Every four years Americans embark on the ultimate carnival, the Super Bowl of democracy: a presidential election campaign filled with endless speeches, debates, handshakes, and passion. But what about the candidates themselves? In Fit for the Presidency? Seymour Morris Jr. applies an executive recruiter’s approach to fifteen presidential prospects from 1789 to 1980, analyzing their résumés and references to determine their fitness for the job. Were they qualified? How real were their actual accomplishments? Could they be trusted, or were their campaign promises unrealistic? The result is a fresh and original look at a host of contenders from George Washington to William McAdoo, from DeWitt Clinton to Ronald Reagan. Gone is the fluff of presidential campaigns, replaced by broad perspective and new insights on candidates seeking the nation’s highest office.
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About the Author
Seymour Morris Jr. is a former political pollster, head of corporate communications, and international entrepreneur. He is the author of American History Revised: 200 Facts That Never Made It into the Textbooks and Supreme Commander: MacArthur’s Triumph in Japan.
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Fit for the Presidency?
Winners, Losers, What-Ifs, and Also-Rans
By Seymour Morris Jr.
UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESSCopyright © 2017 Seymour Morris Jr.
All rights reserved.
George Washington, 1789
Here is a job description for the newly created position of chief executive of the United States.
President of the United States
Establish strong central government to overcome the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation.
Description of Organization
The United States is a small, newly formed country located on the eastern seaboard of a large, unexplored continent. The country consists of a loose confederation of thirteen states (two of which have failed to qualify for voting in this election). It is surrounded by enemies in the north and the west and could be invaded at any moment in the east by a major European power. The population is three million. The economy is in a shambles, and the government treasury is virtually bankrupt. There is no assurance the country will survive.
Specific Job Functions
Uphold and protect the Constitution of the United States.
Ensure that the laws are faithfully followed.
Review laws passed by Congress and veto if desired (subject to congressional override).
Nominate ambassadors, judges of the Supreme Court, cabinet members, and other senior officials (subject to approval by the Senate).
Make treaties (subject to two-thirds approval by the Senate).
Deliver, from time to time, a State of the Union address to Congress.
Convene Congress on extraordinary occasions.
Serve as commander-in-chief of the military.
Candidate shall serve at the pleasure of the American voters.
Candidate shall respect the prerogatives of the legislature and the judiciary.
Candidate may be impeached and removed from office by vote of Congress for "high crimes and misdemeanors."
Four years, with possibility of additional terms (subject to a national election).
Candidate must be at least thirty-five years old.
Candidate must be a U.S.-born citizen and have resided in the United States for fourteen years.
There are no requirements related to education level, prior accomplishments, or prior experience.
Although not mentioned in Section 2 of the Constitution, the annual salary is $25,000, and housing will be provided in suitable quarters in New York City, along with servants, an elegant carriage, and a stable of horses and a liveryman. A small stipend for personal expenses will be provided, though it is expected that the president himself will pay for the expenses of hiring staff and entertaining dignitaries.
The process of electing our first president began on January 7, when sixty-nine electors were chosen by 38,818 people casting votes out of a population of approximately three million. Ten out of thirteen states are represented in this historic vote: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia. New York missed out because the state legislature failed to appoint its electors in time, and North Carolina and Rhode Island because they had not yet ratified the Constitution and therefore were not eligible.
Eleven candidates have been nominated for this new position:
John Adams of Massachusetts, the former minister to Great Britain
James Armstrong of Georgia
George Clinton, the governor of New York
John Hancock, the governor of Massachusetts and a former president of the United States in Congress Assembled under the Articles of Confederation
Robert Harrison of Maryland
Samuel Huntington, the governor of Connecticut and the first president under the Articles of Confederation
Benjamin Lincoln, the lieutenant governor of Massachusetts
John Milton, the secretary of state of Georgia
John Rutledge, the former governor of South Carolina
Edward Telfair, the former governor of Georgia
George Washington, the recent president of the Constitutional Convention and retired commander in chief of the Continental Army
On February 4 the sixty-nine electors will vote for two of these nominees. The man with the highest number of votes becomes president; the man with the second-highest becomes vice president.
