Dead Presidents

Historical facts, thoughts, ramblings and collections on the Presidency and about the Presidents of the United States.

By Anthony Bergen
E-Mail: bergen.anthony@gmail.com
Posts tagged "Presidents Talk About Presidents"

I am proud and excited to share with everyone the cover to my new book, TRIBUTES AND TRASH TALK: What Our Presidents Said About Each Other, which will be available this week on Amazon.

I’m also incredibly fortunate to have had the immensely talented and all-around amazing Betsy Dye design the cover, which is beyond anything I could have imagined, let alone created myself.  Betsy’s on Tumblr and currently putting together her graphic design website portfolio.  Artistically, she is a magician.  Betsy also happens to be the personification of the words “lovely” and “awesome”.

More to come this week as we approach the release date of TRIBUTES AND TRASH TALK!

The Presidents Talk About: James K. Polk

“Polk…is just qualified for an eminent County Court lawyer…He has no wit, no literature, no point of argument, no gracefulness of delivery, no elegance of language, no philosophy, no pathos, no felicitous impromptus; nothing that can constitute an orator, but confidence, fluency, and labor.” — John Quincy Adams, 1834

"I understood the meaning of the guns fired last night on receipt of the election returns from the western counties of New York by the train of cars from Albany.  They settle the Presidential election, and James K. Polk, of Tennessee, is to be President of the United States for four years from the 4th of March, 1845.  What the further events of this issue may be is not clear, but it will be the signal for my retirement from public life.  It is the victory of the slavery element in the constitution of the United States.” — John Quincy Adams, personal diary entry on Polk’s election, November 8, 1844

"Mr. James Knox Polk arrived last night in this city.  His arrival was notified by a Democratic cannonade upon the Capitol Hill, and a Democratic escort from the depot of the railroad-cars to his lodgings at Coleman’s National Hotel.  He brought with him his wife and a small retinue, and was accompanied by the Vice-President elect, George Mifflin Dallas, who, coming from his residence at Philadelphia, joined him at the Relay House, nine miles on this side of Baltimore.  The parade of his reception was all partisan, and a display of one Democratic member of Congress to represent each State and Territory of the Union formed a congenial part of his cortege from the cars to his lodgings.  He has affected to speak, at Nashville and at Cincinnati, of being the President of the nation, and not of a party; but he is sold soul and body to that grim idol, half albino, half negro, the compound of Democracy and of slavery, which, by the slave-representation in Congress, rules and ruins the Union.” — John Quincy Adams, personal diary entry, February 14, 1845

"As the day of inauguration of President James Knox Polk approaches, the city fills with strangers, chiefly of the Democratic party.  For ‘wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together’; and so will the carrion-crows.” — John Quincy Adams, personal diary entry, March 1, 1845

"There was an unusual degree of pomposity paraded in the inauguration of James Knox Polk as President of the United States by the Democracy, but I witnessed nothing of it. A committee of arrangements for the reception and inauguration of the President elect had been appointed by the Senate…who, in a very polite note, enclosed to me three printed copies of the arrangements, with a notification that a positin had been assigned to the ex-Presidents, which the committee would be happy to have me occupy. I did not avail myself of the invitation.” — John Quincy Adams, personal diary entry, March 4, 1845

“To extraordinary powers of labor, both mental and physical, he unites that tact and judgment which are requisite to the successful direction of such an office as that of Chief Magistrate of a free people.” — Andrew Jackson, 1844

“I more than suspect that he is deeply conscious of being in the wrong, — that he feels the blood of this [the Mexican] war, like the blood of Abel, is crying to Heaven against him…He is a bewildered, confounded, and miserably perplexed man.  God grant he may be able to show, there is not something about his conscience, more painful than all his mental perplexity.” — Abraham Lincoln, Dec. 22, 1848

“Polk’s appointments all in all are the most damnable set that was ever made by any President since the government was organized…He has a set of interested parasites about him, who flatter him until he does not know himself.  He seems to be acting upon the principle of hanging an old friend for the purpose of making two new ones.” — Andrew Johnson

