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

By Philip Abbott | Go to book overview

5
Oh, Shade of Jefferson

If we assume then that the New Deal in eschewing the Lincolnian alternative pushed the Jeffersonian exemplar hard -- as hard as it could possibly be pushed -- toward social democratic directions, how successful was its cultural revolution? What structures of public happiness were built? The record, needless to say, is mixed. But the standard assessments seem to almost uniformly miss the point. The liberal argument of James MacGregor Burns, for instance, that FDR's policies were insufficiently Keynesian and that Roosevelt failed to create a permanent liberal party coalition by forgetting "the great lesson of the inaugural speech of 1933," or the socialist argument of Howard Zinn that New Deal policies were too piecemeal and only narrowly experimental fail to treat the New Deal's exploration of Jefferson on its own terms.1


"If Jefferson were alive . . ."

More to the point is a 1935 essay by Robert K. Gooch, who focused his attention on what seemed to almost form a genre in contemporary assessments of the New Deal.2 "If Jefferson were alive, what would be his position on the New Deal?" was a question that commentators found immensely important, one noticeably lacking in subsequent analyses. Gooch's answer in itself is not profound. If Jefferson were alive today, as a man of "encyclopedic interests" he "would undoubtedly concern himself with the workings of the multi-form agencies associated with the New Deal; and with respect to them he would probably form definite opinions as to whether they are working, will work, or can work." Gooch could not be sure what Jefferson's specific ideas would have been. But of this much he was certain: "he would . . . be unequivocally on the side of a deal that assumes the priority of the welfare of all the people over the privilege of

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • 1 - Exemplary Governance 3
  • 2 - The Story Teller and the Theorist 22
  • 3 - Is There a Jefferson on the Horizon? 47
  • 4 - The Parade 63
  • 5 - Oh, Shade of Jefferson 77
  • 6 - The Jacksonian Turn 110
  • 7 - They Have Retired into the Judiciary 132
  • 8 - Black Easter and Other Lincolns 152
  • 9 - Which Romevelt Do I Imitate? 181
  • Notes 203
  • Index 227
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