After four years in the White House, Martin Van Buren quipped, "As to the presidency, the two happiest days of my life were those of my entrance upon the office and my surrendeer of it." Even Thomas Jefferson--one of the country's Founding Fathers--struggled with the realities of the job, saying, "No man will ever bring out of the presidency the reputation which carried him into it. To myself, personally, it brings nothing but increasing drudgery and daily loss of friends." An American president must ultimately take responsibility for the direction of the country, an ideal succinctly expressed by Harry S. Truman, who told his fellow citizens that "the buck stops here." Embracing that sense of responsibility may have been easier for some presidents--Calvin Coolidge and William Jefferson Clinton, for instance, both held the office during economic booms--than for others, who served during more trying times. But even presidents like Franklin D. Roosevelt, who occupied the White House at a time of war, nonetheless resolutely took up the gauntlet of protecting and improving the social and economic welfare of the American people. Of course, hard times test the mettle of every president, however golden the age in which he serves, because the problems of the country--and the world--are often left at the president's feet. And though he can rely on the counsel of his Cabinet as well as the Congress and Senate, the burden of making each decision, not to mention accepting the consequences, rests squarely on his shoulders alone. As John F. Kennedy remarked, "No easy problem ever comes to the President of the United States. If they are easy to solve, somebody else has solved them."
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About the Author
Kathryn Moore was the co-author, with D.M. Giangreco, on Dear Harry... Truman's Mailroom, 1945-1953: The Truman Administration Through Correspondence with "Everyday Americans"; and Eyewitness D-Day. She has also written articles for American Heritage, American History, and numerous daily newspapers, including the Washington Times, Kansas City Star, and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Moore teaches American history in Lee's Summit, Missouri.