Dayton and the presidents

   On Presidents' Day 1998 a set of plaques commemorat- ing presidential visits to Dayton was dedicated at the Old Courthouse. The event was a project of the 1997 class of Leadership Dayton, a community program for business leaders, sponsored by the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce.
   As part of the project, Leadership Dayton participant David P. Williams compiled a list of presidents who had visited Dayton, particularly those who had spoken at the Old Courthouse. Williamson did much of his research at the Dayton Daily News library. His summary follows below (used with permission).

Franklin Delano Roosevelt first came to Dayton in 1920, when he was the running mate of Democratic presidential candidate James Cox.


by David P. Williamson

   The following is a compilation of visits to Dayton by men who were candidates for president or vice president and later became president (WH Harrison, Lincoln, A. Johnson, F. Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Nixon), were in office as president (Grant, B Harrison, F. Roosevelt, Truman, L. Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton), visited as a former president (JQ Adams, Van Buren, Hayes, Ford, and Carter), or made a significant appearance in someone else's presidential campaign (Garfield). It is believed that a number of other presidents visited Dayton long before becoming candidates for the highest office in the land, most notably Ohioans William McKinley, William Howard Taft, and Warren G. Harding.

JOHN QUINCY ADAMS (6th President)

November 6 1843 -- Former President Adams visited Dayton on his way to Cincinnati to participate in the dedication of the Cincinnati Observatory, a matter of particular interest to Adams, one of the founders of the Smithsonian Institution. Less than two years earlier, it was attorney Adams who had argued on behalf of the kidnapped Africans before the U.S.Supreme Court in the case of U.S .v The Amistad. Adams lodged at the National Hotel, where he was welcomed and made a few brief remarks, thanking his greeters and commenting upon how, since he had placed his foot within the boundaries of Ohio, he had been treated as a child of the State.
(Source: Dayton Journal, November 14,1843).

MARTIN VAN BUREN (8th President)

June 8. 1842 -- Former President Van Buren, who after defeating William Henry Harrison in 1836, lost the 1840 election to Harrison, came to Dayton from Springfield on his way to Indianapolis, apparently getting an early start on the 1844 campaign. A consummate politician, "the Little Magician" sought to win back support in the then western states, the political base of Van Buren's mentor, Andrew Jackson. Van Buren made some brief remarks from horseback in front of the National Hotel, where he stayed overnight, mostly to thank the citizens of Dayton for their cordial welcome.
(Source: The Western Empire, June 9, 1842).


September 10, 1840 -- Future President Harrison came to Dayton for the Whig Party National Convention, at which time he was nominated as that party's candidate for President. Harrison, the "Hero of Tippecanoe", was paired with Virginian John Tyler as a running mate, giving rise to one of America's earliest presidential campaign slogans, "Tippecanoe and Tyler, too". There is no indication Tyler was present at the convention in Dayton. A former general and governor of Indiana, Harrison was born to one of the wealthiest, most prestigious, and most influential families in Virginia (his father was a signer of the Declaration of Independence), yet, Harrison's handlers promoted him as the "log cabin candidate" to identify him as a man of the people.
(Source: The Log Cabin, September 22, 1840).
Note: The 1840 Whig convention marked the only time a major political party held its national convention in Dayton. The nominating rally drew an estimated crowd of 100,000 people to the center of Dayton, an assemblage later exceeded only by the Wright brothers celebration in 1909, Franklin Roosevelt's visit in 1940, and the Bicentennial celebration of July 4, 1976. However, in 1840, Dayton's population was only 6,000, scattered among some 700 homes and two hotels. For some concept of what occurred, multiply Dayton's present population by sixteen and conduct the resulting mass to the center of town.
(Source: The Stuff of History as Boot Soles, by David C. Greer (1996), Orange Frazer Press).

Note: 1850 -- Courthouse constructed and dedicated.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN (16th President)

September 17, 1859 -- Future President Lincoln delivered an address in front of and facing the Courthouse with his audience assembled, theater style, on the Courthouse steps. Lincoln's one to two hour long speech was not written down word for word but was quoted and paraphrased at length by Dayton's three newspapers, the pro-Republican Dayton Daily Journal and Dayton Daily Gazette, and the opposition Democratic Dayton Daily Empire. Lincoln spoke on the issue of slavery, propounding the theory that the founding fathers purposely left the word "slave" out of the Constitution, reserving for future generations the institution's eventual demise. Later in the evening of the same day that Lincoln spoke, Congressman Robert C. Schenk made a long speech in which he suggested Lincoln as a candidate for president, becoming the first person in a public address to name Lincoln for the presidency outside of Lincoln's home state of Illinois. (Source: Mr. Lincoln Came to Dayton, by Lloyd Ostendorf (1959), The Otterbein Press).

