The Presidents on the Presidency

By Tullai, Martin D. | The World and I, April 2001 | Go to article overview

The Presidents on the Presidency


Tullai, Martin D., The World and I


Martin D. Tullai teaches history at St.Paul's School in Brooklandville, Maryland, and is the author of The Presidency--Once Over Lightly and Speaking of Abraham Lincoln.

Ambrose Bierce described the presidency as "the greased pig in the field of American politics" in his Devil's Dictionary.

As we reflect on the 2000 presidential election, it might be instructive to note how those most knowledgeable about our highest office have characterized it. Political scientists and historians have often described this office as a grueling, burdensome, and stress- filled job.

Clinton Rossiter wrote about the president: "If there is any one thing about him that strikes the eye immediately it is the staggering burden he bears for all of us." Dorothy James has observed that "the sheer exhaustion of the office is obvious. It is literally a killing job whose pressures continue to mount." Thomas Cronin expressed his view with the words of John Steinbeck, who said: "We give the president more work than a man can do, more responsibility than a man should take, more pressure than a man can bear." Richard Pious' study of the presidency led him to conclude that "always there is the burden of office which takes its toll on the health and well-being of the incumbent."

Countering these views is the evaluation of George Reedy, who saw the presidency close-up as Lyndon Johnson's press secretary. He has said about the president's workload: "There is far less to the presidency, in terms of essential activity, than meets the eye. A president moves through his days surrounded by literally hundreds of people whose relationship to him is that of a doting mother to a spoiled child. Whatever he wants is brought to him immediately--food, drink, helicopters, airplanes, people, in fact, everything but relief from his political problems."

TROUBLE AND RESPONSIBILITY

Whichever perception of this office is accurate, it is interesting to note that many of those who sought and failed to win it ultimately took a dim view of it. This is what they said.

Henry Clay pursued the office relentlessly. His reputation as the "Great Compromiser" and the status accorded him as one of the "Great Triumvirate"--along with John C. Calhoun and Daniel Webster--seemed to assure his success. However, after frustrating defeats in 1824, '32, and '44, Clay ended up, like William Jennings Bryan, a three-time loser. Although he said in a Senate speech, "I'd rather be right than be president," his disappointment must have been deeply felt. Alas, the unlucky Kentuckian refused the vice-presidential nomination in 1840. Had he accepted, he would have achieved his presidential goal because the president, William Henry Harrison, died after only thirty-one days in office. As it was, John Tyler became the first vice president to succeed to the highest office upon the death of a president.

America's first third-party candidate was William Wirt of Maryland, who ran for the Anti-Masonic Party in 1832. (Wirt's deep-seated opposition to Andrew Jackson induced him to accept the party's nomination.) Jackson's victory was a disappointment, but Wirt was nonetheless relieved that his fling with presidential politics was over. He said, "A culprit pardoned at the gallows could not have been more lighthearted."

Horatio Seymour, the governor of New York during the Civil War who opposed Lincoln's suppression of civil rights, was virtually forced to run for the presidency. Despite the importunings of his friends, Seymour five times declined to allow himself to be nominated, saying, "I have not the slightest desire to occupy the White House. There is too much trouble and responsibility and no peace." This resolve finally gave way, however, and he accepted the Democratic Party's call. So it was that in 1868 he challenged Ulysses S. Grant and ran a surprisingly close race even though he ultimately lost. Years later Seymour said, "The failure to insist on my declination of the nomination then was the mistake of my life.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Presidents on the Presidency
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.