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Riding the Tiger > Category: This Day in History

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: Betty Ford’s First Press Conference

Oh this day in history, August 9, 1974, Gerald Ford was sworn in as president after Nixon's resignation, declaring, "Our long national nightmare is over."

One month later, on September 4, Betty Ford held her first press conference as first lady of the United States. She faced 75 reporters. According to the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library & Museum,

"…Betty Ford immediately revealed the openness and good-natured candor that became her trademark. …. Expressing herself with humor and forthrightness on controversial issues of the day, she answered questions about women in politics, abortion rights, and a proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer later that month, she broke with social conventions by fostering public discussion of her diagnosis and treatment. In doing this, she purposefully raised public awareness of screening and treatment options and reassured the many women already suffering from similar ordeals."

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.

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.

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.

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.

This Day in History: LBJ Signs Fair Housing Act Into Law

Lyndon Baines Johnson, Remarks on Signing the Civil Rights Act, April 11, 1968

Today marks the 45th anniversary of the signing of the 1968 Civil Rights Act, which provided for equal housing opportunities regardless of race, creed, or national origin. President Lyndon B. Johnson had failed to persuade Congress to pass a civil rights bill in 1966 with a fair housing provision. Following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and amidst the riots in the wake of his assassination, Congress passed civil rights legislation, which included Title VIII that banned discrimination in the sale and rental of 80 percent of housing. The bill also contained anti-riot provisions and protected persons exercising specific rights—such as attending school or serving on a jury—as well as it protected civil rights workers urging others to exercise these rights.  The bill included the Indian Bill of Rights, which extended constitutional protections to Native Americans not covered by the Bill of Rights.

Upon signing the bill into law, President Johnson delivered remarks to Congress and the nation on the progress made:

I shall never forget that it was more than 100 years ago when Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation—but it was a proclamation; it was not a fact.
In the Civil Rights Act of 1964, we affirmed through law that men equal under God are also equal when they seek a job, when they go to get a meal in a restaurant, or when they seek lodging for the night in any State in the Union…
In the Civil Rights Act of 1965, we affirmed through law for every citizen in this land the most basic right of democracy—the right of a citizen to vote in an election in his country. In the five States where the Act had its greater impact, Negro voter registration has already more than doubled.
Now, with this bill, the voice of justice speaks again.
It proclaims that fair housing for all—all human beings who live in this country—is now a part of the American way of life.

This Day in History: The Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with Civil Rights leaders Martin Luther King, Jr., Whitney Young, James Farmer

President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with Civil Rights leaders Martin Luther King, Jr., Whitney Young, and James Farmer, 18 January 1964. Photo by Yoichi R. Okamoto. PD.

Today marks the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. At 6:01 P.M. on April 4, 1968, Dr. King was shot at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. He was pronounced dead at 7:05 P.M. At 9:07 P.M. that same evening, President Johnson read a short statement for radio and television broadcast from outside the entrance to the West Lobby of the White House:

America is shocked and saddened by the brutal slaying tonight of Dr. Martin Luther King. I ask every citizen to reject the blind violence that has struck Dr. King, who lived by nonviolence. I pray that his family can find comfort in the memory of all he tried to do for the land he loved so well. I have just conveyed the sympathy of Mrs. Johnson and myself to his widow, Mrs. King. I know that every American of good will joins me in mourning the death of this outstanding leader and in praying for peace and understanding throughout this land. We can achieve nothing by lawlessness and divisiveness among the American people. It is only by joining together and only by working together that we can continue to move toward equality and fulfillment for all of our people. I hope that all Americans tonight will search their hearts as they ponder this most tragic incident. I have canceled my plans for the evening. I am postponing my trip to Hawaii until tomorrow. Thank you.

Reagan Administration Officials on How the Falklands War Affected America’s Reputation

Argentine prisoners of war - Port Stanley.

Argentine prisoners of war at Port Stanley, June 17, 1982. By Griffiths911. PD.

The Reagan administration played a key role shuttling between the parties leading up to and during the war. The Reagan administration played a key role shuttling between the parties leading up to and during the war.

This week marks the 31st anniversary of Falklands War. On April 2, 1982, Argentinian forces invaded the Falkland-Malvinas Islands, as part of a protracted historical dispute over the sovereignty of the islands. Argentina claims that the islands have been part of the country since the 19th century and Britain lays claim to islands based on colonial negotiations with Spain in 1770. The 74-day war cost 649 Argentine and 255 British lives.

The Reagan administration played a key role shuttling between the parties leading up to and during the war.  In 2003, the Miller Center’s Presidential Oral History Program conducted the "Falklands Roundtable" in conjunction with the Institute of Contemporary British History (ICBH).  The Falklands Roundtable was designed to capture the recollections of key participants from the Reagan administration who were involved in the Falklands crisis. Participants included former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger; Jeane Kirkpatrick, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations; David Gompert, a key member of Alexander Haig's mediation team who served as the Deputy to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs; Lawrence Eagleburger; Harry Shlaudeman, U.S. Ambassador to Argentina; Edward Streator, the Deputy Chief of Mission at the Court of St. James; General Paul Gorman, who was Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time of the Falklands crisis; Admiral Thomas Hayward, the Chief of Naval Operations from 1978-1982; and Admiral Harry Train, the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Atlantic Command and the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet.

