Leading Blog






05.04.07

Presidential Courage

Presidential Courage

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS has written a series of stories inPresidential Courage about how nine American Presidents have, at crucial moments, made courageous decisions for the national interest even when they knew they might be jeopardizing their careers. The stories are brief overviews of trying times but are both poignant and encouraging. In his epilogue he writes:

From his own reading of history, John Kennedy feared that the changing political environment was making it more difficult fro Americans to practice the kind of leadership that had shaped our past.

In 1955, he complained that politics had become “so expensive, so mechanized and so dominated by professional politicians and public relations men.” Thanks to “the tremendous power of mass communications,” he wrote, “any unpopular or unorthodox course arouses a storm of protests.”

Beschloss continues with this prescription:

The ancient Romans surrounded their young leaders with paintings and sculpture to encourage qualities of greatness.

Should Americans ever follow such a practice, one of the public rooms of the White House might be enhanced with artifacts reminding Presidents that since George Washington, courage has been a requirement of the Presidency.

First might be the baseball that Joe DiMaggio asked Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev to sign. Then, moving backward through time, the dented helmet worn by one of the U.S. Marshals sent by JFK to integrate Ole Miss.

Next might be the Torah that moved Harry Truman to tears after he helped ensure the Jewish people a home—and the black cathedral radio that told FDR on Election Night 1940 that he might be defeated by the isolationists.

After that would be a miner’s torch given to Theodore Roosevelt by grateful anthracite coal workers, and T.R.’s relic of his own hero—the folded ring containing hair snipped from Abraham Lincoln’s head after his murder for liberating a race.

Beside the Lincoln ring would be the cameo that Andrew Jackson wore around his neck: the sad, soulful face of his wife, Rachel—victim, he was certain, of his plutocratic enemies.

Then propped upright, a serving plate from the beloved family home that John Adams called Peacefield—a reminder that if halting war with France cost him reelection, he could return to a rich life with Abigail, surviving comrades from the American Revolution and, in the end, when he was almost alone, his books.

Looming on a self above all these objects would be the quill pen and inkwell used by President Washington on those storm-swept nights in August 1795 to write all of those letters defending John Jay’s peace treaty with the British.

George Washington Master Bed
But not all Presidents are affected by historical artifacts. In that case, they might be taken up to Mount Vernon, and up the stairs to the bedroom where George Washington died.

Standing there, to this day, is the wooden four-poster deathbed where the Father of His Country looked up into his doctor’s kindly, worried eyes and croaked his near-to-last words.

General Washington was referring to his medical prognosis, but his words conveyed what he hoped his example would say to future Presidents of the United States.

What Washington told the doctor was, “Don’t be afraid!

Surround yourself with these stories.

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Key to PresidentialCourage Presidential Decision Making

Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:58 AM
| Comments (0) | This post is about Books , Leaders



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