Tag Archives: Abraham Lincoln

An Honest Review of Abraham Lincoln Portrayals

by Rick Bretz

A recent viewing of Raymond Massey’s portrayal of Abraham Lincoln brought on a recollection of the actors trying their craft being Lincoln on the screen.  Many actors have attempted to flood the screen with the essence and character of our sixteenth President of the United States.  Three films stand out for capturing Lincoln’s personality on film.



Raymond Massey, a Canadian actor, in the movie “Abe Lincoln in Illinois” and released in 1940,  shows the young politician’s ability to relate to people from every social and financial status.  Massey’s Lincoln tones down the ambitious side of the rising potential of the young lawyer in favor of his agreeable nature and storytelling expertise. He’s almost the reluctant politician in this movie.


The death of his first love interest, Ann Rutledge, is an important part of the movie and makes the audience aware of how important an event the death had on him for the rest of his life.

The selection of a young actress Ruth Gordon as Mary Todd Lincoln is perfect.  She realizes the young Lincoln will go places and understands him from the beginning.  Gordon gives the audience and idea of how the relationship between the two must have been and how Lincoln handled his equally ambitious wife. Massey’s voice is deeper than Lincoln’s from what historians have written, but the actor’s gangling frame gives the movie audience a sense of how he moved and how coordinated he was socially and physically. The movie ends after Lincoln is elected President as he and his family boards the train to Washington, DC, to begin the long, stressful work dealing with a rebellious south and a civil war.


Another movie has Henry Fonda showing us how effective a public speaker and lawyer Lincoln was during his travels in Illinois as an attorney.

Henry Fonda's Lincoln

Young Mr. Lincoln“, released in 1939, has Lincoln defending two suspects accused of murder.  It also introduces Ann Rutledge and Mary Todd as his love interest and future wife but the story centers on Fonda’s playing Lincoln in the courtroom. It seems when producing a movie about Lincoln it is mandatory to show his storytelling skills.  This movie is no exception but this movie also demonstrates his ability as a critical thinker and in the courtroom while cross examining witnesses on the stand.  Fonda captures Lincoln’s affable personality while also giving us a hint of his ambitious nature.  Fonda’s Lincoln has more confidence and the feeling that he is destined for great things and that he is in control of his surroundings.



The third and recent version of Lincoln is performed by Daniel Day-Lewis as “Lincoln“, released in 2012.


Day-Lewis, from what historians gather, has Lincoln’s voice close to the real Lincoln pitch.  He gives a performance showing a worn down Lincoln, after shouldering the responsibility of a long civil war, and enduring the grief of losing two of his children.  Day-Lewis shows Lincoln managing the many personalities of his cabinet as well as anger and other emotions that come with being the President of the United States.

Daniel Day-Lewis said of playing Lincoln, “I never, ever felt that depth of love for another human being that I never met. And that’s, I think, probably the effect that Lincoln has on most people that take the time to discover him… I wish he had stayed (with me) forever.”


The three movies show the many facets of Lincoln’s personality and ability to relate to people. It’s daunting task to take on a role from history’s greatest figures.  If you overplay it or make a mistake in the acting, then it misses the mark or worse, you can look foolish on screen.  The actors hit the mark.


Honorable Mention:

Walter Houston-Abraham Lincoln-1930


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Eight Songs About History That Move You



by Rick Bretz

The Way It Is-Bruce Hornsby and the Range, 1986

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A song that references the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964 and specifically the formation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to “Give those who ain’t got a little more” as Bruce Hornsby sings.  The also refers to the Food Stamp Act of 1964 to help those people who need an assist to boost themselves up the economic ladder.  Best remembered words of the song:   That’s just the way it is. Some things will never change.  That’s just the way it is.  Ah-but don’t you believe them.


We Didn’t Start The Fire-Billy Joel, 1989

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Billy Joel has stated that he doesn’t like singing this song in concert because he has to remember a string names and events from history. Indeed, he’s on record as saying he didn’t think the song was “that great to begin with.”   Song criticisms aside, the song does a good job of listing several famous people and historical events while rhyming at the same time.

