Michael Beschloss: Interviewed about his new book on presidential courage

Historians in the News

JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight, Judy Woodruff talks to Michael Beschloss about his new book on presidents.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Standing up for principle. Throughout the history of the United States, there have been moments when American presidents have stood for principles that were not popular at the time. Michael Beschloss, historian and NewsHour regular, looks at nine presidents in his new book, "Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America, 1789-1989."

I talked with Michael recently in front of the Lincoln Cottage, a one-time retreat for Abraham Lincoln, on the grounds of what is now the Armed Forces Retirement Home here in Washington.

Why did you want to write this book?

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, Presidential Historian: Because I wanted to go through American history, from George Washington to Ronald Reagan, and look for places where we were crucially dependent on having a president who was willing to say, "I should do something important, and that something important may mean that I risk my political career, but I feel so strongly that it's in the national interest that I'll do it anyway."

JUDY WOODRUFF: And how did you choose who and the moments to write about?

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Well, a lot of it was, you know, you look for moments where, for instance, we were dependent on Abraham Lincoln making sure that the slaves were freed or John Kennedy bringing civil rights, or the first one I wrote about, George Washington trying to stop the British from invading and ending this country before it even began. Those were turning points where, if you had not had a president stepping up to the plate, if there wasn't a story like that, we would not be here....

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