Thursday, January 5, 2017

Inauguration Day and the Presidency

On January 20, 2016, the United States of America will inaugurate its forty-fifth President when Donald J. Trump takes the oath of office. This date, along with the fact that one month later on February 20 we celebrate President’s Day, makes it an appropriate time to look into the history of all of our country’s presidents.

The oath of office is a simple statement contained in the Constitution: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." The words “So help me, God,” are not written in the constitution, but have been added by many presidents.

Lives of the Presidents, Fame, Shame (and What the Neighbors Thought), written by Kathleen Krull and illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt, provides an excellent introductory overview of each of the presidents through Barack Obama. This is one of the extensive series of the Lives of series of books that include titles about scientists, artists, explorers, and many more.

Presidents, written by James Barber, in association with the Smithsonian Institution, is one of the Eyewitness Books’ series. The book is an easy read, excellently illustrated to keep the younger reader’s attention. An interesting companion book is First Ladies, written by Amy Pastan. It also is profusely illustrated and an easy read. Both books have been updated to include the Obamas. Having these two books side by side makes for an enjoyable educational experience.

A more comprehensive look at each president is contained in Our Country’s Presidents, written by Ann Bausum for the National Geographic Society. The dust jacket points out that this volume provides “comprehensive information for school reports.” In addition to the biographical information about each president, there is a special chapter that explains “The Electoral College” in an easily understood manner. A separate supplement contains stories about “Our Country’s First Ladies.”
Again, both volumes include Barack and Michelle Obama.

Scholastic provides the Encyclopedia of the Presidents and their Times, by David Rubel. The format offers a page for every year since 1789. This chronological history explains how the president in each year influenced or was impacted by the events that took place. A special section, “A History of the White House,” provides an extensive, well illustrated, story of the evolution of the executive mansion. Another interesting addition is the section on the “Presidential Election Results,” providing the distribution of the electoral vote (and where available the popular vote) for each of the candidates, from all of the political parties, who ran for the office. The Obamas are included.

The Big Book of Presidents by Nancy J. Hajeski provides “fascinating presidential trivia, including . . . little-known facts.” Did you know Millard Fillmore installed the first kitchen stove in the White House?  In addition to timelines and biographical facts about each president, the book contains many interesting special articles, such as: “The Houses of Congress” and “Assassinations.” Like all of the books described above, this volume is current through President Obama.

A fascinating, small book entitled Presidential Losers, by David J. Goldman, delves into controversial personages such as Aaron Burr, who assassinated Alexander Hamilton. In addition to several interesting one-time candidates, the book educates the reader on the persistent candidates who consistently lost. Henry Clay tried three times unsuccessfully, and William Jennings Bryan was another three-time failure.

As the old cliché goes, last but not least, is Where Do Presidents Come From? And Other Presidential Stuff of Super-Great Importance, by Michael Townsend. Whereas I skimmed through many of the previously listed books, I read this one from cover to cover. Middle-grade readers will get a kick out of this comic book presentation. Heck, even I couldn’t put it down, and I haven’t been a middle-grader for almost seventy years. Townsend does not cover each president in detail, but provides an overall history of why the United States has a president and what his (that is still the correct pronoun at this writing) duties entail. One of the more fascinating chapters is “How Does a President Get Elected?” Included is a simple explanation of why we have an Electoral College. Naysayers from the losing political party consistently demand that the next election be decided by popular vote. These folks will learn why our founding fathers created this compromise protection for all of the states after reading this funny presentation. After all, we do not elect a president just for the overcrowded population centers.

Our country has just gone through what pundits today claim is an unprecedented election. Studying the history of our presidents and how they achieved this lofty position reveals many shenanigans and much gnashing of teeth by conflicting political parties over the years. When I was a middle-grade student we were required to memorize the names of the presidents. Perhaps not the most necessary of requirements, but at least we knew who they were and what they accomplished. Students today certainly should be taught the history of why we are a republic, why there are three branches of government, and why we select the important position of President the way we do.

In Bear Claws, The Iron Horse Chronicles--Book Two, I included scenes about the presidential campaign of Ulysses S. Grant in 1868 as he toured Wyoming on the first transcontinental railroad. The lives of the presidents have impacted all citizens since the nation's founding. It is right and proper that we know about them and honor them.

1 comment:

  1. Robert, I laughed when I read you skimmed through the earlier books -but the comic you read cover to cover, :). A little humour goes a long way in helping the message sink in. I have noted the title and author and will search for it. Interesting for the younger grandchildren to read.
    I've looked in vain for the Iron Horse chronicles; maybe on one of our next trips to the U.S.