Why should I teach about the history of the presidency?
A great deal has changed since the framers of the Constitution originally contemplated the presidential office. Throughout the history of our nation, the ebb and flow of power and control has wafted back and forth between Congress and the President. In fact, the President was not considered the central figure of government until the 1900s!
By teaching our children the history of the presidency, we can help them – and ourselves – better understand who and what we are voting for and how that impacts the growth and development of our nation.
By inauguration day, the President must be at least thirty-five years old, be a natural born citizen, and have lived in the United States at least fourteen years.
The intention of the framers of the Constitution was for Congress to be the government’s focal point, with the President’s office serving as a secondary branch of the government to keep Congress in check.
The first presidential election was held in January of 1789, with George Washington as the sole candidate. In 1845, Congress established that presidential elections would be held the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November, every four years.
During George Washington’s presidency, land was set aside for the seat of government to be situated in a neutral location between the northern and southern states. Building was begun on the presidential home in 1792, and John Adams, the second President of the United States, was the first to live there.
The establishment of the office of President was a foreign concept in the late eighteenth century. The American Revolution and subsequent choice of government motivated other nations, however, and an elected government has since become more common.
DID YOU KNOW?
WOMEN AND THE PRESIDENCY
The first female candidate for President was nominated nearly 150 years ago! Although she was technically too young to be President, women’s suffrage leader Victoria Claflin Woodhull was nominated in 1872 by the Equal Rights Party.
A WHITE HOUSE
The White House received its name after the War of 1812, during which both the Capitol and the President’s home were burned. After the war, white paint was used during the rebuilding process to cover the burn marks on the surviving portions of the President’s home, leading Americans to begin referring to the structure as the White House.
Teaching the History of the Presidency
Sometimes it can be hard to know just how much to research or teach about something like the presidency. Here are some suggestions for teaching through each learning stage.
- Find a song that you and your child can sing together to learn the names of our nation’s Presidents.
- Find paper doll books or downloads featuring the various Presidents and use them to introduce your children to these historical figures.
- Picture books are a delightful and cherished way to learn about the lives of Presidents and their families. Start your own collection or explore the local library.
Beginning to Understand
- Pick either a President connected to the stage of history you are working through or one that interests your child. Explore how that President’s policies and stance on issues compare to the current political climate and issues.
- What were the original political parties? How do they compare to today’s? Consider former Presidents associated with the current major political parties (such as Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican President).
Learning to Reason
- Encourage your students to explore the historical ebb and flow of power between Congress and the President. How many of the power fluctuations truly honored the Constitution? How often was it a mutual decision of government and when was it an assumption by one side or the other?
- Over the course of the year, have your student choose two Presidents to research. Assign a short research paper that covers information about the President’s personal and political life. Compare and contrast the President’s historical position to what it might be in today’s political climate.