The White House Essay

In 2013, then President Obama wrote a beautiful essay about Lincoln, the White House, and the Gettysburg Address. Reading Obama’s words today reminds everyone that the same piece of living history that previous presidents were in awe of is the same place that classless Trump called a dump.

When talking to members at his Bedminster golf club, Trump explained that he golfs every weekend because the White House is a dump.

As an example of how a president should treat the White House, here is Barack Obama’s handwritten essay on the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address:

In the evening, when Michelle and the girls have gone to bed, I sometimes walk down the hall to a room Abraham Lincoln used as his office. It contains an original copy of the Gettysburg address, written in Lincoln’s own hand.

I linger on these few words that have helped define our American experiment: “A new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

Through the lines of weariness etched in his face, we know Lincoln grasped, perhaps more than anyone, the burdens required to give these words meaning. He knew that even a self-evident truth was not self-executing; that blood drawn by the lash was an affront to our ideals; that blood drawn by the sword was in painful service to those same ideals.

He understood as well that our humble efforts, our individual ambitions, are ultimately not what matter; rather, it is through the accumulated toil and sacrifice of ordinary men and women – those like the soldiers who consecrated that battlefield – that this country is built, and freedom preserved. This quintessentially self-made man, fierce in his belief in honest work and the striving spirit at the heart of America, believed that it falls to each generation, collectively, to share in that toil and sacrifice.

Through cold war and world war, through industrial revolutions and technological transformations, through movements for civil rights and women’s rights and workers’ rights and gay rights, we have. At times, social and economic change have strained our union. But Lincoln’s words give us confidence that whatever trials await us, this nation and the freedom we cherish can, and shall, prevail.

Living in the White House is an honor and a responsibility. Trump has already neglected the responsibilities of his office, but he is a man who is so shallow and entitled that he can’t see and appreciate the history of the place that he is occupying.

Donald Trump wants so badly to be Barack Obama, but he will never measure up to his predecessor. Obama and others before him conducted themselves as a president should, and Trump will always be the reality television star who was sent into the West Wing from Russia with love.

  Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Donald Trump calls the White House a dump, Trump will never be Obama


One of the most memorable events of the War of 1812 was the burning of the White House. In this essay I will attempt to lay out how the burning of Washington D.C. was the catalyst that led to the Treaty of Ghent. From that look at the views of two historians as to whether or not America had “won” the war, and elaborate my thoughts on how the war and the role of the capitol and White House had in it.

The War, and the Burning of Washington as a Catalyst:

On August 24, 1814 the British had successfully invaded and burned Washington D.C. to the ground. A few short months later the U.S. had signed a peace treaty with the United Kingdom, calling an end to the war. According to historians the war had gone terribly for America from beginning to end, with a few notable exceptions. Regardless, it was when the British had finished their war with Napoleon that they laid most of their effort on the American front and consequently sacked Washington D.C. While the war had never been in America’s favor, for a variety of factors, they had shown no signs of surrender until the burning of Washington, at which point an end to the war promptly occurred. It was a symbol of British power, the ability to lay low the center of American government and power that had brought the war to a swift end.

John Green’s Take:

Popular YouTube personality and historian John Green has created numerous videos on World and U.S. History. In his video detailing the War of 1812, he states that neither side won the war, but Americans felt as if they won:

“It's hard to argue that the Americans really won The War of 1812, but we felt like we won, and nothing unleashes national pride like war winning. The nationalistic fervor that emerged in the early 19th century, was like most things; good news for some and bad news for others. But what’s important to remember is regardless of whether you're an American is that after 1812, the United States saw itself not just as an independent nation but as a big player on the world stage.”

With victories with the USS Constitution, the Battle of the Tims, and the Battle of New Orleans, America felt as though it had successfully defeated the British. Despite the war ending promptly after the British fully involved themselves in the campaign, not seizing any of their goal in Canada, and the burning of Washington, the American public felt as though they had won and solidified themselves as a player on the world stage.

Donald Hickey’s Take:

Donald Hickey wrote in New York Times Upfront and article titled “1812: America’s ‘Second Revolution.’” In which, he argues that America did not feel as though it had won the war, but lost it with honor:

“The mere fact that the new nation had emerged from the war intact and had proved it could go toe-to-toe with the British, both on land and at sea, boosted America's self-confidence as well as its reputation overseas. "The Americans," conceded one British official, "have had the satisfaction of proving their courage- they have brought us to speak of them with respect." The war also gave Americans a sense of who they were by producing bigger-than-life heroes and lasting symbols and sayings. After their stunning victories, both Andrew Jackson and William Henry Harrison went on to the White House. All Americans could take pride in Old Ironsides, "The Star-Spangled Banner," Uncle Sam (first used as a phrase to refer to the U.S. government in an 1812 newspaper), "Don't give up the ship" (uttered by a dying Captain James Lawrence when the USS Chesapeake was disabled), and "We have met the enemy and they are ours" (the pithy report that Oliver H. Perry sent to Harrison after his victory on Lake Erie).”

Where John Green sees that America had ended the war in a draw, Donald Hickey argues that America had lost and Britain had won. Britain had successfully stopped America from invading into Canadian territory. The sense of pride given off by the war was simply a byproduct of successfully fighting the British in a few key instances, not a pride that came from an idea of winning.

My Take:

America had held up in the War of 1812 for a long time, despite numerous setbacks and improper planning. They held out for a long while and made some positive victories, but with the full force of the British Empire pushing into them that caused them to eventually end the war.

The British had focused their assaults not only through the Canadian front, but in the Gulf of Mexico and on Washington D.C. Britain also ended the war with the Treaty of Ghent, instead of continuing it and retaking the state for themselves. Washington D.C. was the pivotal strike with the destruction of the capitol and the White House. It was a symbolic gesture than undermines the notion of American pride presented by Green and Hickey.

The destruction of the capitol, and the White House in particular, showed the U.S. that the British were more than capable of destroying the central power of the United States of America. It was after this event that notions of peace were presented, and America gave up the fight with nothing to show for it. America had been beaten, and American leadership had to have known it.

Yet, despite all of this, America had bounced back. The capitol and the White House were rebuilt and America became the world power that it is today. The British were capable of drawing the war on and retaking the whole of America, but they did not. Americans saw this as a victory unto itself, quickly forgetting the symbolism brought forth from the burning city.

Gambier, Henry Goulburn, William Adams, John Quincy Adams, J. A. Bayard, H. Clay, Jon. Russel, and Albert Gallatin. “Treaty of Ghent; 1814,” December 24, 1814.

Hickey, Donald. “1812: America’s ‘Second Revolution.’” New York Times Upfront, February 20, 2012.

The War of 1812 - Crash Course US History #11, 2013.

0 thoughts on “The White House Essay

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *