Our July 4th Celebration of Independence is approaching. Anticipating that, I thought I would blog a bit on American history and American presidents over the next 2 weeks.
You may remember me mentioning I am slowly working my way through the total collection of American presidents (as is Brian Newman). With President Trump, we are on our 44th president. Actually, President Trump is our 45th president, but Grover Cleveland is counted twice as our 22nd and 24th presidents, since he served non-consecutive terms.
The American Presidents series is a series of short, summary volumes, each written by a historian who specializes in the president they are writing about. The general editor of the series is Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., one of the premier political historians of modern times. (Check out the series here.)
Each volume has the same preface written by Schlesinger about the presidency. Below are several statements I found interesting and I think you will, too. Except for the one indented paragraph, everything is quoted from the prefaces.
Presidents serve as inspiration, and they also serve us as warnings. They provide bad examples as well as good. The Supreme Court has said, “The nation has no right to expect that it will always have wise and humane rulers, sincerely attached to the principles of the Constitution. Wicked men, ambitious of power, with hatred of liberty and contempt of law, may fill the place once occupied by Washington and Lincoln.”
Great presidents possess, or are possessed by, a vision of an ideal America.
Great presidents also have a deep psychic connection with the needs, anxieties, dreams of people.
The men (at some point they will have to reword this to say men and women) in the White House express the ideal and the values, the frailties and the flaws of the voters who send them there… The French political philosopher Joseph de Maistre said, “Every nation has the government it deserves.”
MY NOTE: If that is true, the French people must have been very bad. In Transforming Leadership by James MacGregor Burns, he says, “For two centuries they have been conducting a series of experiments in moral and practical – and sometimes lethal – leadership and rulership.” The French have had 14 different changes of governmental system in those 200 years.
Biographies of American presidents constitute a chronicle of wisdom and folly, nobility and pettiness, courage and cunning, forthrightness and deceit, quarrel and consensus. The turmoil perennially swirling around the White House illuminates the heart of the American presidency.
Until I began this reading program I didn’t know how much I didn’t know about our nation, our Constitution, our political system, and the deep, divisive, polarizing political ideologies of our nation. That we have basically endured and flourished as a nation is a testimony to the brilliance of our founding parents as they designed a form of government the world had never seen.
May we be grateful.
May we be about our civic duty.
May we be the protectors of the hard-earned liberty that has been passed on to us.
P.S. The one president from Pennsylvania turned out to be the WORST president of our nation. Drum roll please… James Buchanan.
Read more about him here. Or maybe better, don’t read about him.