What would you think about an opportunity to meet the Mount Rushmore presidents and have them come to life to tell you about their presidencies? My daughter's Art History Honors professor thought that was a great idea, so she told her that if she made the visit to them, she could write a paper about her experience of this artform come to life for one of her course requirements! Is that a fun assignment or what? So off to the Smithsonian we went, in Washington DC this past Saturday, of inauguration weekend to meet our four favorite presidents!
Saturday was gorgeous! Blue skies. The high was in the fifties. Many more planes than usual flew to Reagan National, rumoredly with a bunch of dignitaries! But the crowds were no more than normal, quite doable. All traffic flow and parking was as normal. Sunday morning is when the streets will begin to be blocked and the crowds will start to descend upon the city. I'm not at all a crowd person but Saturday was perfect for a Washington DC inaugural weekend excursion.
We arrived at the Smithsonian's American History Museum just in time for the big opening for their inauguration events. The Marine Corps Band to President Lincoln greeted us with the sound of the 1860's!
They even played the 1860's version of "The Star Spangled Banner!"
Then Mr. Joseph Henry, first secretary of the Smithsonian, hired in 1846, invited us in to discover and learn. (Stay tuned for more on this fascinating man!)
When we entered we waved to the Colonial Williamsburg Thomas Jefferson and he came over to say hello! I told him I found out he was coming to town so I dragged the family to come down and say hi! He said that it was a bit more difficult to recognize the kids out of their proper attire! After a bit of a visit we went upstairs since his program would be in the afternoon. By the time we got upstairs all the presidents had arrived and there they were in perfect Mount Rushmore order. Has your imagination ever wondered if those four presidents ever chit chatted from their stony South Dakota precipice after the guests went home? Well imagine no more...here they are...chit chatting! I wonder if they are comparing notes on the presidency!
After a visit to the First Ladies' exhibit and lunch we attended the "Mount Rushmore Speaks" program. Mr. James was the moderator. The theme was of presidents being ignaugurated into their second term of office.
It was amazing that despite their various backgrounds (from genteel to the backwoods), despite their level of education (from formally to self-taught yet all were classically trained), and that they spanned over 100 years of the presidency, they had many things in common to say. Upon reflection I think that each of them mentioned that the on-going construction in Washington DC. Even as we walked to the museum, we had a new construction site that encumbered our route. A massive hole in the ground destined to become the newest addition to the Smithsonian, the African American Museum.
The first speaker was President Washington, genteel, yet stoic as ever yet not without a bit of humor. He attended three inaugurations. Two of his own with great forboding since he never aspired to be president. He was quite prepared to step down after his first term but Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton talked him into staying, saying the country needed him. He stayed but the other two left! His favorite inauguration was that of John Adams, when he had a gleeful gleam that he was leaving, yet Adams picked up that foreboding feeling.
Next Thomas Jefferson shared his stories. His first run for president ended in defeat when Adams won. Jefferson won his second bid for office yet his third bid ended in a tie with his vice-presidential running mate, Aaron Burr, which was a result of how elections were originally run. It took days to learn who would be president. He quipped, "Can you imagine such a thing ever happening again?" Because of this the 12th ammendment to the Constitution was written.
Third was President Abraham Lincoln who shared the story how as a young man he said, "a nation divided against itself will fall," never imagining it would one day mean his arriving in Washington DC for his inauguration. He could not aquiesce to the demands of the South, since that would mean the split of the Union and continued enslavement of humankind. He said it is the nature of our government to always have a majority who safely rules the minorty. Someone asked how to convince Congress to balance the budget. He quipped, "Your outcome must not exceed its income or your uprise will be your downfall."
Then the sanguine and animated President Theodore Roosevelt spoke.
He said that he had so much fun as president the first term, he thought he'd run for a second term too! He was actually voted the first time as Vice President to President McKinley who was assassinated.
Each of these four presidents had a bit of advice for the next president to take his oath for the second term of office. Although spoken individually, they seemed to be speaking collectively, based on their knowledge of history and experience. The president should be above partisan politics. The government is for the people. The government does not exist to be served by the people but to be servant to the people. The president should always listen to the will of the people. The president should keep the Constitution and follow its diction. These four presidents have worked hard to protect the Constitution and expect the future presidents to do the same. Mr. Roosevelt specifically said if he was going to be a president, then TO BE A PRESIDENT! He should not be like the idiots in Congress but BE A PRESIDENT! He should not spend his time on vacation but BE A PRESIDENT!
After their talks, we had an opportunity to ask questions of the presidents. They have so much wealth of information to share that it is always hoped that the best questions are asked from the audience to gleam the most knowledge to learn from the past so we can apply it to our future decisons. Patrick Henry always said that history repeated itself and I think these four presidents would concur. They had two other programs that afternoon so we attended those too so we could learn as much about them as possible. During the second program my son got to ask President Roosevelt what he felt his greatest accomplishments were as president. Oh he was so thrilled to get to speak about this! President Theodore Roosevelt said his greatest accomplishments was the Panama Canal and the Great White Fleet! My daughter was first to recognize someone else we know from Colonial Willliamsburg, who asked a terrific question relevant to today. He asked Thomas Jefferson if he had any advice for us about partisan politics. That fired up the crowd, to hear a question of today that was relevant 200 years ago. Jefferson admitted he started partisan politics (with Alexander Hamilton and that's why they left Washington's administration). He shared his opinion on the strength of diversity to which Mr. Lincoln stood to claim that too much diversity can divide a nation. I thought the historian who asked this question set a great example for the audience to know how great a range of information they could obtain from these brilliant men who have deeply and intensely studied primary source documents to know their characters to bring the past alive to us.
In between their programs we also got to meet the Marine Corps band and listen to more of their music. My son had an opportunity to chat with them about their authentic Civil War era instruments. He also asked how he could buy one for himself! They were great to chat with!
We also got to visit an 1831 train which I think I read tonight that President Andrew Jackson rode and was the first president to ride a steam train. I'll investigate that more and tell more of that story in all it's details later!
After the final program the Mount Rushmore presidents posed for pictures downstairs. While waiting for all the presidents to arrive, Thomas Jefferson came over to chat and he complimented my son's question! Then I told him about my daughter's Art History Honors assignment to write about them! He liked that! He suggested that she get a rendering with the Mount Rushmore presidents!
And here they are! A brilliant portrayal of the past from all of them!
While my daughter waited for a chance to slip in for a picture with the presidents due to the pressing crowds cutting in, the Presidents helped her finally slip in (they are so great!) my son spoke more in-depth to Mr. James, the first secretary of the Smithsonian. Eversince my son has been regaling me with all the fascinating information as he remembers it. I think another Smithsonian visit just to learn more about him is on the agenda! Stay tuned for a post on what my son learned!
We had about an hour left before the museum closed, so we visited the President's exhibit and that will be a separate post, along with the First Ladies' exhibit and the train display, all separate posts. At 5:30pm we were ushered out due to an inauguration party there that evening. The museum crowds were prodigious by the time we left though the streets were still easily accessible and roamable. By then the sun was setting and we had a glorious view of the monuments. My son took these pictures.
Remembering President Washington...
Remembering President Jefferson...
Remembering President Lincoln (taken from the Jefferson Memorial).
We drove by the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial.
The day was geat, giving us a chance to review history learned last autumn (1787 t0 1825) , discover new history for our current era (1825-1850) and preview upcoming lessons this spring (1850-1900). President Roosevelt will begin our studies next autumn! Bully!