“James K. Polk…proved an excellent embodiment of the principles of the Democrats.  He had been well known in the House of Representatives, over which he had presided as Speaker, and where he had served most honorably, if without distinction.  He was a Southerner, and fully committed in favor of annexation.  Though in no sense a man of brilliant parts, he may be said to have been a thoroughly representative man of his class, a sturdy, upright, straightforward party man.  He believed in the policy for which his party had declared, and he meant, if elected, to carry it out.” — Woodrow Wilson, 1902

“The next man on my list of great Presidents, a man who isn’t much thought of these days, is James K. Polk…He exercised his powers of the Presidency as I think they should be exercised.  He was President during the Mexican War, and he was living in an age when the terrible burden of making decisions in a war was entirely in the hands of the President.  And when that came about, he decided that that was much more important than going to parties and shaking hands with people.  I know exactly how he felt, but in my time there were more able and informed people who were helping the President, and that made a difference.  James K. Polk, a great President.  Said what he intended to do and did it.” — Harry Truman, 1960

The Presidents Talk About: John Tyler

“Tyler is a political sectarian, of the slave-driving, Virginian, Jeffersonian school, principled against all improvement, with all the interests and passions and vices of slavery rooted in his moral and political constitution — with talents not above mediocrity, and a spirit incapable of expansion to the dimensions of the station upon which he has been cast by the hand of Providence.” — John Quincy Adams, 1841

"I had an hour of conversation with D.D. Barnard, Joseph R. Ingersoll, and other Whigs impatient to impeach Tyler for his manifold usurpations and violations of the Constitution; which I dissuaded as impracticable, or a cracked gun-barrel, fit only to explode in the hand of him who would use it." — John Quincy Adams, personal diary entry, May 28, 1844

"Morning and evening visitors as by the margin, chiefly military officers who had been in grand costume to pay their devoirs to the President.  The wedding visit last Saturday and that of Independence Day came so close together that the attendance this day was thin.  Captain Tyler and his bride are the laughing-stock of the city.  It seems as if he was racing for a prize-banner to the nuptials of the mock-heroic — the sublime and the ridiculous.  He has assumed the war power as a prerogative, the veto power as a caprice, the appointing and dismissing power as a fund for bribery; and now, under circumstances of revolting indecency, is performing with a young girl from New York the old fable of January and May.” — John Quincy Adams, personal diary entry, July 5, 1844

"Close of the Twenty-Eighth Congress, and of the Administration of John Tyler, Vice-President of the United States, acting as President — memorable as the first practical application of the experimental device in the Constitution of the United States, substituting the Vice-President as the Chief Executive Magistrate of this Union in the event of the decease of the President." — John Quincy Adams, personal diary entry, March 3, 1845

"Inauguration of James Knox Polk as President of the United States.  The day after the closing scene of a dying Congress reminds me of what is said of a typhoon in the Asiatic seas, and of a West India hurricane, when it often happens that the transition from the most terrific fury of the tempest to a dead and breathless calm is instantaneous.  Such is the change of one’s personal existence between the whirlwind of yesterday and the tranquility of this day.” — John Quincy Adams, personal diary entry, March 4, 1845

“A kind and overruling providence has interfered to prolong our glorious Union…for surely Tyler…[will], stay the corruptions of this clique who has got into power by deluding the people by the grossest of slanders.” — Andrew Jackson, on the death of President Harrison and succession of John Tyler, 1841

“[Tyler deserves] the lasting gratitude of his country [for] arresting the dominant majority in Congress in their mad career, and saving his country from the dominion and political incubus of the money-power in the form of a National Bank.” — James K. Polk, 1841

“Old John didn’t amount to a great deal and his purported great nephew probably won’t either.” — Harry Truman, Jan. 21, 1946 letter to Ethel Noland on reports that he was a great nephew of the 10th President.

