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Historical Perspectives (46)

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The 60th Anniversary of the Assassination of John F. Kennedy

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | November 22, 2023
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Arthur surprised everyone. In an America torn by Garfield’s assassination and party politics, he immediately set to work proving he was above partisan squabbles.

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With the Help of New Women Voters, Harding Wins in a Landslide – But Still Sees the Presidency as a Prison Term

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The misfortune of losing a child while serving in the country’s highest office is one shared by a surprising number of U.S. Presidents.

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Just three months into his presidency, Kennedy pledged, in his address to Congress on May 25th, 1961, ”that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” To which he added “No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”

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Thomas Jefferson’s Birthday: JFK on Jefferson

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | April 13, 2019

President Kennedy laments he hasn’t time to write about Thomas Jefferson, and then carefully does so.

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Presidents’ Day: Newly Retired George Washington’s Daily Routine

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | February 17, 2019

Writing just two months after handing the presidency off to John Adams, Washington was a changed man. Having returned to Mount Vernon, and at last under the shadow of his own vine and fig-tree, he was, in fact, exuberant, wry – and surprisingly, funny.

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The Assassination & Funeral of Robert F. Kennedy

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | June 5, 2018
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February 2011 - August 2011, Beverly Hills Public Library.

This exhibition features letters, manuscripts and signed photos that celebrate various aspects of the remarkable life and character of Ronald Reagan, the 40th U.S. President. There are examples of his optimism and his pessimism; letters about his fierce presumption of racial equality, and manuscripts decrying riots, lawlessness, and a coercive state.

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Picture of President Kennedy in the limousine in Dallas, Texas, on Main Street, minutes before the assassination. Also in the presidential limousine are Jackie Kennedy, Texas Governor John Connally, and his wife, Nellie. Photographer: Walt Cisco, Dallas Morning News.

The Mortal Presidency Exhibition

January 15, 2018
May 10, 2010 - February 28, 2011
Beverly Hills Public Library, Beverly Hills, CA

The most dangerous job in America is not, as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recently announced, fishing. Nor is it logging, flying, or steel manufacturing. The job with the worst mortality rate is the hardest one to get: President of the United States.

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The Idea of Lincoln: Man and Memory

January 1, 2018
May 2008 - December 2009; April 2012 - October 2012

This exhibition features letters in Lincoln’s hand, some of which testify to the mythic idea of him – his kindness, honesty, and mercy; and some reflecting the gritty reality of his life – law cases about hogs, choosing pragmatism over principle, crafting an image.

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With Malice Toward None: The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial

December 14, 2017
February 2009 - April 2011
Library of Congress, February 2009 - April 2011

The exhibition reveals Lincoln the man, whose thoughts, words, and actions were deeply affected by personal experiences and pivotal historic events. This virtual exhibit includes some select items on display at the traveling exhibition.

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With Firmness in the Right – Lincoln and the Jews

December 13, 2017
March 2015 - November 2015
March 2015 - June 2015, New-York Historical Society. August 2015 - November 2015, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

In 1858, when Abraham Lincoln emerged onto the national stage, Jews made up less than one-half of one percent of the American population. Many Americans of that time did not know Jews personally, yet Lincoln did, and these relationships stood out amid the stereotyping and anti-Semitism of mid-19th-century America. The bonds Lincoln formed with Jewish individuals during his lifetime, and the interventions he made as president on behalf of all Jews, reflected his deepest values and helped promote Jewish equality in the United States.

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John_F._Kennedy,_White_House_photo_portrait,_looking_up._White House_Press Office_February_20_1961

High Hopes: The Journey of John F. Kennedy

November 28, 2017
March 25, 2017 - November 12, 2017
March 25, 2017 - November 12, 2017. Oregon Historical Society, Portland, Oregon

John F. Kennedy powered into the White House on the energy of a country seeking change. Stuck in a recession and dismayed by perceived political stagnation, voters embraced the vibrancy and wit of Kennedy and his young family, emboldening the president to edge toward a new frontier, both on the homefront and internationally – and even to outer space. The fervent hope that Kennedy brought to the White House and to the United States was quickly confronted by broad geopolitical threats, as well as by personal challenges.

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General View of Jerusalem ca.1890-1900. Source: Library of Congress.

The vision of the Holy Land in 19th-century America was shaped by religious and cultural sentiment, and influenced by the experiences of those groups who traveled there: missionaries, pilgrims and tourists, explorers, settlers, and consular officers, all of whom had different motives for their journey and reports.

