On a crisp Friday morning in April, students in Dr. Al Goethals’ Presidential Leadership class were not in a classroom; they were exploring George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate. The class examines theories and research surrounding presidential leadership and campaigning and the lives and administrations of selected presidents. The visit to Mount Vernon was part of a two-day tour, which included a trip to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and James Monroe’s Ash Lawn-Highland.
Below three students from the class, Sara Fitzpatrick, ’16, Rebecca Fradkin, ’16, and AJ Accomando, ’17, discuss the trip and how it relates to their coursework.
Which place stood out most to you, and what made it meaningful?
“Visiting James Monroe’s house stood out the most to me because of its proximity to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Our tour guide mentioned that Thomas Jefferson wanted to have a society to his tastes and handpicked his neighbors. (James Madison also lived nearby.) I thought it was fascinating that three out of the first five presidents lived within a few miles of each other.” — Fitzpatrick
What did you learn on the trip that surprised you most?
“When I visited Thomas Jefferson’s tombstone, I saw that his birthday was April 2. Later on during our tour, the guide said Jefferson’s birthday was April 13. I did not know before this trip that that change was due to the switch from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar during Jefferson’s lifetime.” — Fradkin
What concept in Presidential Leadership has been most interesting to you?
“The concepts in Presidential Leadership that have been most interesting to me are elections. It has been truly fascinating for me to apply many of the theories of leadership that we learned in LDST 300 Theories and Models to presidential elections. For instance, one theory that we have discussed is the romance of leadership and how that has affected presidents in their re-elections, and also how Implicit Leadership Traits, or ILTs, have affected our perceptions of leaders during election cycles.” — Accomando
How did the things you saw and learned on the trip relate to the concepts you have been thinking about in class?
“In Presidential Leadership, we really try to understand the presidents as human beings and to study them in the context of their respective time periods. Visiting Mount Vernon, Monticello, and Ash Lawn-Highland was like walking into their lives, and you can’t get any more personal than that. At Mount Vernon in particular, I was able to imagine how Washington would have walked the grounds, studying his crops and managing his large household. At Monticello, I also felt as if I was understanding Jefferson’s background more in the sense that he loved all things Parisian and Western-European in general, and he was a true socialite — though maybe a bit pretentious!” — Fradkin
“In class, we discussed Washington’s decision to free his slaves in his will. We talked a lot about what this meant in terms of his legacy, his private feelings on slavery, his motivations, etc. Our discussion was less focused on how this decision personally impacted the individual slaves at Mount Vernon at the time. On our visit we were given accounts of how families were broken up as a result of this decision, which I think adds a new dimension to the analysis of Washington’s decision.” — Fitzpatrick
“By visiting the residences of our nation’s founding fathers, you truly get a sense of who they were as individuals outside of the public realm. This has helped me in understanding many of the concepts we have learned in class, especially trait theories regarding presidential character. Thus, in visiting their residences one truly gets to apply the trait theories that we have learned thus far in class and see them translated into the style of homes that presidents such as Jefferson, Washington, and Monroe have constructed for themselves.” — Accomando