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TheCanadian Review Of American Studies, Volume 11, No. 2, Fall 1980 LesserPresidents RalphAdams Brown. The Presidency of John Adams. Lawrence:The University Press of Kansas, 1975. 248+x PP· ElbertB. Smith. The Presidency of James Buchanan. Lawrence:The University Press of Kansas, 1975. 225+ xiiipp. PaoloE. Coletta. The Presidency of William Howard Taft. Lawrence:The University Press of Kansas, 1973. J06+ix pp. EugeneP. Trani and David L. Wilson. The Presidency ot WarrenG. Harding. Lawrence: The Regents Press of Kansas,1977. 232 + ix pp. ElmoRichardson. The Presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower. Lawrence: The Regents Press of Kansas, 1979. 218 + x pp. James Tagg Anyonefamiliar with secondary school education in the United States is awarethat the natural periodicity of American history is either four or eight years, directlycorresponding to presidential terms of office.Popular mythology hasmolded the man and the institution into the definition of American historyitself and into the emblem of collective American character. One student of the office confesses that "the presidency appears all the more imposingbecause it is the center of our expectations," while another rhapsodizesabout how the presidency is "a whole greater than and different fromthe sum of its parts, an office whose power and prestige are something morethan the arithmetical total of all its functions." 1 Consideringthis broad shadow cast by presidents and the presidency and thereal and symbolic powers of the office, no one should be surprised at the surfeitof literature on the subject. 2 Some is trivial and defies categorization. Butmuch of it is significant literature the authors of which can be divided intoone of three broad classes. First, there are the institutional analyists. These students ponder the structure, function, constitutional dimensions andlimitations of power and responsibility found inherent in the office, and proceedto recommend either filial veneration of the presidency or reform andrepair.3 A second kind of writers are the traditional historical biographers. Avoidingthe abstract and vague inclinations of the institutionalists, they 212 lames Tagg tend to present each president as a unique creature. 4 Finally, there arethe president-raters, a sporting group occupying the middle ground betweenthe historical biographers and abstractionists, who attempt to discover through uncomplicated tests which presidents have succeeded or failed in the office, One of these has gone so far as to produce forty-three elements in the make-up of presidential effectiveness, while another seriously includes "bounce~ or "extra elasticity" as a recommended quality for presidents. 5 The presidency eludes political scientists, therefore, because they view the office devoid of its occupants in static, ahistorical terms. Biographers often fail because the presidency is seen solely through the eyes of their subjects, and as only a slice of the life of their subjects. Historians combat the uniqueness of time and events, generally finding themselves unableto resolve the problem of comparison. And president-raters commit a multitude of reductionist sins. It is almost axiomatic that the various perceptions ofthe presidency-the all-embracing emblematic presidency, the compartmentalized and abstracted presidency, and the personalized biographic presidency-should leave Americans and foreign observers alike confused about the institution, the presidents themselves and the historical relationslhp between the two. A relatively new history series, the "American Presidency Series," published by the Regents Press of Kansas under the general editorship of DonaldR. McCoy, Clifford S. Griffin and Homer E. Socolofsky, brings with it the potential to remedy some of these dilemmas. According to the editors, these individual studies are to emerge as "interpretive surveys" directed at general readers and historians alike, covering the "broad ground between biographies, specialized monographs, and journalistic accounts." Synthetic in approach and in the source materials employed, the purpose of these works is to "recount and evaluate" each administration, while identifying its "distinctiveness and relationship to the past, its own time, and the future.1 1a What this series has accomplished thus far is somewhat more modest. Ina relatively standard format, readers are introduced to the president uponhis entering office and to the times in general. These spare chapters are followed by a survey of Cabinet appointments and execuiive administrative policies, more detailed accounts of the leading domestic issues or battlesof the time, and a generally pedestrian account of the president and foreign affairs. Each author attempts to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 211-222
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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