Here’s one of the best:

“Rosenbergs, H Bomb, Sugar Ray, Panmunjom Brando, The King And I, and The Catcher In The Rye

Eisenhower, Vaccine, England’s got a new queen Maciano, Liberace, Santayana goodbye”

SS Edmund Fitzgerald


The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald-Gordon Lightfoot, 1976

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Gordon Lightfoot researched the tragedy of the Edmund Fitzgerald  and put the events leading up to the freighter sinking into a song that is classic still being heard today.  The SS Edmund Fitzgerald Great Lakes Freighter surrendered to the cold waters of Lake Superior on November 10, 1975 during a heavy storm and with it took the lives of its crew of 29 souls on board.  It’s a perfect blend of words and haunting music.


Dirty Laundry-Don Henley, 1982

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I know this doesn’t reference history but it refers to the people who write the first draft. This is an amusing song to listen to but it is so true. He wrote this song in 1982 but it is relevant as ever today. He’s turns the microscope on media but he’s really scolding us, the audience, for liking it way too much. Lines like “People love it when you lose” throughout the song disrobe the media so the listener can see the king, the media, without their clothes while simultaneously scolding the audience for giving the media the power to continue their wicked ways.


Bloody Sunday

Sunday Bloody Sunday-U2, 1983

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Considered one of the best call to action songs of all time. Bono tells the listener he’s tired of the violence. It’s non-partisan song but he is clear from the lyrics that he wants the killing to stop.   The militaristic drum beat in the beginning sets the tone for the words and music U2 brings to the song.  Lead singer Bono sings, “I can’t believe the news today.  Oh, I can’t close my eyes and make it go away.”   Later, he asks “How long must we sing this song.” From their “War” album, the song concentrates on the “Bloody Sunday” incident in Derry, Northern Ireland in the Bogside area on January 30, 1972 when 13 protestors died from injuries from battling British forces during a Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association March.


Abraham, Martin and John-Dion, 1968

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This is a song that has been covered by many singers and is about three significant people in the fight for civil rights. The words, “Has anybody here seen by old friend Abraham” and repeated for Martin and John are poignant throughout the rendition. A song about what might have been.

memorial for day the music died

American Pie-Don McLean, 1971

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A song about a terrible plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa on February 3, 1959 that killed everyone on board including Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson.

On the surface this masterpiece of writing is about that plane crash but has several references and meanings in the lyrics left to interpretation of the listener. The interpretation is left to the audience because Don McLean refuses to say what he had in mind when writing the lyrics. This has left several people to create websites to fill the void about what the song means.


“19”-Paul Hardcastle, 1985

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This song is about the Vietnam War and how it affected soldiers after they came back to the United States.  It is a song that is relevant to every soldier coming home  from every country involved in a conflict, As the song title states, the average age of the Vietnam soldier was 19 years old.  An age significantly lower than the Korean War and World War II.


 Honorable Mentions: The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down-Joan Baez; Strange Fruit-Billie Holiday; Pride (In The Name In Love)-U2; Zombie-The Cranberries; Ohio-Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

My Eight Favorite History Books of All Time

by Rick Bretz

Cover of "Fortunate Son: The Healing of a...
Cover via Amazon

1. Fortunate Son: The Healing of a Vietnam Vet

By Lewis B. Puller, Jr.

For autobiographies and a book that makes you empathize with and respect the author, this one is at the top of the list for me.  This book earned the Pulitzer Prize in 1992 and it deserved it.  He was the son of Marine General Lewis “Chesty” Puller, a hero to every Marine that ever served.  His son followed in his footsteps and served with distinction as a Marine Corps officer in Vietnam.  The Vietnam War handed Puller a challenge he fought his whole life when he lost both his legs, part of his arm, hand and part of his stomach.  The chapter that tells the story of his father visiting him in the hospital is a gut wrenching read.  The rest of his life story is riveting and he fights to come back.  In a sad ending, three years after earning the Pulitzer Prize in 1992, Puller took his own life. The book is inspiring and an example of the fight that most wounded warriors go through when they come back from the fight.


2. John Adams

By David McCullough

McCullough has written several books that I have enjoyed throughout the years.  He’s a pleasure to read and always tells me something new about the subject.  He’s tackled subjects as diverse as Harry Truman and the Brooklyn Bridge.  For Adams, McCullough gave us glimpse into the Adams personality and reminded us of how important this founding father was to American history who for a while was lost among the others stellar figures like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. I wasn’t expecting an interesting read but what I got was a page turner.


