Miller Center

Riding The Tiger

“I discovered that being a President is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed.” Harry S. Truman

Friday Feature: Soaking the Tiger

Four workers sit comfortably in an oversized empty bath tub.

Pictured: Four gentlemen in what would become President Taft’s bathtub (before it made its way to the White House).

Did you know? William Howard Taft had an extra-large bathtub installed in the White House during his Presidency (where it remained until a White House renovation). A replica of Taft's tub is on display in the National Archives in Washington D.C.

Click here to see the original order for the bathtub, submitted by the captain of the U.S.S. North Carolina in 1908, and here to see a description in the journal Engineering Review from 1909 (p. 69).

Stay tuned! Every Friday we'll highlight an interesting item from presidential history.

Presidential Speeches of Memorial Days Past

With Memorial Day weekend upon us, it is an ideal time to look back on presidential speeches of Memorial Days past.

In 1963, LBJ delivered his Memorial Day Remarks at Gettysburg.  “On this hallowed ground, heroic deeds were performed and eloquent words were spoken a century ago,” he began. “We, the living, have not forgotten--and the world will never forget--the deeds or the words of Gettysburg. We honor them now as we join on this Memorial Day of 1963 in a prayer for permanent peace of the world and fulfillment of our hopes for universal freedom and justice.”

Johnson proceeds to challenge the nation to move past racial divides for the greater good of the country. “In this hour, it is not our respective races which are at stake--it is our nation,” he said. “Let those who care for their country come forward, North and South, white and Negro, to lead the way through this moment of challenge and decision.”

Twenty one years later, in his Memorial Day remarks at a ceremony to honor the Vietnam War’s Unknown Soldier, President Reagan also channeled President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. “When he spoke at a ceremony at Gettysburg in 1863, President Lincoln reminded us that through their deeds, the dead had spoken more eloquently for themselves than any of the living ever could, and that we living could only honor them by rededicating ourselves to the cause for which they so willingly gave a last full measure of devotion.”

To watch Reagan's full speech, click here.

Which president delivered your favorite Memorial Day speech?

Friday Feature: Nancy and Ronald Reagan Not Riding a Tiger

Photo Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library, c. 1982. Taken at Rancho Del Cielo, Santa Barbara, CA.

Here on the east coast things have started heating up… could it be true? Is summer on the way?

In honor of the shifting seasons, here are the Reagans doing what many of us are starting to do this time of year (though not quite in the way we normally do it): mowing the grass. The mower was an anniversary present. 

Stay tuned! Every Friday we'll highlight an interesting item from presidential history.

Friday Feature: The Tiger Goes Riding

How about a little cuteness to wrap up the week? Here's President Clinton with Socks (clearly ready for action).

For more, check out this feature of presidential pets posted by Cute Overload back in February.

Stay tuned! Every Friday we'll highlight an interesting item from presidential history.

What Are The Tea Party’s Plans?

Don’t Stop the Party, Miller Center Forum with Matt Kibbe of FreedomWorks

Last week, Politico reported that the Tea Party is back in action with a new strategy and a growing membership.  While discussions from the April 25th caucus meeting were not made public, Matt Kibbe, president and CEO of FreedomWorks (the most influential tea party organization in the United States), spoke about Tea Party 3.0 and the future direction of the Tea Party at a Miller Center Forum in March.

During the forum, Kibbe noted that the Tea Party is going to focus on getting their policy proposals focused on reducing the budget and reforming entitlements introduced by members of Congress. He also noted there are at least ten Senators whom the Tea Party has helped elect to office, including “rock stars” Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.

The plan for 2014, according to Kibbe, is to go after a number of Democratic seats that are up for reelection in 2014 and to focus on places like South Carolina. According to Kibbe, “We can do better than Lindsey Graham in the primary.” He also argued there is a big opportunity is to solve the Missouri problem and get behind principled fiscal conservatives in Arkansas, North Dakota and Alaska.

