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Pitfalls. Peril. Prosperity.

Miller Center Offers Insights for Next President’s Crucial First Year

Greater Good

President George W. Bush’s First Year: The 9/11 terrorist attacks. September 11, 2001


President Clinton’s First Year: The Battle of Mogadishu, Somalia. October 3-4, 1993


President George H.W. Bush’s First Year: The Exxon Valdez oil spill. March 24, 1989


President Lincoln’s First Year: The Battle of Fort Sumter. April 12-13, 1861


President Reagan’s First Year: Assassination attempt outside the Washington Hilton. March 30, 1981


President Truman’s First Year: U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan. August 6, 1945


President Johnson’s First Year (as an elected president): The signing ceremony for the Voting Rights Act. August 6, 1965


President Kennedy’s First Year: Diplomatic meeting with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. June 3-4, 1961


The American president’s first year in office historically is a time of both great peril and great opportunity. Many new presidents have faced unexpected foreign affairs crises. The Bay of Pigs crisis, for example, erupted in Cuba shortly after John F. Kennedy took office. The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks occurred near the end of George W. Bush’s first year. Most presidents have also passed their most significant legislation during year one, when congressional goodwill is at its height. It’s a time for decisive action. And there’s no time to waste.

It is important for this next president to be strategic about what he or she can get done in the first year.

-William Antholis, director of the Miller Center for Public Affairs

We know the Oval Office recordings better than any organization in the country. We can go into those conversations and pull out historical lessons.

The next president, even if he or she is an ‘outsider’ candidate, will turn to insiders who have been in these situations before.

As an organization, we are connecting a network and providing a regular service, with unique assets that are nonpartisan and bipartisan.

August 1963: March on Washington, D.C.

October 2015: Syrian and Iraqi refugees arrive in Greece from Turkey.

1941: The Hoover Dam, photographed by Ansel Adams.

July 20, 1969: Buzz Aldrin walks on the moon.

September 30, 1934: Franklin D. Roosevelt delivers a national radio address.

July 1981: President Reagan outlines his plan for Tax Reduction Legislation.

September 25, 2009: President Obama talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao during the G-20 Summit.

Pick the President

Test your presidential knowledge and see what advice the First Year Project’s essayists have for the next president


Pick the President

Rather than negating his Democratic predecessor’s legislative record, which Republican president actually expanded upon it?


Richard Nixon


Theodore Roosevelt


Calvin Coolidge


Dwight D. Eisenhower

In 1954, with bipartisan cooperation, Eisenhower extended Social Security to many parts of society that the initial statute did not cover, including large numbers of African-Americans and women.

Since then, Washington has become ever more polarized, and the next president is likely to face a Congress controlled by opponents. Eisenhower provides a good example of cultivating relationships with members of both parties to pass important legislation.

Next Question

Pick the President

Which president compromised his political power by appointing too many personal connections?


Herbert Hoover


Ronald Reagan


Jimmy Carter


William Taft

Carter’s “Georgia mafia” found Washington unfamiliar and, soon enough, unfriendly. Carter’s presidency suffered as a consequence. Reagan, by contrast, created a “troika” consisting of two loyalists from California and Washington pro James Baker. Reagan’s administration got off to a fast start and ran smoothly with Baker as chief of staff.

In selecting individuals for their administrations, presidents should balance their personal connections to appointees with appointees’ experience of government. This is especially important for presidents with little personal experience of life in Washington.

Next Question

Pick the President

Which president combined competing legislation from rival political entities into a single package that pleased them all—and became an American institution?


Lyndon B. Johnson


Franklin D. Roosevelt


John Q. Adams


John F. Kennedy

Johnson combined proposals from his administration, Republicans, and the American Medical Association—all of which had been viewed as separate and exclusive of each other—into what we now know as Medicare Part A.

As Johnson’s legacy shows, first-year presidents can develop new policy opportunities if they remain open to changes in approach, particularly by combining opposing ideas.

Next Question

Pick the President

Which president proclaimed in his inaugural address, “We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists”?


James Madison


Martin Van Buren


James K. Polk


Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson said this in his first inaugural address, after a bitter election that had split the nation.

In the words of essayist H.W. Brands: “Jefferson didn’t mean it, and no one believed it. But the gesture was graceful and might have kept some congressional Federalists from cutting off their noses to spite their faces when Jefferson asked for their support in the purchase of Louisiana.”

It won’t always be easy, but try to retain a relatively charitable view of your political adversaries. Keep in mind that you were elected to represent the entire nation.

Next Question

Pick the President

Which President allowed his administration to be paralyzed for several months over the social life of a cabinet member’s wife?


Abraham Lincoln


Andrew Jackson


Franklin Pierce


Benjamin Harrison

Jackson was close friends with his secretary of state, John Eaton. Eaton’s second wife, Peg, was a recent widow, and was rumored to have had an affair with Eaton prior to her previous husband’s death. This “checkered background” scandalized the wives of the other members of Jackson’s Cabinet. The Eatons were frozen out of Washington social life, with Jackson stridently supporting his friend, refusing to call for his resignation. The resulting conflict was known as “the Petticoat affair,” and paralyzed the administration for months.

The key takeaway: Friends ought to be loyal to friends, but presidents should be loyal only to the national interest.


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