The Exemplary Presidency: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the American Political Tradition

The Exemplary Presidency: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the American Political Tradition

The Exemplary Presidency: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the American Political Tradition

The Exemplary Presidency: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the American Political Tradition

Synopsis

The American presidency has fascinated and confounded scholars for over 200 years. Is the institution redefined by each new occupant, or is the presidency merely a cog in the constitutional machine created in 1787? Philip Abbott argues that the presidency can best be viewed as an institution framed by the patterns on American political thought and culture.

Excerpt

One of the explanations James Bryce offered for his assertion that "great men are not chosen presidents" was that "brilliant intellectual gifts" were not only not valued by the American citizenry but that the office itself only required "firmness, common sense and most of all, honesty." "Eloquence," "imagination," "profundity of thought" were valuable assets, of course, but no more necessary for the successful execution of the demands of the office than they were to the chairman of a commercial company or to the manager of a subway. It is the argument of this book that Bryce, for all his insight, was wrong on this point and that students of the presidency, as well as students of American political thought, who seem to have accepted Bryce's statement, are wrong as well. Americans do value brilliance of thought in their presidents but our concept of profundity has escaped them.

Certainly Franklin Delano Roosevelt would appear to confirm Bryce's observation. FDR may be credited with holding the nation together during the catastrophe of the Great Depression, patching together a welfare state American-style, and bringing a reluctant citizenry to support the embattled nations of Europe. But the country squire interpretation of Roosevelt, first stated by Walter Lippmann in 1932 when he described him as a "pleasant man" who "would very much like to be President," still heavily influences the assessment of Roosevelt's presidency.

In general support of the approach put forth in this book, I would like to offer commentary from two very disparate observers, Niccolo Machiavelli and the staff of Walt Disney World. In The Prince Machiavelli prefaces his discussion of the "exalted instances" in which men found new dominions by noting that "men walk almost always in the paths trodden by others, proceeding in their acts by imitation." If copy he must . . .

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