George Washington Warned Against Partisanship

Think partisanship is a political problem unique to today’s political context? Think again. In his first inaugural address delivered on this day in 1789, President George Washington warned Congress to avoid local and party partisanship:

In these honorable qualifications, I behold the surest pledges, that as on one side, no local prejudices, or attachments; no separate views, nor party animosities, will misdirect the comprehensive and equal eye which ought to watch over this great assemblage of communities and interests: so, on another, that the foundations of our National policy will be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality; and the pre-eminence of a free Government, be exemplified by all the attributes which can win the affections of its Citizens, and command the respect of the world.

In the address, which was delivered to a joint session of Congress in New York City (the temporary seat of government), Washington acknowledged the shared responsibility of the president and Congress to preserve "the sacred fire of liberty" and a republican form of government.

This Day In History: Nixon Justifies Release of White House Transcripts Instead of Tapes

Richard Nixon, Address to the Nation on Presidential Tape Recordings, April 29, 1974

On April 29, 1974, President Richard Nixon addressed the nation to explain the edited transcripts he was releasing of the White House tapes in response to the House Judiciary Committee’s subpoena for the actual tapes. The president continued to refuse to release the actual tapes, claiming that the Constitutional principle of executive privilege applied to them and claiming that they were vital to national security. The tapes contained conversations that would reveal what Nixon knew about the break-in two years prior at the Watergate complex, the subsequent cover up and what he did about it. The House Judiciary Committee rejected the edited transcripts, arguing they did not comply with the subpoena for the actual tapes. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court. In July 1974, the Court ruled in United States v. Nixon that Nixon must turn over the tapes.

Friday Feature: Tigers Ridden

It's a rare occurrence to have all living presidents in one location (if you will, imagine the security concerns for a moment) but it happened yesterday at the opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas.

Check out this slideshow of images from yesterday's event, thanks to the Washington Post. The Bush Presidential Library, similar to all NARA Presidential Libraries, seeks to "[serve] as a resource for the study of the life and career of George W. Bush, while also promoting a better understanding of the Presidency, American history, and important issues of public policy."

Stay tuned! Every Friday we'll highlight an interesting item from presidential history.

President Kennedy, the Press and the National Security Question

Today’s guest post is by Elizabeth Brightwell, a Miller Center Student Ambassador and a fourth year student at the University of Virginia majoring in English and French and working on her MA in Public Policy at the Batten School.

Fifty-two years ago, on April 27th, 1961, President John F. Kennedy addressed the American Newspaper Publishers Association in New York City’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. His speech, titled “The President and the Press,” addressed the role of the press in helping American efforts to curb communism; the speech discussed the standards for releasing sensitive materials that might compromise national security. The President’s address came just over one week after the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion in which the U.S. trained and funded parliamentary group, Brigade 2506, unsuccessfully invaded Cuba. In the days leading up to the invasion, the media had leaked plans for the invasion, which was intended to be a surprise.

The plans for the Bay of Pigs Invasion began after the Cuban Revolution replaced Fulgencio Batista, an ally of the U.S., with Fidel Castro. A Cuba led by Castro concerned the U.S. government especially because Castro began expropriating the country’s economic assets from the U.S. and developing a relationship with the Soviet Union.  It was actually President Dwight Eisenhower who initiated and authorized the bulk of the Bay of Pigs planning process. President John F. Kennedy, however, gave the final nod of approval for the invasion, which began on April 17th, 1961 and ended in defeat three days later. One hundred and eighteen Americans were killed and 1,202 were captured and the invasion was a major embarrassment for the U.S. President Kennedy subsequently ordered many internal investigations of the invasion plans, preparations and execution.

The plans for the Bay of Pigs were classified and intended to be kept secret in the interest of national security and in the interest of the plans’ success. The plans, however, were not as secret as the Administration would have wished.

Miller Center Celebrates Life of Kenneth W. Thompson

Kenneth W. Thompson

Kenneth W. Thompson, Director of the Miller Center from 1978-1998. He continued to head the Center’s Forum Program until 2004.

