In this latest book, Stephen F. Knott
continues his extensive research of the American presidency, from the Founders’ concept of the office to the current office holder. In The Lost Soul of the American Presidency: The Decline into Demagoguery and the Prospects for Renewal
(University of Kansas Press, 2019), Knott guides the reader through more than 200 years of presidents and the changes that these individuals have brought to the office itself. Knott—a scholar of the founding period, and, in particular, of Alexander Hamilton and the role that he played in establishing the Executive branch in the constitutional system—explores the foundational ideas for the presidency and the ways in which Hamilton and George Washington, as the first inhabitant in that office, tried to establish the office as one that was imbued with dignity while still remaining accessible to the people. The Lost Soul of The American Presidency
traces, essentially, what happened next, after Washington left office, and how the pressures and tensions around how the constitutional office continued to work but how that office was complicated by more populist inhabitants, like Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Roosevelt. Knott argues that the office has been much changed over the course of history, especially with the integration of public opinion and populism as drivers of how presidents act and makes decisions. Knott, like Hamilton, is greatly concerned with the way that demagoguery and the playing up of polarization and passions have contributed to substantive shifts in office itself and how it is perceived by the citizenry. Ultimately, the book encourages a reconsideration and reestablishment of the original conception of the presidency, one where the character of the person is joined with the dignity and responsibility of the constitutional office.
Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics
(University Press of Kentucky, 2012).