“One of the Presidents we could have done without…There are some things I admire about Tyler, but there were also plenty of things that weren’t so admirable…The reason I have a certain amount of grudging respect for John Tyler is that he knew his own mind and stuck to his decisions.” — Harry Truman

“He established the precedent that the Vice President becomes the President in fact when he succeeds to the office.  Tyler had his troubles with Congress, his cabinet and the country, but he succeeded in annexing Texas.  Now whether that accomplishment was an asset or not I’m unable to say.” — Harry Truman, diary, Nov. 24, 1952

“No one can charge John Tyler with a lack of courage.  He resigned from the Senate because he did not agree with Andrew Jackson, but I could never forgive him for leaving his party to join the Whigs, or for leaving the Union in 1861 — although I must admit he did make an effort to hold the Union together.” — Harry Truman, letter to Stephen Chadwick, Dec. 10, 1955.

The Presidents Talk About: William Henry Harrison

“The greatest beggar and the most troublesome of all the office seekers during my Administration was General Harrison.” — John Quincy Adams, 1840

“The Republic…may suffer under the present imbecile chief, but the sober second thought of the people will restore it at our next Presidential election.”  — Andrew Jackson, 1841

“The President is the most extraordinary man I ever saw.  He does not seem to realize the vast importance of his elevation…He talks and thinks with…much ease and vivacity…He is as tickled with the Presidency as is a young woman with a new bonnet.” — Martin Van Buren, 1841

“It is true, the victory of 1840 did not produce the happy results anticipated; but it is equally true, as we believe, that the unfortunate death of General Harrison was the cause of failure.  It was not the election of General Harrison that was expected to produce happy effects, but the measures to be adopted by his administration.  By means of his death, and the unexpected course of his successor, those measures were never adopted.” — Abraham Lincoln, 1843

"My ambition is for quietness rather than for publicity.  I want to avoid everything that is personal…I want it understood that I am the grandson of nobody.” — Benjamin Harrison, trying to avoid comparisons with his grandfather in the 1888 election

“Harrison didn’t accomplish a thing during the month he was in office.  He made contribution whatsoever.  He had no policy.  He didn’t know what the government was about, to tell the truth.  About the only thing he did during that brief period was see friends and friends of friends, because he was such an easy mark that he couldn’t say no to anybody, and everybody and his brother was beseeching him for jobs.” — Harry Truman

The Presidents Talk About: Martin Van Buren

“Fawning civility…Van Buren, like the Sosie of Moliere’s Amphitryon, is ‘l’ami de tout le monde’.  This is perhaps the great secret of his success in public life, and especially against the competitors with whom he is now struggling for the last step on the ladder of his ambition…Van Buren’s principle is the talisman of democracy, which, so long as this Union lasts, can never fail.” — John Quincy Adams, 1836

“I…believe him not only deserving of my confidence but the confidence of the Nation…He…is not only well qualified, but desires to fill the highest office in the gift of the people, who in him, will find a true friend and safe repository of their rights and liberty.” — Andrew Jackson, 1829

“Mr. Van Buren became offended with me at the beginning of my administration, because I chose to exercise my own judgment in the selection of my own Cabinet, and would not be controlled by him and suffer him to select it for me.  Mr. Van Buren is the most fallen man I have ever known.” — James K. Polk, 1847

“I’ve got to say that our country would have done just as well not to have had Van Buren as President…My particular reason for not thinking much of him is that he was just too timid and indecisive.  I don’t know whether or not he even had any personal philosophy on the role of government; I think he was a man who was always worrying about what might happen if he did this or that, and always keeping his ear to the ground to the point where he couldn’t act as the chief executive, and for that reason he was just a politician and nothing more, a politician who was out of his depth.” — Harry Truman

"I suppose this means I’ll be Martin Van Buren — one term, no war, no greatness." — Dwight Eisenhower, on worries that his ill health would limit him to one term in the Presidency, 1955

The Presidents Talk About: Andrew Jackson

“I fell much alarmed at the prospect of seeing General Jackson President.  He is one of the most unfit men I know of for such a place.  He has had very little respect for laws and constitutions, and is, in fact, an able military chief.  His passions are terrible.  When I was President of the Senate, he was Senator, and he could never speak on account of the rashness of his feelings.  I have seen him attempt it repeatedly, and as often choke with rage.  His passions are, no doubt, cooler now; he has been much tried since I knew him, but he is a dangerous man.” — Thomas Jefferson; Jefferson did not live to see Jackson’s election as President

