to the 3rd Edition

This latest edition of The Presidents: A Reference History, coming only six years after the Second, is a tribute to its ever-enlarging role as a standard resource for students and the general public alike. This revision features important additions; they include an early assessment of President George W. Bush's administration, already marked by unprecedented challenges to national security, and, of course a full account of President Bill Clinton's two terms. One new essay views the history of the presidency as a whole, and another provides an authoritative history of the White House. The highly admired essay on First Ladies has been brought up to date as have the instructive Appendices: the General Bibliography on the Presidency, The Table of Presidential Data, and profile of The Executive Office of the President. All of the articles on the individual presidents were reviewed and revised where needed to accommodate fresh interpretations. Evaluations of recently published books update the bibliographies. Two full-color inserts vividly portray the social history of the presidency and election-related memorabilia, making more tangible how the U.S. Chief Executives are chosen and their daily life in office.

As the twenty-first century opened, it was clear that any president might be caught in the toils of changes in the way fellow Americans perceive him—or conceivably—her. The huge amount of information daily offered to the public about the occupants of the White House is now a potent factor in shaping the conduct of the presidential office. Inevitably, the historic role of the Chief Executive as "leader" has been recast—and made more arduous. The news and entertainment media are unquenchable streams of tidbits of every kind about the First Family. Added to the press conferences, releases, and leaks, this boundless public knowledge about the inner workings of the Oval Office, for all its salutary value to a democratic society, has sometimes bred in the popular mind a dismaying cynicism about national government. Because the president of the United States—the POTUS in recent insider jargon—remains the only voice in the country that at any moment commands attention, the ability of the incumbent to maintain the prestige of the White House is vital to his work as executive. Readers of this book will find that presidential esteem and power have had their ups and downs as forty-three holders of the office have handled its inherent difficulties. A comparison with past events may provide sufficient cause to believe that the presidency will remain vigorous and adaptable and continue to serve as the trustworthy pilot of the Great Republic.


Columbia University, April 2002

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