Presidents of War: high quality The Epic Story, from sale 1807 to Modern Times sale

Presidents of War: high quality The Epic Story, from sale 1807 to Modern Times sale

Presidents of War: high quality The Epic Story, from sale 1807 to Modern Times sale

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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • From a preeminent presidential historian comes a “superb and important” (The New York Times Book Review) saga of America’s wartime chief executives
 
“Fascinating and heartbreaking . . . timely . . . Beschloss’s broad scope lets you draw important crosscutting lessons about presidential leadership.”—Bill Gates
 
Widely acclaimed and ten years in the making, Michael Beschloss’s  Presidents of War is an intimate and irresistibly readable chronicle of the Chief Executives who took the United States into conflict and mobilized it for victory. From the War of 1812 to Vietnam, we see these leaders considering the difficult decision to send hundreds of thousands of Americans to their deaths; struggling with Congress, the courts, the press, and antiwar protesters; seeking comfort from their spouses and friends; and dropping to their knees in prayer. Through Beschloss’s interviews with surviving participants and findings in original letters and once-classified national security documents, we come to understand how these Presidents were able to withstand the pressures of war—or were broken by them.
 
Presidents of War combines this sense of immediacy with the overarching context of two centuries of American history, traveling from the time of our Founders, who tried to constrain presidential power, to our modern day, when a single leader has the potential to launch nuclear weapons that can destroy much of the human race.

Praise for Presidents of War


"A marvelous narrative. . . . As Beschloss explains, the greatest wartime presidents successfully leaven military action with moral concerns. . . . Beschloss’s writing is clean and concise, and he admirably draws upon new documents. Some of the more titillating tidbits in the book are in the footnotes. . . . There are fascinating nuggets on virtually every page of  Presidents of War. It is a superb and important book, superbly rendered.” —Jay Winik, The New York Times Book Review

"Sparkle and bite. . . . Valuable and engrossing study of how our chief executives have discharged the most significant of all their duties. . . . Excellent. . . . A fluent narrative that covers two centuries of national conflict.”  —Richard Snow, The Wall Street Journal

Review

"In this brilliant work, Michael Beschloss burnishes his already bright reputation. He tells a gripping tale of courage and mendacity as well as recurring defiance of the constitutional requirement to seek congressional approval for making war. A monumental and profoundly important achievement.” —Ron Chernow, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Grant 

“A deep history of how chief executives since the early nineteenth century have waged war . . . Most of the wars described here were grounded in deception and, arguably, were unjust wars of choice. Beschloss drives this point home in his disquieting study.”  —Matthew Dallek, The Washington Post

“Beschloss’s broad scope lets you draw important cross-cutting lessons about presidential leadership. . . .  Presidents of War is worth reading, whether you are one of the nation’s leaders or just an armchair historian.”— Bill Gates

“Conflict and war played an essential role in the accumulation of presidential power, as Michael Beschloss explains in his magisterial book. . . .  Presidents of War, 10 years in the making, is on an epic scale.  It looks at leadership from every angle: communication, the critical relationship with Congress, the treatment of civil liberties and the role of the (often formidable) presidential spouse.” —Lionel Barber, Financial Times

“In this monumental book, the incomparable Michael Beschloss tells the riveting story of how, through history, our Presidents came to be so powerful and to lead Americans into waging major wars. With his new research discoveries and unerring eye for human detail, Beschloss has brought us an unforgettable narrative.  Presidents of War is a landmark book about power, leadership and human nature itself.” —Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Soul of America

“Once again, Beschloss captures our Presidents in terms both historic and human, showing that whoever holds the office will fearlessly—or fearfully—impact our world.” Tom Hanks, author of Uncommon Type

“Michael Beschloss guides us on a fascinating and sobering journey from the War of 1812 to the present, illuminating a steady expansion in presidential war powers and consequent abandonment of the constitutional restraints the Founders crafted to prevent despotism.  It is a powerful and troubling story, essential reading for our time.”  —Drew Gilpin Faust, author of This Republic of Suffering, President Emerita and Lincoln Professor of History, Harvard University

