Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

Only the President lands on the South Lawn
Kyle Norwood
US History
Time Frame:
2-3 fifty minute class periods
United States Constitution
Presidential Duties and Responsibilities
United States History

Grade Levels:
9, 10, 11, 12

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:
  • This activity asks the essential question “What leadership qualities do modern Vice Presidents need to fulfill their many roles?”  The focus is on Vice President George H.W. Bush during the assassination attempt of President Ronald Reagan.  Students begin the activity with a close reading of an interactive article by the Dallas Morning News.  A variety of primary sources reveal the limits of vice presidential leadership as well as the opportunity for purposeful action shaped by personal values.  The activity concludes with two scenarios that places students in leadership roles.

  • The purpose of this activity is to lead students to their own conclusions about how they can become better leaders.

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met:

  • Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills Standard 2:  The student understands the roles played by individuals, political parties, interest groups, and the media in the U.S. political system, past and present.
  • Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills Standard 8:  The student understands the structure and functions of the government created by the U.S. Constitution.
  • Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills Standard 20:  The student applies critical-thinking skills to organize and use information acquired from a variety of valid sources, including electronic technology.
  • Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills Standard 22:  The student uses problem-solving and decision-making skills, working independently and with others, in a variety of settings.

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:

Primary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:

Document A:  U.S. Constitution retrieved from  https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/amendments-11-27


Document B:  Dallas Morning News “Command and Control:  Voices from the Situation Room,” retrieved from  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CsZf5XI3_w0&feature=youtu.be


Document C:  “Bush’s Notes” retrieved from  http://res.dallasnews.com/interactives/reagan-bush/


Document D:  Photograph of Vice-President George Bush entering the Tarrant County Convention Center retrieved from http://res.dallasnews.com/interactives/reagan-bush/images/bushfw_1200.jpg


Document E:  Reagan Diary entry, March 24, 1981 (see attached)


Document F:  Declassified Memo to Vice-President George H.W. Bush from Secretary of State Alexander Haig, Jr., March 30, 981 (see attached)


Document G:  Vice-President George Bush to Former President Richard Nixon, January 12, 1982 (see attached)


Document H:  Vice-President George Bush to his mother, December 16, 1986 (see attached)


Document I:  Vice-President George Bush to his wife, January 6, 1987 (see attached)


Document J:  Vice-President George Bush to Vic Gold, n.d. (see attached)


Document K:  Former Press Secretary Scott McClellan on Leadership, 2008 (see attached)


Document E

 Tuesday, March 24 [1981]

      Nat. Security Council meeting in Situation Room.  We adopted a plan to persuade African States of our desire to help settle the Namibian question—an election after a const. is adopted.  At the same time we would urge Angola’s govt. to oust the Cubans at the same time we helped Savimbi.  Our hope being that with the Cubans out NATO & Savimbi could negotiate a peace.

     Later in day a call from Al Haig, all upset about an announcement that George B. is to be chairman of the Crisis Council.  Historically the chairman is Nat. Security Advisor (Dick Allen).  Al thinks his turf is being invaded.  We chose George because Al is wary of Dick.  He talked of resigning.  Frankly I think he’s seeing things that aren’t there.  He’s Sec. of St. and no one is intruding on his turf—foreign policy is his but he has half the Cabinet teed off.

 Source:  Ronald Reagan, The Reagan Diaries ed. by Douglas Brinkley (New York:  HarperCollins Publishers, 2007), 10-11.


Document F



Document G

 January 12, 1982

The Honorable Richard Nixon

26 Federal Plaza

New York, N.Y.


Dear Mr. President:


   I received your warm letter of January 7 and I am very appreciative.  A lot of people simply don’t understand the advice you gave me. 

   A couple of months ago I had a letter from a very prominent Republican Senator, saying “separate yourself from the President”.  This was written at the time of some tough budget vote.  I have had lots or writers hone in on differences that I may have had with President Reagan during the primaries, trying to get me to highlight these differences now.

