The White House Looks South: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Lyndon B. Johnson

Overview

Perhaps not southerners in the usual sense, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, and Lyndon B. Johnson each demonstrated a political style and philosophy that helped them influence the South and unite the country in ways that few other presidents have. Combining vivid biography and political insight, William E. Leuchtenburg offers an engaging account of relations between these three presidents and the South while also tracing how the region came to embrace a national ...

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The White House Looks South: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Lyndon B. Johnson

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Overview

Perhaps not southerners in the usual sense, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, and Lyndon B. Johnson each demonstrated a political style and philosophy that helped them influence the South and unite the country in ways that few other presidents have. Combining vivid biography and political insight, William E. Leuchtenburg offers an engaging account of relations between these three presidents and the South while also tracing how the region came to embrace a national perspective without losing its distinctive sense of place.

According to Leuchtenburg, each man "had one foot below the Mason-Dixon Line, one foot above." Roosevelt, a New Yorker, spent much of the last twenty-five years of his life in Warm Springs, Georgia, where he built a "Little White House." Truman, a Missourian, grew up in a pro-Confederate town but one that also looked West because of its history as the entrepôt for the Oregon Trail. Johnson, who hailed from the former Confederate state of Texas, was a westerner as much as a southerner.

Their intimate associations with the South gave these three presidents an empathy toward and acceptance in the region. In urging southerners to jettison outworn folkways, Roosevelt could speak as a neighbor and adopted son, Truman as a borderstater who had been taught to revere the Lost Cause, and Johnson as a native who had been scorned by Yankees. Leuchtenburg explores in fascinating detail how their unique attachment to "place" helped them to adopt shifting identities, which proved useful in healing rifts between North and South, in altering behavior in regard to race, and in fostering southern economic growth.

The White House Looks South is the monumental work of a master historian. At a time when race, class, and gender dominate historical writing, Leuchtenburg argues that place is no less significant. In a period when America is said to be homogenized, he shows that sectional distinctions persist. And in an era when political history is devalued, he demonstrates that government can profoundly affect people's lives and that presidents can be change-makers.

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Editorial Reviews

Jonathan yardley
The White House Looks South may be old-fashioned in its assumptions and its historiography, but that simply is a useful reminder that old often is best.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
The fraught relationship between liberal Democrats and the South is the central dynamic of 20th-century American politics, and this engrossing study does it full justice. Bancroft and Francis Parkman Award-winning historian Leuchtenberg (Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal) profiles three presidential pillars of the New Deal and Great Society. The Northern patrician Roosevelt's part-time residency in Warm Springs, Ga., endeared him to Southern voters and gave him a vantage point into Southern poverty that influenced his New Deal programs. Truman, though steeped in Missouri's cult of Confederate nostalgia, overcame personal prejudice to champion civil rights initiatives. And Johnson cannily deployed his Southernness to win passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act. Their policies, he observes, carried through the modernization and economic development that brought the South to prosperity and national political prominence--and, ironically, inaugurated its epochal shift into the conservative Republican camp. Writing in a fluent, accessible style, Leuchtenberg draws on period sources to recreate the attitudes and political struggles of these presidencies. His is a judicious assessment of their achievements and failings, but also a tribute--with a dash of New Deal optimism--to the power of government action and political leadership to shape the nation's destiny. (Sept.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

Meet the Author

William E. Leuchtenburg is William Rand Kenan, Jr., Professor Emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the author of more than a dozen books on twentieth-century American history, including The Perils of Prosperity, 1914—1932; The FDR Years: On Roosevelt and His Legacy; In the Shadow of FDR: From Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan; and Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932—1940, winner of the Bancroft and the Francis Parkman Prizes. He is a past president of the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, and the Society of American Historians. A native of New York City, he lives in Chapel Hill, NC.

William E. Leuchtenburg is William Rand Kenan, Jr., Professor Emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the author of more than a dozen books on twentieth-century American history, including The Perils of Prosperity, 1914—1932; The FDR Years: On Roosevelt and His Legacy; In the Shadow of FDR: From Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan; and Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932—1940, winner of the Bancroft and the Francis Parkman Prizes. He is a past president of the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, and the Society of American Historians. A native of New York City, he lives in Chapel Hill, NC.

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 15, 2006

    White House Looks South: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Lyndon B. Johnson

    William E. Leuchtenburg is the preeminent historian of America in the twentieth century. Based on research in 400 manuscript collections, together with 200 oral histories, The White House Looks South ranks with the very best of Leuchtenburg¿s previous works, yet is different from any of them. Through incisive biographies, the book establishes the relationship of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Lyndon Johnson to the South of the early-to-mid-twentieth century. Leuchtenburg argues that politics, together with the influence of individual politicians, remains central to an understanding of the broader sweep of American history, and that place and section are central to an understanding of politics. Certain presidents take the helm of change, altering through governmental action the individual lives of millions. Judging from the remarkable popularity of presidential biography, most Americans seem to comprehend at least some of these points but they have been unfashionable among professional historians for a long generation. The White House Looks South is, in effect, a timely invitation to the historical profession to return to once-established precepts. As if to nail down the point, the book takes as its central theme the three presidents¿ transformation of civil rights from the 1930s through the 1960s. Like all of Leuchtenburg¿s books, The White House Looks South makes wonderful reading. Its pages sparkle with anecdotes as well as pithy (and often astonishingly revealing) quotes. Both a master political analyst and a master storyteller, never has Leuchtenburg produced a work so richly combining both.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2006

    White House Looks South: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Lyndon B. Johnson

    William E. Leuchtenburg is the preeminent historian of America in the twentieth century. Based on research in 400 manuscript collections, together with 200 oral histories, The White House Looks South is both highly original and beautifully written. It ranks with the very best of Leuchtenburg's previous works, yet is different from any other volume that he has written. Through incisive biographies, the book establishes the relationship of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Lyndon Johnson to the South of the early-to-mid-twentieth century. Leuchtenburg argues that politics, together with the influence of individual politicians, remains central to an understanding of the broader sweep of American history, and that place and section are central to an understanding of politics. Certain presidents take the helm of change, altering through governmental action the individual lives of millions. Judging from the remarkable popularity of presidential biography, most Americans seem to understand at least some of these points, but they have been unfashionable among professional historians for a long generation. The White House Looks South is, in effect, a timely invitation to the historical profession to return to once-established precepts. As if to nail down the point, the book takes as its central theme the three presidents' transformation of civil rights from the 1930s through the 1960s. Like all of Leuchtenburg's books, The White House Looks South makes splendid reading. Its pages sparkle with anecdotes as well as pithy (and often astonishingly revealing) quotes. Both a master political analyst and a master storyteller, never has Leuchtenburg produced a work so richly combining both.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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