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

Announcing the Miller Center’s new Historical Presidency Series

“That’s what’s the matter” from the Library of Congress. McClellan separates Lincoln and Davis in a tug of war over a map of the United States.

Beginning this fall, the Miller Center will host a new lecture series based on the Historical Presidency.  The theme for 2013-14 is "The American Presidency and the Crises of the Nineteenth Century."  On September 18 at 5pm, series organizer Gary W. Gallagher (UVa history) will kick things off with Princeton Emeritus Professor James M. McPherson for a conversation about Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis. 

Check out the entire 13-14 series here.

Friday Feature: Barack Obama Takes His Best Shot…

President Obama reels in reaction to a missed shot on the basketball court. Enthusiastic kids look on.

President Barack Obama reacts to a missed shot on the White House Basketball Court, April 1, 2013. The President participated in a clinic with kids and professional basketball players as part of the 2013 White House Easter Egg Roll. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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

Friday Feature: Under Pressure

President Johnson sits at a conference table with his head down.

President Johnson listened to a tape sent by a soldier in Vietnam, Captain Charles Robb, who was the President’s son-in-law. July 1968. Domestic opposition to the war was escalating. 

Leading the free world isn't always bicycle rides and soaking in specialized bathtubs. No doubt, many presidents must feel a great sense of relief when passing the torch to their successors.

As stated by James K. Polk, after leaving office,

"I feel exceedingly relieved that I am now free from all public cares. I am sure I shall be a happier man in my retirement than I have been during the four years I have filled the highest office in the gift of my countrymen. "

And in the American President essay about Benjamin Harrison,

"In 1892, the voters handed [Harrison's challenger, Grover] Cleveland the most decisive presidential victory in twenty years. Harrison told his family he felt as though he had been freed from prison."

How do you think you would deal with the pressure? 

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

Remembering Ronald Reagan

Today we remember President Ronald Reagan, who passed away on this day nine years ago at his home in Bel Air, California. The Miller Center houses a robust collection of Reagan oral histories. As the website explains:

In August 2001, with the cooperation of the Reagan Library, the Miller Center began an oral history of key figures in the political life of Ronald Reagan to capture for posterity the words of these individuals who knew Reagan most intimately. Nancy Reagan has observed that the Miller Center "has become a valuable part of our lives as it works closely with the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library to create a definitive oral history of the Reagan presidency."

The project is now completed and includes some forty-five interviews with those most closely involved in Reagan's political career, including Cabinet members, White House staff, and campaign advisors. Among those who have been interviewed are Richard Allen, Frank Carlucci, James Miller, George Shultz, William Webster, and Caspar Weinberger.

As a special supplement to the Reagan Oral History, the Falklands Roundtable was designed to capture the recollections of key participants from the Reagan administration who were involved in the Falklands crisis, including Jeane Kirkpatrick and Caspar Weinberger.

Cleared transcripts were released to the public on January 29, 2006 and are available online. Hard copies of the transcripts are housed at the Miller Center's Scripps Library and Multimedia Archive, and at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. You can read the interviews here.

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.