JFK On Our Nation’s Memory

Forty seven years ago, the president wrote for American Heritage that the study of history is no mere pastime but the means by which a nation establishes its sense of identity and purpose

There is little that is more important for an American citizen to know than the history and traditions of his country. Without such knowledge, he stands uncertain and defenseless before the world, knowing neither where he has come from nor where he is going. With such knowledge, he is no longer alone but draws a strength far greater than his own from the cumulative experience of the past and a cumulative vision of the future. Read more »

A Boy From Tampico

Most associate Ronald Reagan with California, but he spent his formative years in the midwest. On the centennial of his birth, a handful of small Illinois towns want a share of the limelight.

Back in 1965 Ronald Reagan published his first memoir, Where’s the Rest of Me?, borrowing the title from a line in the 1942 Warner Brothers film Kings Row. In the movie—Reagan’s favorite of all he starred in—he played Drake McHugh, a playboy whose legs have been removed by a sadistic surgeon. “Where’s the rest of me?” Reagan famously cried out when he came to, with thespian relish worthy of an Academy Award nomination. Read more »

Inventing The Presidency

As America goes into its fifty-fifth presidential election, we should remember that there might have been only one—if we hadn’t had the only candidate on earth who could do the job

THERE WERE NO PRIMARIES BACK THEN TO SELECT presidential candidates, no organized political parties, no orchestrated campaigns, not even any established election procedures. But it really didn’t matter, because when the votes of that odd invention called the Electoral College were cast in February of 1789, George Washington had in effect won by acclamation.Read more »

Speaking Of Business

A sampling of the wisdom of Americans from Ben Franklin to Cameron Crowe

All the perplexities, confusions, and distresses in America arise… from downright ignorance of the nature of coin, credit, and circulation. —John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson, August 25, 1787

 

Nothing but money is sweeter than honey. —Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanac, 1735

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Presenting The Presidents

A major new installation at the Smithsonian Institution explores the nation’s biggest and most important job

On November 15, just a week after the first presidential election of the new millennium, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History will open an ambitious new exhibition, “The American Presidency.” The 7,000-square-foot show will cover all 41 past American Presidents and will be organized thematically, not chronologically. Its sections will include “Presidential Campaigns,” “Inaugural Celebrations,” “Life at the White House,” “Assassinations and Mourning,” “The Media and the Presidency,” and “Life After the Presidency.”

 
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Intimate Enemies

When John Adams was elected President, and Thomas Jefferson Vice President, each came to see the other as a traitor. Out of their enmity grew our modern political system.

During the first contested presidential election in American history, the voters were asked to choose between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. In this millennial year, voters will choose between George W. Bush and Al Gore. At first blush, the caustic observation of Henry Adams appears indisputable: The American Presidency stands as a glaring exception to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolutionary progress.

 
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The Temper Thing

How bad is it when Presidents get really sore?

The rumor first began to spread around Washington last year: Sen. John McCain had a skeleton in his closet. Was it something to do with his past as a war hero in Vietnam? His voting record in the Senate? The role he had played as one of the Keating Five in the savings and loan scandal? Read more »

How Smart Should A President Be?

Smarter than stupid, of course; but does the intellectual tradition that began with the century suggest there is such a thing as being too smart for the country’s good?

The century now ending opened with a political situation that is both unusual and recurring: Intellectuals were somewhat firmly in the saddle. From 1901 to 1921 the White House was occupied by three authors—Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson. Taft and Wilson were ex-professors to boot. One of the powers of the Senate, Henry Cabot Lodge, was another author-professor.

 
 
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Re-examining Roosevelt

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He had a long, intimate friendship that stayed unknown for almost half a century after his death

Eight Days With Harry Truman

The elder statesman sets the record straight on JFK, LBJ, Stalin, the bomb, Charles de Gaulle, Douglas MacArthur—and, most of all, the American Presidency

I can still see Harry and Bess Truman coming toward us across the crowded terminal of the Kansas City airport on that night in 1970, their eighty-six-year-old faces pinched and almost grim with concern. Then they saw their daughter, Margaret, walking safely beside me, and their worries vanished. Their smiles transformed them.

Introductions were swiftly accomplished. The Trumans already knew who I was and why I was there—to help Margaret on the research for her father’s biography. Read more »