Analyzing Defining Moments of American Presidents: Essay Prompts

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

In History 104, you learned about the American presidency. You can use the questions in this lesson to test your understanding of the most defining moments of American presidential legacies.


Now that you've completed the lessons in your course, use the exercises shown here to practice applying your new-found knowledge. This is not a mandatory part of your coursework, but is useful practice.

Why Analyze Defining Presidential Moments?

Now that you are an expert in US history and the presidency, you probably have a lot of ideas about what makes a particular president great. One thing you are likely to have noticed is that presidents' legacies are frequently defined via their behavior and contributions during particular, key moments. These defining moments allow a president to showcase his or her strength and affect lasting change in U.S. and global history.

What, though, is the purpose of pinpointing and analyzing these moments in American presidencies? For one thing, the better we understand defining moments, the better equipped we are to explain for ourselves what is truly important in a president. For another, looking at defining presidential moments in sequence can be a great way to summarize key events and movements in US history. Finally, analysis of key presidential moments helps understand how broader social events are caused and influenced by powerful individuals.

This lesson offers you a series of essay questions that allow you to analyze key moments in the history of various presidencies. Because the questions are analytical in nature, they do not have clear right or wrong answers. Instead, they ask that you draw on historical evidence to define and support your particular perspective.

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