Male Narrator: This show is dedicated to the memory of Walt Disney. In 1971, his love for America inspired the creation of The Hall of Presidents. A place to celebrate the optimism and good will he saw at the heart of the American Story. Walt’s vision was to honor the nation by honoring the American Presidency.
Female Narrator: It is 1783, and the smoke is clearing in the wake of the Revolutionary War. Over the course of eight grinding years General George Washington has led a force of shopkeepers, farmers, and Native American allies over the greatest military power in the world. A new nation has been born, independent and free.
The founders must form a national government. In 1787, through months of passionate debate, they create a written constitution. For the country’s highest office, they imagine something new in the history of the world. A leader not born to power like a king or queen. A leader who has not seized power through conquest. A leader not separate from the people, but elected by the people from among the people. We the people.
This is a new idea. An American idea. The idea of a President.
The people don’t know exactly what a President will be, but there is little doubt WHO it will be.
George Washington’s stature and bearing have marked him as a leader. His integrity has made him a great one. Washington knows that many generals who have led successful revolutions make themselves dictators or kings. Instead, he steps down from power and retires to his home, Mt. Vernon. The world takes note and George Washington becomes the symbol of American ideals. In the first Presidential election, it’s Washington by a landslide. The only doubt seems to be his own. He writes, “Integrity and firmness is all I can promise.” Integrity and firmness is exactly what we need. Everything he does as President will set a model for his successors. His final act may be the most important of all. After two terms with no term limit in the constitution, and amid overwhelming support to stay in office, he steps down once again and hands power back to the people. He wants us to speak, to elect a new president.
During the early years of the republic, we chose leaders as different as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Andrew Jackson. Elections are often bitter. Each President stands at that fiery intersection where personal character meets the challenges of the times.
Some call the Presidency a glorious burden, Jefferson calls it a splendid misery. We the people must choose well. We elect fifteen Presidents before the course of history brings us to the edge of a crisis like no other. A nation born of freedom still permits slavery. As the country pushes west, will new states be slave or free? The question produces bitter conflict. The issue rocks the election of 1860 and brings Abraham Lincoln on to the national stage.
The tall, lanky, some say uncouth, candidate from Illinois is a master of words at a time when speeches are printed in full for people to read. “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” he has said. With Lincoln’s election, the house does indeed divide.
Eleven states succeed from the union. The war becomes a defining passage in the American story. The President’s own inner strength and depth of character change the course of history. Lincoln had come up the hard way on the American frontier, desperately poor with less than a year of formal schooling. His early years were scarred by tragedy: the death of his mother, his sister, his first love. He struggles with depression, but never loses his determination to rise above it. He once said he’s driven by a desire to leave the world a little better place for having lived in it.
The war rages. Lincoln fights to preserve the union and end slavery. Neither is a sure thing. At Gettysburg Pennsylvania, six months after one of the bloodiest battles of the war, the President dedicates a cemetery to the thousands of soldiers who die there in words we can never forget.
(The screen rises to reveal President Abraham Lincoln sitting in a chair on stage by himself. He stands from the chair and speaks.)
President Abraham Lincoln: Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
(The curtain falls as the Female Narrator continues)
Female Narrator: The blood of over half a million Americans is spilled in the Civil War. President Lincoln’s enduring hope is to give true meaning to the sacrifices of so many, to lead us to that new birth of freedom. With the end of the war and the end of slavery, a new birth truly begins.
As we role toward the twentieth century, settlers roll west on wagon wheels and railroads connect the nation coast to coast. Millions of immigrants pour in from Europe and Asia. Population doubles, our economy triples. Our standing among nations rises. We need Presidents who can lead both at home and abroad.
At the same time, a young Theodore Roosevelt is retreating from New York politics and personal tragedy. The death of his wife and his mother on the same day, in the same house. In the badlands of North Dakota he rethinks his life and the life of his country. He returns stronger in body and spirit. His renewed energy is just what his country needs.
American industry is booming. But social tensions are rising. A progressive movement is bubbling up, pushing for change. And change is needed in the working and living conditions in cities. The gap widens between rich and poor. The demand for change grows stronger. Teddy Roosevelt is a night on a crusade. He speaks with force and vitality in clear terms that make colorful headlines at a time when mass-market newspapers have become the new media. To define his foreign policy he borrows a phrase from an African proverb, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” But his greatest accomplishments are made at home. He breaks up giant monopolies, protects workers rights, and calls for a square deal for all Americans, rich and poor, capitalist and wage earner.
President Theodore Roosevelt (Address to the Boys Progressive League, New York City, July 3, 1913): …fair play and a square deal for every man and every woman in the United States.
Female Narrator: He calls on America to be as great as the natural grandeur of its lands. “Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground,” he tells us. And we do.
