Doris Kearns Goodwin on U.S. Presidents

Author and  historian Doris Kearns Goodwin spoke about the eight traits that made Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin D. Roosevelt so successful as presidents at the 2014 Delta Phi Rho Lecture at Cornell College on Sept. 18.

Doris Kearns Goodwin, the 2014 Delt Lecture speaker. Photo by Jacob Luplow ’16
Doris Kearns Goodwin, the 2014 Delt Lecture speaker. Photo by Jacob Luplow ’16

“It may seem an odd profession to spend days and nights with dead presidents,” Goodwin told a capacity crowd in King Chapel, “but I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.”

Her wide-ranging talk, which covered presidential history, personal anecdotes, and her beloved sport of baseball, focused on the traits that made Lincoln and both Roosevelts extraordinary presidents. She covered:


  • The way each faced personal adversity
  • The way each surrounded themselves with people who were willing to disagree with them and argue
  • The fact each learned lessons from their failures and mistakes
  • Their emotional intelligence
  • Their sense of timing
  • The fact that each knew how to relax
  • The ways that each of them were able to speak to their constituents

Goodwin began by talking about her experience with Lyndon Johnson, first as a White House intern, and then as she helped him prepare his memoirs. That experience was formative, she said, and set her on the course she follows today, examining the lives and personalities of U.S. presidents.

“I’d like to believe that privilege forged in me the drive to understand the inner person behind the public figure, to look empathetically at my subjects as I moved from LBJ to JFK, from JFK to FDR to Abraham Lincoln, and finally to Teddy Roosevelt and Taft,” she said.

A short excerpt of her speech, where she talks about the ways Theodore Roosevelt overcame adversity, is below.