3. TR: The Last Romantic

By H.W. Brands

This epic biography takes you from Teddy Roosevelt’s young days, through college, his heart aches, and his triumphs through to the end of his life.  The book discusses his adventurous travels, his bombastic personality as well as his knack for being in the right place at the right time.  Once he got his opportunities, he makes the most of them.  The book also discusses his mistakes and his relationships with his sons and daughters.  There are several books about this larger than life President but this is one that portrays the era and how a go-getter lives in it.


English: Brigadier General Chuck Yeager
English: Brigadier General Chuck Yeager (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

4. Yeager, An Autobiography

By General Chuck Yeager and Leo Janus

A first-hand account of the pilot who was pilot that ushered in the supersonic age.  Yeager is an interesting autobiography of a first pilot to break the sound barrier.  However, it is much more than the story of that feat.  It tells the story of his younger days and his World War II combat dog fights.  He writes about his friends, family and his days as commander of several Air Force units and how he handled some delicate situations as commander and as a top-notch pilot.


5. Unbroken: The World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption

By Laura Hillenbrand

The story of Lt. Louis Zamperini who joined the war as an aviator bombardier and was part of crew that ended up in rubber raft trying to survive days and then weeks.  Little does the reader know that this is only the beginning of a story that includes brutality at a POW camp and starvation for him and his crew mates. A few years earlier Zamperini was running in the Olympics and then the War.  This is an all to real story of about what Prisoners of War have had to endure.



English: Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth Presid...

6.  A Team Of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

By Doris Kearns Goodwin

Today’s politicians could learn a few things concerning how President Lincoln handled his victories and as well as his defeats.  Once he gained the Presidential Office, instead of isolating his rivals, Lincoln invited them into his inner circle.  He did this because he was confident in himself and his abilities.  He knew how to handle difficult personalities.  He wanted the best minds available to weather the coming storm of the Civil War and its complications for the United States economy and standing among other nations.  The Doris Kearns Goodwin book covers this subject expertly.  After finishing the book, you will get a perceptive look into the genius that was President Lincoln.


Peter I of Russia
Peter I of Russia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

7. Great Rivals in History: When Politics Gets Personal

By Joseph Cummins

This is a read that explores why certain people throughout history hated each other.  In fact, some of these people despised each other.  They took it to a point where they ruined their countries and their lives.  It analyzes the relationship among several of history’s colorful and despised personalities such as the rivalry between Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky.  Other rivalries include Charles XII of Sweden and Peter the Great of Russia. There are many with many reasons why each were against the other.  It provides an analysis as to why leaders and generals clashed to form historical events.


8. What if? The World’s Foremost Military Historians Imagine What Might Have Been

Edited by Robert Cowley

This book poses fascinating questions has to what might have been.  Would history have taken a left turn instead of right if certain meetings had occurred or if wrong decisions hadn’t been made by leaders and generals?  For instance, would Germany have fared better in World War II if Hitler hadn’t invaded the Soviet Union?  Would there have been a better way to handle Cuba and Fidel Castro?   Some of these questions are pondered and answered.  It’s a fascinating travel log through history and what might have been.


That is my list.  There are several others books I like  but for sheer enjoyment, these are my eight favorites.  Do you have any to add to the list?  Leave me a suggestion.

Eight US Historical Figures for the Time Machine

By Rick Bretz

If I could go back in time and be given the opportunity to work with or talk with anyone I wanted, the following list is who I would choose.  I started thinking about this recently because I was reading an article about George S. Patton and, by all accounts from research, he believed in reincarnation.  Specifically, he believed he was a member of Armies that participated in major battles through Europe’s history.  I thought, if I could go back, where would I want to be and who would I want to talk to during my stay.  It would give me a chance to feel some of that confidence and aura that made them great or controversial.

Here is the list.

Emanuel Leutze's depiction of Washington's att...
Emanuel Leutze’s depiction of Washington’s attack on the Hessians at Trenton on December 25, 1776, was a great success in America and in Germany. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1. General George Washington at the Battle of Trenton on December 26, 1776.

