Read I Wish I Knew That: U.S. Presidents: Cool Stuff You Need to Know Online

Authors: Editors Of Reader's Digest,Patricia Halbert

Tags: #Children's Books, #Biographies, #U. S. Presidents & First Ladies, #Education & Reference, #Government, #History, #United States, #Children's eBooks

I Wish I Knew That: U.S. Presidents: Cool Stuff You Need to Know

BOOK: I Wish I Knew That: U.S. Presidents: Cool Stuff You Need to Know
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Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright Page




Reader’s Digest Books for Young Readers



Copyright © 2012 All rights reserved. Unauthorized reproduction, in any manner, is prohibited. Reader’s Digest is a registered trademark of The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc.


Project Editor: Patricia A. Halbert
Contributing Writer: Susan Randol
Designer: Rich Kershner
Illustrator: Andrew Pinder


Senior Art Director: George McKeon
Editorial Director, Trade Publishing: Neil Wertheimer
Manufacturing Manager : Elizabeth Dinda
Associate Publisher, Trade Publishing: Rosanne McManus
President and Publisher, Trade Publishing: Harold Clarke

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data available upon request.

ISBN : 978-1-606-52384-1

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“The presidency has made every man who occupied it, no matter how small, bigger than he was; and no matter how big, not big enough for its demands.”


36th President of the United States

“I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of the President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

With these simple words, every four years, one person takes on the hardest job in the world—president of the United States of America.

What are the duties of the president? Enforce every federal law of the land. Approve or reject every new law Congress makes. Meet with the leaders of other nations and find ways to get along. Run the largest and most powerful military in history and, if necessary, lead it to war.

To do the job right, you need extraordinary skill at striking deals and making agreements between people who rarely agree on anything. It also helps to be an excellent speaker, not only to inspire the nation and show it the way, but also to get it to follow. One other part of the job: When anything goes wrong, you usually get the blame.

What are the job qualifications? On paper, not much. You must be a natural-born U.S. citizen, at least 35 years old, and must have lived in the United States for at least 14 years. Other than that, anyone is eligible.

The president of the United States has tremendous power, but that power is not unlimited. The last thing our Founding Fathers wanted was a king. The president, for example, can serve only two terms and cannot make new laws. Making new laws is Congress’s job. And the president cannot decide what a particular law is trying to say—that is the job of the Supreme Court.


The Three Branches of Government


Picture a triangle. In the three corners you have president, Congress, and the Supreme Court keeping an eye on each other, neither one letting another get too powerful. This is called a system of checks and balances, and it is tug-of-war, arm wrestling, chess, poker, and a staring contest all rolled into one.

No one said being CEO of the USA was easy. As President Eisenhower put it: “No easy problems ever come to the president of the United States. If they are easy to solve, somebody else has solved them.”

Forty-three men have taken on the challenge. Of those forty-three, nine (including some of the greatest) never went to college; nearly half had never worked in Washington, D.C. before; nine were born poor in log cabins; others were from very rich families; eight were born subjects of the English king; four were assassinated in office; six were attacked and almost killed; and four died on the job of natural causes.

One was never married; one was married in the White House; one had fifteen children and one had only an adopted son. The tallest was six-foot-four, the shortest was five-foot-four. The oldest was 69, the youngest was 42.

All had great hopes. Some did brilliant jobs, some were just so-so. Several were good, and a few—through bumbling, cheating, or overstepping their authority—were downright bad. Two—almost three—were put on trial by the Senate. But a few have been truly great leaders, making our nation bigger, stronger, saving not only the United States, but also the world.

“The presidency has made every man who occupied it, no matter how small, bigger than he was,” said President Lyndon Johnson, “and no matter how big, not big enough for its demands.”

Every president, in his day, was a bigger-than-life celebrity. The whole world was watching. Not because of his glamour or power, but because he had been put at the controls of one of the greatest experiments in history—the experiment to see if people really can get along without kings and emperors and dictators telling them what to do, and if people really can rule themselves with freedom and justice for everyone—the experiment called the United States.

Forty-three men have passed that unfolding experiment on to us. Let’s meet them.




1st President ~ 1789–1797


Father of Our Country

“I can foresee that nothing but the rooting out of slavery can perpetuate the existence of our union.”
February 22, 1732 Pope’s Creek, Virginia
Political Party
Vice President
John Adams
First Lady
John “Jacky,” and Martha “Patsy”
Vulcan, Madame Moose, Sweet Lips, and Searcher, all hounds

King of America

When General George Washington’s army defeated the British in the Revolutionary War, some of the officers began talking about the possibility of making Washington king of their new country of America. Washington hated the idea.

When he was elected first president of the United States of America, he won all of the electoral votes. (He is the only president who has ever been elected unanimously.) When it came time to swear him into office, he had to borrow $100 from a friend (he spent all his money on the war and hadn’t been paid back yet) to travel from Mount Vernon, his home in northern Virginia, to attend his inauguration ceremony in New York City. He was a few days late—56 to be exact.

Our First President

Washington helped create a new type of democratic government when he led the Constitutional Convention in 1787, including the idea that the federal government would consist of three different branches (the legislative, judicial, and executive). Later, as the leader of the executive branch, President Washington created the first “cabinet,” or group of advisors. He insisted on staying out of a war between France and England, in order to give the U.S. time to grow stronger, even though two of his most important advisors did not agree with him. He also helped select the new capital of the nation, named Washington in his honor, and helped plan its design.

George Washington is the only president who did not live in the White House—because it hadn’t been built. In fact, the capital of the United States was located in New York and then in Philadelphia during Washington’s two terms as president.

A Big Man With Bad Teeth

At six-foot-two, 200 pounds, Washington was a big man. He wore size 13 boots. He had reddish-blond hair, and his face was scarred from smallpox he got on a trip to Barbados when he was a teenager—the only foreign country he ever visited. He also had terrible problems with his teeth. When he took the oath as president, in fact, he had only one tooth left and continually experimented with different kinds of false teeth made from ivory, hippo teeth, lead, and even some of his old teeth recycled. He owned six white horses and had their teeth brushed every morning. (Can you imagine why?) When Washington was a boy, he grew up on a farm in Virginia. He hiked seven miles to school and back until he was 12 years old. He loved the outdoors, particularly fishing and foxhunting. As a young man, he worked as a surveyor, hiking across all kinds of rugged landscapes measuring out large pieces of land. He carried a portable sundial, a kind of pocket watch.

BOOK: I Wish I Knew That: U.S. Presidents: Cool Stuff You Need to Know
8.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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