"It is very gratifying to me to receive your opinions on all subjects on which you will have the goodness to communicate them, because I have the utmost confidence in the soundness of your judgment, and the purity of your intentions." — James Monroe

"From the view which I have of his conduct, I entirely approve of it…however I should be glad to receive Mr. Adams’s opinion." — James Monroe, on Jackson’s conduct during the Seminole War in Florida

"I have been much hurt to find in your late letters that I had not done you justice…I am utterly incapable of doing injustice to anyone intentionally, and certainly…an injury to you would be among the last acts of which I could be capable, in any form whatever." — James Monroe, in a letter to Jackson

"The Vice Presidency was a station in which the General could harm no one and in which he would need to quarrel with no one." — John Quincy Adams, explaining to friends why he considered asking Andrew Jackson to be his Vice President prior to the 1824 election

“As the people have twice decided this man knows enough law to be their ruler, it is not for Harvard College to maintain that they are mistaken.  I would not be present to see my darling Harvard disgrace herself by conferring a Doctor’s degree upon a barbarian who could not write a sentence of grammar and hardly could spell his own name…One of our tribe of great men who turn disease to commodity…he craves the sympathy for sickness as a portion of his glory.” — John Quincy Adams, 1833, protesting Harvard’s decision to confer an honorary doctorate on President Jackson.

“I never knew a man more free from conceit, or one to whom it was to a greater extent a pleasure, as well as a recognized duty, to listen patiently to what might be said to him upon any subject.” — Martin Van Buren

“I have scarcely ever known a man who placed a higher value upon the enjoyments of the family circle.” — Martin Van Buren

"A fellow once advertised that he had made a discovery by which he could make a new man out of an old one, and have enough of the stuff left to make a little yellow dog.  Just such a discovery has General Jackson’s popularity been to you.  You not only twice made President of him out of it, but you have had enough of the stuff left to make President of several comparatively small men since; and it is your chief reliance now to make still another.” — Abraham Lincoln, on Presidential politics during the Mexican War to Democrats in the House of Representatives, July 27, 1848

“Jackson is my next choice as a great President after Jefferson, the next President who really did things.” — Harry Truman

The Presidents Talk About: John Quincy Adams

“Mr. Adams is the most valuable public character we have abroad…There remains no doubt in my mind that he will prove himself to be the ablest, of all our diplomatic corps.” — George Washington, 1797

"I shall always be happy to see you here, and wherever we may chance to meet.  I shall through life, take a sincere and great interest in your welfare and happiness.” — James Monroe, in a letter to JQA after JQA was defeated for re-election in 1828

"What disgraceful scenes in Congress…Is Mr. Adams demented, or is he perversely wicked?  Both, I think, and Adams ought to be confined to a hospital.” — Andrew Jackson, during Jackson’s Presidency when JQA had returned to Congress, 1831

“Mr. Adams’ general personal demeanor was not prepossessing.  He was on the contrary quite awkward, but…he was, in a small and agreeable party, one of the most entertaining table companions of his day…He loved his country, desired to serve it, and was properly conscious of the honor of doing so.” — Martin Van Buren

“It is said he is a disgusting man to do business.  Coarse, dirty and clownish in his address and stiff and abstracted in his opinions, which are drawn from books exclusively.” — William Henry Harrison

“His disposition is as perverse and mullish as that of his father.” — James Buchanan

“The single really interesting thing about Adams, I’m afraid, is that he was the only son of a President in our history to become President himself…He was a conscientious and well-meaning man, and I wish I could say more about his achievements…I just don’t think there were any events in Adams’ administration that were very interesting.” — Harry Truman

"The dominant piece of art in the room was a portrait of John Quincy Adams, the only other son of a President to hold the office.  I hung it as an inside joke with Dad.  One day early in my Presidency, he was teasing me about the special kinship between W and Q.  I wanted him to have to look Q in the face the next time he felt the urge to needle.  I had read a fair amount about Quincy.  I admired his abolitionist principles, although I wasn’t crazy about his campaign to exclude Texas from the Union.  Nevertheless, I kept the portrait up for the rest of my time in the White House.” — George W. Bush, on a portrait of JQA which hung in the small private dining room next to the Oval Office, Decision Points, 2010