6-foot-2, 210 pounds Home address:
Excellent health Mount Vernon
Age: fifty-seven Arlington, Virginia
"To extricate my country from the embarrassments in which it is entangled, through want of credit; and to establish a general system of policy which if pursued will insure permanent felicity to the Commonwealth. I think I see a path as clear and as direct as a ray of light, which leads to the attainment of that object. Nothing but harmony, honesty, industry and frugality are necessary to make us a great and happy people."
Summary of Qualifications
Over forty years of political, military, and business experience in positions of increasing leadership.
Constitutional Convention, 1787
Represented Virginia as a delegate. By unanimous vote elected president of the Convention. Supervised proceedings and mediated disputes to ensure a sensible compromise document for a national Constitution to replace the Articles of Confederation. Document ratified by eleven of thirteen states, 1788.
Continental Army, 1775–1783
Commander in chief. Assumed command of undisciplined, untrained militia in struggle against well-trained British troops and Hessian mercenaries. Won initial engagements and forced the British to leave Boston, but lost New York. Using daring and bold tactics, crossed the Delaware River on Christmas Day 1776 and defeated superior British forces at Trenton and Princeton. Lost battles at Brandywine and Germantown, summer 1777. Spent winter of 1777–78 at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, where, despite deplorable conditions, managed to maintain morale and avoid any mutinies or mass desertions. Emerged from Valley Forge with a revitalized army and the confidence of France that the American forces could win; French military support forthcoming. Waged an extensive war of attrition over 1,500 miles of territory stretching from the Carolinas to upper New York State. In 1781 defeated Gen. Charles Cornwallis at Yorktown and secured the surrender of British forces. Moved army headquarters to Newburgh, New York, and led effort to rout the British from their remaining strongholds in Savannah, Charleston, Wilmington, and New York. Successfully negotiated with army officers and quelled pending rebellion of soldiers over unpaid back pay. Retired in November 1783, two months after the signing of a peace treaty with Great Britain.
Business and Previous Experience
Self-employed, 1783–present, 1752–1775
1. Planter. Took over family plantation and diversified farming activities beyond tobacco to include wheat, oats, corn, alfalfa, and peaches. Developed a dairy, a whiskey mill, three flour mills, and a herring fishery. Unlike most plantation owners, who lost money, succeeded in running Mount Vernon on a break-even basis.
2. Landowner and investor. Acquired and managed almost forty thousand acres of property in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. Cofounder and managing partner of several land development companies, all successful and profitable.
Continental Congress, 1774–1775
Delegate from Virginia to the First and Second Continental Congresses in Philadelphia. By unanimous vote elected general and commander in chief of newly authorized Continental Army.
House of Burgesses, Colony of Virginia, 1759–1774
Representative. Gained firsthand experience in legislative government and political affairs.
Militia, Colony of Virginia, 1752–1758
Colonel. Enrolled as a major at age twenty and joined the British in the French and Indian Wars. Promoted to lieutenant colonel, 1754. Forced to surrender Fort Necessity to the French. Engaged the French again in losing campaign of Gen. Edward Braddock, 1755. Awarded $1,500 by the House of Burgesses for gallant services at the Battle of Monongahela. Promoted to colonel and regimental commander responsible for frontier defenses. Resigned from the militia after election to the House of Burgesses.
Culpepper County, Colony of Virginia, 1748–1752
Surveyor. Carried out surveys of land in northern Virginia. Saved $20,000 from earnings over five years and used money to purchase 1,400 acres.
Born February 16, 1732. Educated at home by private tutors. Started working at age sixteen as a surveyor. Married, one stepchild, two step-grandchildren. Favorite hobbies are dancing, billiards, playing cards, fishing, fox hunting, and theater. Avid reader. President-general of the Society of the Cincinnati, an association of retired army officers. Honorary chancellor, The College of William and Mary. Only man in America awarded honorary degrees from both Harvard and Yale.
