Essays on the Presidents
Principles and Politics
Publication Year: 2013
Since he first began writing in the 1950s, Dr. Paul F. Boller Jr. has had a passion for sharing the humorous, intriguing, and little-known or widely misunderstood aspects of the American presidency. Boller has authored many beloved books on American presidents, the first ladies, presidential anecdotes, quotes, campaign strategies, and common myths.
This wide variety of topics has been collected for the first time in Essays on the Presidents, along with new essays and forewords. Boller's prose, distinct and inviting, causes the reader to see what is often overlooked in the history of American presidents: their humanity. Boller has searched for those patriotic narratives we have all heard at some point in our lives—whether from our schoolteachers, coworkers, or various trivia books—and corrects the misconceptions many Americans deem as truth in a lighthearted and truly characteristic voice. From Washington's relationship with the Jews to the electioneering and stump-speaking associated with American presidential campaigns, readers will not only see the significant changes in the presidential office since its conception, but also Boller’s lifetime of research and his expertise in the field of American history. Personality—of the most interesting presidents and of Boller himself—is an important theme throughout this collection.
Published by: TCU Press
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During my academic career as a specialist in american studies, i have given lectures and written essays and reviews, as well as books, and i’m presenting twenty-six of them together here, with forewords to each putting them in context. Many of them no doubt reflect the times in which they were written as well as my think-ing about various features of american life and thought. i trust, though, that they also reveal some growth on my part through the years, both in ...
Chapter 1 The First American Presidency, 1789–1829
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What kind of president did the founding fathers want when they produced the us constitution in 1787 and submitted it to the states for ratification? they certainly hoped for a high-ly moral chief executive who set a good model for the american people he governed, though they didn’t mention it in the document they prepared. the first president, remarked Benjamin Franklin, will be a good one—he was thinking of George Washington as the choice—but ...
Chapter 2 The Log Cabin Myth about American Presidents
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There haven’t been log cabin presidents for decades. Presidential campaigns cost millions of dollars these days, and candidates must collect a lot of it themselves if they’re going to win nomina-tions in the primaries and elections in the presidential contest.campaigns are more costly in 2011 than they were in 1984, when Edward Pessen published his book pointing out that few american presidents started out life in log cabins. Even a nice little home and ...
Chapter 3 Pennsylvania: The Avenue of the Presidents
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When sheldon Meyer, the wonderful senior editor at the oxford university Press, decided to retire, William E. leuchtenburg, one of the american historians with whom he had worked, ar-ranged for the publication of a book in his honor containing essays by various historians whom Meyer had guided through editing and publi-cation at oxford. the book was entitled American Places: Encounters with History, with each essay centered on some place in the united ...
Chapter 4 The Story of Presidential Campaigns: From Electioneering to Taking to the Stump
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Times change. Everything human has a history. the idea that for many years it was considered indecent for a candidate for the presidency to go out making speeches about his policies seems incredible today. But the rule at the birth of the american republic was that the man doesn’t seek the office, but the office seeks the man. in 1789, George Washington didn’t seek the presidency, but the Electoral college, established by the us constitution, gave all its votes ...
Chapter 5 No Need to Salute the Troops, Sir
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There are more reasons than my Star-Telegram column (1982) cited for presidents to refrain from behaving like military men. they didn’t rise from the ranks to their status as commanders in chief; they are not in uniform; and by putting themselves on the same level with military professionals, they lose the status the founding fa-thers assigned them as civilians, elected by the people, with superior power over the military. Presidents like John F. kennedy and Gerald r. ...
Chapter 6 To Bigotry No Sanction
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In a collection of essays entitled Character Counts, os Guiness put together a book about four men of character whom he admired: George Washington, William Wilberforce, abraham lincoln, and aleksandr i. solzhenitsyn. there were two essays for each of the men, written by various specialists. since i had published a book on George Washington and Religion (1962), he asked me to do one of the two essays for the first president. i centered my essay on Washington’s firm ...
Chater 7 The Campaign of 1852: A Civilian Beats a General
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During the 1952 presidential campaign, when General dwight d. Eisenhower ran for president against adlai stevenson, harry truman, the outgoing president, pointed out that a century ear-lier, in 1852, a military man, General Winfield scott, ran for president against Franklin Pierce and was badly defeated. truman’s remark led me to do some research on the 1852 campaign, and i ended up writing an article on “old Fuss & Feathers” (scott) and “the Fainting General” ...