Riding beside Washington during the battle of Trenton would have been interesting just to see how he commanded his Army.  From everything that I have read about his personality, Washington did not talk much.  I would just ride along and not ask any questions. I would remain silent so the Father of our Country could concentrate and gain our liberty.  I would observe and take notes surreptitiously.  I, however, would make sure I was in the same boat at the Delaware River crossing and with him during the assault just to see how he handles himself.  Later, during the victory dinner, I would fit in a question or two about it. I would probably ask something ridiculous like, “Was it as cold out there for you last night as it was for me?” or a conversation starter like, “Those Hessians wear some silly hats don’t they?” Washington would have responded, “Shouldn’t you be at Valley Forge.”


2. Thomas Jefferson writing the Declaration of Independence from June 11-June 28, 1776.

I would hope that I would refrain from interrupting while he was drafting the declaration.  More than that, I would hope that I wouldn’t be a back seat writer.  For instance, when he writes, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  I wouldn’t want to say something amateurish like, “Isn’t that a little wordy?”   Instead I would say something like, “That’s perfect, Tom.   Adams doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”


Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan in The Kid
Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan in The Kid (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3. Charlie Chaplin working on films in early 20th Century Hollywood.

This would be great just to work around a genius at the start of the industry.  I would probably be asking for a part in all of his films.  “Hey Charlie, do you have a part for me in ‘Gold Rush’ or ‘City Lights’ or the ‘The Kid’.  Either way, I would just hang out and watch how he worked his magic.


4. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs at Silicon Valley in the 1980s.

This would have been great to hang out in the conference rooms of both sides just to see what they would have been saying about each other.  Sitting in on all the business decisions and negotiations that helped build both companies would have been enlightening.  I would have been at the ground floor and bought all those company shares before the IPO and watched them grow.  This is starting to get a little sad, I’ll stop writing now.


5.  Mark Twain while touring Europe and writing Innocents Abroad in 1867.

Touring Europe and the Middle East with Mark Twain would have been a hoot.  Hanging out at the local café or pub with him cracking wise on American tourists or the local scene seems like a great way to pass the time.


English: Theodore Roosevelt wearing pince-nez,...
English: Theodore Roosevelt wearing pince-nez, traditionally uncredited photograph. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

6. President Teddy Roosevelt during his African Safari in 1909.

An African Safari with President Teddy Roosevelt!  All he would have to say is “Do you want to come along.” “Yes!!!!”  I would be waiting at the docks to board the ship going to Africa. He undertook the trip so he could bring back specimens for the National Museum and the American Museum of Natural History. He also became a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association in 1907 when he was President. I could just see myself standing beside Roosevelt while a Rhino charges waiting patiently for him to shoot before I would. I’m pretty sure I would have been faster than President Roosevelt if things got out of hand-I think.


The route of the Lewis and Clark Expedition
The route of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

7. Captain Meriwether Lewis and William Clark during the Corps of Discovery expedition west to map out the newly purchased US Territory from France past the Mississippi River in 1804-1806.

This would have an adventure worth taking.  I would have traveled with the expedition and would have seen new rivers and forests on my way to the Pacific Ocean.  I probably would have suggested a route a little more South.  Lewis and Clark would have said, “No back seat driving.” Let’s face it, we take driving west for granted today because we have nice four lane highway and rest stop and hotels. These two and their expedition didn’t even have a dirt road or trail.


8. Abraham Lincoln for the whole four years in the White House sitting in the oval office so I could hear some of his stories.

Lincoln was great story-teller.  I would have been content just to hang around and be his sounding board while he was trying to end the Civil War.  If he threw in a humorous story now and then, I would have been content. One thing is for sure, I would have tried to attend the play with him and his wife, Mary, at Ford’s Theatre on April 14th.   I would have also heard the door open behind us.



Honorable Mentions:  President Ronald Reagan at the Berlin Wall, President John F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Harry S. Truman when he found out the United States had the Atomic Bomb.  Andrew Carnegie during the industrial revolution, John Ford creating the automobile and the assembly line, Vince Lombardi during his Green Bay Packer coaching years, and Babe Ruth during his whole career.

Eight Great Presidential Performances

By Rick Bretz

In recognition of the inauguration this week, I have listed what I consider the best presidential portrayals on film and the small screen.  My criteria are simple.  Did the actor capture the spirit of the President’s personality?  And, was I able to watch the presentation without being aware that someone was trying too hard to play that particular president? Most of the performances on this list present a narrow window in a President’s life.  The more difficult portrayals involve playing the person over a lifetime.  A good example of this is Paul Giamatti’s portrayal of John Adams and Barry Bostwick’s performance in the George Washington miniseries. Below is the actor followed by the President portrayed and then the  film or television title.