"There is no more serious task a President can undertake than leading our nation in war time. With  Presidents of War, Michael Beschloss, our leading historian of the American presidency, presents a deeply researched and elegantly written chronicle of how presidents from the early nineteenth century through modern time have handled this most daunting and important responsibility. Revealing both the high points and the low, and using newly available material, Beschloss tells us much we did not know about important events and gives a different perspective on things we thought we knew."  —Annette Gordon-Reed, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Hemingses of Monticello  and Charles Warren Professor of American Legal History, Harvard Law School

"With his historian’s eye for the telling detail and a novelist’s appreciation for the quirks and crotchets of individual personalities, Michael Beschloss has crafted a sweeping chronicle of presidential war-making from the birth of the republic to the twenty-first century. Throughout this compelling story runs a question of ever-more clamorous urgency: have the Constitutional safeguards against war as the dread spawn of presidential ambition, whim, or ignorance been eroded to the point of irrelevance in our own day?" —David M. Kennedy, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Freedom from Fear and Professor of History Emeritus, Stanford University

"Beschloss offers a sweeping history of American presidents seeking and waging war. . . . He provides insight into the motivations of American leaders; presidents’ battles with other branches of government; their degree of respect for civil liberties; and the role of personality, emotion, and the general political climate as American commanders-in-chief executed the power of the country’s military forces. . . . Ample detail and enticing storytelling.” Publishers Weekly

“This spirited account, reminiscent of  The Oxford History of the United States, will captivate history buffs and interest scholars of the institutional presidency and the Constitution.” —Library Journal (starred review)

“Exceptional storytelling. . . . Beschloss sweeps across more than 160 years, delving into presidential decision-making in eight wars from the early 19th century to Vietnam. Along the way, he paints rich portraits of Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and other larger-than-life leaders whose choices determined the fates of millions and redirected the flow of history.” Mark Atwood Lawrence, The Boston Globe

"Filled with fascinating insights. . . . A compelling work on the necessary qualities and dangers for wartime presidents." —Albert R. Hunt, Bloomberg

“Beschloss sounds the alarm about the president’s power to drag the nation into war. . . . Well-crafted. . . . Excellent.” NPR

“A fascinating look at US presidential history and how leaders from James Madison to present times have dealt with the pressures and difficult decisions of war.” The New York Post

"A monumental cautionary tale. . . . Vividly written,  Presidents of War is a sobering and timely look at our commander-in-chief’s awesome war-making powers, and how those powers can so easily circumvent our Constitution.”  Chris Patsielis, Philadelphia Inquirer 

About the Author

Michael Beschloss is the author of nine books on presidential history, including, most recently, the  New York Times bestsellers  Presidential Courage and  The Conquerors, as well as two volumes on Lyndon Johnson’s White House tapes. He was also editor of the number-one global bestseller Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy. He is the NBC News Presidential Historian and a  PBS NewsHour contributor and has received an Emmy and six honorary degrees.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Prologue

The Fugitive

And so it had come to this. Horrified as he stood on a height above the Potomac, James Madison, the fourth President of the United States—and now, some wondered, the last?—watched his beloved Washington City as it seemed to vanish into a crimson-orange swirl of fire. It was after midnight on Wednesday, August 24, 1814, and Madison was a fugitive, escaping the Capital—first by ferry, then by galloping horse—for the dark wilderness of Virginia.

Still wearing formal knee breeches and buckled shoes, the sixty- three-year-old Madison knew that the invader-incendiaries from Great Britain were out for his capture and arrest, which might force him to be hanged. But he kept dismounting his horse to stare, with those intelligent blue eyes that “sparkled like stars,” at the inferno across the Potomac. He could not help himself. As a student of the Bible since col- lege, Madison knew that God had warned Lot’s wife not to look back at burning Sodom or else become a pillar of salt. Nevertheless the beleaguered President—who stood about five feet, four inches, and weighed perhaps a hundred pounds—kept gazing at the flaming, otherworldly spectacle, the nadir of the War of 1812, which many Americans bitterly called “Mr. Madison’s War.”

Earlier that day, Madison’s popular, shrewd, vivacious wife, Dolley, had stayed behind at the Executive Mansion while James was out reviewing the forces charged with Washington’s defense. She asked her husband’s enslaved body servant Paul Jennings (who once lauded the President as a man who would not “strike a slave”) to bring out ale and cider in anticipation of a three o’clock White House dinner they were planning for Cabinet secretaries, “military gentlemen,” and their wives.[1] Dolley hoped that if Washingtonians learned that the President’s lady was keeping a normal schedule, they would feel more sanguine about the danger of the approaching British marauders. But she received a worried, scribbled plea from her nearby sister Anna: “Tell me for gods sake where you are. . . . We can hear nothing but what is horrible here.”

