Harry S. Truman

“Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.”

Harry S. Truman was an American statesman who served as the 33rd President of the United States (1945–1953), taking the office upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt. A World War I veteran, he assumed the presidency during the waning months of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War. He is known for implementing the Marshall Plan to rebuild the economy of Western Europe, the establishment of the Truman Doctrine and NATO against Soviet and Chinese communism, and for intervening in the Korean War.

After serving as a United States Senator from Missouri (1935–45) and briefly as Vice President (1945), he succeeded to the presidency on April 12, 1945, upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Germany surrendered on Truman’s 61st birthday, just a few weeks after he assumed the presidency, but the war with Imperial Japan raged on and was expected to last at least another year.

Truman presided over an unexpected surge in economic prosperity as America sought readjustment after long years of depression and war. His presidency was a turning point in foreign affairs, as the United States engaged in an internationalist foreign policy and renounced isolationism. Truman helped found the United Nations in 1945.

Thomas Woodrow Wilson

Thomas Woodrow Wilson (he would later drop his first name) was born at home on December 28, 1856 in the small southern town of Staunton, Virginia. Less than a year later his family moved to Augusta, Georgia. Woodrow’s earliest memories were of the Civil War, watching Union soldiers march into town and watching his mother tend wounded Confederate soldiers. He witnessed General Robert E. Lee pass through town under Union guard after surrendering at Appomattox Court House in Virginia. He saw the poverty and destruction of war and its aftermath. Wilson’s father was a Presbyterian minister and served as Pastor of several congregations and taught Theology at Columbia Theological Seminary. Because of the war’s disruption Woodrow’s early education came from his father at home. His father emphasized religion and British history and literature. Later in his life Woodrow Wilson was quoted as saying,

“There is no higher religion than human service. To work for the common good is the greatest creed.”

In 1873, at the age of sixteen, Wilson enrolled in Davidson College in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he excelled in logic, rhetoric, Latin, English, and composition. In 1875, he enrolled at the College of New Jersey, which later changed its name to Princeton University, and graduated thirty-eighth out of 167 students. He started law school at the University of Virginia and dropped out in his second year and studied law on his own. He passed the Georgia bar exam. Wilson practiced law for less than a year however. Life as an attorney to him was boring. He once again enrolled in college, John Hopkins University in Baltimore, as a graduate student in history and political science. He edited the school newspaper and joined the glee club, a college quartet and two debating clubs. He had found his passion and earned his Ph. D. in 1886. Wilson’s Ph. D. dissertation was entitled Congressional Government: A Study in American Politics and it soon became one of the classics of American political science.

Wilson started his career in education and politics teaching at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania and at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. He taught law and political economy at Princeton for twelve years. During this time he published nine books, including a biography of George Washington and a five-volume history of the United States. Throughout his teaching years he dreamed of becoming a U.S. Senator as a stepping-stone to the presidency. In 1902, Princeton University tapped Wilson as their new President. These years gave him experience in administration and organization. He proposed a plan to do away with the socially exclusive eating clubs and residential houses in favor of common meals and dormitories but was blocked by stiff opposition from alumni and faculty. Even though this caused him stress it kept him in the public eye as a farsighted yet realistic reformer.

The representatives of the New Jersey Democratic Party to run for Governor approached Woodrow Wilson in 1901. He agreed, provided that the nomination came with “no strings attached”. The party bosses agreed with his nomination because they needed an honest leader to convince the voters that recent political scandals would be cleared up. As soon as he won the election he shocked the professional politicians by declaring war on machine politics. Within two years, Wilson pushed through legislation that mandated direct party primaries for all elected officials. All candidates were required to file financial statements and were not permitted to receive corporate contributions. He supported passage of a workers’ compensation law and called for a public utility commission to set rates. By 1911, Wilson had caught the eye of the nation’s progressive leaders.

Woodrow Wilson’s debating skills helped him win the presidency in 1912, against strong opposition from Theodore Roosevelt and the incumbent President, William Howard Taft, by his ability to take his message directly to the voters. The people listened to his careful, elegantly phrased speeches. In the end he won in 40 states. His first term was a continuation of his domestic endeavors as Governor of New Jersey. He was intent on expanding economic opportunity for people at the bottom of society and eliminating special privileges by the rich and powerful. He focused on tariff reform and reformed the banking industry. The Federal Reserve Act was established in 1913. He supported the Clayton Antitrust act and created the Department of Labor as a cabinet position. Wilson once said, “Business underlies everything in our national life, including our spiritual life. Witness the fact that in the Lord’s Prayer, the first petition is for daily bread. No one can worship God or love his neighbor on an empty stomach.”