1.  Kenneth Branagh-Franklin Delano Roosevelt-Warm Springs

I was skeptical before making time to see this show that the actor could pull it off.  I was wrong.  Kenneth Branagh captured the force of Roosevelt’s personality and his physical and emotional fight with the crippling polio disease.  He also does a great job of relating to the people who have the same disease while rehabilitating at Warm Springs.  His supporting cast is terrific and he shows us why Roosevelt related to so many people.

2.  Daniel Day Lewis-Abraham-Lincoln-Lincoln

Enough has been written about Lewis’ choice concerning how Lincoln sounds when he speaks compared to other portrayals. If you watch Henry Fonda’s “Young Mr. Lincoln”,  the voice pitch comes close to what Lewis used in Lincoln.  What cannot be disputed is that he does capture Lincoln’s modest confidence and his sharp political mind.

3.  Paul Giamatti-John Adams-Johns Adams

 Paul Giamatti captures Adams from all directions.  He is spot on in his portrayal in many aspects.  His love for his wife Abigail, his mercurial temper, his difficult personality, his love for his family, his ego, and most of all, his sense of duty, fairness, and love for his country. Giamatti’s choices show the president from all sides while weaving his multi-layered personality into the presentation of Adams. He also plays him as he ages from a young man to his death which is difficult to accomplish.

4.  Frank Langella-Richard M. Nixon-Frost/Nixon

 Langella’s acting puts a human face on Richard Nixon in this Ron Howard directed film.  He sparred with David Frost through a majority of the movie and showed Nixon’s toughness, intellect, political savvy and his personality weaknesses.  This performance is remarkable because it keeps the audience interested despite knowing the outcome.  It explains history without getting into the minute details so the audience’s eyes don’t glaze over like sitting in 9th grade history class memorizing dates.

 5.  Jeff Daniels-George Washington-The Crossing

 Jeff Daniels does a terrific job showing people what it must have been like serving under George Washington.  Daniels gives us a performance that shows Washington cool under fire, a master at finding quality people to serve under him and how to manage them, and how to get soldiers to fight for him in the most extreme circumstances. Daniels as Washington shows the General as calm leader looking to find answers instead of assessing blame.

6.  Anthony Hopkins-John Quincy Adams-Amistad

 My favorite scene in this movie is when Adams is supposedly sleeping during a congressional session.  Then the speaker asks him to comment on the previous discussion. Adams speaks up immediately repeating the last exchange and giving his own caustic opinion about the matter and the current session itself.  Hopkins is a master at losing himself in roles and this is one.  His other Presidential portrayal of Richard Nixon is good as well but this one is fascinating especially with the final summation in court at the end.

7.  Randy Quaid, Lyndon B. Johnson, LBJ; The Early Years

 Randy Quaid shows Lyndon Johnson with his loud voice, over-the–top personality and his energy to accomplish his own goals and fix what needs to be fixed.  This is another performance that shows the actor aging through several years from a young man to his days in congress.  Quaid gives an outstanding performance showing how Johnson dealt with people and how Johnson used his force of personality to get his legislation passed when he was a leader in congress.

8.  Henry Fonda-Abraham Lincoln-Young Mr. Lincoln

This movie was released in 1939 and it shows a young Henry Fonda at his best. Fonda gives us the Lincoln personality in the salad days of his lawyer career.  He takes on a case early in the movie that everyone believes is a lost cause.  Throughout the movie, Fonda shows the audience the Lincoln wit and his art for storytelling.  He shows us why Lincoln became President while  using his political savvy and intelligence.  Fonda’s acting also shows us an underlying sadness to his personality and an innate understanding he might be destined for great things.

Those are my favorites.  Do you agree? Leave a comment?