From the Mansion, Dolley peered anxiously through a spyglass with “unwearied anxiety.” As she wrote her other sister, Lucy, she was thinking, “Mr. Madison comes not; may God protect him!” Recoiling from the distant booms of British cannon, Dolley refused to flee until “my dear husband” was safe in her arms. But in preparation, she quickly packed letters, books, valuables, a demijohn of wine, and clothes. Determined to prevent the British from grabbing the life-sized portrait of George Washington, an irresistible battle trophy, she called out, “Save that picture! . . . If not possible, destroy it!” She ordered the painting removed from its gilded frame and taken by wagon to a “humble but safe roof,” thus ensuring her place in American history. (The Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and other treasures had already been slipped into plain linen sacks and taken to a Virginia gristmill.)

Then the Madisons’ freedman servant James Smith, waving his hat, cantered up with a message from the President: “Clear out! General Armstrong has ordered a retreat!”[2] Stuffing flatware into her handbag, Dolley and Sukey, her enslaved personal maid, were helped into carriages, which rushed them and their traveling companions across the Potomac to the wilds of northern Virginia, where she and James had agreed to meet. But Dolley was told that the President could not be found, and she cowered in agony and tears. Part of her fear stemmed from the fact that the British invaders were not her husband’s only en- emies. Furious at the invasion of their Capital and, in fact, at Madison’s whole war, some of his own countrymen had vowed to commit violence against the President if he tried to flee the city. “I hear of much hostility towards him,” Dolley had warned her sister Lucy. “Disaffection stalks around us.” One American had threatened the President with “dagger or poison.” According to Paul Jennings, when Dolley was desperately seeking safe haven that night in Virginia, one would-be hostess raged at her, “If that’s you, come down and go out! Your husband has got mine out fighting and, damn you, you shan’t stay in my house!”

Back across the Potomac, about 150 British soldiers—“the most hellish looking fellows that ever trod God’s earth,” recalled one bystander— torched the Capitol of the United States. At nine o’clock, spurred on by the British Rear Admiral George Cockburn, soon called “the harlequin of havoc,” with “sun-burnt visage and his rusty gold-laced hat,” the arsonists had laid siege to the limestone building—two still-unconnected wings shut down in midconstruction by the war. In the chambers of the House, Senate, and Supreme Court, the enemy soldiers piled up mahogany desks, red morocco chairs, green curtains, and books. Before they lit this tinder with rocket powder, Cockburn sat in the House Speaker’s chair and mocked the democratic pretensions of Britain’s ex-colonies, demanding of his brother redcoats, “Shall this harbor of Yankee ‘democracy’ be burned? All for it will say, ‘Aye!’ ”

Soon the Capitol was enveloped by jagged tongues of orange flame, so searing that glass lamp shades melted. Cockburn decreed the raising of his own country’s Union Jack, then, riding on a mule, ordered his redcoats to march double file down Pennsylvania Avenue. Demanding their silence, to avoid arousing Washingtonians to fight back, Cock- burn shouted, “If any man speaks in the ranks, I’ll put him to death!” One American yelled at Cockburn that if George Washington were still alive, “you could not have done this.” The Admiral replied that George Washington, unlike Madison, would never have “left his capital defenseless, for the purpose of making conquest abroad.”

Bursting into the White House, Cockburn’s soldiers sat down at the dining table—still set with crystal, gold, and silver—and feasted on the Madisons’ uneaten Virginia hams and “super-excellent Madeira.” Marching upstairs into the President’s private dressing room, whose opened drawers betrayed a hasty departure, Cockburn seized the black bicorne military hat owned by the man he derided as “Little Jemmy Madison” and merrily stuck it on the tip of his bayonet. Stealing a seat cushion from Dolley’s boudoir, Cockburn made ribald jokes about her voluptuous derriere and breasts. Other redcoats donned the President’s starchy shirt and waved his ceremonial sword. Madison’s guitar and pianoforte, a half-packed portmanteau, and French sofas and commodes purchased by Thomas Jefferson were all gathered and shoved into a pile in the Mansion’s grand oval reception room. These and other spoils of war were lit by perhaps fifty torches, each charged with glowing coals from a nearby tavern. Soon, it was said, the Mansion was “wrapt in one entire flame.” Cockburn reputedly finished his night of destruction at a nearby brothel, reveling in “the coarse luxury of lust.”