Note: Lincoln's speech followed by nine days the appearance and speech of his famous debate opponent, Sen. Stephen Douglas of Illinois, "the Little Giant". ( Source: Dayton Daily Journal, September 8, 1859). Thus, Dayton became a "debate town", one of the few towns so honored outside of the state of Illinois.(Mr. Lincoln Came to Dayton, by Lloyd Ostendorf, (1959), The Otterbein Press). Lincoln had been introduced by Robert Schenk, while Douglas had been introduced by Schenk's local political rival, former Congressman Clement Vallandingham, who later, as head of the opposition "Copperheads", would challenge Lincoln's Civil War policies.

ANDREW JOHNSON (17th President)

October 1864 -- Vice Presidential candidate and future President Johnson spoke at the Courthouse during the presidential election campaign of 1864. The military governor of occupied Tennessee, his home state, Johnson was selected as Lincoln's running mate to balance the Republican ticket with a Southern Democrat. The exact date of his appearance and the context of his speech have not been verified. It is noted that Johnson insisted on delivering his remarks from the south (Third St.) side of the Courthouse instead of the usual location at the front, or east (Main St.) side of the Courthouse. (Source: Mr.Lincoln Came to Dayton, supra, page 41 ).

ULYSSES S. GRANT (18th President)

October 3. 1871 -- President Grant became the first president to visit Dayton while in office. Grant came to Dayton for the express purpose of visiting the new Soldiers Home, which had acquired a national reputation as the finest facility of its kind in the country. Grant, accompanied by his wife and daughter, arrived in Dayton by train from Chicago at about 9:00 in the morning where a carriage awaited the party. The President proceeded to the Beckel House where he was introduced by Mayor Morrison. Grant, a man of few words and not inclined to public speaking, briefly thanked the people of Dayton for their welcome and the opportunity to visit the Soldiers Home. "This is a day I shall long remember", he said. After visiting the Soldiers Home, the Grants were hosted for dinner at the home of Judge Lowe, after which the party was escorted back to the train depot. Their train bound for Pittsburgh left at midnight. (Source: Dayton Journal, October 4, 1871).

RUTHERFORD B. HAYES (19th President)

July 30. 1884 -- Former President Hayes spoke on the occasion of the dedication of the Soldiers' Monument located at the intersection of Water Street ( now Monument Avenue) and Main Street. Hayes had himself been wounded several times during the Civil War and risen to the rank of brevet major general. A native Ohioan, attorney Hayes had been Cincinnati's city solicitor prior to the war. In 1876, he had apparently lost the Presidential election to Democrat Samuel Tilden, but a Congressional electoral commission voted along strict party lines and awarded Hayes enough disputed electoral votes from the Reconstruction South to tilt the outcome in Hayes favor by one electoral vote. The election was hotly contested during a Congressional filibuster led by, among others, Dayton Congressman John McMahon, the nephew and law partner of Clement Vallandingham. Hayes returned to Dayton on May 30. 1891 to give the Memorial Day address.
(Source: Dayton Journal, July 31, 1884 and May 31, 1891).

JAMES A. GARFIELD (20th President)

September 21. 1864 -- Future President, former general, and then U.S. Congressman James Garfield spoke at the Courthouse on behalf of the Lincoln-Johnson ticket during the 1864 presidential election campaign. Having fought at Shiloh and been decorated for gallantry at Chickamauga, Garfield was a bona fide war hero. Also being a native Ohioan, Garfield was more warmly received than Lincoln's running mate, southerner Andrew Johnson, who spoke at the Courthouse the following month. No text or paraphrase of Garfield's comments has been found.
(Source: Dayton Daily Journal, September 22, 1864).

BENJAMIN HARRISON (23rd President)

May 14. 1891 -- By 1891, the country's rail transportation system permitted Harrison to become the first acting president to take a nationwide tour, including the states on the Pacific coast. Harrison's visit to Dayton, on the return leg of his journey back to Washington D.C., marked the second visit by an acting president to Dayton. The grandson of William Henry Harrison, Benjamin Harrison was no stranger to the Miami Valley, having been born and raised in North Bend, Ohio, in western Hamilton County, and graduated from Miami University in Oxford. Arriving at the Union depot, Harrison spoke from his train platform, commenting upon his nearly completed western trip, Harrison noted that, "We are one people-one in our purposes, aims, and lives; one in our fealty to the flag, the Constitution, and the indissoluble union of states".
(Source: Dayton Daily News and Dayton Journal Herald, May 15, 1891)

FDR campaigning with Democratic nominee James Cox in 1920.