The Presidents Talk About: James Monroe

“If Mr. Monroe should ever fill the Chair of Government he may (and it is presumed he would be well enough disposed) let the French Minister frame his speeches…There is abundant evidence of his being a mere tool in the hands of the French government.” — George Washington, 1797

"What a Precedent is Monroe establishing for future Presidents?  He will make the office the most perfect slavery that ever existed — The next President must go to California.” — John Adams, on Monroe’s long tour of the nation, 1820

"I hear that the President intends to shorten his journey, because I believe if he lengthens it, it will kill him — and I sincerely wish he may continue President for another four years — after the expiration of this — and that your husband will continue to be his Secretary — for a more happy combination is not to be expected." — John Adams, in a letter to John Quincy Adams’s wife, on Monroe’s lengthy tour of the nation, 1820

“He is a man whose soul might be turned wrong side outwards without discovering a blemish to the world.” — Thomas Jefferson, 1787

"Closing the prospect of our ever meeting again, afflicts me deeply.  The pain I feel at the idea, associated as it is with a recollection of the long, close, and uniterrupted friendship which united us, amounts to a pang of which I cannot well express, and which makes me seek for an alleviation in the possibility that you may be brought back to us in the wonted degree of intercourse.  This is a happiness my feelings covet, notwithstanding the short period I could expect to enjoy it; being now…a decade beyond the canonical three-score and ten, an epoch which you have but just passed…I will not despair of your being able to keep up your connection with Virginia…Whatever may be the turn of things, be assured of the unchangeable interest felt by Mrs. Madison, as well as myself, in your welfare, and in that of all who are dearest to you.” — James Madison, in his last letter to James Monroe, received by Monroe on Monroe’s final birthday, April 28, 1831

"A motion for excluding slavery from [Missouri]…has set the two sides of the House, slaveholders and non-slaveholders, into a violent flame against each other…I take it for granted that the present question is a mere preamble — a title page to a great tragic volume…The President thinks this question will be winked away by a compromise.  But…not I.  Much am I mistaken if it is not destined to survive his political and individual life and mine.” — John Quincy Adams, on slavery and the Missouri Compromise, 1819

"As the old line of demarcation between parties has been broken down, personal has taken the place of principled opposition.  The personal friends of the President…are neither so numerous, nor so active, nor so able as his opponents…In short, as the first Presidential term of Mr. Monroe’s Administration has hitherto been the period of the greatest national tranquility enjoyed by this nation at any portion of its history, so it appears to me scarcely avoidable that the second term will be among the most stormy and violent.  I told him…that I thought the difficulties before him were thickening and becoming hourly more and more formidable.” — John Quincy Adams, on Monroe having to deal with the end of the “Era of Good Feelings”

"Rejoice! that, if for you, there are neither Rocky Mountains, nor Oasis of the Desert, from the rivers of the Southern Ocean to the shores of the Atlantic Sea; Rejoice that, if for you, the waters of the Columbia mingle in union with the streams of the Delaware, the Lakes of the St. Lawrence, and the floods of the Mississippi: Rejoice! that, if for you, every valley has been exalted, and every mountain and hill has been made low, the crooked straight, and the rough places plain…Rejoice! that if for you, the distant have been drawn near…the North American Continent swarms with unnumbered multitudes; of hearts beating as if from one bosom; of voice, speaking but with one tongue; of freemen, constituting one confederated and united republic; of brethren, never to rise…in hostile arms…to fulfill the blessed prophecy of ancient times, that war shall be no more…You are, under God, indebted for the enjoyment of all these unspeakable blessings….The change, more than any other man, living or dead, was the work of James Monroe." — John Quincy Adams