   I don’t believe a President should have to be looking over his shoulder wondering if the Vice President was out there carving him up or undermining his programs in one way or another.  I guess every Vice President has had to endure the annual rounds of “whatever happened to V.P._____ stories”.  They don’t bother me a bit.  I like my job, I have plenty to do, and I believe I can be helpful to the President.  So what else is there?

   Thank you so very much for that insightful letter.  Barbara joins me in sending our best to Mrs. Nixon.



                                                                                                                        George Bush

 Source:  George Bush, All The Best, My Life in Letters and Other Writings (New York:  Scribner, 1999), 315-316.


Document H


December 16, 1986


Mrs. Prescott S. Bush, Sr.

Jupiter Island

Hobe Sound, Florida  33455

Dearest mum,


  . . . These are not easy times here, but they are times that the things you and Dad taught me come to the fore.  Tell the Truth.  Don’t blame people.  Be strong.  Do your Best.  Try hard.  Forgive.  Stay the Course.  All that kind of thing.

   The President is embattled.  Some of our political friends worry about me and what all this will do to me; but you see, I don’t worry—really.  I know the President is telling the whole truth.  I know I have, too.  And I also know that the American people are fair and forgiving.

   So don’t worry about middle-size—And besides if all goes wrong (and it won’t) look at all the blessings I have in life.  Bar, kids, 10 grandkids.  And besides I have the neatest Mum in the whole wide world; and I love her very very much.




Source:  George Bush, All The Best, My Life in Letters and Other Writings (New York:  Scribner, 1999), 356.

Document I


January 6th, 1987

   Let’s see Bar—42 years ago this minute I was a nervous wreck—you too, maybe.  Anyway, here we are 42 years later, and I am a very happy guy—the luckiest in the world actually.  I have a skinny, miles walking wife; I have a lot of grandkids (so do you) and they all, each and everyone, bring me happiness just thinking about them.  Our own kids are great; our dog is in tough shape, but he’s given us joy; our house wasn’t even nicked by the seas or the snow; we aren’t rich, but we are awful lucky.  We don’t owe any money and if either of us get sick the other guy can pay the bills.  We have a lot of friends—no real enemies tho there are some who aren’t exactly rooting hard for us; we have quiet faith that gives us strength; so—when we count our blessings we’ve got to count on a long long time.

   How do I love you?  Let me count the ways—one, er, ah, lets’ see—I’m not good at that.  But I love you very much.  Have for more than 42 years and will for the next howmsoever many lie ahead.  I can’t ever say it too well, but you know that, don’t ya?





Source:  George Bush, All The Best, My Life in Letters and Other Writings (New York:  Scribner, 1999), 357.                                             


Document J



    Leadership is listening then acting.  Leadership means respect for the other person’s point of view, weighing it, then driven by one’s own convictions acting according to those convictions.

    If you can’t listen, you can’t lead.

    Humor brings joy and helps make life sing; but if that humor is mean spirited or hurtful of another the lightness and the laugh give way to embarrassment and resentment.


    On the domestic side jobs, but jobs in an America that is free of drugs, that is literate, that is tolerant.  On the Foreign policy side—peace, but peace in a world that offers more freedom, more democracy to the people of the world.



Source:  George Bush, All The Best, My Life in Letters and Other Writings (New York:  Scribner, 1999), 351.

Document:  K


     The way we define “leadership” in America today is a funny thing.  It demands strength, steadfastness, and resolve, as well as an unwavering focus on the duties at hand.  But it also involves visible displays of emotion, empathy, compassion, and sorrow—softer qualities that may conflict with the toughness we expect from our leaders.



Source:  Scott McClellan, What Happened, Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception (New York, PublicAffairs, 2008), 282.



Full description of activity or assignment.
  • Optional—depending on the level of instruction teachers might assign the articles by Patrick Cox and H. Donnelly.  These contrast earlier views of the vice presidency (i.e. Vice President Garner’s view) to recent views about the role of vice president.  Both articles are listed with secondary materials.  According to Donnelly what is the “quandary” of being vice president?  How has the role of vice president changed from Garner’s time to the present?  What limits do vice presidents work under? 