In this post, we highlight some excerpts from the "Falklands Roundtable" transcripts regarding the role of the United States in the conflict and how the conflict influenced America’s reputation in the region.

This Day in History: Wilson Asks Congress to Declare War on Germany

President Woodrow Wilson asking Congress to declare war on Germany, causing the United States to enter World War I.

President Woodrow Wilson asking Congress to declare war on Germany, causing the United States to enter World War I. Photo Courtesy of the Library of Congress, PD.

Today’s guest post comes from Rebecca Lim, a Miller Center Student Ambassador and a second year student at the University of Virginia double majoring in East Asian Studies and Political and Social Thought.

On this day 96 years ago, President Woodrow Wilson delivered an address to Congress requesting a declaration of war against Germany. The request was approved, and four days later, on April 6, 1917, the United States officially entered World War I. The U.S. had remained neutral since the outbreak of the war in 1914, and American public opinion highly opposed entering the war. Just three years later, however, a series of events infuriated the American people and galvanized public opinion in the opposite direction: the revelation of the German empire’s decision to recommence unrestricted submarine warfare on February 1, under which German submarines, called U-boats, could attack both military and non-military vessels without warning; and the interception of the infamous Zimmermann Telegram.

The Zimmermann Telegram, sent by German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann to the German ambassador in Mexico, Heinrich von Eckhardt, in January 1917, was intercepted and decrypted by British intelligence and shared with President Wilson. In it, Zimmermann notified Eckhardt of the plans to resume submarine warfare, and the prediction that this action would pull the United States into the war on the side of the allies. Upon U.S. entry into the war, he instructed Eckhardt to propose a military alliance with Mexico in exchange for the return of formerly Mexican territories of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Finally, they were to broker an alliance with the Japanese Empire.

Wilson understood that war could no longer be evaded. Still, he recognized the gravity of his decision and the effects the war would have on the nation and the world. In his appeal to Congress, Wilson mentioned not only Germany’s offenses, but also the implications of the country’s actions as “warfare against mankind” and “a war against all nations.” Wilson recognized a cause worth fighting for beyond national security—he saw it as America’s duty to not only protect its own borders, but to be the “single champion” of human rights, to which Germany posed a grave threat.

This Week in History: Reagan Targeted in Assassination Attempt

Photograph of President Reagan waving to crowds immediately before being shot in an assassination attempt

Photograph of President Reagan waving to crowds immediately before being shot in an assassination attempt, Washington Hilton Hotel, March 30, 1981. Photo Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

On March 30, 1981, barely two months into his presidency, President Ronald Reagan was the target of an assassination attempt, which left him and three others seriously wounded. Press Secretary James Brady suffered a gunshot wound to the head that would leave him permanently injured, while Secret Service Agent Timothy McCarthy was shot in the chest and Washington, DC police officer Thomas Delahanty was hit near the spine. As Reagan was rushed to George Washington University Hospital for emergency surgery, administration aides downplayed the severity of the injuries. However, inside the operating room, the situation was anything but humorous as Reagan lost nearly half his blood supply and had to endure hours of surgery to remove a bullet lodged less than an inch from his heart.

The Reagan Oral History Project examined this event with each participant that was in the administration at the time of the shooting. Read on for excerpts of these officials' reactions to the assassination attempt and how each responded to the early phase of the crisis.

Reagan’s Missile Defense Vision Lives On

Ronald Reagan Addresses the Nation on National Security, March 23, 1983

Thirty years ago, President Ronald Reagan delivered an address to the nation on national security. On March 23, 1983, President Reagan used the bully pulpit of the presidency to convince the American public that Congress was cutting too much from his proposed defense budget. Reagan asserted that his increased defense budget, which he had submitted to Congress the previous month, was designed as “part of a careful, long-term plan to make America strong again after too many years of neglect and mistakes.” He urged the public to lobby Congress to “restore” the nation’s military strength:

There is no logical way that you can say, let's spend x billion dollars less. You can only say, which part of our defense measures do we believe we can do without and still have security against all contingencies? Anyone in the Congress who advocates a percentage or a specific dollar cut in defense spending should be made to say what part of our defenses he would eliminate, and he should be candid enough to acknowledge that his cuts mean cutting our commitments to allies or inviting greater risk or both…

The calls for cutting back the defense budget come in nice, simple arithmetic. They're the same kind of talk that led the democracies to neglect their defenses in the 1930's and invited the tragedy of World War II. We must not let that grim chapter of history repeat itself through apathy or neglect.