Assessment of Qualifications
The candidate for our nation's first president has the appearance and demeanor of a leader. At 6-foot-2 and powerfully built, he towers over people (especially when he stands next to his diminutive 5-foot-tall wife). He is always impeccably well-dressed and has a flair for the dramatic, with his saber, silk sash, and high boots. He is wealthy, sociable, well-liked, and renowned for his lavish dinner parties at Mount Vernon. He is widely respected as a man of upstanding character.
When the electors cast their votes next month, it is widely expected that Washington will emerge as the winner. Everything about this man — his charm, his achievements, his wealth — connotes success. He is respected to an extraordinary degree, almost to the point of adulation; some people go so far as to say he deserves to be king. Says one, "I shall not call it a Miracle if George Washington is seen living in Philadelphia as Emperor of America in a few years."
There is not a man in America who can match his stature. He has been unanimously chosen by his peers for the two highest positions in America (even more powerful than the presidency under the Articles of Confederation): commander in chief of the Continental Army and president of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. This newly created position, president of the United States, will be the most powerful position of all.
What Should We Look for in a President?
Last year's March 5 issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette carried an essay titled "To the PEOPLE of AMERICA" by a political writer who goes by the name of "Modestus." Modestus suggests six criteria we should look for in our first president:
1. Has no son "to obtain the succession."
2. Has "already rejected the alluring temptations" of "ambition and opportunity."
3. Has evidenced no "vindictive spirit."
4. Will not abuse his position for the benefit of his friends.
5. Is not a man of extreme wealth nor in love with "ostentatious living."
6. Has "a candid generous temper" and "an observing and reflecting turn of mind."
It is interesting to note that none of these criteria has anything to do with accomplishments or job skills. The emphasis is solely on personality and character, answering the question: Is this a man who can be trusted with power?
In the March 26, 1788, issue of the Massachusetts Centinel there appeared another article on presidential criteria, again focusing on personality and character:
There is a man, in the United States, who must present himself to the consideration of every freeman thereof, as a candidate for the important station of PRESIDENT of the UNITED STATES. He is known: As disinterested — and therefore it is certain that he will not fleece us.
As having voluntarily laid down his former power — and therefore that he will not abuse those he may receive hereafter. As having no son — and therefore not exposing to the danger of a hereditary successor. As being of a most amiable temper — and therefore that he will not be vindictive or persecuting. His character, in short, is a tissue of virtues, and as there are some of our countrymen who doubt the safety of the proposed government, it is happy for us that we have such an approved and faithful citizen to employ in the experiment.
It doesn't take a genius to discern that the writer is referring to George Washington, a man with no sons and who voluntarily gave up his power as general of the army.
The candidate has had illustrious careers as a businessman, a general, and a patriot. In all three he has demonstrated a high degree of vision and rectitude.
Career in Business
While he is best known for his military exploits, Washington has spent the vast bulk of his career in business (thirty years out of forty-one). It therefore behooves us to examine this in detail.
At the early age of sixteen he chose to become a surveyor so he could get first crack at identifying and buying good land. He saved all his wages in order to invest in property; by the time he was twenty-one he had accumulated over 1,400 acres in the lower Shenandoah Valley. Over the next six years he acquired several thousand more acres through marriage and inheritance. (He married one of the richest women in Virginia, and he inherited Mount Vernon and various other properties upon the death of his late half-brother's widow.)
Managing all these properties has been an enormous responsibility. Washington divided Mount Vernon into five farms, each a separate profit center with its own manager, responsible for giving the owner minutely detailed weekly progress reports. Seeing how tobacco exhausted the soil, he became the first Virginia planter to practice crop rotation. Diversifying into wheat, he soon generated record yields of grain. Then, when the wheat trade declined, he started a flour mill to convert his wheat crops into flour; within three years he became the largest flour producer in the colonies. His "Class A" flour was of such good quality that the bags passed through Caribbean ports without inspection when marked "George Washington, Mount Vernon." No other planter in the colonies enjoys such a reputation for the quality of his products.