  • Ask students to think of someone they consider a leader.  Which traits can they identify in this person?   Have each student generate their own list of values.


  • Instruct students to read the 25th Amendment to the Constitution.  Ask them to reword the amendment with emphasis on two major points they have identified.  What is the role of the Vice-President according to the Constitution?


  • Assign the Dallas Morning News web article “Command and Control:  Tested Under Fire” retrieved from http://res.dallasnews.com/interactives/reagan-bush/ .  Ask students which advisors they believe demonstrated leadership qualities and which ones did not.  What qualities stand out in those they identify as leaders as well as those non-leaders?  Refer students to Documents E, F, H, J and K (and the Donnelly article if assigned) to help generate discussion.


  • Arrange students into groups of three and four and instruct them to analyze Documents B-K (see list of documents) using the SOAPS rubric (S=subject; O=occasion; A=audience; P=purpose; and S=speaker).  Ask them to consider the essential question “What leadership qualities do modern Vice Presidents need to fulfill their many roles?”  In the context of the assassination attempt on President Reagan’s life, which leadership qualities do you see in Vice-President Bush?  Cite specific documents. 


  • After analyzing the documents, ask students to expand their list of values generated earlier in the activity. 


  • Generate a discussion about Vice President Bush’s decision not to land on the south lawn of the White House upon his return from Texas.  What does his decision suggest about the limits of the Vice Presidency (both constitutional and self-imposed) and what opportunities for leadership did this decision invoke?


  • Assess the activity with the two school scenarios attached.



Full explanation of the assessment method and/or scoring guide:




Scenario A


Work with your group to imagine the following situation.  You arrive to school and settle into your desk, but there is no teacher.  You and your classmates realize there are no teachers, no administrators, and no security—only other students.  No one can communicate with anyone out of the building and the doors are locked so no one can leave.  Some of the most rowdy students begin planning a “day of pandemonium.”  You do not know what they intend.


  1. Suggest two adjectives that describe the situation.



  1. Explain how you might feel if you were in this situation.





  1. Consider what kinds of people or groups might “do well” in an environment like this.  What leadership qualities would you expect from individuals in each of the groups you identified?







  1. Propose a way that the situation may have been prevented or controlled and by whom.







  1. What parallels can you draw between this scenario and the situation room experience of March 30, 1981?






Scenario B


Think about what happens if people in various roles in the school are unable to complete their jobs due to illness.  Compare what happens if a janitor, a cafeteria worker, a teacher, or the principal cannot work for a day, week, or month.  Investigate the school or district policies that govern what is to be done in such situations.  Speak with each person mentioned in the scenario to get their feedback.  When you are finished with your investigation answer the following questions.


  1. Are the policies clear among the individuals you spoke with?



  1. What are the policies to deal with this kind of situation?






  1. Do the policies ensure that important duties are performed to keep the school functioning smoothly?  How so?







  1. What leadership qualities were you able to identify in the individuals you spoke with?











  1. How might this activity help you become a better leader?  Be specific.






The assessment for this activity includes two school-related scenarios, one fictional and one not.  Teachers may want to assign the assessment as a group activity, allowing for collaboration as each student completes both sets of questions.  Alternatively, the assessment might be assigned as a group discussion and/or presentation.  The two scenarios are attached at the end of this document.


Provide students the following scoring guide.  Modify the point distribution as appropriate.  


_____ Read and discussed the web-based article “Command and Control:  Tested         Under Fire.” (10 points)


_____Read and discussed the 25th Amendment  (5 points)


_____List of leadership traits/values (5 points)


_____Analysis of documents B-K using SOAPS (20 points)


_____ Discussion of Vice-President Bush’s decision not to land on the south lawn (10 points)


_____Scenario A Questions  (25 points)


_____Scenario B Questions  (25 points)