Monday, February 18, 2013

Television biographies of American presidents

George Washington is the only president who did not occupy the White House.
It was built during the administration of John Adams, his immediate successor.

A number of university political science departments offer a class about the American Presidency, which is 3 credit hours, and thus includes 45 clock hours of lecture. I've watched over 50 hours' worth of presidential biography documentaries, and learned about the lives of 18 of the 44 Americans who have held the office, including every Cold War president but Gerald Ford, and every president shown on our currency. Their combined years in office add up to slightly over half of American presidential history.

It's not as good as a class, but still pretty cool to me. I've had some good "lectures" about a number of our presidents' lives, and all of them make use of visual sources of their subjects, such as period paintings and sketches - or for later presidents, photographs and film footage.

Here's a list of the presidents, with the total minutes of the longest documentary film I've watched about each one. (For those I've watched multiple documentaries about, I decided to only include the minutes of the longest one.)

George Washington (90 minutes)
John Adams (120 minutes) - available on YouTube
Thomas Jefferson (180 minutes)
Andrew Jackson (120 minutes) - available on YouTube
Abraham Lincoln (360 minutes)
Ulysses S. Grant (220 minutes)
Theodore Roosevelt (220 minutes)
Woodrow Wilson (180 minutes) - available on YouTube - link to first episode
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (250 minutes) - available online
Harry Truman (260 minutes) - available online
Dwight Eisenhower (140 minutes)
John F. Kennedy (240 minutes)
Lyndon B. Johnson (230 minutes) - available online
Richard Nixon (170 minutes) - available online
Jimmy Carter (180 minutes)
Ronald Reagan (260 minutes)
George H. W. Bush (210 minutes)
Bill Clinton (240 minutes)

The one about John Adams is actually a dual biography of him and his wife Abigail, and the one about Abraham Lincoln is actually a dual biography of him and his wife Mary.

And here are two American statesmen I've watched documentaries about, who were not included because they were not presidents, but whose Founding Father accomplishments were noteworthy enough to put their faces on our currency.

Benjamin Franklin (180 minutes)
Alexander Hamilton (120 minutes) - available on YouTube

All films whose minutes are given here were made by PBS, except for the 90-minute George Washington one (made by the History Channel). My political disagreements with PBS aside, my experience is that they tend to make the best documentaries about American history, but this "Washington the Warrior" one is on a par with PBS.

Posts about presidents

Posts about Founding Fathers

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