In addition to outlining his budget to bolster defenses, Reagan announced a new major program, the Strategic Defense Initiative (also known as “Star Wars”), as part of the president’s broader efforts to build up America’s defense image. The president framed the need for SDI as providing defense from the threat posed by Soviet missiles. While Reagan believed that the United States should continue to negotiate with the former Soviet Union on the mutual reductions of nuclear weapons, he also believed that steps were necessary to deter aggression by means other than the promise of retaliation. President Reagan had come to abhor the policy of mutually assured destruction (MAD). He told the nation:

My predecessors in the Oval Office have appeared before you on other occasions to describe the threat posed by Soviet power and have proposed steps to address that threat. But since the advent of nuclear weapons, those steps have been increasingly directed toward deterrence of aggression through the promise of retaliation…

I've become more and more deeply convinced that the human spirit must be capable of rising above dealing with other nations and human beings by threatening their existence. Feeling this way, I believe we must thoroughly examine every opportunity for reducing tensions and for introducing greater stability into the strategic calculus on both sides.

This Day in History: LBJ Proposes Voting Rights Legislation

Lyndon B. Johnson, Speech Before Congress on Voting Rights, March 15, 1965

On this day in 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson addressed a joint session of Congress and called for new legislation to guarantee every American’s right to vote. LBJ delivered the address on March 15 in response to events in Selma, Alabama that were the political and emotional peak of the civil rights movement. Just eight days earlier on March 7, 1965, also known as Bloody Sunday, some 600 civil rights demonstrators had set out to march from Selma. They were stopped after just six blocks and violently suppressed by state and local lawmen who attacked them with billy clubs and tear gas. In separate episodes around Selma, two demonstrators – a young black man and white minister – were also killed by white men. On March 9, Martin Luther King, Jr. led a “symbolic” march to the bridge where the march had been suppressed. Then, civil rights leaders sought court protection for a third march from Selma to Montgomery. Federal District Court Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr. ruled:

The law is clear that the right to petition one's government for the redress of grievances may be exercised in large groups … and these rights may be exercised by marching, even along public highways.

On March 21, about 3,200 demonstrators set out for Montgomery and by the time they reached the capitol four days later, some 22,000 had joined them.

In his speech on March 15, 1965, President Johnson referred to the significance of Selma:

At times history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man's unending search for freedom. So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was a century ago at Appomattox. So it was last week in Selma, Alabama. There is no Negro problem. There is no southern problem. There is no northern problem. There is only an American problem. Many of the issues of civil rights are very complex and most difficult. But about this there can and should be no argument. Every American citizen must have the right to vote...Yet the harsh fact is that in many places in this country men and women are kept from voting simply because they are Negroes... No law that we now have on the books...can insure the right to vote when local officials are determined to deny it... There is no Constitutional issue here. The command of the Constitution is plain. There is no moral issue. It is wrong--deadly wrong--to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country. There is no issue of States' rights or National rights. There is only the struggle for human rights.

This Day in History: Roosevelt Delivers First Fireside Chat

Title 	Franklin D. Roosevelt having a fireside chat in Washington, D.C.

Title Franklin D. Roosevelt having a fireside chat in Washington, D.C., April 28, 1935. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration. PD.

Eighty years ago today, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered the first “fireside chat” evening radio address to the nation. By the time of his inauguration the week before, nearly all of the banks in the nation had temporarily closed in response to mass withdrawals by a panicked public. In the March 12, 1933 “fireside chat,” Roosevelt sought to calm the nation’s fears and outlined his plan to restore confidence in the banking system. As he would in future addresses, FDR used common language to explain the complex problem that had developed and what the administration was doing about it. Roosevelt told the nation:

I want to tell you what has been done in the last few days, why it was done, and what the next steps are going to be. I recognize that the many proclamations from State Capitols and from Washington, the legislation, the Treasury regulations, etc., couched for the most part in banking and legal terms should be explained for the benefit of the average citizen. I owe this in particular because of the fortitude and good temper with which everybody has accepted the inconvenience and hardships of the banking holiday. I know that when you understand what we in Washington have been about I shall continue to have your cooperation as fully as I have had your sympathy and help during the past week.

After explaining the problem and the administration’s actions, FDR made an appeal for the public’s sympathy and support, soliciting trust and contributing to a sense of national unity in confronting the crisis:

After all there is an element in the readjustment of our financial system more important than currency, more important than gold, and that is the confidence of the people. Confidence and courage are the essentials of success in carrying out our plan. You people must have faith; you must not be stampeded by rumors or guesses. Let us unite in banishing fear. We have provided the machinery to restore our financial system; it is up to you to support and make it work.
It is your problem no less than it is mine. Together we cannot fail.

In all, Roosevelt delivered thirty “fireside chat” radio addresses between 1933 and 1944. FDR used the new form of communication to reshape the presidency and the chats were a significant development in building a direct and intimate bond between the president and the public.