Sunday, May 10, 2009

The American Presidency Project

I just came across this resource in what was ultimately a failed bid to compare Iqbal and LBJ. But now I know about this site! You can search presidential documents and speeches, like LBJ's "Remarks At a Dinner Meeting of the Texas Electric Cooperatives, Inc.":

So we must be ready to fight in Viet-Nam, but the ultimate victory will depend upon the hearts and the minds of the people who actually live out there. By helping to bring them hope and electricity you are also striking a very important blow for the cause of freedom throughout the world.

It's easy to be dismissive of the policy and situation in Vietnam, and of LBJ-- whose one wish was to be remembered for his Great Society program-- but it's another thing to take a good long look at the history, as well as the history being written, and to have the opportunity to be able to read the documents and understand the context of the times, which is why this archive is such a great resource.

You can look at Executive Orders from as far back as John Quincy Adams, read party platforms dating back to the 1840s, watch and listen to the presidents including FDR's Fireside Chats, and look at charts of speech lengths; check out the Inaugural Speech Length chart, and be sure to squint and see where the chart peaks in 1841. Yup, the longest speech, clocking in at two hours to read on a very rainy wet day in March, was given by poor "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" William Henry Harrison, who died after one month in office. You can read about what Harrison covered in his speech here.

The only downfall is that it is fairly hard to search documents, or at least not self-evident. The search function is the ity-bity magnifying glass in the upper left, and the text of the documents do not appear to be easily searchable themselves (or at least I had to find the LBJ speech by the title, rather than through the text.) But browsing through the site is a lot of fun, and as there is so much information (86129 documents) including up-to-date numbers all the way through Obama, I suspect it will take them a little bit of time to streamline the functions. Hopefully that will mean being able to easily click on a President's name and view all his data, documents, etc.

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