The American Presidency: An Intellectual History

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In this work, McDonald explores how and why the presidency has evolved into such a complex and powerful institution, unlike any other in the world. Scores of republics have come into existence during the last two centuries and many have adopted constitutions similar to the USA's. But, McDonald argues, the American presidency is unique - no other nation has a leadership position that combines the seemingly incongruous roles of ceremonial head of state and chief executive magistrate. Lacking an acceptable role model, McDonald explains, the founding fathers constructed their idea of the presidency from sources as diverse as the Bible, Machiavelli, John Locke, the Ancient Greeks and Romans, the laws of England and the early colonial and state government experiences. So many influences, he suggests, guaranteed a substantial degree of persistent ambiguity and contradiction in the office. McDonald chronicles the presidency's creation, implementation and evolution and explains why it's still working today despite its many perceived afflictions. Along the way, he provides commentary on the Constitutional Convention, ratification debates, presidencies of Washington and Jefferson, presidential administration and leadership, presidential-congressional conflicts, the president as chief architect of foreign policy, and the president as myth and symbol. He also analyses the gap between what is expected of presidents and what they can reasonably hope to accomplish.