With the outbreak of fighting in the “Great War” in Europe in August 1914, President Wilson appealed to Americans to remain strictly neutral. He believed that the underlying cause of the war was the militant nationalism of the major European powers and the ethnic hatreds in Central and Eastern Europe. In May 1915, a German submarine called a U-Boat torpedoed the British liner, Lusitania, killing 1,200 people, including 120 Americans. Wilson urged patience but demanded that Germany either halt or drastically curtail submarine warfare. For a time the Germans conceded but England refused to stop its blockade of Europe and eventually Germany resumed its U-Boat warfare. Several American ships were sunk. President Wilson asked Congress to declare war on April 4, 1917. His war message condemned the U-Boat attacks as “warfare against mankind” but emphasized the main goal of the war was to end militarism and make the world “safe for Democracy”. He promised that the United States would fight to ensure democracy, self-government, the rights and liberties of small nations, and an international peace organization that would end war forever. The US forces joined with the Allied forces in the nick of time. With fresh American troops and equipment the Allies launched a counteroffensive in July of 1918. By November the Germans faced defeat and called for an armistice.

Victorious in war, President Wilson hoped to revolutionize the conduct of international affairs at the peace table. He proposed a new international organization as a means to prevent future wars. This new world body would be open to membership by all democratic states. He believed this “League of Nations” would transform international relations and usher in a new era of peace. When Wilson sailed for France in December of 1918 to head the American peace delegation it marked the first time an American President in office had gone to Europe. The treaty of Versailles was signed. Everywhere he went in France, Britain and Italy huge crowds cheered him as the leader of the nation that finally brought the slaughter to an end. Back at home he continued to speak out for his League of Nations but ran into much opposition from politicians who thought it would compromise America’s independence and they tried to amend it. He asked his supporters to vote against the amended version. This failure of the League was a devastating conclusion to his almost superhuman efforts for world peace based on international cooperation. In 1919, President Wilson suffered a serious stroke and was totally secluded for the remainder of his presidency. Woodrow Wilson left the White House broken physically but was confident that his vision of America playing a central role in a league of nations would be realized eventually. There can be no doubt that his ideal inspired many Americans. “You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget your errand.”

Jody Victor tells about James Monroe

James Monroe was born at Monroe’s Creek in Westmoreland County, Virginia, on April 28, 1758, to parents of Scottish and Welsh descents. He studied at the Campbelltown Academy from ages 11 to 16. When James was 16, his father died. That same year, 1774, he began his studies at the College of William and Mary. Revolutionary War fever was sweeping the country and one year later he dropped out of school and joined the Williamsburg Militia and eventually the Continental Army. James had a very distinguished military career rising in rank to Lieutenant Colonel. He fought in the battles of Harlem Heights, White Plains, Trenton, Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth.

James Monroe graduated from the College of William and Mary in 1776. He continued his education from 1780 to 1782, studying law under Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson once said of Monroe, “Monroe was so honest that if you turned his soul inside out there would not be a spot on it.” He practiced law in Fredericksburg, Virginia and joined the Virginia Convention, which ratified the US Constitution.

In 1790, he was elected United States Senator. He then served as Minister to France, under President Washington, and Governor of Virginia during President Adams’ term. He assisted Robert Livingston in negotiating the Louisiana Purchase for President Jefferson and later served as Jefferson’s Minister to France and Minister to Great Britain. As a young politician he followed in Jefferson’s footsteps with his strong belief in education and its importance to a strong and healthy democracy. He is quoted as saying, “Let us by wise and constitutional measures promote intelligence among the people as the best means of preserving our liberties.”

President Madison appointed James Monroe as his Secretary of State in 1811. Monroe tried to avert the impending war with Great Britain but soon realized that the war was inevitable. When the British landed on the Maryland coast he personally led a force of scouts and determined that the British were headed for Washington, DC. Monroe ordered all essential documents removed from Washington. After the British retreat he was appointed Secretary of War, while maintaining his position of Secretary of State. His integrity and energy, together with the backing of President Madison, made him the Republican choice for the Presidency in 1816. In 1820, he easily won re-election with all but one electoral vote. A New Hampshire delegate wanted Washington to be the only president elected unanimously.

