February 17, 2009 3 Comments
So today is Presidents’ Day. We can’t all be in Washington, DC to visit the National Archives, the National Portrait Gallery, or the National Museum of American History. But there are interesting and edifying (or not) ways to memorialize the date and celebrate our presidential heritage. Some of these you can spread out over the week, others over a year—until the next Presidents’ Day.
- Visit the C-Span site for the Historians Presidential Leadership Survey for pages and pages of interesting facts and rankings. See also The American Presidency Project.
- Visit a presidential museum. We have two in southern California, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace.
- Review U. S. Constitution guidelines for the presidency. Amazon has a nice paperback edition here.
- Have some fun. See if you can arrange pictures of the presidents in the chronological order of their administrations, at MIStupid.com. Do a word search puzzle or a jigsaw puzzle of the American presidents. There’s even a People’s Choice Presidential Card Game.
- Browse a pictorial reference book on American presidents. I recommend The American President: The Human Drama of Our Nation’s Highest Office.
- Select four presidents you’d like to know more about. Determine to read one substantive biography of each before next Presidents’ Day (15 Feburary 2010). Here are some recommendations: John Adams, by David McCullough; Washington’s Crossing, by David Hackett Fischer; T. R.: The Last Romantic, by H. W. Brands; An Honest President: The Life and Presidencies of Grover Cleveland, by H. Paul Jeffers; and, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Or you might select from The American Presidents Series, a stunning set of easily digested volumes. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., the general editor writes, “It is the aim of the American Presidents series to present the grand panorama of our chief executives in volumes compact enough for the busy reader, lucid enough for the student, authoritative enough for the scholar. Each volume offers a distillation of character and career.” This is a great series for getting to know those forgotten presidents—James Buchanan, Benjamin Harrison, Andrew Johnson, Grover Cleveland, Chester Alan Arthur, William McKinley, James K. Polk, Martin Van Buren. I have the volume on Chester Alan Arthur, by Zachary Karabell, and the one on William McKinley, who was assassinated, written by Kevin Phillips.
- Alternatively, read a book that compares presidents from an interesting vantage point. For this I suggest Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America, by Michael R. Beschloss. Beschloss is the fellow you see interviewed so often about presidential history. He has several bestselling books to his credit.
- For the biographies of those who ran for the presidency and lost, I recommend They Also Ran, by Irving Stone.
- In the category of historical fiction, you might try something like The Shut Mouth Society, by James D. Best; The President’s Lady: A Novel about Rachel and Andrew Jackson, by Irving Stone; or, Never Call Retreat: Lee and Grant—The Final Victory, by Newt Gingrich. In the “alternate history” category, there’s 1901, by Robert Conroy, imaging the transder of power from William McKinley to Theodore Roosevelt when Germany invades the United States. For speculative fiction involving presidential decision making during crisis, try Brad Thor’s novel State of the Union, or Absolute Power, by the bestselling thriller novelist David Baldacci.
- Identify a favorite non-living president and write down ten things you admire about him. Share these with a friend or family member.
- Pick a president you know little about, and see if you can learn ten interesting things about him. Try to identify skills or character traits you admire.
- Imagine a conversation with one of our past presidents. Who would you like to spend an hour with? What would you want to talk about? Write down ten questions you would ask? Do this with friends or family, and compare.
- Write an imaginary conversation between yourself and one of the presidents, or between three presidents who never knew each other (I did this in a blog post recently).
- Read select speeches of various presidents (for example, nomination and convention speeches, inauguration speeches, state of the union speeches, or speeches on important occasions—as when Reagan addressed the nation after space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after launch).
- Rent a movie. Here’s a list of some “presidential” films, of different kinds and quality: State of the Union, The American President, Dave, All the President’s Men, Nixon, Jefferson in Paris, Murder at 1600, Absolute Power, Wag the Dog, Primary Colors, JFK, Young Mr. Lincoln, Wilson (1944, with Charles Coburn), Gabriel Over the White House, Air Force One, In the Line of Fire, The Assassination of Richard Nixon, The First Wives Club. Don’t forget about movies from The History Channel: JFK: A Presidency Revealed, FDR: A Presidency Revealed, and Nixon: A Presidency Revealed. Here’s the IMDB site for a listing of Ronald Regan’s movies. For a book on how Hollywood has portrayed presidents and their administration, see Hollywood’s White House: The American Presidency in Film and History.
- Watch past episodes of 24 and The West Wing.
- Write a blog post with your own suggestions.
- Post suggestions in the combox for this post!