James Madison, who had done so much to conceive the political institutions of Washington, DC, was reviled by many of his fellow citizens as the destroyer of their capital city. Vicious handbills appeared, demanding that the President receive a “black and bitter day of retribution” for “this foul stain on our national character.” They called him a “coward” who had fled his White House command post for Virginia, “begging” shelter and bread “from door to door”—and a cad, leaving poor Dolley “to shift for herself.” Such attacks stung the proud Madison. But his ordeal was more profound.

The War of 1812 was the first major conflict conducted by a President of the United States under the document of which Madison was justly revered as the “Father.” During the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia, Madison and the other Founders had debated the quandaries of war. They sought to ensure that, unlike in the Old World societies governed by sovereigns, Americans would go to war only when it was absolutely necessary—and that the decision would be made not by the President but by the legislature. Virginia’s George Mason had written that he was “ag[ainst] giving the power of war to the Executive, because [that branch was] not safely to be trusted with it.” James Wilson of Pennsylvania insisted that the Constitution “will not hurry us into war; it is calculated to guard against it.” Madison himself considered war “the true nurse of executive aggrandizement.” As he reminded Jefferson in 1798, “The constitution supposes, what the History of all Gov[ernmen]ts demonstrates, that the Ex[ecutive] Is the branch of power most interested in war, & most prone to it. It has accordingly with studied care, vested the question of war in the Legisl[ative].”[3]

The 1812 conflict proved to be the first major test of the constitutional system for waging war. In Philadelphia, Madison the Founder had worried that American Presidents, like the European monarchs they execrated, might be tempted to take the nation into military confrontation without a national consensus and an immediate, overwhelming foreign danger. But with the War of 1812, Madison had, however reluctantly, succumbed to exactly that temptation. Much of the country and Congress had opposed waging war with Great Britain, and two years into this struggle, many Americans still did not fully understand why they were fighting.

By leading his country into a major war that had no absolute necessity or overwhelming support from Congress and the public, Madison, of all people, had opened the door for later Presidents to seek involvement in future conflicts that suffered from such shortcomings. Madison’s fateful decision to seek this war had brought him, after midnight, to this dark Virginia forest, searching for Dolley and running for his life.
 
[1] The President’s residence was not officially called the White House until President Theodore Roosevelt issued an executive order to this effect in 1901, but the term was occasionally used during Madison’s time.
[2] General John Armstrong Jr. was Secretary of War.
[3] Early in the process, Congress was to be given authority to “make” war, but Madison and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts successfully changed that word to the more specific “declare,” so the record shows, “leaving to the Executive the power to repel sudden attacks.”

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Top reviews from the United States