Early in his first term President Monroe undertook a goodwill tour. A Boston newspaper coined his Presidency as the “era of good feeling” and it stuck. Monroe had spent many years as a diligent public servant and he was highly popular, especially because of his neutrality in regional disputes. He made unusually strong Cabinet choices, naming a southerner, John C. Calhoun, as Secretary of War and a northerner, John Quincy Adams, as Secretary of State. However balanced he tried to build his administration, disputes in the different sections of the country were rising on the issue of slavery, eventually resulting in the Civil War. In 1819, the people of the Missouri Territory applied for admission to the Union as a slave state. Being a border state their petition was denied. Eventually (1820) Monroe signed the Missouri Compromise, which admitted Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state for counter-balance and barred slavery west and north of the Missouri forever. While personally a supporter of the rights of the free states, Monroe took no public position on the issue due to his strong faith in representative government. “In this great nation there is but one order, that of the people, whose power, by a peculiarly happy improvement of the representative principal, is transferred from them ‘to persons elected by themselves’ for the purposes of free, enlightened and efficient government.”

Monroe’s greatest success as President was in foreign affairs. During his tenure much of South America had achieved independence from Spain. The former Latin American colonies were young democracies and were vulnerable to reconquest by Spain. Russia and France threatened to encroach on the American continents as well. Great Britain was also opposed to re-conquests by Spain and suggested that the United States join in proclaiming “hands off”. Ex-Presidents Jefferson and Madison counseled President Monroe to accept the offer. But Monroe’s Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams, believed that the US should not join with Great Britain on this matter but to stand up for itself “to avow our principles explicitly to Russia and France” and deal with Spain later. Adams wanted to avoid trouble with Spain until it had ceded the Floridas, which was done in 1821.

On December 2, 1823, President Monroe delivered a policy message to Congress. This independent policy was approved by the Cabinet and warned the European states that they should not become involved in the affairs of the Western hemisphere. “In the American continents,” he stated, “by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European power.” The United States would not interfere in European wars or internal affairs, and expected Europe to stay out of American affairs. Some twenty years after President Monroe died on July 4, 1831, this became known as The Monroe Doctrine.

Jody Victor discusses Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt was born into an old, prosperous Dutch family in New York City on October 27, 1858. His father was a glass importer and was a big influence in his life. Theodore’s father instilled in him a determination to strengthen his frail, asthmatic body; to follow a strong Christian moral code; and to enjoy the life of the mind. As President, Theodore was quoted:

“There is not in all America a more dangerous trait than the deification of mere smartness unaccompanied by any sense of moral responsibility.”

Roosevelt was educated at Harvard, where he graduated in 1880, and divided his time between books and sport, excelling in both. A year after graduation he served in the New York Assembly, where he supported civil-service reform and legislation to benefit working people. During the 1880’s he divided his life between politics and writing. In all, his lifetime literary output included 26 books, over a thousand magazine articles, and thousands of speeches and letters.

In 1884, because if ill health and the death of his wife, Roosevelt abandoned politics for some time. He invested part of the fortune he inherited from his father in a cattle ranch in the Badlands of the Dakota Territory. He expected to remain in the west for many years. He became a passionate hunter and an ardent believer in the wild outdoor life that restored his health and strength. Just two years later he returned to New York City, married again, and once more plunged into politics.

President Benjamin Harrison, after his election in 1889, appointed him as a member of the Civil Service Commission. Later he became president of the Commission. He resigned that office in 1895 to become president of New York City’s Board of Police Commissioners.

President William McKinley asked him to serve as assistant secretary of the Navy. Roosevelt used this office to prepare the nation for war with Spain. Once the Spanish-American War came in 1898, he went to Cuba as lieutenant of a regiment of volunteer cavalry, the Rough Riders, which he helped raise and organize from the hunters and cowboys of the west. He won great fame as the leader of the Rough Riders.

With his sudden fame and national reputation he was encouraged to run for the Governor of New York. He invested his two-year administration with vigorous and businesslike characteristics, which were his hallmark. He once again championed civil service and approved several bills supportive of labor and social reform. He backed a measure to tax corporation franchises. He would have run for re-election in 1900, but instead he was chosen to run as William McKinley’s vice-presidential running mate in his bid for a second Presidential term.

