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Past Presidents of the United States of America

In the spirit of the elections tomorrow, now is a great time to look back in our history and review the administrations of past presidents of the United States of America.

Special Collections houses a beautiful special edition, rare book entitled The White House Gallery of Official Portraits of the Presidents, published in 1907.  This book measures just a few inches shy of two feet in height and contains beautiful illustrations of the presidents beginning with our first president, George Washington, and continuing until William McKinley, our 25th president.

According to the book’s introduction, the artists for each presidential portrait were selected not only for their skill but also for their personal familiarity of their subjects.  The same great care was taken by the publishers in selecting the authors of the historical review for each president.  The authors were experts for the period of history in which each respective US President administered as well as authorities on the life and personalities of the men themselves.

Whether you browse through the book or take the time to read the story illustrated by the beautiful prose, you will enjoy the artful portraits and succinct, academic honesty which recounts our presidential history.  George Washington is described in respectful honesty as Washington, the man. Abraham Lincoln is praised and described by a personal acquaintance.  Others are described as well in their successes or failures.

One of the most poetic entries is that for Thomas Jefferson.  John W. Daniel, US Senator from Virginia, immortalized President Jefferson through a stirring tribute to his character, his public service, and his innovation.  He concludes his entry in the following way:

“[Thomas Jefferson] was strong in all courage; yea, in civic courage, the rarest of all forms of bravery.  This Jefferson had the quiet, patient, daring, superb courage that looks public opinion in the eye, and dares confront and affront it and not flinch the encounter.  When he stood for Independence they said ‘Rebel.’  When he stood for justice they said ‘Communist.’  When he stood for religious freedom they cried ‘Infidel.’  When he aroused the people against monarchy and concentrated power they said ‘Demagogue.’  But the common people heard him gladly.  They knew their ears, and with one accord they said, ‘All Hail, Our Friend.'”

Dying without a penny, his very books, his land, his home were sold away from his inheritors, and fighting successfully every battle but his own, he crowned the people as victor in every battle that he won.  If it is right that a man sues for, and if he does not believe that one man is born bridled and saddled, and the other booted and spurred – let him pluck a flower from this good man’s life and wear it in his soul forever.”

Much more can be read about Thomas Jefferson and our other presidents.  Those history buffs who are interested will find this book using call number 923.173 W58 1907 at the Special Collections reference desk.

Upper left image taken from the title page of The White House Gallery of Official Portraits of the Presidents (Washington, DC: The Gravure Company of America, 1097, c1901).

Lower left image of Thomas Jefferson taken from The White House Gallery of Official Portraits of the Presidents (Washington, DC: The Gravure Company of America, 1097, c1901).

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