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The Mortal Presidency

August 23, 2017

He is head of state, Commander-in-chief, and the country’s top legislator. The President of the United States has arguably the toughest job in America, and it turns out, the most deadly.

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Calvin Coolidge Jr.’s Death

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | July 6, 2017

A heart-broken president mourns his teenage son.

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The Road to the Inauguration: 1905

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | January 12, 2017

Theodore Roosevelt has a suit made, and re-made, for his 1905 inauguration.

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Mark Twain Eulogizes General Grant, Whose Memoirs He Would Publish

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | August 11, 2015

Twain on the heroic writing, and fantastic success, of Grant’s memoirs – Grant’s fame, he predicts, will last two-thousand years.

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Abraham Lincoln Poem “My Childhood Home I See Again”

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | May 25, 2015
"My Childhood Home I See Again"

An exceptionally rare Lincoln autobiographical letter – mentioning the death of his mother and sister, and his elegiac poem “My Childhood Home I See Again, And Sadden With the View.”

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The Anniversary of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | April 14, 2015
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Herbert Hoover, the 31st President, Dies at Age 90

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | September 20, 2014

Hoover had longer than most presidents to give vent to a sentiment a great many of them felt: out-of-office, he says he is “…once of Washington D.C. – now fortunately elsewhere.”

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Robert Todd Lincoln, Witness to Presidential Assassinations

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | September 14, 2014

If in the annals of American history, there was ever an expert witness on Presidential assassinations, that person would be Robert Lincoln.

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The dog days of summer are here: so warmed up, and slowed down, that even Congress has stopped doing nothing…

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The public’s right to know versus a President’s responsibility to protect. Just when, exactly, is secrecy warranted?

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The Death of Ronald Reagan

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | June 5, 2014
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The Death of Nathaniel Hawthorne

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | May 19, 2014

Franklin Pierce on the death of his dearest friend, Nathaniel Hawthorne.

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The First Presidential Typed Letter

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | April 4, 2014

Benjamin Harrison: the earliest known example of a typewritten presidential letter.

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Holiday Merry Making in the White House

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | December 30, 2013

The Hayes’ White House, famously, was a bastion of Temperance – earning Mrs. Hayes the sobriquet “Lemonade Lucy” – although it was rumored that the disapproving staff served oranges infused with a rum-based Roman Punch.

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Lincoln Swears to Uphold the Emancipation Proclamation

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | December 20, 2013

Abraham Lincoln swears he shall not modify the Emancipation Proclamation, nor return to slavery any person freed by it.

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March on Washington, August 28, 1963. U.S. National Archives.

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, 1963

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | August 28, 2013

In 1864, Governor Michael Hahn pushed through a provision authorizing the legislature to enfranchise non-whites on the basis that Lincoln suggested: military service and intellectual fitness. This was a crucial development: voting rights for Blacks were now – incrementally – possible…

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President Gerald R. Ford’s Birthday

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | July 14, 2013

President Gerald Ford, never elected to the office – nor, uniquely, to that of the Vice President – wanted to be remembered, he said, as a dedicated, hardworking, honest person who served constructively.

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Presidential Enmity and Amity

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | April 25, 2013

Theodore Roosevelt hated William Howard Taft; Taft hated Roosevelt; Roosevelt hated Woodrow Wilson. Wilson hated…

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President for a Day

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | January 21, 2013

Who is in charge, when the presidential term ends on noon on the Sunday, but the Oath isn’t taken, until Monday?

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The Death of President Franklin Pierce

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | October 8, 2012

Former President Pierce defends himself against treason charges.

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The Garfield Assassination

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | July 2, 2012
The Ultimate Irony: Assassination Is Like Lightning, Garfield Says, And Cannot Be Guarded Against

The assassin Charles Guiteau fired, twice, into his back. “My God!” the President cried, “What is this?”

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“All that I am or hope ever to be,” Abraham Lincoln famously said, “I get from my mother – God bless her.”

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The conundrum of the President who is at once both the most common and the rarest in manuscript material, is solved.

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April 2011 - July 2011

Although Tsar Alexander II and President Abraham Lincoln came from very different backgrounds, they led eerily parallel lives. The United States President proclaimed the emancipation of slaves in the territories of the Confederation in 1863. The Russian emperor signed the liberation of the serfs in 1861. Freedom, however, came at a cost. Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865 and Alexander II assassinated on March 13, 1881.

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