Theodore Roosevelt became the 26th President of the United States on September 14, 1901, after the death by assassination of President McKinley. In 1902 he was disturbed, as were others, by the growing power of the large corporations and ordered the Justice Department to bring suit against a railroad monopoly under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890. This launched a “trust-busting” crusade against big business that carried over in to his second term, which he won in 1904. During his second term he quickened the pace of his progressive ideas. He advanced the cause of conservation. He supported the Newlands Bill on reclamation and irrigation and backed the Chief Forrester in adding to the national forests and reserved lands for public use. “The object of government is the welfare of the people… Conservation means development as much as it does protection. I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us.”

Roosevelt’s foreign relations were even bolder than his domestic programs. He steered the United States more actively into world politics. He liked to quote a favorite proverb, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” When Columbia rejected the 1903 treaty giving the United States rights to a canal across the Isthmus of Panama, he supported a Panamanian revolt and negotiated a new treaty with the new nation. He then supervised the construction of the Panama Canal. Roosevelt streamlined the army and enlarged the navy in order to prepare the U.S. for a larger role in world affairs. In 1905, he mediated the Russo-Japanese War, for which he won the Nobel Peace prize.

The significance of Theodore Roosevelt’s leadership is evident in his efforts to curb private greed and power at a time when he and his fellow Americans saw firsthand the abuses of big business, the waste of the country’s natural resources, and a loss of traditional values. “This country has nothing to fear from the crooked man who fails. We put him in jail. It is the crooked man who succeeds who is a threat to this country.”

President Gerald R. Ford – Healing The Nation

Here is what the Victor crew found out about Gerald Ford, our 38th president:

Gerald “Jerry” Rudolph Ford was born on July 14, 1913 in Omaha, Nebraska. He was raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan by his stepfather, Leslie Lynch King, and his mother, Dorothy King Ford. He did not learn that he was adopted until he was almost fifteen. “My stepfather was a magnificent person,” he remembered, “and my mother equally wonderful. So I couldn’t have written a better prescription for a superb family upbringing.” As an adult Gerald Ford attributed his personal qualities to his Midwestern childhood.

Gerald Ford grew up to be an outstanding football player, serving as captain of his high school team. He played football all through his years at the University of Michigan, graduating in 1935. He attended law school at Yale University and while earning his law degree he served as assistant football coach. He graduated from Yale in 1941.

Following law school Gerald joined the US Navy. He served during World War II and attained the rank of lieutenant commander. When he returned home from serving overseas as a navy combat officer he had a new-found feeling for public service. “I came back a converted internationalist,” he recalled, “and of course our congressman at the time was an avowed, dedicated isolationist. And I thought he ought to be replaced. Nobody thought I could win. I ended up winning two to one.”

Gerald Ford returned to Grand Rapids, Michigan to practice law. He entered the political arena running for State Representative of Michigan. A few weeks before his election to Congress in 1948, he married Elizabeth Bloomer. Together they have four children: Michael, John, Steven, and Susan.

For twenty-five years Gerald Ford served in the US House of Representatives, specializing in military matters and the budgeting process. He was appointed Minority Leader in 1964, with his highest ambition to become Speaker of the House. Representative Ford was recognized by all of his fellow legislators as straightforward and honest, a man of recognized decency.

“It’s the quality of the ordinary, the straight, the square, that accounts for the great stability and success of our nation. It’s a quality to be proud of. But it’s a quality that many people seem to have neglected.”

~ Gerald R. Ford

In 1968, Representative Ford watched as one of his fellow Representatives, Richard Nixon of California was elected President, with Spiro Agnew as his Vice President. Four years later, in the midst of President Nixon’s reelection campaign, Ford learned about the Watergate break-in scandal. He later said, “I was dumbfounded by the stupidity of the Watergate break-in.” Representative Ford went to Nixon’s campaign manager, John Mitchell, and asked him if the President or anyone in the White House knew about the break-in. Mitchell’s answer was, “Absolutely not.” On that assurance Ford took a firm stand of support for President Nixon.

