On Monday July 24, 2017, President Donald Trump addressed the attendees of this year’s Boy Scout Jamboree held at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia. During his speech, he said that he was the “Honorary President” of the Boy Scouts. I was confused on this and a few other things as the speech went on. I was under the impression that the membership or the directing committee needed to approve that title. It is however written in the bylaws that the sitting President of the United States its the Honorary President of the BSA as well. Some have criticized the BSA for inviting him to speak, but it should be noted that the BSA has invited every sitting President to speak to the organization since Franklin Delano Roosevelt at the inaugural Boy Scout Jamboree in 1935. The BSA has never asked for a copy of the speech for approval prior to speaking so they are not responsible for the words given by the President. To criticize them is wrong as they are an organization that breeds patriotism and when the highest office in the nation accepts your invitation to speak you let them.
There have been nine previous setting Presidents that have addressed the Boy Scouts. They have done so in person, via radio address, by audio record, through a surrogate and by videotape addresses. Until President Trump, they have maintained a discussion with the scouts that omitted politics but used this address as a means to praise scouts, their parents, and the volunteers that help to make the program successful. I watched parts on this speech live and have watched the full speech recorded. I give him kudos for thanking the volunteers the credit they deserve for helping to guide the young men into becoming good citizens. I also praise him for acknowledging most of his staff members that were Boy Scouts in their youth. I think he failed at knowing his audience though and used it as a political platform instead of a platform to help encourage good citizenship from the Scouts.
The first President to speak to Scouts was Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1935. He was considered by many to be a best friend Scouting could have. It was under his leadership that the first Jamboree was scheduled to be held in Washington, DC at the 25th Anniversary of being founded. The original plans had a procession of Scouts and a party on the lawn of the White House. Unfortunately due to an outbreak of polio near DC that summer, the event was canceled. The President did speak to them though by radio address. He would speak to them again in person two years later in 1937 when the first Jamboree was finally held. He encouraged them to love and understand the great outdoors and spent time reminding them of their motto, “Be Prepared.” To me the most memorable quote by FDR to the Scouts was, “Scouting revolves around not the mere theory of service to others but the habit of service to others.”
It wouldn’t be until 1950 before the sitting President would speak to the BSA again. President Harry S. Truman would speak at the Jamboree that year. It was held in Valley Forge, PA and he spoke on July 4th that summer. Where General George Washington quartered his army during the winter of 1777, President Truman would speak of freedom, peace, and diplomacy. He would go say to them, “When you work and live together, and exchange ideas around the camp fires, you get to know what the other fellow is like. That is the first step toward settling world problems in a spirit of give and take, instead of fighting about them.”
President Eisenhower would at tend two Scout Jamborees in 1953 and again in 1960. Vice President Nixon would speak on his behalf in 1957, making his administration the most communicative to the BSA in history. President Eisenhower continued to echo the diplomacy that President Truman spoke about. “I am confident that, in meeting and talking with your fellow Scouts, you will gain a renewed awareness of the need for cooperating — working together — in our country and in the world,” Eisenhower said. “Bonds of common purpose and common ideals can unite people, even when they come from the most distant and diverse places.”
In 1961 John F. Kennedy assumed office after defeating Richard Nixon in the election of 1960. He became the first Boy Scout to hold the Office of the Presidency. However, he never spoke to the membership of the BSA. It would be his successor Lyndon B. Johnson who would address them in 1964, again in Valley Forge, PA. He would speak to the Scouts of the ideas of freedom that helped to build our nation. “This country of ours is a community built on an idea,” he said, “It’s history is the history of an idea. And it’s future will be bright only so long as you are faithful to that idea.”
It would be twenty one years before a representative from the Presidency would speak at a Jamboree. First Lady Nancy Reagan would speak to them in lieu of President Ronald Reagan, who was recovering from cancer surgery and couldn’t be there in person. In 1985 the Presidential campaign against drugs would have her focus on a drug free America and the last three articles of the Scout Oath, “Physically Strong, Mentally Awake, and Morally Straight.” President George H W Bush would also encourage the membership to lead by example and refuse “any illegal drugs”. He would also talk about the potential of future generations and encouraged the Scouts to keep a “spirit of wonder, of discovery, and adventure.”
President Bill Clinton would speak to the Scouts at they 60th anniversary of the Jamboree in 1997. He focused his speech on the community service that Boy Scouts provide and it’s long history of service to others. He specifically spoke about the good turns that Scouts do saying, “If every young person in America would give back to their community in the way you do, just imagine what we could do.”
President George W. Bush spoke twice during his presidency. The first was in 2001 and was a prerecorded video message that was played during the Jamboree where he spoke about the Scout Law saying, “Every society depends upon trust and loyalty, on courtesy and kindness, on bravery and reverence. These are the values of Scouting and these are the values of America.” Four years latter as he was approaching it’s lowest as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq had become increasingly unpopular. While his speech did not directly speak about politics it was the closest a sitting President using this platform to speak politics. He said, “All of you are showing your gratitude for the blessing of freedom. You also understand that freedom must be defended.”
President Barack Obama didn’t attend the Jamboree for the 100th anniversary of the BSA but he did video an address for them. He praised the BSA for its long standing history of providing community service. He said to them, “That service is worth celebrating, but there’s still more to do. In the years ahead we’re going to depend on you, the next generation of leaders, to move America forward.” After listening to Trump’s speech I can’t agree with him more. We are going to need leaders in our nation that appreciate the outdoors, appreciate the servitude to others, and understand the value of being Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent.
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