(32rd President)

August 7. 1920 -- Roosevelt came to Dayton to meet with James Cox and accept the Democratic Party nomination for Vice President. "I am fit and ready for the campaign", said FDR as he arrived at the Union Station. (Source: Dayton Daily News, August 7, 1920). The last Ohio Governor from Dayton, Cox remains Dayton's only native son to run for president as the nominee of a major political party.

June 5. 1931 -- Then governor of New York, and aspiring Democratic presidential candidate, FDR and Mrs. Roosevelt visited with Cox on their return trip from the national governors conference in French Lick, Indiana.(Source: Dayton Journal Herald, June 6, 1931).

October 16. 1936 -- During his reelection campaign in 1936, FDR made a brief 8 minute "whistle stop" at the Crossing, becoming the third president to visit Dayton while in office. (Source: Dayton Daily News, October 17, 1936 and Dayton Journal Herald, October 16, 1936).

FDR, Orville Wright and James Cox before Orville made his exit.
October 12. 1940 -- FDR returned to Dayton to inspect the progress of the expansion of At Wright Field and pay a visit to the National Soldiers Home. The President was met at Union Station by his son, Eliott, who was stationed at Wright Field. Riding with the president in his open air car were former Gov. Cox and Orville Wright. FDR's motorcade proceeded from Union Station to Main Street, then north to Third Street where it turned in front of the Old Courthouse and a crowd estimated downtown at 100,000, and for the entire trip at 225,000. Following the visit to the Soldiers Home, the motorcade retraced its steps downtown, and then out to Wright Field and the Wright Monument, the earlier dedication of which FDR missed. Following dinner at Trails End, the home of former Gov. Cox, Roosevelt returned to his train from where he made a national radio broadcast concerning the defense of the western hemisphere. (Source: Dayton Journal and Dayton Daily News, October 13, 1940 ).

Note: This was the trip also made famous by Orville Wright's insistence that the Presidential motorcade stop at the corner of Patterson and Far Hills where Orville got out and walked the rest of the way to Hawthorne Hill, his Oakwood home. Authorities differ as to the reason for the inventor's rather abrupt departure from the presidential motorcade. Although a staunch Republican, Wright was in favor of FDR's support of the British war effort and in 1943 traveled to Washington at the President's invitation to participate in ceremonies commemorating the fortieth anniversary of the first flight at Kitty Hawk. A softspoken man who tried his best to avoid the public spotlight, some feel that Wright simply bid his respectful goodbye as the motorcade passed Hawthorne Hill rather than join the politicians for dinner at Trails End. (Sources: Wright Reminiscences, Ivonette Wright Miller (1978); The Bishop as Boys, Tom Crouch (1989), W.W.Norton & Co.; Twelve Seconds to the Moon, Rosiland Young (1978), pub. by the Dayton Journal Herald; Dayton Journal Herald and Dayton Daily News, October 13, 1940).

President Truman's motorcade passes the Old Courthouse on its way to Memorial Hall, Oct. 11, 1948.

(33d President)

October 11. 1948 -- President Truman swung through Dayton during his famous come from behind "Give 'em hell Harry" re-election campaign of 1948. Truman's motorcade passed slowly by and may have briefly stopped before a large crowd gathered at the Courthouse (front page photograph in DDN), before proceeding to a jammed Memorial Hall where the President made a speech. Truman attacked the majority Republican 86th Congress as "the do nothing Congress". (Source: Dayton Daily News October 11, 1948).

October 31. 1952 -- Truman returned to Dayton, campaigning for the Democratic nominee, Gov. Adlai Stevenson of Illinois. Truman's agenda was almost identical to his visit in 1948, with a motorcade proceeding from Union Station past a large crowd assembled at the Old Courthouse, then on to Memorial Hall where he made a speech.
(Source: Dayton Daily News, October 31, 1952).

DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER (34th President)

September 23. 1952 -- The Republican nominee for president, General Eisenhower made a 15 minute "whistle-stop" visit to Dayton on probably the most pivotal day ofthe 1952 campaign. Ike's running-mate, Sen. Richard Nixon of California, had been accused of accepting improper campaign contributions. Eisenhower came to Dayton amidst a growing movement within the Republican party to dump Nixon from the ticket while there was still time before the November election. However, later that evening Nixon gave arguably one of the most remembered speeches in American political history to a nationwide television audience, including Eisenhower who listened prior to his own speech at the Public Hall in Cleveland. Nixon's "Checkers" speech saved his candidacy, the Republican ticket, and Nixon's political career. Although anxiously anticipating Nixon's speech, Ike stuck to the topic of inflation during his stop at the First and Front Street crossing in Dayton. (Source: Dayton Daily News and Dayton Journal Herald, September 23 and 24, 1952).

JOHN F. KENNEDY (35th President)

September 17, 1959 -- Future President Kennedy spoke to the Montgomery County Bar Association at the Biltmore Hotel when he was running for the 1960 Democratic Party nomination. In another one of those strange coincidences between Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln, Kennedy spoke in Dayton 100 Years to the day after Lincoln's speech on the Courthouse steps. In fact, on the same day Kennedy addressed the Dayton bench and bar, the Young Republican Club of Montgomery County dedicated a plaque at the Courthouse commemorating the 100th Anniversary

Candidate Kennedy in a motorcade through Dayton Oct. 17, 1960. At left is Ohio Gov. Michael DiSalle.
of Lincoln's speech.
(Source: Dayton Journal Herald, September 18, 1959, and Dayton Daily News, October 17, 1960).

October 17. 1960 -- JFK returned to Dayton as the Democratic nominee during the 1960 fall campaign. Kennedy made a speech before a crowd estimated at 25,000 from the front steps of the Courthouse Kennedy took issue with the claim of his opponent, Richard Nixon, that "We've never had it so good". Kennedy urged the Dayton crowd to recognize that "We can do better".
(Source: Dayton Daily News, October 17, 1960).

LYNDON B. JOHNSON (36th President)

October 16, 1964 -- President Johnson spoke from the southeast corner ( Main Street side) of the Courthouse where he gave an evening address to a crowd estimated at 30,000. Johnson was then running for his own term as President, having succeeded to the office following Kennedy's assassination on November 22, 1963. Johnson plugged his "Great Society" themes, with particular emphasis on poverty. The scene was illuminated by giant floodlights placed around and about Third and Main Streets.
(Source: Dayton Daily News, October 17, 1964).

RICHARD M. NIXON (37th President)

October 26. 1960 -- Then Vice President and future President Nixon followed up Kennedy's appearance with one of his own, addressing a rain soaked crowd estimated at 22,000 from the Courthouse steps. Nixon charged that Kennedy was "irresponsible" and asked the crowd to acknowledge Nixon's own role in the popular Eisenhower administration. Nixon had earlier visited Dayton on October 15.1956 campaigning as Vice President .
(Source: Dayton Daily News, October 26, 1960).
Note: In 1859, the eventual Democratic candidate for president, Stephen Douglas, visited Dayton exactly 9 days before the eventual Republican candidate, Abraham Lincoln. 101 years later, in 1960, the Democratic candidate for president, John Kennedy, visited Dayton exactly 9 days before the Republican candidate, Richard Nixon. It is not known how many other cities in America, and particularly outside of Illinois, can lay claim to having hosted both Lincoln-Douglas and Kennedy-Nixon.
October 22, 1968 -- Nixon returned to Dayton during the 1968 presidential campaign. His appearance at the Courthouse marked two firsts. Nixon became the first (and until now only) president or presidential candidate to twice speak at the Courthouse, in either the same or in different campaigns. His speech was also the first (and until now only) speech by a president or presidential candidate from the rear platform of the Courthouse. Nixon spoke to a crowd of about 5,000 supporters and a not so receptive group of about 100 hecklers, mostly from Antioch College and UD. Nixon stressed his "law and order" themes, promising an America "free from fear".
(Source: Dayton Daily News, October 22, 1968 and Dayton Journal Herald, October 23, 1968).

President Nixon with Virginia Kettering at the dedication of the U.S. Air Force Museum, Sept. 4, 1971.

September 4, 1971 -- Nixon made his only trip to Dayton while in office for ceremonies involving the dedication of the United States Air Force Museum at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. The president sat with Mrs. Virginia Kettering during the ceremonies which were mostly newsworthy for those persons not permitted into the otherwise public event. Secret Service and military officials refused admittance to anyone with "long hair, bare feet, modish dress, afro haircuts, and at least two persons who identified themselves as being from Antioch College".
(Source: Dayton Daily News and Dayton Journal Herald, September 4 and 5, 1971).

