“In a country bereft of emperors, monarchs, or pharaohs, America’s most powerful elected officials have embraced libraries as their personal shrines,” author Leonard Benardo wrote.
As I discovered from my reading, it isn’t as easy as one might think. Presidents must be active in building their own libraries. This includes the design, construction and fundraising. The list goes on. Many go on to form foundations as well. Each library tends to be larger than the next. Many of us have received letters over the years asking for donations for libraries and/or foundations.
Speaking of the libraries becoming larger, President George W. Bush’s library, still under development at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, reportedly costs around $500 million. This was a quote I ran across several years ago. Another report estimated it at triple the cost of President Bill Clinton’s in Little Rock, Ark. It also comes in as being six times more expensive than his father’s library located in College Station, Texas.
In another comparison, the George W. Bush library comes in at 50 times more expensive than President Harry S. Truman’s library in Independence, Mo. Of course, there are many reasons for this larger expenditure. In all fairness, times have changed and everything is much more expensive now.
Presidential libraries and museums are relatively new. In 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced that he planned to create an archive for his papers. It took 17 years before the U.S. Congress passed the Presidential Library Act of 1955.
This legislation established a private and public partnership. It specified that presidents must raise the funds for their libraries and deed their papers to the government. But the legal ownership belongs to each president. The government then commits to the upkeep of the buildings.
The cost of presidential library maintenance has ballooned over the years. The bigger the library, the bigger the maintenance costs. Some believe that presidential libraries should be combined under one roof in the National Archives or the Library of Congress.
This past summer, Jackie, my neighbor and Rodriquez High School student, and her parents visited the Ronald Reagan Foundation and Library located in Simi Valley. She loved it and described it as an amazing experience inside and out.
“Inside is astounding with so many primary sources, making the experience even better,” she said.
According to the terms of the Presidential Records Act, the Reagan Library was one of the first presidential libraries that stressed the difference between presidential records that are public property and presidential papers that fall under the category of presidential personal property. The Reagan Library houses all of the papers and other records related to the Reagan presidency.
Jackie has also visited President George Bush Sr.’s library in College Station, Texas, and would next love to visit the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston.
There are two presidential historical sites and museums located in my home state of Tennessee. One houses the documents, artifacts and displays of President Andrew Jackson near Nashville. He and his wife, Rachel, bought the 425-acre Hermitage Plantation in 1804. It is now the Hermitage Museum. Though a small museum, it houses original Jackson artifacts and displays that follow his history and career, as well as the history of the Hermitage Plantation.
President Andrew Johnson, our 17th president, has a National Historic Site and Museum located in Greenville, Tenn., in the eastern part of the state. Now that I’m writing about it, I’ll have to add it to my bucket list.
Have you ever wondered what happens to presidents after they leave office? Here is a small sampling.
Mayrene Bates is a trustee on the Solano County Board of Education.