“Weltering in his blood on the field of Trenton for the cause of his country…Then look at the map of United North America, as it was…in 1783.  Compare it with the map of that same Empire as it is now…The change, more than of any other man, living or dead, was the work of James Monroe.  See him pass…to the Chief Magistracy of the Union…There behold him for a term of eight years, strengthening his country for defense by a system of combined fortifications, military and naval, sustaining her rights, her dignity and honor abroad; soothing her dissension, and conciliating her acerbities at home; controlling by a firm though peaceful policy the hostile spirit of the European Alliance against Republican South America exrtorting by the mild compulsion of reason, the shores of the Pacific from the stipulated acknowledgment of Spain; and leading back the imperial autocrat of the North, to his lawful boundaries, from his hastily asserted dominion over the Southern Ocean.  Thus strengthening and consolidating the federative edifice of his country’s Union, till he was entitled to say, like Augustus Caesar of his imperial city, that he had found her built of brick and left her constructed of marble.”  — John Quincy Adams, eulogizing Monroe after his death, 1831

“I consider Monroe a pretty minor President.  In spite of the Monroe Doctrine.  That’s the only important thing he ever did more or less on his own, when you really get down to it.” — Harry Truman

The Presidents Talk About: James Madison

"There’s a good reason for my happy and his serious looks.  I have got the burthen off my shoulders, while he has now got it on his.” — Thomas Jefferson, at a dinner on the day of his retirement and Madison’s inauguration, March 4, 1809

“[My] pillar of support through life…I can say conscientiously that I do not know in the world a man of purer integrity, more dispassionate, disinterested, and devoted to genuine Republicanism; nor could I in the whole scope of America and Europe point out an abler head.” — Thomas Jefferson, 1812

"The friendship which has subsisted between us, now half a century, and the harmony of our political principles and pursuits, have been sources of constant happiness to me through that long period.  And if I remove beyond the reach of attentions to the University [of Virginia], or beyond the bourne of life itself, as I soon must, it is a comfort to leave that institution under your care, and an assurance that they will neither be spared, nor ineffectual…To myself you have been a pillar of support through life.  Take care of me when dead, and be assured that I shall leave with you my last affections.” — Thomas Jefferson, in his final letter to Madison, February 17, 1826

"I deeply regret…that there is no prospect of our ever meeting again, since so long have we been connected, and in the most friendly intercourse, in public and private life, that a final separation is among the most distressing incidents which could occur." — James Monroe, in one of his final letters to Madison, 1831

“Despite his unimpressive appearance and manner, he was a brilliant fellow with a crystal-clear mind…It was just that, when it came time for him to act like an executive, he was like a great many other people; when the time comes to make decisions, they have difficulty doing it.” — Harry Truman

The Presidents Talk AboutThomas Jefferson

“He is an old friend with whom I have often had occasion to labor on many a knotty problem, and in whose abilities and steadiness I always found great cause to confide.” — John Adams, 1784

“It is with much reluctance that I am obliged to look upon him as a man whose mind is warped by prejudice and so blinded by ignorance as to be unfit for the office he holds.  However wise and scientific as a philosopher, as a politician he is a child and a dupe of party.” — John Adams, 1797; at the time, Jefferson was Adams’s Vice President

"Mr. Jefferson said I was sensitive, did he?  Well, I was sensitive…I always loved Jefferson, and still love him.” — John Adams, to Edward Coles in 1811, talking about the breach in the Adams-Jefferson friendship

"I congratulate You and Madison and Monroe on your noble Employment in founding a University.  From such a noble Tryumvirate, the World will expect something very great and very new.” — John Adams, congratulating Jefferson on the founding of the University of Virginia, in a letter, May 26, 1817

“Thomas Jefferson still survives!” — John Adams, his last words before dying, July 4, 1826; Adams didn’t know that Jefferson had died earlier that same day.

“For a period of fifty years, there has not been an interruption or a diminution of mutual confidence and cordial friendship (between myself and Mr. Jefferson) for a single moment in a single instance…It may be said of him as has been said of others that he was a ‘walking library’, and what can be said of but few such prodigies, that a Genius of Philosophy ever walked hand in hand with him…He lives and will live in the memory and gratitude of the wise and good, as a luminary of Science, as a votary of liberty, as a model of patriotism, and as a benefactor of human kind.” — James Madison, 1826

“A slur upon the moral government of the world.” — John Quincy Adams

“He was a mixture of profound and sagacious observation, with strong prejudices and irritated passions…If not an absolute athiest, he had no belief in a future existence.  All his ideas of obligation were bounded by the present life.  His duties to his neighbor were under no stronger guarantee than the laws of the land and the opinions of the world.  The tendency of this condition upon a mind of great compass is to produce insincerity and duplicity, which were his besetting sins through life.” — John Quincy Adams

"Mr. Jefferson can torture Aaron Burr while England tortures our sailors." — Andrew Jackson, denouncing Jefferson’s pursuit of treason charges against Aaron Burr, Richmond, Virginia, 1807

“The principles of Jefferson are the definitions and axioms of a free society.” — Abraham Lincoln

“Perhaps the most incapable Executive that ever filled the Presidential chair…It would be difficult to imagine a man less fit to guide the state with honor and safety through the stormy times that marked the opening of the present century.” — Theodore Roosevelt

“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.” — John F. Kennedy, April 29, 1962, White House dinner for Nobel Laureates.

“An idealist with sense.” — Richard Nixon

“Thomas Jefferson made a comment about the Presidency and age.  He said that one should not worry about one’s exact chronological age in reference to his ability to perform one’s task.  And ever since he told me that, I’ve stopped worrying.  And just to show you how youthful I am, I intend to campaign in all 13 states.” — Ronald Reagan, Remarks at the Annual Salute to Congress Dinner, February 4, 1981

“I want to be faithful to Jefferson’s idea that about once in a generation you have to shake things up and face your problems.  We owe it to Thomas Jefferson and George Washington and all our forbears to face the difficult problems of our time and try to solve them.” — Bill Clinton, on a bus tour to Monticello, Virginia prior to his inauguration as President, January 18, 1993

“If Thomas Jefferson were alive today, I would appoint him Secretary of State, and then suggest to Senator Gore that we both resign so he could become President.” — Bill Clinton, on a bus tour to Monticello, Virginia prior to his inauguration as President, January 18, 1993

The Presidents Talk AboutJohn Adams

"[Adams] has always been my senior…the second office…is honorable and easy; the first is but a splendid misery." — Thomas Jefferson, on becoming John Adams’ Vice President, 1797

“He is distrustful, obstinate, excessively vain, and takes no counsel from anyone…He is vain, irritable, and a bad calculator of the force and probable effect of the motives which govern men.  This is all the ill that can possibly be said of him:  he is profound in his view and accurate in his judgment except when knowledge of the world is necessary to form a judgment…I like everything about Adams except his politics…I never felt a dimunition of confidence in his integrity, and retained a solid affection for him.” — Thomas Jefferson

“Mr. Adams and his Federalists wish to sap the Republic by fraud, destroy it by force, and elect an English monarchy in its place.” — Thomas Jefferson

"That is enough for me.  I only needed this knowledge to revive towards him all the affections of the most cordial moments of our lives.” — Thomas Jefferson, when told that John Adams spoke highly of him after a long breach in their friendship, 1811

"It would give me great pleasure to have it in my power, on your arrival at the seat of government of this commonwealth, to pay you the attention in which your office entitles you.  But you have in that office made an attack on me, by which you have attempted to injure my character in the estimation of my countrymen.  The attack too was the more extraordinary because it was unprovoked by me…when I was not responsible to you…Under such circumstance, I consider any attention from me to you, without some previous and suitable explanation on your part…as being highly improper on mine…The object of this therefore is to invite you to make such an explanation…and enable me to perform an office, which in that case would be an agreeable one…I can assure you that I shall meet a spirit of conciliation on your part with a like temper on mine.” — James Monroe, in a letter written to President Adams when Monroe was Governor of Virginia, in 1800 when he learned of Adams’ proposed visit to Richmond

"I cannot escape my destiny…I am bound to my parents by more than ordinary ties." — John Quincy Adams, on his father, the 2nd President

“It’s just that he wasn’t very special.” — Harry Truman

“All I want them to say about me is what they said about John Adams:  ‘He kept the peace’.” — John F. Kennedy

