The True Story of Woodrow Wilson

By David Lawrence | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII
THE PRESIDENCY AS A SUPERHUMAN TASK

What a President of the United States can do is prescribed by the Constitution and innumerable statutes derived therefrom; what a President cannot do is a proscription imposed by society. The one defines his legal powers, the other limits his personal liberty. To survey not alone what the President must do to discharge the manifold duties of his office, but what he is by convention, custom, or other cause prevented from doing, one must observe from day to day his trials and tribulations, his vexations, his tangled problems, his unremitting labors, his opportunities for error, and understand something of his public and private worries and apprehensions. These constitute an unalluring, though fascinating, side of the Presidency of which the general public gets only an occasional glimpse. For while the office is the most powerful in the world, the paradox of it is that the President is at the same time the most restricted person in the country--restricted as to personal liberty, and the exercise of that degree of selfishness or desire for self-enjoyment, however small, with which every man is by nature endowed.

Few people ever stop to think what a captive of convention and dignity a President really is. The city of Washington is not his accustomed residence; it is, in fact, the home town of few, being simply a house of transients, and in the later years of life intimate friends are not easily made. Unless, therefore, the new President has previously lived amid Washington's migratory population and is acclimated to the city's periodic changes, he finds himself alone in a strange environment, a cold atmosphere, depressing to the new-comer. Even after he has made friends he cannot call upon them casually or

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