Further innovations include breeding superior working mules, devising a new plow, and starting a tannery, a weaving loom, and a candle factory. Always on the lookout for new methods and inventions, he was the first planter to use Oliver Evans's milling separator to turn wheat into flour, increasing his flour output tenfold.
This man is always coming up with new ideas. Asked where he got this trait, he points to his life in the wilderness. Coming from a comfortable life growing up on Virginia plantations and then suddenly having to go into the Blue Ridge Mountains, where few men had ventured before, he had to learn to rough it to stay alive. There is a big difference between living on a plantation and having to survive in the woods on your own wits, especially when you're fighting Indians. He learned to handle hardship and to think quickly and think ahead.
As is to be expected of a surveyor, he pays close attention to detail. He runs his plantation the way he measured land: every transaction and crop yield is recorded. Ask him a question about the profitability of wheat on the third farm last summer, or the price of flour in Jamaica in March 1784, or the optimum allocation of resources to devote to his new candle business, and he can quickly look it up and tell you the answer (if he doesn't already have it in his head).
It appears that Washington has a difficult time keeping Mount Vernon afloat. It has poor soil, so no matter how much he cuts operating costs or rotates crops, his plantation barely makes money. To generate additional income, he has resumed his original avocation in his spare time: pursuing land investments. Using his vast knowledge of frontier lands, he has put together investment syndicates to acquire substantial property tracts with little money of his own up front. In all these ventures he insists on being personally involved in evaluating the property, designating subdivision rights, and collecting the rental income. Not a single one of his land deals has failed — a tribute to his vision and hard work.
Performance as General of the Continental Army
As a general his record is mixed. His won-lost record before Yorktown was 2-5-1: he won Trenton and Princeton; lost Long Island, Fort Washington, White Plains, Brandywine, and Germantown; and fought to a draw at Monmouth.
At Yorktown the British general Lord Charles Cornwallis had foolishly assembled his troops on a peninsula at a time when he had no backup from the British naval fleet, as most of the ships were in New York shipyards being repaired. When a French armada suddenly appeared on the scene, Washington saw his opportunity and quickly moved in. Cornwallis had no escape. It was a miracle that stunned the world. (When Cornwallis surrendered, the British Army played the song "The World Turned Upside Down.")
Washington is modest in attributing his last-minute success mostly to luck — or, as he gracefully puts it, "the invisible workings of Providence." The war was won, he says, "by a concatenation of causes" never occurring before and "which in all probability at no time, or any Circumstance, will combine again." Pressed further, he points to the perseverance of his officers and soldiers, who made great sacrifices. Fair enough, but what about the determination, cunning, adaptability, and perseverance of the man at the top? Washington was the only general who could have won this war. To his credit he is very low-key about it.
Excerpted from Fit for the Presidency? by Seymour Morris Jr.. Copyright © 2017 Seymour Morris Jr.. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESS.
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Table of Contents
Preface Introduction: What Our Founding Fathers Looked for in a Potential President 1. George Washington, 1789 2. DeWitt Clinton, 1812 3. William Henry Harrison, 1840 4. Abraham Lincoln, 1860 5. Jefferson Davis, 1861 6. Samuel J. Tilden, 1876 7. William Randolph Hearst, 1904 8. William Gibbs McAdoo, 1920 9. Herbert Hoover, 1928 10. Wendell Willkie, 1940 11. George C. Marshall, 1944 12. Henry A. Wallace, 1948 13. Barry Goldwater, 1964 14. Robert F. Kennedy, 1968 15. Ronald Reagan, 1980 Conclusion: Appraising the Candidates Notes Bibliography Illustration Credits