Kirschner: Learning U.S. starts with presidential sites

Posted 8/18/21

If you want to understand the history of the United States, you must study the leaders we have elected as president. We are fortunate that we can visit and learn of their successes and failures by …

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Kirschner: Learning U.S. starts with presidential sites


If you want to understand the history of the United States, you must study the leaders we have elected as president. We are fortunate that we can visit and learn of their successes and failures by visiting the homes, libraries and museums of these individuals we, as a people, have given the responsibility to lead this great nation for the past 233 years.

In his second term in office, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proposed a public repository to house his papers. That was the start of the Presidential Libraries that now span the nation. These Libraries are administered by the National Archives and Records Administration. There are now 13 Libraries in the system, starting with Herbert Hoover in Iowa and ending with George W. Bush in Texas. The Barack Obama Presidential Library is under construction in Chicago. Presidents, prior to Hoover, have homes, museums and libraries that were privately established and administrated.

I propose that you put on your bucket list a plan to visit all our Presidents. That is my plan, and I have been to all 13 in the system and the majority of those from the earliest days of our Republic.

Presidential visit No. 1

You may question where to start, and I suggest you begin with our first President, George Washington. Mount Vernon, on the Potomac River, was his home from 1759 till his death in 1799. You can visit the mansion, restored to look like it was in the last year of his life. The museum has 23 galleries and a theater and gives an in-depth history of his life. On our last visit, we sailed down the Potomac, from Washington, D.C., to dock at Mt. Vernon. A lovely and educational day.

Presidential visit No. 2

Make visit number two to Abraham Lincoln. There are a number of sites recognizing Honest Abe from birth to assassination. The place to go is Springfield, Illinois. He lived there for 17 years, and you can visit his home and law office. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum has the finest collection of historic information about our 16th President.

Presidential visit No. 3

Head to California and visit the Nixon and Reagan Libraries and Museums in Yorba Linda and Simi Valley. They could not be more different. They are built with private donations to include an endowment for future maintenance. When Nixon left office he was disgraced and raising money was difficult. Reagan, on the other hand, was popular and the money rolled in. On the top of the hill, in Simi Valley, sits Air Force One. How it got there is a great story but you can visit the plane that carried President Reagan around the world.

Presidential visit No. 4

Head east on I-10 to Texas and Arkansas to visit the libraries and museums for Presidents Lyndon Johnson, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Each unique and powerful.

Presidential visit No. 5

Fly to Columbus, Ohio, rent a car and hit the road. My wife and I did just that. Why Ohio? Eight Presidents have roots in the state and each of them is worth a visit. They are William Harrison, Rutherford Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, Ulysses S. Grant, James Garfield, William McKinley, William Taft and Warren Harding. My favorite is the James Garfield National Historic Site outside Cleveland.

I’m biased since President Garfield is the only President to graduate from my college (Williams College). While in the state visit the Dayton Aviation Heritage Site, home of the Wright Brothers and the National Museum of the United States Air Force. In Canton, you can visit the First Ladies National Historic Site and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Presidential visit No. 6

Virginia, in addition to Washington, is the home of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Tyler and Woodrow Wilson. While touring the Revolutionary War and Civil War sites, visit these Presidents.

Presidential visit No. 7

The Northeast. The first shots of the Revolution were fired in Boston, Concord and Lexington. The history of the United States is located in this part of our nation. It is also the homes, libraries and museums of John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Jack Kennedy.

Presidential visit No. 8

The Heartland. Don’t forget the center of our nation and the Presidents who came from the Heartland. Andrew Jackson, Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower and Gerald Ford. All are noteworthy, but my favorite is the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri. It is the site where LBJ signed into law Medicare and Medicaid on July 30, 1965. It revolutionized our health care system and former President Truman got Medicare card No. 1.

Presidential visit No. 9

I have left out a few of our past Presidents, but I would be remiss in not highlighting the Jimmy Carter Library in Atlanta. It so reflects the personalities of Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, who are now celebrating their 75th wedding anniversary. My wife and I had the opportunity and privilege to participate in two conferences chaired by Rosalynn dealing with the mental health system in our nation. She was inspiring.

A trivia question. Joe Biden is recognized as the 46th President of the United States. He is, in fact, the 45th. How can that be? Let me explain. Grover Cleveland was elected as our 22nd President in 1884. He lost his bid for a second term in 1888 to Benjamin Harrison, who was our 23rd President. Cleveland then won the 1892 election to become the 24th President. He is the only person to accomplish that feat. Can it happen for a second time in 2024?

Arizona has never had one of our own as president. There have been a number of mighty efforts. Barry Goldwater in 1964 and John McCain in 2008 won their primaries but lost in the general election. Bruce Babbitt and Mo Udall made runs for their party’s nomination but failed. Doug Ducey is termed out as governor in 2020. Will he make a run for President in 2024?

Our history is the bedrock of our nation. Abraham Lincoln said it well. “We can see the past, but we may not claim to have directed it; but by seeing it we can feel more hopeful and confident for the future.” Plan your trip because the Presidents are waiting for you.