reagan always knew what to say, when to say it and how to say it.

When people looked into his eyes, they knew that he meant business. Yet, he always seemed to have a smile on his face. It’s hard to find a photo of him where he doesn’t have that benevolent gleam in his eye. He was the kind of man who would be comfortable slapping you on the back, but not stabbing you in it.

Ronald Reagan sure made an impression on me and on a great many people. He is one in a long line of presidents who have made a real difference in the world. On this Presidents Day I am thankful for such individuals, who served so admirably in our nation’s highest office.”


Westchester County Executive, Robert P. Astorino

Celebrating President’s Day

February 18th, 2013 No comments

Happy-Presidents-Day-2013-WallpapersMany people mark President’s Day with a long weekend getaway, enjoying discounts at their favorite shopping centers, and taking their children on a fun, ski vacation.

This year, we decided to mark President’s Day on our blog by honoring some of our past Presidents.

Throughout the week, we will feature daily blog posts from Westchester County Executive Robert P. Astorino, local historian and author Dr. Richard Borkow, Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, 95th Assembly District, Judith A. Myers, County Legislator, 7th District, Westchester County Board of Legislators, and Kenneth W. Jenkins, Chairman of the Board of Westchester County Board of Legislators.

Each day, one of these distinguished guest bloggers will highlight the President that most impacted their lives and careers.

Happy Reading, and Happy President’s Day!