Chapter 8 Professional Soldiers in the White House
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In 1952, when dwight d. Eisenhower, one of our leading generals during World War ii, ran for president as a republican against ad-lai stevenson, the democratic nominee, there was some discussion about whether a professional soldier could be a satisfactory president of a democratic country. years before, when the candidates were profes-sionals—Zachary taylor (1848) and ulysses Grant (1868)—much was made of the military issue, though it didn’t prevent them from winning ...
Chapter 9 Religion in American Presidential Campaigns
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In 1992, soon after the republicans, meeting in houston, nominated George h. W. Bush for a second term, the president spoke to a con-vention of evangelical leaders in dallas, texas. in his talk President Bush said much about God, country, and prayer in the public schools. and then he added: “i note that the other party took words to put to-gether their platform and left out three simple letters: G.o.d.”For a day or so it looked as if religion was going to be one of the ...
Chapter 10 George Washington and Civil Supremacy
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The article on “Professional soldiers in the White house,” pub-lished in 1954, led me to look into George Washington’s devotion to the principle of civil supremacy over the military during the american revolution and afterwards. i learned that, during the revolu-tionary War, no matter how sloppy and irritating the continental con-gress could be at times, Washington always looked with respect to it as his superior. he set a fine example for his successors. in the twenty-first ...
Chapter 11 George Washington and the Quakers
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While doing some research on George Washington’s religious views, i spent some time examining the relations between soldier Washington and the pacifist Quakers in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. during the american revolution, i learned, Washington respected the Quakers’ right of conscience, but he was disturbed by their opposition to the struggle for independence and at times thought they wanted the British to win the war. after the war, however, he was ...
Chater 12 John Adams’s Marginal Comments
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...nullohn adams, the second president of the united states, was forever writing: letters, speeches, articles, and books, and he was certain-ly a stimulating writer. the multiplicity of nouns and adjectives that he piled up in his sentences, when he felt strongly about things, are a delight to read (and count). “in congress,” he once complained, “nibbling and quibbling—as usual. there is no greater Mortification than to sit with half a dozen Witts, deliberating upon a Petition, ad-...
Chapter 13 Jefferson’s Dreams for the Future
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I know a lot more about thomas Jefferson today than i did when i wrote this article about him, and though i’m still impressed with his thinking and writing, i’m disappointed that his dislike of slavery was more in the abstract than deeply felt. he was in debt much of the time, to be sure, but couldn’t he have saved money, as George Washing-thomas Jefferson once admitted to John adams that he liked “the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.” “your taste is ...
Chapter 14 Thomas Jefferson and Tom Paine: Aristocrat and Democrat
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Thomas Jefferson, according to richard hofstadter, was “the aris-tocrat as democrat,” while tom Paine was the “democrat as democrat.” the two shared democratic values but came from quite different backgrounds and behaved quite differently. they liked each other but simply didn’t move in the same circles. John adams disagreed with Jefferson on many issues, but held him in real respect, and he loathed Paine. For adams, Paine was “a mongrel between pig and ...
Chapter 15 The Madisons: James and Dolley
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Virginia Moore’s biography of James and dolley would have been unusual—even impossible—in the old days. With most biogra-phers, the presidents’ wives were given short shrift. there were a few books devoted to the wives themselves, but the conventional books about the presidents contained only a page of two about their wives.Moore’s “dual biography” showed how important James and dolley were for each other. during the War of 1812, James went off to the ...
Chapter 16 The Gifted Abraham Lincoln
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Abraham lincoln was the only president of the united states who was both a humorist and a literary artist. his amusing stories not only entertained people, they also enabled him to make seri-ous points about his policies that impressed his associates. he possessed a melancholy streak that was exacerbated by the cruel crises he faced during the civil War. But a pun, a joke, a hilarious story usually made lincoln was utterly without malice in his relations with other peo-...