The Presidents Talk AboutGeorge Washington

“A gentleman whose skill and experience as an officer, whose independent fortune, great talents and excellent universal character would command the approbation of all America and unite the cordial exertions of all the colonies better than any other person in the union.” — John Adams, 1775

“He is too illiterate, unread, unlearned for his station and reputation.” — John Adams

“I have seen him in the days of adversity, in some of the scenes of his deepest distress, and most trying perplexities.  I have also attended him in his highest elevation, and most prosperous felicity, with uniform admiration of his wisdom, moderation, and constancy.” — John Adams

"The sight of the sun setting fully orbed and another rising less splendid was a novelty.  A Solemn Scene it was indeed, and it was made more affecting to me by the presence of the General, whose countenance was as serene and unclouded as the day.  He seem’d to me to enjoy a triumph over me.  Methought I heard him think ‘Ay! I am fairly out and you fairly in!  See which of us will be the happiest.’” — John Adams, in a letter to Abigail Adams, about Washington’s presence and joy at retiring on Adams’ inauguration day, 1797

"Among the national sins of our country [is] the idolatorous worship paid to the name of George Washington by all classes and nearly all parties of our citizens, manifested in the impious applications of names and epithets to him which are ascribed in scripture only to God and to Jesus Christ.  The following is a part of them: ‘our Savior’, ‘our Redeemer’, ‘our cloud by day and our pillar of fire by night’, ‘our star in the east’, ‘to us a Son is born’, and ‘our guide on earth, our advocate in heaven.’” — John Adams, 1812

“An Anglican monarchical and aristocratical party has sprung up, whose avowed object is to draw over us the substance, as they have already done the forms, of the British government…It would give you a fever were I to name to you the apostates who have gone over to these heresies, men who were Samsons in the field and Solomons in the council, but who have had their heads shorn by the harlot England.” — Thomas Jefferson, 1796

“He errs as other men do, but he errs with integrity…His mind was great and powerful, without being of the very first order…and as far as he saw, no judgment was ever sounder.  It was slow in operation, being little aided by invention, but sure in conclusion…He was incapable of fear, meeting personal dangers with the calmest unconcern.  Perhaps the strongest feature in his character was prudence, never acting until every circumstance, every consideration, was maturely weighed…His integrity was most pure, his justice the most inflexible I have ever known, no motives of interest or consanguinity, of friendship or hatred, being able to bias his decision.  He was, indeed, in every sense of the words, a wise, a good, and a great man.” — Thomas Jefferson

“The only man in the United States who possessed the confidence of the whole.” — Thomas Jefferson

“Insane.” — James Monroe, after Washington recalled him from diplomatic service in France

“A gentleman of one of the first fortunes upon the continent…sacrificing his ease, and hazarding all in the cause of his country.” — John Quincy Adams

"Let us believe, as in the days of our youth, that Washington was spotless.  It makes human nature better to believe that one human being was perfect — that human perfection is possible.” — Abraham Lincoln

“The mightiest name on Earth.  On that name an eulogy is expected.  Let none attempt it.  In solemn awe pronounce the name and in its naked, deathless splendor leave it shining on.” — Abraham Lincoln

“Well, his monument is still there.” — Calvin Coolidge, commenting on a book which portrayed Washington in a negative light.

“There isn’t any question about Washington’s greatness.  If his administration had been a failure, there would have been no United States.  A lesser man couldn’t have done it…Washington was both a great administrator and a great leader, a truly great man in every way.” — Harry Truman

"President Washington began this tradition in 1790 after reminding the Nation that the destiny of self-government and the ‘preservation of the sacred fire of liberty’ is ‘finally stakes on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.’ For our friends in the press, who place a high premium on accuracy, let me say: I did not actually hear George Washington say that." — Ronald Reagan, joking about his age in his State of the Union Address, Jan. 26, 1982

"If they’re still assessing George Washington’s legacy more than two centuries after he left office, this George W. doesn’t have to worry about today’s headlines." — George W. Bush, Decision Points, 2010