Daniel Weitz
5.0 out of 5 starsVine Customer Review of Free Product
The Imperial Presidency Goes to War
Reviewed in the United States on July 13, 2018
In 1973 Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote “The Imperial Presidency” The Imperial Presidency and described the situation that we have today, between a Presidency with an ever-increasing power, and a Congress that is incapable of fulfilling its function under... See more
In 1973 Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote “The Imperial Presidency” The Imperial Presidency and described the situation that we have today, between a Presidency with an ever-increasing power, and a Congress that is incapable of fulfilling its function under the Constitution. Almost fifty years later the situation has become far worse; as is recounted in this very upsetting book.
Even the title of Michael Beschloss’ new book seems to reflect the aggrandizing of power by the Executive Branch. The author argues that the president is ‘human’ influenced by the family, friends, and advisors that surround him.
Beschloss makes a real attempt to be a true historian; and says that the events of 2001 and after are so recent that they can only be discussed synoptically. He uses his analytic skills only for the preceding two centuries. The Constitution reflected the belief that the founders had that European monarchs abused their absolute authority to make war. Because of this; Congress was given the sole power to declare war. This belief used to be firmly entranced in the American system, as shown by Abraham Lincoln’s 1848 comment: ‘“No one man should hold he power” to take the nation into war.’ Yet, over the last 200 years presidents have disrupted the founder’s plan and usurped this power. Beschloss feels that we now have wars waged solely on their power as our ineffective legislature acquiesces to the whims of the Chief Executive.
This volume has outstanding footnotes, chapter notes and bibliography
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Vaughn Hopkins
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Very well written, moving narrative
Reviewed in the United States on October 20, 2018
The author brings us into the White House to watch each of the presidents who presided over Americas wars as they struggle with managing their wars. What we learned in history classes in high school really cleaned up these president''s handling of war. War is a messy thing... See more
The author brings us into the White House to watch each of the presidents who presided over Americas wars as they struggle with managing their wars. What we learned in history classes in high school really cleaned up these president''s handling of war. War is a messy thing at best, and acting as commander in chief during wars is almost beyond human abilities. The story of the war presidents we lived through is especially emotional to read. Don''t expect this book to arouse your patriotism. This is a large book, which takes a long time to read, even when you don''t read the many foot notes, but well worth the effort.
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Jason Galbraith
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Interesting Overview, but the Wars Were Very Different from each other
Reviewed in the United States on November 1, 2018
I read "Presidents of War" for my church''s book group (the discussion is not for another ten days). I am not disappointed in the book (although I would have liked to read more than a few paragraphs about the current war in Afghanistan) but the book sort of left me... See more
I read "Presidents of War" for my church''s book group (the discussion is not for another ten days). I am not disappointed in the book (although I would have liked to read more than a few paragraphs about the current war in Afghanistan) but the book sort of left me disappointed in the American people for tolerating the current situation, in which the United States has become just like the European great powers of the eighteenth century whose example the Founders strove to avoid. I would recommend reading it with Andrew Bacevich''s "Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed their Soldiers and their Country" which makes the latter point explicitly. The one way in which the book could have been improved would have been with a greater focus on Eisenhower and Nixon, who ended wars they inherited even in the absence of clear victory, a skill sadly lacking in contemporary Presidents. To avoid turning this into a rant, I will cut this review short.
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David Shulman
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Making War
Reviewed in the United States on November 23, 2018
Historian and media personality Michael Beschloss has written an important history of how and why presidents took us to war and of their wartime decision making process from Madison to Johnson. He is at is best in discussing the role of Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnam... See more
Historian and media personality Michael Beschloss has written an important history of how and why presidents took us to war and of their wartime decision making process from Madison to Johnson. He is at is best in discussing the role of Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnam War. His “tick-tock” of how the Gulf of Tonkin resolution came to be is worth the price of the book. He is very clear that the Johnson administration was deceitful from Day One when they knew in their heart of hearts the war wasn’t winnable. Where I would fault him is that he does not lay enough of a predicate as to the role of John Kennedy in the lead up to the war. After all Johnson was continuing Kennedy’s very aggressive policy with respect to Vietnam.

Beschloss opens his book at the end of the Jefferson administration in 1807 and then fully discusses Madison’s role in the War of 1812. To me he is not critical enough of Madison and Jefferson. In my mind both were guilty of dereliction of duty in failing to maintain adequate naval strength while both Britain and France were raiding our ships and impressing our seaman. They both, having witnessed the Seven Years War that a generalized European conflict would sooner or later make its appearance in the Americas. Although England was not directly threatening the U.S., Madison was egged on by the “war hawks” Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun to declare war. Be that as it may for the young trading nation that the U.S. was, the principle of freedom of the seas was worth going to war over.

He next is very critical of James K. Polk. To be sure Polk created an incident to trigger the Mexican War and lied to the American people about it, but to my mind Polk was the Bismarck of North America. Polk had the strategic vision that a war with Mexico would bring with it the entire southwest as well as California. He was fulfilling “manifest destiny,” a term that came into use during his administration. But before Polk could go to war with Mexico he had to settle up the Oregon dispute with Great Britain, which he did. Polk was smart enough to realize that U.S. could not fight a two front war against both Mexico and Britain.

Lincoln, of course, comes across as the great Civil War leader that he was. He does this not only by ultimate success on the battlefield, but by elevating the purpose of the war to give rise to “a new birth of freedom.” Unlike other presidents Lincoln was able to witness and agonize over battlefield casualties he was also able to be decisive. Where I would be critical of Beschloss is that while the fighting was going on Lincoln pushed through Congress three great Hamiltonian projects, the Homestead Act, the Pacific Railway Act and the Morrill Act(land grant colleges), quite a domestic program. This distinguishes Lincoln from other presidents, where domestic engagements gave way to wartime exigencies.