Chapter 17 Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression
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...nullerbert hoover never appealed much to me. With his Quaker background, it is true, he was reluctant to get into foreign wars; he preferred diplomacy. he was the first president, moreover, who took measures to cope with the deep depression that followed the crash of 1929. Previous presidents—Martin Van Buren (Panic of 1837), James Buchanan (Panic of 1857), ulysses Grant (Panic of 1873), and Grover cleveland (Panic of 1893)—carefully refrained from taking any ...
Chapter 18 Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal
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In his lively study of the “new deal” programs that Franklin roos-evelt devised, with the help of congress, to combat the Great de-pression, historian arthur schlesinger Jr. refers to the comment that the ninety-two-year-old supreme court justice oliver Wendell holmes Jr. is said to have made about the new president in 1933: he was a there is some doubt that Justice holmes actually said that about Fdr. he only met Fdr once, shortly after the inauguration, and it is ...
Chapter 19 Harry Truman in the White House
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There were things i liked about President truman: his down-to-earth frankness and his “Fair deal” liberalism. i applauded his firing of General douglas Macarthur for defying him, his civilian commander; his support of the Marshall Plan for helping the Western European countries out of the economic mess World War ii had left them in; and his desegregation of the armed Forces. But i was shocked and disappointed when he sent american troops to korea, where a civil ...
Chapter 20 The Eisenhower Diaries
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In both 1952 and 1956, i voted for adlai stevenson, the democratic candidate for president for whom i had much admiration, but i did not despair because dwight d. Eisenhower, the republican candi-date, won the election both times. he was friendly and likable and fa-mous for the important part he played as an army general during World War ii. Poor stevenson hardly had a chance to beat him when running President Eisenhower gave us eight years of peace, and he refrained ...
Chapter 21 The Diversions of Lyndon B. Johnson
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Whether you like him or not, i’ve often said, lyndon B. Johnson was one of the most interesting presidents we’ve ever had. he could be a dignified gentleman, a crude guy, a friendly fellow and a sadistic person, a big talker but a good absorber, too, a worka-holic but also a hilarious fun-maker, and, above all, a hard-working political leader who would fight as hard as he had to in order to get legislation passed that he thought would make the united states a better ...
Chapter 22 Bush-Speak
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In the grand old days, the idea of teasing a president was unthink-able. criticize, yes, making fun of him, no. George Washington re-ceived plenty of criticism from people who opposed his policies, but it never occurred to them to make fun of the way he walked, talked, and dressed. the same with thomas Jefferson. teasing some presi-dents—andrew Jackson, for one—might have proved dangerous. teas-ing abraham lincoln might have worked, but brickbats were better. ...
Chapter 23 Presidential Wives: The Quest for Identity
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The history of the status of the presidents’ wives in the White house is fascinating, and i prepared a lecture on the subject based on the information i gathered when working on Presiden-tial Wives (1988). some wives, like Eleanor roosevelt, were concerned about their “identity” in the White house, and other wives took it in their stride. there were “invisible wives,” i found, but also hostesses, fashion leaders, partners, and finally activists like Mrs. roosevelt who ...
Chapter 24 The American Presidents and Shakespeare
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...nulln april 23, 1932, shakespeare-lovers from around the country flocked up to Washington, dc, to attend the dedication of the handsome new Folger shakespeare library, with President her-bert hoover and the First lady lou henry hoover sitting on a platform watching the ceremony. the main speaker was John Quincy adams Jr., a descendant of Presidents John and John Quincy adams who taught English literature at cornell university and adored William shake-...
Chapter 25 The Inauguration of Barack Obama
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...nully book, Presidential Inaugurations, published in 2001, cov-ered all the inaugural ceremonies from George Washington to George W. Bush, and in a chapter entitled “2001—into the twenty-First century” called attention to Bush’s clumsy dancing at the inaugural balls held in his honor. “i confess i’m not the world’s greatest dancer,” admitted President Bush, “but you’re going to have to suffer Barack obama was Bush’s successor in the White house. since he ...
Chapter 26 They Really Said It: Quotes from the Presidents and Their Wives
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...nulluotations have long fascinated me, some for their beauty, others for their insights, and still others for their humor. in 1967, a book of mine on the various uses of quotations—Quote-manship: The Use and Abuse of Quotations for Polemical and Other Purposes—was published and attracted a lot of attention. years later, my friend John George, a specialist in political science, and i came up with a book about quotations that we called They Never Said It (1989), ...
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Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2013