Do Military Heroes Make Good Presidents?

Do Military Heroes Make Good Presidents?
Anna Harrison: Law, Politics and Govt

Skill: Middle School
Time Required: Three or four class periods

Required Documents
Military Hero Notes


Anna Harrison was the wife of William Henry Harrison. Her husband was a popular war hero both for his reputation as the victor at the Battle of Tippecanoe and also as the commander whose forces defeated and killed Tecumseh at the Battle of Thames during the War of 1812. The Whig Party, as their candidate for president, selected Harrison to run in the election of 1840. Based on his popularity as a war hero he was elected overwhelmingly with an electoral vote of 234 to 60. Unfortunately, though, Harrison died of pneumonia less than a month into his presidency. He never had a chance to prove whether or not he would be an effective president. Other war heroes have been elected to the United States Presidency. Among them are George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Zachary Taylor, U.S. Grant, and Dwight Eisenhower. These men served in the chief executive’s office with various levels of success. The purpose of this lesson is to determine whether military heroes make good presidents.


1)  Students will conduct research to find specific facts about certain U.S. Presidents

2)  Students will investigate presidents who were war heroes and report briefly on their war records.

3)  Students will investigate presidents who were war heroes and briefly report on the defining issues of their presidency.

4)  Students will form an opinion and communicate it in writing regarding the success of war heroes as U.S. Presidents.

Materials Required:

Computers with internet access or a computer lab; PowerPoint program (optional).


1)  The teacher will begin the lesson by asking the students if they can name any presidents who were elected because they were war heroes. These names will be listed on the chalkboard, whiteboard, or smart board. This lesson will focus on five presidents: Washington, Jackson, Taylor, Grant and Eisenhower. Other names may be presented such as John F. Kennedy, Theodore Roosevelt, or George H. W. Bush, but it should be stressed that although these men were in the military and may have been war heroes they weren’t elected because of that service.

2)  The teacher will then split the class into five groups. Using the websites for each president listed below as “starters,” each group will be assigned one of the five presidents. This may be done in any way the teacher sees fit, but one suggestion would be to use mixed ability groups and assign the presidents by having the groups choose names blindly using note cards chosen upside-down. Each group will conduct research on the president they are assigned. The assignment is to identify highlights of that president’s military service and to identify the defining issues of his Presidency. Each group will present their research to the class so each student can complete their notes work sheet. The teacher may even want to have each group create a PowerPoint of their research in order to more effectively present their research. Poster board or large sheets of paper are also options.

3)  Once the presentations are complete and the students all have their notes completed they will complete the short essay on the bottom of the notes page. This task will be individual. The prompt is as follows: In your opinion do military heroes make good presidents? Use facts from the notes above and your own judgment and experience to support your ideas.

Extending the Lesson:

Compiling the results determined by the students and creating an “effectiveness” table to rank the effectiveness of the presidents studied could extend this lesson. The class could come up with various criteria to accomplish this.

Sources & Resources:


George Washington

Andrew Jackson

Zachary Taylor

U.S. Grant

Dwight Eisenhower



This lesson was developed by Robert McClelland, Cleveland Metropolitan School District.