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Presidential history

Was he the era’s greatest Democrat or its elected autocrat? A hero or a scoundrel? Balancing Andrew Jackson’s legacy is a problematic exercise, complicated by his many contradictions.

Thomas Sully's 1824 painting

Our leading politicians have spewed vitriol at each other since the nation’s founding.

Have Biden and other recent Presidents demeaned the award meant for “especially meritorious contributions to the security and national interests of the United States”?

Editor's Note: Last year, American Heritage ran a petition requesting that President Joe Biden award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Read more >>

Though Bush's connections to industry sometimes led to charges of corruption, his presidency is most associated with the Iraq War and efforts to combat terrorism in the wake of 9/11.

Many of the Bush administration's

Partisan politics, plus the media’s focus on Clinton’s personal life, created a presidency under siege and consumed by scandals—some serious, others trivial.

The censure of Andrew Jackson for replacing his secretary of Treasury raised the question of a president's authority to control the actions of his cabinet members.

McKinley and his secretary of war were accused of negligence and corruption in the conflict, including forcing soldiers to eat "embalmed beef."

On September 8, 1898, Secretary of War Russell A. Alger formally petitioned President William McKinley for an investigation into the War Department's conduct of the war with Spain. Read more >>

Nixon’s illegal use of presidential power constitutes his most important influence on later constitutional law and U.S. politics.

The young nation was lucky to have 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. Read more >>

The struggles and triumphs of our Presidents have been central to shaping our nation, even though they operated under a Constitution that didn’t grant them unilateral power.

Editor's Note: Portions of this essay were written by the distinguished Presidential historian Michael Beschloss for our book, Read more >>

“It is recommended,” proclaimed Lincoln, that the People “celebrate the anniversary of the Birthday of the Father of his Country."

On February 19, 1862, with armies drilling for the spring Civil War campaigning season, Presi Read more >>

We re-publish an essay President Hoover wrote for American Heritage in 1958 recounting his experiences as an aide to Woodrow Wilson at the peace talks after World War I. This important first-person narrative candidly details the difficulties that Wilson faced in what Hoover called “the greatest drama of intellectual leadership in all history.”

Reprinted from the June 1958 issue of American Heritage. Read more >>

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

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. Read more >>

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. Read more >>

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

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

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.

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? Read more >>

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?

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

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. Read more >>
Down with the debunking biographer,” Lyndon Johnson wrote in his college newspaper in 1929. “It now seems to be quite a thing to pull down the mighty from their seats and roll them in the mire. This practice deserves pronounced condemnation. Read more >>

It’s not surprising that Democrats seek to wrap themselves in the Roosevelt cloak; what’s harder to understand is why so many Republicans do too. A distinguished historian explains.

On June 2 the first and last presidential wedding took place in the White House: President Grover Cleveland, a rotund forty-nine-year-old bachelor, married the statuesque Frances Folsom, twenty-three. Read more >>

The early years of our republic produced dozens of great leaders. A historian explains how men like Adams and Jefferson were selected for public office, and tells why the machinery that raised them became obsolete.

THERE IS NO clear consensus on what constitutes greatness, nor are there any objective criteria for measuring it—but when we look at holders of high public offices and at the current field of candidates, we know it is missing. Read more >>

Was the murdered President one of our best, a man of “vigor, rationality, and noble vision” or was he “an optical illusion,” “an expensively programmed waxwork”? A noted historian examines the mottled evolution of his reputation.

The murder of John F. Kennedy twenty years ago last month occasioned an overwhelming sense of grief that may be without parallel in our history. Read more >>

An Interview With Theodore H. White

From the End of the Earth to the Oval Office

“To be President of the United States,” wrote Harry Truman, “is to be lonely, very lonely. Read more >>

For TR, the nation s highest office was never a burden; he loved the job, and Americans loved him for loving it

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