But the Watergate controversy kept heating up. At the same time Vice President Agnew was in his own trouble. During the summer of 1973, it was disclosed that Spiro Agnew had received bribes from building contractors while he served as Governor of Maryland. To escape prosecution, Agnew was attempting to make a plea bargain. “About two days, maybe one day before the story broke,” Ford recalled, “Nixon invited me to come down to the executive office in the old executive office building. I had no reason to know why I was being called.” They had been talking informally for an hour and a half or so when Ford was called to the floor of the House for an immediate vote. When he arrived on the floor two or three of his colleagues pulled him aside and said, ‘Agnew’s resigning.’ Suddenly Ford knew President Nixon was considering him as Agnew’s replacement. Ford’s outstanding reputation in the House would command a majority of the bi-partisan votes, making him a safe compromise.

Just after Ford became Vice President the Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox subpoenaed President Nixon. Nixon ordered the US Attorney General to fire Cox. Both the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General refused to fire him and resigned in protest. The scandal was heating up for the White House. Ford felt he was on a very narrow path. If he was too critical of President Nixon he would have been accused of undercutting Nixon so he could get his job. If he stayed too loyal he would appear to be supporting someone who was involved in what he considered a very unwise action. On August 1, 1974 he received a call from Secretary of State Alexander Haig. Haig told Ford there was a “smoking gun”- evidence that Nixon was involved in the cover-up. Haig warned Ford that there would probably be either an impeachment or a resignation soon. VP Ford that day told his wife, “Betty, I don’t think we’re ever going to live in the vice president’s house.”

On August 9, 1974 Richard Nixon resigned as President. He was the first U.S. President ever to resign. VP Ford escorted him out of the White House and was sworn in as the 38th President of the United States. The first thing President Ford had to do, as he saw it, was to relieve the country, to show that there was a decent, respectable new person in the White House. He promised, “In all my public and private acts as your President, I expect to follow my instincts of openness and candor with full confidence that honesty is always the best policy in the end.”

Thirty days later, following his instincts, he pardoned Richard Nixon in advance of any litigation. He believed the idea of a trial that would run over a period of months would keep Watergate alive and would do nothing to reassure the country and turn things around. After President Ford’s pardon of Nixon he never regained the solid national support he had enjoyed those first thirty days. But he was “absolutely convinced that it was the right thing to do.”

As President, Ford worked hard to heal the nation. He re-established normal ties with the Cabinet. Nixon had virtually ignored them. President Ford offered amnesty to young people who had fled the draft during the Viet Nam War. The US was in recession. Ford called the first White House summit on the economy and worked on cutting the federal budget. In foreign affairs President Ford acted vigorously to maintain US power and prestige after the collapse of Cambodia and South Viet Nam. He helped persuade Israel and Egypt to accept an interim truce agreement. President Ford and Soviet Leader Leonid Brezhnev worked together to set new limitations on nuclear weapons. President Ford had only two and a half years to fulfill his goal of healing the nation.

“Truth is the glue that holds the government together. Compromise is the oil that makes the government go.”- President Gerald R. Ford

Jody Victor Talks About Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was the son of a frontiersman from Kentucky. He struggled for a living and for education. Although he had no formal education and never went to college, he loved to read and was self-taught.

Five months before receiving his party’s nomination for President, Lincoln described his own life this way: “I was born February 12, 1809, in Hardin County, Kentucky. My parents were both born in Virginia, of undistinguished families – second families, perhaps I should say. My mother, who died in my tenth year, was of a family of the name of Hanks … My father…removed from Kentucky to … Indiana, in my eighth year … It was a wild region, with many bears and other wild animals still in the woods. There I grew up … Of course when I came of age I did not know much. Still somehow, I could read, write, and cipher … but that was all.”

Lincoln worked on expanding his knowledge while working on a farm, splitting rails for fences, and keeping store at New Salem, Illinois. He spent eight years in the Illinois Legislature, and rode the circuit of courts for many years. His law partner said of him, “His ambition was a little engine that knew no rest.”

He married Mary Todd. They had four boys but only one of them lived to maturity. Lincoln ran against Stephen A. Douglas for Senator in 1858. He lost the election. The debate with Douglas gained him a national reputation that eventually won him the Republican nomination for President in 1860.

As our 16th President, he was able to build the Republican Party into a strong national organization. In 1863, he freed the slaves through the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln won re-election in 1864.

On April 14, 1865, Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre in Washington by John Wilkes Booth.

You can read more about the great presidency of Abraham Lincoln, our 16th President, on the WhiteHouse.gov website.