Beschloss is kind to McKinley. After the sinking of the Maine (an accident) in Havana Harbor, he does not rush into war. However once engaged McKinley becomes an all-in imperialist by taking the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico. Intended or not with the Spanish American War the U.S. enter the world stage.

Beschloss likes Wilsonian policies, but he doesn’t seem to like Woodrow Wilson. He comes across as an arrogant intellectual and where Wilson demonstrated great political acumen in passing his domestic program, he is a complete disaster on the world stage. Wilson’s thought process on entering the war is a “theme park” (my words) for executive indecision. In his discussion of Wilson, Beschloss leaves out a lot. He ignores the role of the March Revolution in Russia that made it easier for Wilson to argue that he was “making the world safe for democracy.” He also ignores the challenge that Lenin brings with the November Revolution. Many historians believe that his 14 Points were a response to Lenin. He also only skims through the wave of domestic repression that took place during the war and immediately thereafter. And he ignores Wilson’s hidden agenda, which he accomplished, of orchestrating the transfer of economic power from London to New York.

Roosevelt, on the other hand learns from Wilson’s mistakes. Instead of trying to keep the U.S. out of the Second World War, he molds public opinion into acceptance of the inevitability of a war against fascism. He also brings the Republicans on board, both before and after, something Wilson refused to do. Roosevelt learned what not to do when he was an assistant secretary of the navy in the Wilson Administration. He also brings in the American people, with his fireside chats, into the vast theater of the global war.

Truman does not come off well. He doesn’t bring Congress into the process and that with hostile opposition from the likes of Taft and McCarthy leads to huge problems when the Korean War stalemates on the battlefield. After he rightfully fires General MacArthur his popularity plummets. It is a sad ending for someone who so clearly understood the Soviet menace in the late 1940s to see him so pilloried.

As I said at the outset Beschloss has written an important book, but as I noted he left out quite a bit and in many cases, especially with the earlier presidents he was way too detailed and the average lay reader will likely get bogged down in the weeds. Hence four stars, not five.
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akpfk
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
The publishing company, Crown Publishing/Penguin isn''t a fly-by-night organization, is it?
Reviewed in the United States on October 12, 2018
The writing and researching involved in this book are incredible. Publishing and releasing this with seven pages UPSIDE DOWN is shameful.
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Robert Morris
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
How "the life or death of much of the human race" depends on the character of one person
Reviewed in the United States on January 21, 2019
Today, opinions are divided with regard to whether or not there should be limits on the power of the President of the United States. In his column for The New York Times (Jan. 14, 2019, Charlie Savage recalls a meeting of President George Bush’s cabinet on January 8, 1991.... See more
Today, opinions are divided with regard to whether or not there should be limits on the power of the President of the United States. In his column for The New York Times (Jan. 14, 2019, Charlie Savage recalls a meeting of President George Bush’s cabinet on January 8, 1991. Iraq had invaded Kuwait. "Half a million American troops were deployed and ready to attack. But many lawmakers were demanding a vote before any war. Rejecting mainstream constitutional views, William P. Barr, the deputy attorney general, told Mr. Bush that he wielded unfettered power to start a major land war on his own — not only without congressional permission, but even if Congress voted against it.

“''Mr. President, there’s no doubt that you have the authority to launch an attack,'' Mr. Barr said, as he later recalled.

"Nearly three decades later, President Trump has nominated Mr. Barr to return as attorney general. But unlike the self-restrained Mr. Bush, Mr. Trump revels in pushing limits — a temperament that, when combined with Mr. Barr’s unusually permissive understanding of presidential power, could play out very differently for the rule of law than it did last time."