Note: 1974 -- Courthouse Plaza constructed and dedicated

GERALD R FORD (38th President)

June 7. 1976 -- Ford became President upon Richard Nixon's resignation in 1974, thus becoming the only president to serve without bring elected president or vice president in a national election. He came to Dayton during the 1976 campaign and spoke at the northeast corner of the Courthouse to an estimated crowd of 10,000 people. Campaigning for the Republican party nomination, Ford portrayed his chief rival, future President and then California Gov. Ronald Reagan, as a candidate who would assure a Republican defeat that fall.
(Source: Dayton Daily News, June 8, 1976).
Various dates -- Former President Ford returned to Dayton for Bogey Busters in 1977 and 1978, and also made appearances at the Dayton Convention Center on October 21 1978 for a fundraiser and at Memorial Hall on April 11. 1991 as part of the Junior League of Dayton's Town Hall lecture series. (Source: Dayton Daily News).
Note: 1976 -- Courthouse Square completed.

JAMES E. "JIMMY" CARTER (39th President)

October 3. 1980 -- President Carter was campaigning for reelection when he visited Dayton. Like Roosevelt and Truman before him, Carter's motorcade passed in front of the Courthouse, whereafter the President proceeded to the Dayton Convention Center where he conducted one of his trademark "town meetings". Carter accused the so-called "moral majority" of distorting his beliefs, and portrayed his opponent, Gov. Ronald Reagan, as a man not to be trusted with the awesome responsibility of choosing between peace and nuclear war. Former President Carter would return to Dayton on September 15. 1992 to speak at the University of Dayton Arena as part of the university's Distinguished Speakers Series.
(Source: Dayton Daily News, October 3, 1980 and September 15, 1992).

RONALD REAGAN (40th President)

October 12. 1984 -- President Reagan used Dayton to resurrect the campaign tradition of the "whistle stop tour" from a temporarily refurbished Union Station. A Democrat in his younger years, and an ardent admirer of Franklin Roosevelt, Reagan employed the use of FDR's train car the Ferdinand Magellan, the same train from which FDR had made his Dayton radio address in 1940. Before embarking upon his train tour of western Ohio, Reagan became the first president to speak from the stage just north of the Courthouse. Addressing an overflow crowd assembled in Courthouse Square, Reagan hammered away at the suggestion of his opponent, former Vice President Walter Mondale, to raise taxes in order to fight inflation and balance the budget.
(Source: Dayton Daily News, October 12, 1984).

GEORGE BUSH (41st President)

Various dates,1988 -- During the presidential campaign of 1988, then Vice President Bush made more trips to Dayton and the Dayton area than any other candidate in any other presidential campaign before him. Bush visited the Miami Valley no less than eight times, including stops a Stoufer's Hotel downtown and the Mandalay Banquet Center, both primarily for fund-raising appearances, as well as the Pine Club Restaurant (where a plaque commemorates his visit there). Bush also made speeches in West Carrolton (where the Bush-Quayle ticket kicked off its national campaign following the Republican convention), Vandalia, Xenia, and Central State University. Despite the many number of visits to Dayton, Bush did not deliver a formal speech either at the Old Courthouse or elsewhere downtown.
(Source: Dayton Daily News, various dates).

July 25.1992 -- President Bush was campaigning for re-election when he visited Dayton, and more specifically, Brookville, where he attended a community picnic and even participated in a softball game. Bush flew into and out of the Dayton International Airport.
(Source: Dayton Daily News, July 25, 1992).
Note: It has been suggested that Bush may have made a number of other private trips to Dayton due to the fact that his wife had family here.

President Clinton gestures during a speech at Courthouse Square Oct. 10, 1996. Behind him at left is Tony Capizzi, then a Dayton City Commissioner.
          DDN photo - Wally Nelson

(42d President)

October 10. 1996 -- Campaigning for re-election and thanking the Dayton community for its role in the Bosnian peace talks held the previous year at Wright Patterson AFB, President Clinton spoke from the north side of the Courthouse to an overflow crowd. Clinton utilized a recurring campaign theme by asking the crowd repeatedly, "Will you help me build a bridge to the 21st century?". Following his speech, Clinton impromptly ducked inside Elder-Beerman department store to birthday shop for his wife.
(Source: Dayton Daily News, October 11, 1996).

Selected Dayton Daily News stories:

Plaques to mark visits
Presidents who come to Dayton will be memorialized at Courthouse Square
Published: Monday, February 16, 1998