The Learned Presidency: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson

By David H. Burton | Go to book overview

EPILOGUE

"High office does not a learned president make"

The question emerges that has troubled students at least since the day of Plutarch: Do the times give rise to the man, or does the man make the times? The experience of the American presidency tends to show that the times shape the man and his mind. The Age of Reason explains many of the distinctive ideas found in the writings of the first presidents. Adams, Jefferson, and Madison are spoken of as "men of the Enlightenment," a phenomenon of which they and their revolution were a lasting part. One hundred years later ideas and their ethical implications were transformed by the onrush of the scientific method, which imparted new dimensions to history and literature as well to theology and philosophy. In their thinking, Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson were all scientific, though in each there was a unique mixture of the traditional and the scientific, the old and the new. In a final accounting, it may not make much difference whether the times give birth to ideas, or ideas determine events. Such a question is asked in the first place as a means of "getting at" Jefferson and the Enlightenment, or as a device to probe the feasibility of splitting the atom of the historical Theodore Roosevelt between his mind and his era.

The prospects for a learned presidency between the age of Jackson and the days of McKinley were poor, in part because there was no generally understood intellectual movement that encouraged response or participation. Learned presidents have not existed apart from their times. If this assumption holds true, the technological learning explosion of the twentieth century may be expected to touch future presidents by the twenty- first century. To say that it has not happened is not to say that it will not happen. Approximately sixty years elapsed between the deaths of Jefferson and Adams and the rise of Theodore Roosevelt. The present hiatus in the learned presidency could be ended within the next score of years. Time has been a critical ingredient in the process of developing a learned

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The Learned Presidency: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 5
  • Contents 9
  • Acknowledgments 10
  • Preface 11
  • Prologue 19
  • 1 - Theodore Roosevelt Learned Style 38
  • 2 - William Howard Taft Legal Mind 89
  • 3 - Woodrow Wilson Righteous Scholar 136
  • Epilogue 193
  • Notes 200
  • Select Bibliography 213
  • Index 218
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