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The American Presidency: An Intellectual History / Edition 1

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Overview

Jefferson Lecturer and Pulitzer Prize finalist Forrest McDonald is widely recognized as one of our most respected and challenging historians of the Constitution. He has been called brilliant, provocative, controversial, passionate, pugnacious, and crafty in intellectual combat. Whatever the label, he remains unsurpassed as a commentator on the American founding.

Novus Ordo Seclorum, his best-known work, was hailed as "magisterial," "a tour-de-force," "the American history book of the decade," "the best single book on the origins of the U.S. Constitution," and was featured on Bill Moyers's highly praised PBS series In Search of the Constitution. McDonald now applies his considerable talents to a study of another venerable institution-the American presidency.

Writing at the height of his powers as an intellectual historian, McDonald explores how and why the presidency has evolved into such a complex and powerful institution, unlike any other in the world. Scores of republics have come into existence during the last two centuries and many have adopted constitutions similar to our own. But, as McDonald persuasively shows, the American presidency is unique-no other nation has a leadership position that combines the seemingly incongruous roles of ceremonial head of state and chief executive magistrate.

Lacking an acceptable role model, McDonald explains, the founding fathers constructed their idea of the presidency from sources as diverse as the Bible, Machiavelli, John Locke, the Ancient Greeks and Romans, the laws of England, and the early colonial and state government experiences. So many influences, he suggests, guaranteed a substantial degree of persistent ambiguity and contradiction in the office.

McDonald chronicles the presidency's creation, implementation, and evolution and explains why it's still working today despite its many perceived afflictions. Along the way, he provides trenchant commentary upon the Constitutional Convention, ratification debates, presidencies of Washington and Jefferson, presidential administration and leadership, presidential-congressional conflicts, the president as chief architect of foreign policy, and the president as myth and symbol. He also analyzes the enormous gap between what we've come to expect of presidents and what they can reasonably hope to accomplish.

Ambitious, comprehensive, and engaging, this is the best single-volume study of an institution that has become troubled and somewhat troublesome yet, in McDonald's words, "has been responsible for less harm and more good than perhaps any other secular institution in history." It will make a fine and necessary companion for understanding the presidency as it moves into its third century.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review
Forrest McDonald makes history breathe.
Library Journal
The 55-month commemoration (1987-91) of the U.S. Constitution and a conference on the White House ( The White House, LJ 12/93) have focused academic attention on the chief executive. The attention is justified, for the office is a nearly unique creation. The central issue explored here is whether our system of checks and balances permits strong leaders or reduces them to presidential pygmies. McDonald strains to emphasize that his history concerns evolving perceptions of the presidency rather than an evaluation of those perceptions. Though he concludes that the office ``has been responsible for less harm and more good, in the nation and the world, than perhaps any other secular institution in history,'' his conservative critique sees a decline in its occupants. This very readable is recommended for informed lay readers, historians, and political scientists.-- William D. Pederson, Louisiana State Univ., Shreveport
Booknews
McDonald (history, U. of Alabama) explores how and why the presidency has evolved into such a complex and powerful institution, unlike any other in the world. He chronicles the presidency's creation, implementation, and evolution, and explains why it's still working today despite its many perceived afflictions. He also analyzes the gap between what Americans expect of presidents and what they can reasonably hope to accomplish. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780700607495
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas
  • Publication date: 10/28/1995
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 524
  • Sales rank: 598,166
  • Product dimensions: 6.02 (w) x 9.26 (h) x 1.09 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface

1. Introduction

Part One: Roots

2. The Great Legal Commentators

3. Political Philosophers

4. The Lessons of History

5. The Colonial Experience

6. The Revolutionary Experience, 1776-1787

Part Two: Establishment

7. The Convention

8. Ratification

9. The Washington Administration

10. The Jeffersonians

Part Three: Evolution

11. The President and the Law

12. President and Administration

13. President and Congress: Legislation

14. President and Congress: Foreign Affairs

15. Images and Elections, Myths and Symbols

16. Afterthoughts

Index

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