On April 12, 2013 the Miller Center celebrated the life of Kenneth W. Thompson, who headed the Miller Center from 1978-1998. As Governor Gerald Baliles, Director and CEO of the Miller Center, noted, “The Miller Center would not be what it is today without the inspiration and passion of Ken Thompson Ken initiated much of the work that continues to this day. Because of him, presidential history that might otherwise have been lost will be preserved for generations to come. Ken will be greatly missed, but his legacy will live on as we carry on what he started.”  In this post, we highlight remarks from Gov. Baliles, Gov. Linwood Holton, Leonard Sandridge, Eugene Fife, Philip Zelikow, Shirley Burke and students delivered at the memorial service remembering the life and work of Professor Thompson.

Stephen A. Douglas and His Legacy

Hon. Stephen A. Douglas, Ill

Hon. Stephen A. Douglas, Ill. Portrait by Matthew Brady, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration, PD.

Today’s guest blog post is by Matthew Irvine, a 2012-2013 Miller Center Ambassador and first year student at the University of Virginia majoring in Computer Science.

Two hundred years ago today marks the birth of one of America’s most prominent political leaders. Though Stephen A. Douglas was never elected President of the United States, he tried his hardest to ascend to the position. In the process, he served as a member of the United States House of Representatives and the Senate, championing causes like westward expansion and popular sovereignty. Although his legacy is sometimes eclipsed by that of his Illinois political rival Abraham Lincoln, Douglas was one of the most influential and powerful politicians of his day.

Stephen A. Douglas’s legacy began on April 23, 1813 when he was born in Brandon, Vermont, to parents Stephen Arnold Douglass and Sarah Fisk. Before entering into politics, Douglas held a variety of jobs. He worked on the farm where he grew up until he turned 15, at which point he became a cabinetmaker’s apprentice. Quickly moving on, he relocated to New York, where he worked as a farmhand for three years. Yearning for a career in law but not wanting to spend the four years in school that New York required, Douglas ventured westward to the land of opportunity and self-made men and settled in Jacksonville, Illinois, where he quickly became a lawyer.

Former Miller Center Fellow Beverly Gage: Unanswered Questions About Watergate

President Nixon, with edited transcripts of Nixon White House Tape conversations during broadcast of his address to the Nation.

President Nixon, with edited transcripts of Nixon White House Tape conversations during broadcast of his address to the Nation. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration. PD.

Former Miller Center Fellow and Yale History Professor Beverly Gage reviews Robert Redford’s new documentary, which aired on the Discovery Channel last night, All the President’s Men Revisited, for Slate.com. The documentary was created to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Watergate. Gage argues that the film is “a reasonably adequate primer on Watergate mythology, and it’s certainly fun to watch. But it is also a missed opportunity for historical reflection—and one that, given the age of most Watergate participants, is unlikely to come around again.” For example, Redford fails to explore the implications of whether Mark Felt leaked information to Bob Woodward for his own purposes. As journalist Max Holland argues in his 2012 book, The Leak: Why Mark Felt Became Deep Throat, Felt did so in his own interests to win a “war of succession” then underway at the FBI following J. Edgar Hoover’s death.

Gage also notes that forty years later, there still big political questions left unresolved:

How did a Republican Party on the verge of collapse in 1974 surge back six years later to launch the Age of Reagan? How much of the scandal was really about Nixon and his paranoia, and how much was about a broader set of institutional and political rivalries? Did the reforms put in place after the scandal—on presidential power, on intelligence prerogatives—effectively constrain the executive branch? To what degree did Watergate, once seen as a great Democratic triumph, help to fuel a conservative anti-government backlash?

Redford’s film, according to Gage, does offer a few tantalizing thoughts about today’s fractious political scene. According to Gage:

Rachel Maddow argues, for instance, that Obama’s fondness for drones and secret intelligence operations owes much to Nixon’s “imperial presidency.” Bernstein himself suggests that the Watergate era may look shockingly good when compared to today’s bitter partisan politics. In 1974, he notes, Republicans and Democrats finally joined together to serve the public interest by ousting the president.

