Posts Tagged ‘Harry truman’

America at its Best: Happy Birthday America, 2014

Friday, July 4th, 2014

America at its Best: What America’s Ten Greatest Presidents Say About America at its Best

Written by Tony Mussari
Edited by Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Digital Photographs Tony Mussari
Archival Photographs Library of Congress
The Face of America Project Copyright 2014
Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD

America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great. Alexis de Tocqueville

As we pause to celebrate the 238th birthday of our country, America and its citizens are challenged onFlags_WP many fronts in many different ways by problems that are complicated and cry out for solutions.

Despite these life and death issues and all the distractions that come with the frenetic pace of life in the digital age, Kitch and I believe in the fundamental goodness and decency of the American people. During our Face of America journey, we experience it in quiet, but meaningful ways, in the hearts and souls of the people we meet, the values they cherish and the acts of kindness they practice.

During our journey we have interviewed hundreds of people in our attempt to identify the qualities of America at its best.

On this day of parades, picnics, musical celebrations and fireworks displays, we decided to step back and research what our ten greatest presidents had to say about the qualities that are the foundation of America at its best.

This is what we discovered.


The man celebrated as the father of our01869r_sm country, George Washington, used 26 words to describe what he believed to be the most important virtue:

I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man. George Washington

Washington’s legacy is embedded in everything that is good, decent and wholesome about our country and its citizens.


The American president who saved our union Lincoln_smand issued the Emancipation Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln, is known for many accomplishments. He authored poetic words like those recorded in the Gettysburg Address. Senator Charles Sumner called that speech a “Monumental Act…The world noted at once what he said, and will never cease to remember it. The battle itself was less important than the speech."

Lincoln’s correspondence is filled with letters of compassion and caring. It is fair to say that Abraham Lincoln was a leader who personified the virtue of kindness:

I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice… When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion. Abraham Lincoln


Our 32nd president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, defined courage in realistic terms. He knew well what courageFDR_in_1933 was all about, and he inspired our citizens to be courageous in the face of economic depression and totalitarian aggression.

He recognized our natural tendency to be fearful in times of danger, and he showed us the way to overcome our fears:

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear. Franklin D. Roosevelt


Our third president, Thomas Jefferson, the Sage of Jefferson3Monticello, was best described by President Kennedy at a dinner honoring Nobel Prize winners of the Western Hemisphere in 1962:

“I want to tell you how welcome you are to the White House. I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.

Someone once said that Thomas Jefferson was a gentleman of 32 who could calculate an eclipse, survey an estate, tie an artery, plan an edifice, try a cause, break a horse, and dance the minuet…”

It should come as no surprise that the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence when he was 33 years old believed that Americans should learn something new every day:

Every day is lost in which we do not learn something useful. Man has no nobler or more valuable possession than time. Thomas Jefferson


Our 26th president embraced the principles of theTR Progressive Movement. Theodore Roosevelt was the youngest man to become President of the United States. He well may have been the most energetic occupant of the White House. He used his energy to push an agenda which he defined as a “Square Deal” for all Americans.

He summarized what America is at its best with these words:

This country will not be a good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a good place for all of us to live in. Theodore Roosevelt

Unbeatable Determination

When Harry Truman was a youngster he wanted to Harry_S__Trumanbecome a professional baseball player. One of his friends wanted to become president of the United States. Life had a much different destination for this self-described farm boy from Missouri and his friend.

Truman’s great gift was the art of plain speaking and an ability to connect with people.

I experienced that gift in 1948 when my dad took me to hear President Truman speak at a campaign stop in our home town. To this day, I remember the moment when “the little man” with eyeglasses just like mine inspired a youngster to believe in himself.

America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand… The difference between a strong man and a weak one is that the former does not give up after a defeat. Harry S. Truman


Woodrow Wilson was the president of Princeton University and Governor of New Jersey before he became our 28thWilson2_sm president. He occupied the White House during World War I. Presidential scholars believe that most of the models for government as we know it today were established while Wilson was in office.

Wilson believed that America is about dreams:

We grow great by dreams. All big men are dreamers. They see things in the soft haze of a spring day or in the red fire of a long winter’s evening. Some of us let these dreams die, but others nourish and protect them; nurse them through bad days till they bring them to the sunshine and light which comes always to those who sincerely hope that their dreams will come true. Woodrow Wilson


Dwight David Eisenhower was one of our most popular Ikepresidents. Americans liked “Ike.”

To be honest, I liked Ike so much I disobeyed my mother, and I walked to Ike’s campaign headquarters on Public Square to secure campaign buttons and signs that I fashioned into my Halloween costume.

General Eisenhower was swept into office in 1952 on a tidal wave of admiration, gratitude and respect for his accomplishments during World War II.

A West Point graduate and a five star general, President Eisenhower recognized the importance of education and the vital role teachers play in guaranteeing the best possible future for our children and our country:

Teachers need our active support and encouragement. They are doing one of the most necessary and exacting jobs in the land. They are developing our most precious national resource: our children, our future citizens. Dwight David Eisenhower

Equal Opportunity

James K. Polk is often mentioned as our first -James_Polk“dark horse” president and the last strong president before the Civil War. During his presidency, America fought a successful war with Mexico over the annexation of Texas.

He served but one term as he promised. He accomplished all of his goals. He died shortly after he left office.

President Polk is best known for his doctrine of “Manifest Destiny,” that America was destined by God to spread democracy to the Pacific Ocean.

He presided over the largest expansion of the country since the Louisiana Purchase, more than one million square miles. It included territory from Texas to California including New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Washington and parts of Wyoming, Montana and Colorado. He also settled Oregon’s northern boundary dispute with England.

His words address a fundamental obligation of democratic government:

One great object of the Constitution was to restrain majorities from oppressing minorities or encroaching upon their just rights. James K. Polk


General Andrew Jackson gained national prominence Andrew Jacksonwhen he defeated the British at the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812.

Historians tell us that Andrew Jackson was the first self-made man to become President of the United States. He was the first person born in a log cabin to be elected president.

To his friends and supporters Andrew Jackson was ‘Old Hickory.” Many historians call him ‘The People’s President.”

To his critics, he was “King Andrew I.” Not unlike what we are experiencing today, it was a very contentious time in Washington, and Andrew Jackson enjoyed the conflict.

When an assassin attempted to shoot him, the president pursued him and according to accounts, he almost pummeled him to death with his walking cane.

It should come as no surprise that the 7th president of the United States, Number 10 on the list of the ten greatest presidents, felt passionately about doing the right thing::

Any man worth his salt will stick up for what he believes right, but it takes a slightly better man to acknowledge, instantly and without reservation that he is in error…It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes. Andrew Jackson

As I come to the end of this assessment of America at its best as seen through the actions and Flags_1870experiences of our ten greatest presidents, I can hear the wind whipping the flags that fly over the garden in Windsor Park. I can hear the faint sounds of firecrackers exploding in a yard below. I can sense the excitement building for the family gatherings that will take place this evening in our neighborhood, and I can better appreciate the wise and poetic words of spoken by President Lincoln during his second Inaugural Address :

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan – to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

Happy Birthday America.

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