Different voiceovers: 1929, the bottom fell out of the market. 12 million unemployed. The bread lines and the soup… The results of the 1932 election now appear…
Female Narrator: When we elect or 32nd President, it is the worst of times. The course of history and the course of one President’s life again shape a turning point in our national destiny. Franklin D. Roosevelt, paralyzed by polio, knows how to restore the faith of a people paralyzed by the great depression.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Fireside chat June 28, 1934): I believe in practical explanations and in practical policies.
Female Narrator: He has found the inner strength his countrymen now need. He speaks to us like a friend, a neighbor. His optimism is contagious. His voice perfect for the latest break through medium, radio. He calls us to believe we have nothing to fear but fear itself. And we do believe.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Archival footage, unknown origin): Tonight’s attacks on England are perhaps the most widespread of the war. In the course of the day…
Female Narrator: But an even greater challenge dominates his final years in office: The second World War.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Fireside chat December 29, 1940): We must be the great arsenal of Democracy. This is an emergency as serious as war itself.
Female Narrator: We stun the world with our production. When bombs fall on U.S. troops in Pearl Harbor, he calls us to fight on the war fight and sacrifice on the home front.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Fireside chat February 23, 1942, quoting Thomas Payne): The harder the sacrifice, the more glorious the triumph. So spoke Americans in the year 1776. So speak Americans today.
Female Narrator: The world changes. The country changes. And yet in one sense, what we need most from our Presidents has never changed: a guiding vision that calls forth the best that America can be.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower (Address at the General Assembly of the United Nations September 22, 1960): Will outer space be developed for the benefit of all mankind? Or, will it become another focus for the arms race? The choice is urgent and it is ours to make.
President John F. Kennedy (Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961): Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.
President Lyndon B. Johnson (Speech to Congress, March 15, 1965): But really it’s all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.
President Jimmy Carter (Camp David Meeting, September 17, 1978): One of the agreements that President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin are signing tonight is entitled, “A Framework for Peace in the Middle East.”
President Ronald Reagan (Remarks at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin, June 12, 1987): Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!
President Bill Clinton (Remarks at the Memorial Service in Oklahoma City, April 23, 1995): You have lost too much, but you have certainly not lost America.
President George W. Bush (Remarks at the World Trade Center, September 14, 2001): I can hear you, the rest of the world hears you.
President Barack Obama (Remarks at the 50th Anniversary of Selma marches, March 7, 2015): Loving this country requires the willingness to speak out for what is right. To shake up the status quo. That’s America.
(The curtain rises to reveal the animatronic figures of the Presidents)
Female Narrator: Our Presidency is no longer just an idea. It is an idea with a proud history. Ladies and gentleman, the Presidents of the United States of America:
- George Washington
- John Adams
- Thomas Jefferson
- James Madison
- James Monroe
- John Quincy Adams
- Andrew Jackson
- Martin Van Buren
- William Henry Harrison
- John Tyler
- James K. Polk
- Zachary Taylor
- Millard Fillmore
- Franklin Pierce
- James Buchanan
- Abraham Lincoln
- Andrew Johnson
- Ulysses S. Grant
- Rutherford B. Hayes
- James A. Garfield
- Chester A. Arthur
- Grover Cleveland
- Benjamin Harrison
- William McKinley
- Theodore Roosevelt
- William Howard Taft
- Woodrow Wilson
- Warren G. Harding
- Calvin Coolidge
- Herbert Hoover
- Franklin D. Roosevelt
- Harry S. Truman
- Dwight D. Eisenhower
- John F. Kennedy
- Lyndon B. Johnson
- Richard M. Nixon
- Gerald R. Ford
- Jimmy Carter
- Ronald Reagan
- George Bush
- Bill Clinton
- George W. Bush
- Barack Obama
Female Narrator: And now we come to the present. Once again, we place our trust in the idea of a President as we have from the beginning.
(President George Washington rises from his seat to speak)
President George Washington: My fellow citizens, no event could have filled me with greater anxieties than that notification on the fourteenth day of April, 1789 that you had selected me to lead our nation. But it was with the confidence of my fellow citizens that I took an oath, 35 simple words that have been repeated by every American President throughout history.
(The spotlight moves to President Donald Trump)
President Donald Trump: I, Donald John Trump do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. So help me God.
From the beginning, America has been a nation defined by its people. At our founding, it was the American people who rose up to defend our freedoms and win our independence. It is why our founders began our great Constitution with three very simple words: We the people. Since that moment, each generation of Americans has taken its place in the defense of our freedom, our flag and our nation under God. These are the achievements of the American spirit. The spirit of a people who fought and died to bring the blessings of liberty to all our people. Above all, to be American is to be an optimist, to believe that we can always do better, and that the best days of our great nation are still ahead of us. It’s a privilege to serve as the President of the United States, to stand here among so many great leaders of our past, and to work on behalf of the American people.
Female Narrator: The Presidency of the United States is a role unique in the world. An office entrusted to each President, by us. We the people. Therein lies the genius of that new idea, now over 200 years old. A new idea our Presidents have turned into a great American idea again and again.
(The curtain falls, ending the show)