Read the full review on Slate here. And be sure to check out the Miller Center’s Presidential Recording Program collection of transcripts related to Watergate here.

This Day in History: The Bay of Pigs Invasion

JFK Decisions Doodle

At a cabinet meeting John F. Kennedy made several attempts to spell decisions. The Kennedy Library does not have sufficient information to determine the date of the meeting, although we suspect it was either during meetings on the Bay of Pigs or the Cuban Missile Crisis. Courtesy of NARA, PD.

Today’s guest post is by Graham Egan, a 2012-2013 Miller Center Student Ambassador and a Third Year Government Major in the Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics a the University of Virginia.

Today marks the 52nd Anniversary of the Bay of Pigs Invasion. In the early hours of April 17, 1961, a brigade of approximately 1,500 Cuban exiles landed at Bahia de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs) on Cuba’s southern coast, initiating an attempt to overthrow the Communist regime of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. The invasion was the culmination of an increasingly acrimonious situation, one that had been heightened three months earlier when the Eisenhower Administration closed the American embassy in Havana and severed diplomatic relations with the island nation. Although they were funded, armed, and trained by the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency, the Cuban exile force was quickly overwhelmed and defeated by Castro’s revolutionary army in 3 days. More than 100 of the rebels were killed and 1,200 were captured. The operation was a terrible debacle and a very public embarrassment for the nascent Kennedy Administration.

The CIA first conceived of the plan to overthrow the Castro regime early in 1960. Cuban-American relations had been deteriorating since the Castro regime had seized power during the 1959 Cuban Revolution. Fearing the anti-American rhetoric of the regime and the potential rise of communism so close to US borders, the latter of which was heightened when Cuba signed a trade treaty with the Soviet Union in 1960, President Eisenhower approved the plan on March 17th, 1960. Shortly after, the Eisenhower administration began financing and training a group of anti-Castro exiles in Guatemala. The primary objective of the invasion, as stated in a top-secret policy paper entitled “A Program of Covert Action Against the Castro Regime,” was to “bring about the replacement of the Castro regime with one more devoted to the true interests of Cuban people and more acceptable to the U.S. in such a manner to avoid any appearance of U.S. intervention.”

Hoff: Immigration Is Not a Solution to Declining Birthrate

Derek S. Hoff, a former Miller Center National Fellow, an associate professor of history at Kansas State University and the author of The State and the Stork: The Population Debate and Policy Making in U.S. History, has published an Op-Ed in today’s New York Times countering arguments from across the political spectrum that the United States needs immigration to make up for its declining birthrate. Unlike other wealthy nations that will see their populations stabilize or decline, the United States is actually projected to grow. According to Hoff:  

Conservatives and liberals alike generally assume that population growth drives economic growth. But until the triumph of the new laissez-faire economics in the 1970s and 1980s, most economists agreed that what mattered was not the size of a population but its human capital and its savings, investment and consumption practices. Indeed, many mainstream economists argued that a smaller but more productive population would enhance growth and lead to a more just society. It is strange that we talk on one hand about an innovation- and knowledge-based economy while still thinking about economic growth in terms of sheer body count. Moderate levels of immigration can help us maintain a highly skilled work force, but so, too, can investing more in educating our young.

Ike’s Chance for Peace

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Chance for Peace, April 16, 1953

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Today marks the 60th anniversary of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s “Chance for Peace Speech, which he delivered to the American Society of Newspaper Editors.  Although often remembered as a man of war, in his book, Ike’s Bluff, Evan Thomas argues that President Eisenhower feared the consequences of an all-out arms race with the Soviet Union, nuclear conflict and excessive spending on defense. He had, according to Thomas, an “overwhelming, single, fixed pre-occupation: the avoidance of war.”

In an attempt to take advantage of Joseph Stalin’s death, Ike delivered the “Chance for Peace” address on April 16, 1953 as a means to reach out to the new leadership in the Soviet Union and to propose disarmament. Couching the consequences of continued tense relations and rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union in moral terms, President Eisenhower stated in the speech:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone.
It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.