The American Presidency: An Intellectual History / Edition 1

Paperback (Print)
Buy New
Buy New from
Buy Used
Buy Used from
(Save 37%)
Item is in good condition but packaging may have signs of shelf wear/aging or torn packaging.
Condition: Used – Good details
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $1.99
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 88%)
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (23) from $1.99   
  • New (6) from $9.42   
  • Used (17) from $1.99   


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.

Read More Show Less

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
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 (
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780700607495
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas
  • Publication date: 2/28/1994
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 524
  • Sales rank: 839,777
  • Product dimensions: 6.02 (w) x 9.26 (h) x 1.09 (d)

Table of Contents


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


Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)