Academics, journalists, and popular historians agree. Our greatest presidents are the ones who confronted a national crisis and mobilized the entire nation to face it. That’s the conventional wisdom. The chief executives who are celebrated in textbooks and placed in the top echelon of presidents in surveys of experts are the “bold” leaders— the Woodrow Wilsons and Franklin Roosevelts— who reshaped the United States in line with their grand “vision” for America. Unfortunately, along the way, these “great” presidents inevitably expanded government— and shrunk our liberties. As the twentieth-century presidency has grown far beyond the bounds the Founders established for the office, the idea that our chief executive is responsible to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States” has become a distant memory. Historian and celebrated Reagan biographer Steven F. Hayward reminds us that the Founders had an entirely different idea of greatness in the presidential office. The personal ambitions, populist appeals, and bribes paid to the voters with their own money that most modern presidents engage in would strike them as instances of the demagoguery they most feared— one of the great dangers to the people’s liberty that they wrote the Constitution explicitly to guard against. The Founders, in contrast to today’s historians, expected great presidents to be champions of the limited government established by the Constitution. Working from that almost forgotten standard of presidential greatness, Steven Hayward offers a fascinating off–the–beaten–track tour through the modern presidency, from the Progressive Era’s Woodrow Wilson to Barack Obama. Along the way, he serves up fresh historical insights, recalls forgotten anecdotes, celebrates undervalued presidents who took important stands in defense of the Constitution— and points the way to a revival of truly constitutional government in America.
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