 More great characterizations:

David Morse-George Washington-John Adams; Edward Herrmann-Franklin Delano Roosevelt-Eleanor and Franklin; Barry Bostwick-George Washington- George Washington (The Mini-Series);  Bill Murray-Franklin Delano Roosevelt-Hyde Park on the Hudson; Gary Sinise-Harry S. Truman-Truman;  James Whitmore-Harry S. Truman-Give ‘Em Hell Harry; Raymond Massey-Abraham Lincoln-Abe Lincoln in Illinois; Brian Keith-Teddy Roosevelt-The Wind and the Lion

Top Eight Decisions That Changed the United States


Why the “Top Eight?” Because there are too many “Top Ten” lists published on the web today.  If you can’t say what you have on your mind in eight then don’t even try to strain your wrists typing, I say. This is a fast paced, take no prisoners culture we live in.  My contribution is to save you some time by eliminating two places on the list.  With that stated, I know people have many decisions that need to made throughout the day.  Here are my most influential decisions that changed America’s destiny.

 1. The decision to sign the Declaration of Independence.

English: This is a high-resolution image of th...
Image via Wikipedia

The document states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are      created equal, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of      happiness.” These are just words until people back it up by putting  names to it. I consider this to be the most significant of decisions because it was made by a group of founding fathers that put the country on a course toward separation from England and the monarchy. Fifty six people signed the document including two future presidents, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Benjamin Franklin at 70 years was the oldest to sign.  John Hancock was the most famous. Several other lesser-known signers had just as much to lose, if not more, by signing the document. Many authors have penned various reasons why this group signed the declaration. Some did it for freedom, others for business and financial incentives, and still others signed it because they were aware they were creating something that would last through the centuries  Signing the declaration achieved several purposes. The declaration moved the colonies in the direction towards independence.  And as a bonus, it agitated the British even more. If the declaration wasn’t signed, the colonies may have eventually won its freedom from England but it might have taken many more years and the results may not have been as generous.

 2. The decision to pass and sign the Civil Rights Act.  Most citizens are aware of, and some even remember, the 1964 civil right acts signed by President Lyndon Johnson.  President Johnson used some of his trademark Johnson charm to get it passed through the legislature. It continued what Congress started years earlier. Congress passed the original civil rights act in 1866 and it declares that, “all  persons shall have the same rights…to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all  laws…”  This was followed by the 14th Amendment in 1868 that stated, “”All persons born or naturalized in the US…are citizens…nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person…the equal protection of the laws.”  This led to the 19th Amendment, passed in 1920,  giving people the right to vote regardless of sex.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civ...
Image via Wikipedia

President Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act that provided more rights.  These, among others, are, “prohibits employment discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, or religion.  Prohibits public access discrimination, leading to school desegregation.”  The 1866 Civil Rights Act started  America down the righteous path toward true equality..

 3. The  decision to secede from the union. This is more of a collective decision by several powerful people. The Southern states’ decision to secede from the union produced a chain of events that eventually led to the abolishment of slavery, a stronger Federal Government, General William T. Sherman’s march through the south, and finally, the actual end of the Southern slave holding culture.  According to most civil war scholars, at the end of the war, Americans began referring to themselves as being from the “United” States rather than from a particular state such as Virginia or New York. If secession hadn’t happened, it could be argued the South would have negotiated to retain some of their states rights and kept slavery in tact. Instead, southern leaders voted for secession and lost their way of life.

4. The decision to buy the Louisiana Territory. America’s RV enthusiasts wouldn’t get the thrill of driving across the fruited plane today if it hadn’t been for Thomas Jefferson taking advantage of Napoleon’s urge to conquer Europe on a shoestring budget.

Nederlands: kaart Louisiana Purchase
Image via Wikipedia

At 3 cents an acre, Thomas Jefferson struck a great real estate deal at 15 million dollars for more than 800,000 acres in 1803. The deal covers what is now Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and parts of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, New Mexico, Texas, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and two Canadian provinces. What is intriguing about the deal is that President Jefferson originally intended for the team of James Monroe and Robert Livingston to just purchase the Port of New Orleans from France for 10 million dollars. However, Napoleon Bonaparte wanted to limit England’s influence in America and he needed money to refill his government coffers after his wars. For these reasons, he offered the Jefferson team the whole territory for 5 million more.  Sometimes the stars align and a business deal just falls into place.

