Presidential Tape Recordings and the President's Daily Diary  ›  

Compiled and annotated by Dr. Martha Kumar, Towson University

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Presidential Recordings  ›  
President Nixon in his Oval Office

President Nixon in the Oval Office. Nixon Presidential Materials, NARA

One of the websites you can use to find a president you would like to hear in conversation is the one maintained by the Miller Center for Public Affairs at the University of Virginia. Here is the link to the recordings that begin with Franklin Roosevelt and go through Richard Nixon.


An example within the presidential recordings is a conversation in the Oval Office following the March on Washington. Civil rights leaders came to see President John F. Kennedy and talk to him about civil rights legislation.


You will notice there are additional topics listed on the right hand side of this page that gives subject areas you can listen to, such as Civil Rights and Vietnam. Notice that they include transcripts of some of the conversations, which is helpful as recordings are not always that easy to decipher. The Cuban Missile Crisis is good to listen to as you can hear telephone calls and staff conversations. That was a very important event and you can hear the president talk about the issues he was then dealing with, including possible ways out of the crisis.

Another interesting issue is the alleged attack on US naval ships by the North Vietnamese in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964.


There are Nixon Watergate tapes as well. There are more than these three but this is a link to a few of them.


Here is another link to President Nixon's recordings on the Miller Center site.


The Nixon Library has the full collection. The link is: Here is a link for several of the conversations that are easy to listen to. The first one with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger gives you an idea of the way in which a president – and more so for Nixon – likes to know how his speeches are received. The first link on the upper left with Kissinger also gives a portrait of how presidents want to know how their speeches were received and don't mind flattery of even the most extreme kind. It is under sample conversations and is dated April 7, 1971.


The President's Daily Diary and How to Use It  ›  
Page of President Johnson's daily diary from the day of the Civil Rights Bill signing

Page of President Johnson's daily diary from the day of the Civil Rights Bill signing. Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, Austin, Texas


One of the most fascinating documents of the presidency are the diaries that reveal what the president does all day and all week. Assembled from information found in Secret Service logs, the president's schedule, notes from presidential staff members who track where he is, the President's Diarist-- an employee of the National Archives, not the White House --creates the record of his days in office in terms of where he goes, who he sees, sometimes the subject under discussion of a meeting, when and for how long he meets people and / or is in a particular location. The President's Daily Diary has been replicated across presidential terms so that you can compare information from one president to another. Do they have the same meetings? Do they talk to people in the same government positions, including White House staff members? These are questions one can answer by looking across administrations.

What Does a President Do All Week?

The diaries can provide answers to key questions: who, what, where, when, how. Who: refers to who a president meets with and talks to. In addition, keep a look out for who he doesn't see as well. What: what are the activities he regularly is involved in, such as trips across years to the annual G-8 conference. Where: where does the president go outside of the White House and inside as well. How often does he get out on the White House compound? When: what are the rhythms of a day and a week in terms of the meetings he regularly has and the frequency of having entries on the schedule that are one-time events for him. How: how does he get up to speed on issues. This you can get from a look at the meetings he has on particular policy areas, such as national security and foreign policy. One of the entries you will see for most presidents is the President's Daily Brief. That is the intelligence report he gets at the start of the day. After answering these questions, I would like for you to summarize what you have learned about the presidency and about individual presidents. For example, you may find that the president doesn't get out of the White House compound very often. Or that he does. It will depend on the president and the point in his presidency he is in, such as running for reelection he is out a great deal.


REAGAN PRESIDENTIAL DIARY AND PERSONAL DIARY. You need to click first on the year, then the month, and finally the day of the month.


GEORGE H. W. BUSH DIARY FOR 1989-90. His diary is online for almost the first two years of his administration. It is found at the Miller Center for Public Affairs. The Center does a lot of work on the documenting the presidency.


JIMMY CARTER PRESIDENTIAL DIARY. Carter has the President's Daily Diary online.




RICHARD NIXON PRESIDENTIAL DIARY. A diary link to a page that has additional primary sources on the left, such as exit interviews.



Schedules are different from the President's Daily Diary as it is what the president plans to do, not just what he did. The diary hasn't been released yet. The daily schedules do give you an idea, though, of what the administration planned for the day, most of which occurred even if later than the schedule would have it.


The American Presidency Project  ›  
President Kennedy at a press conference

President Kennedy at a press conference. John F. Kennedy Library

When you want to look up presidential speeches as well as all of his public utterances, then the American Presidency Project website can be useful, especially if you are looking for dates when presidents gave their State of the Union Address or when they gave press conferences, especially night time ones held in the East Room. Most presidents prepared for those. The site is maintained by the University of California at Santa Barbara. Click on "Public Papers of the Presidents" on the upper left menu and then you can look by month or go down further on the left and search by keyword or a defined time period. It is a terrific presidential resource.


Dr. Martha Joynt Kumar is a political science professor at Towson University and has published more than 80 articles and books related to presidential communications, transitions, and the organization and operations of the executive staff. For further information on presidential transitions, communications, and contemporary history of the president's staff, please visit:


President George W. Bush's Oval Office


»  Reading Lists & Bibliography

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»  Making the Most of the Archives: Finding White House Documentary Sources at the National Archives, by Alysha E. Black [PDF]

»  Records of the Office of Public Buildings and Public Parks of the National Capitol, compiled by Mary-Jane M. Dowd