How did the American presidency come to be the center of American political life and a symbol of the nation itself? Many accounts of presidential development focus on actions such as George Washington's use of the simple “Mr. President,” or Thomas Jefferson's purchase of Louisiana. In The Man of the People, Nathaniel C. Green takes a broader, and more illuminating, view. Green argues that political dissent—the Jeffersonian Republicans who criticized Washington and John Adams, and the Federalists who in turn criticized Jefferson and his successors—played a crucial, and heretofore underappreciated and unexamined, role in shaping the presidency. The presidency that emerged from these early decades, far from the “chief clerk” role that some envisioned, was, in Green's estimation, a collaboration between early presidents and their political opponents. The back-and-forth between presidents and critics, elite partisans and average citizens alike, shaped not just American politics but standards for evaluating leaders and candidates. It also established an American identity rooted in race, gender, and violent nationalism to which Andrew Jackson found himself uniquely well suited in his campaigns for president.
Green's insight is that the “untrodden ground” (p. 40) on which Washington and his s
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