 5. The decision by President Truman to use the Atom Bomb.  

Enola Gay after Hiroshima mission, entering ha...
Image via Wikipedia

The diplomacy game changed when the United States used the Atomic Bomb to end WWII.  It was the first time a weapon of that magnitude  and it let the world’s leaders know that the US government would use this type of weapon if needed to end a War.  On the negative side, the development and use of the Atomic Bomb began the build up of globally destructive warheads. This was a cloud that future generations had to live under while growing up.  President Harry S.Truman wasn’t even given the knowledge that the bomb was being built until he was sworn into the office. That was kept secret from him by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, most likely due to  “need to know” security procedures. Before the bomb was used, the Japanese proved to the world they would not surrender easily.  The Battle of Okinawa, an island south of the mainland, proved to President Truman and the military that the Japanese military upper hiearchy would fight to the end to save their empire and their culture. The fact that the US had to use two bombs tells us that fact.  President Truman didn’t take the decision lightly. He thought about the repurcussions for days.  Once he made the decision though, he never second-guessed himself. 

6. The decision to serve only two terms by President Washington.

English: Washington, D.C., (July 9, 2004) &nda...
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President George Washington set an important precedent by stepping down after two terms as the Chief Executive.  Future Presidents followed his decision to leave office after two terms despite nothing being written in the Constitution about the subject..  President Thomas Jefferson served two terms as the third President but chose to step down voluntarily.  This verified the tradition. It didn’t become an issue until President Grant thought about serving a third term. Congress denounced the idea because it broke with the tradition set by Washington.  He, however, stood ready to be drafted in 1875 and 1880 but the republican convention chose other candidates.  President Franklin Roosevelt ultimately broke the tradition by serving a third term in 1940 due to the onset of WWII. He was elected in 1944 but didn’t finish his fourth term.  Afterwards, Congress passed the 22nd Amendment limiting the President to two terms with an exemption for the current President Truman. Truman declined to run for a third term.  Congress introduced bills to repeal the 22nd Amendment during President Ronald Reagan’s term and while President Bill Clinton was in office but they both failed to pass the legislative branch.  President Washington was wary of monarchies and dictatorships so his stepping down after 8 years in 1797 was a product of that thinking.  Besides he was tired of the criticism brought on by the office and wanted to retire to Mount Vernon. .

 7. The decision to fund the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways bill. The nation’s highways as we know them today began in 1938 with the passing of the Federal Highway Act. It called for a toll based 26,700-mile interregional highway network with three highways running south to north and three more running east to west. In the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1944, the Congress acted on these recommendations. The act called for “designation of a National System of Interstate Highways, to include up to 40,000 miles “… so located, as to connect by routes, direct as practical, the principal metropolitan areas, cities, and industrial centers, to serve the National Defense, and to connect at suitable points.”  These acts didn’t specifically spell out how the system would be funded so the construction was slow.  Here’s where President Eisenhower comes in.  He led a team that figured out how to fund the highway system to build highways as the citizens of the United States know them today. The Department of Transportation documents make it clear that The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1952 authorized the first funding specifically for system construction. Under President Eisenhower, the system funding was created so it wouldn’t increase the federal budget much. This is where the vehicle tax and gas tax enter the picture.  With the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 it increased the system’s proposed length to 41,000 miles. From there we have several highways running west to east and north to south, with the longest running highway being I-90 at 3020.54 miles from Boston, Mass., to Seattle, Washington. The highway system has aided interstate commerce as well as the tourism industry.  It has provided a means for families and individuals to view the landscape of the United States as well as being the catalyst for many a sibling feud in backseats.

8. The decision to Land on the MoonThe decision to explore space and reach to other worlds began with the Eisenhower administration and the Mercury program.  The goal became focused when President Kennedy gave a speech on May 25th, 1961 to a special joint session of congress and stated the goal of sending an American safely to moon and return to earth before the end of the decade.

Buzz Aldrin salutes the U.S. flag on Mare Tran...
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Much of the decision involved cold war politics with the Soviet Union but also healthy dose of American bravado spirit. However, Kennedy consulted with his vice president and the NASA chief and determined that the US had a good chance of beating the Soviets to moon.  The space program created many benefits that people use today. The advancement in electronics and computers ushered in solid-state electronics.  In addition to these developments, according to NASA’s official government website, insulation technology developed by NASA engineers is used for thermal blankets.  These are just some of the many benefits the space program has yielded since its inception. Finally, Americans could boast that we were the first to land on the moon but in the name of “mankind” of course.

These are my top eight decisions.  I am sure there are people who disagree.  It was tough just to narrow it down to eight.  Let me know your top eight. .