Keep this background information in mind as you read Michael Beschloss''s latest book in which he examines eight Presidents presidents and the wars in which they became centrally involved, for better or worse. They are:

James Madison, War of 1812 (1812-1815): Pages 64-96
James Polk, Mexican-American War (1846-1848): 97-156
Abraham Lincoln, Civil War (1861-1865): 157-239
William McKinley, Spanish-American War (1898): 240-292
Woodrow Wilson, World War One (1914-1918): 293-316 and 317-336
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, World War Two (1939-1945): 369-484
Harry Truman, Korean War (1950-1953): 435-491
Lyndon Baines Johnson, Vietnam War (1965-1973): 492-480

To assist your consideration of this exceptionally well-written book, I have selected five brief excerpts that suggest the thrust and flavor of Beschloss''s style:

o "Madison had clearly changed in his later years. By [historian Charles] Ingersoll''s account, he now ''showed the strongest dislike of hostilities'' and warned against the American system''s ''perpetual liability'' to enter a war. Ingersoll believed that by now, the old man''s politics were ''simple and lovely...to avoid war at almost any price, and to preserve the Union.''" (Pages 94-95)

o "Lincoln was profoundly moved to hear another Whig Congressman denounce Polk''s war as blatant aggression, devised to ''force and compel'' the Mexicans to sell their country...When Billy Herndon, that same year, questioned his friend about his antiwar zeal, LIncoln replied that if Americans should ''allow the president to invade a neighboring nation [e.g. Mexico] whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion...you allow him to make war at pleasure.''" (156)

Years later, "by the night of his murder, Lincoln had won the Civil War, but in death, to a tragic degree, he lost the peace he had sought. The Martyred President had badly erred by allowing the selection of an 1864 running mate who had neither shared his talent for leadership nor his vision for peace." (238)

o "For all his high-flown scholarly rhetoric about liberal democracy, the moment Wilson became a war President, he grabbed for authority with some of the passion of an autocrat, claiming that that ''unquestionable powers'' were ''absolutely necessary,'' and stepped on civil liberties. As a scholar, he had overestimated the ability of a President to change pubic opinion. In 1907, he had written that the Chief Executive possessed ''the only national voice in affairs. Let him once win the admiration and confidence of the country, and no other single force can withstand him, no combination of forces will easily overpower him...If he rightly interpret the national thought and boldly insist upon it, he is irresistible.''" (355-356)

o "Feeling isolated, with his conspiratorial tendencies in full throttle, weakened by heart disease and other ailments, Johnson demonized his opposition and, in his increasingly troubled mind, allowed the war to become a titanic test of whether he could conquer those domestic political foes who defied him. A more coolheaded President might, by contrast, have cut his losses earlier. With half a century''s hindsight, it is clear that whatever Johnson gained for the United States with his war in Vietnam was never worth its ruinous cost in lives, treasure, American self-confidence, or what Thomas Jefferson called ''the good opinion of mankind.''" (578-579)

Beschloss suggests, "Were the Founders to come back, they would probably be astonished and chagrined to discover that, in spite of their ardent strivings, the life or death of much of the human race has now come to depend on the character of the single person who happens to be the President of the United States."

It remains to be seen what awaits the United States in months and even years to come. Will traditional checks and balances prevail or will a President embrace a temptation -- "which the Founding Fathers saw in the European despots they abhorred -- to launch a major war out of lust to expand their own popularity and power"? With all due respect to political implications, there is a more serious cluster of issues to address, given Michael Beschloss''s assertion that the fate of much of the human race will be determined by Presidential character, for better or worse.
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John Desmond
2.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Disappointing
Reviewed in the United States on January 21, 2019
As usual with his work, the author has an agenda (liberal) which undermines the credibility of his research. For example, after detailing the disasters of Jefferson’s foreign policy, his conclusion was that Jefferson was brilliant for resisting pressure to get us into war... See more
As usual with his work, the author has an agenda (liberal) which undermines the credibility of his research. For example, after detailing the disasters of Jefferson’s foreign policy, his conclusion was that Jefferson was brilliant for resisting pressure to get us into war (but conveniently excludes Jefferson’s commitment of American forces against the Barbary pirates.)
10 people found this helpful
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Dean Chambers
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A very interesting read!
Reviewed in the United States on November 10, 2018
What a fascinating study on wartime presidents since the United States came into being starting with the War of 1812. The author succinctly goes in depth behind each presidents motives emotions and struggles during each conflict... as well as the consequences of their... See more
What a fascinating study on wartime presidents since the United States came into being starting with the War of 1812. The author succinctly goes in depth behind each presidents motives emotions and struggles during each conflict... as well as the consequences of their decisions. He does a great critique of each presidents pros and cons... and I gathered that hindsight is always 20/20 and times change technology changes in each presidency many times more than what the founders imagined. As I was reading I was unsure how the book was going to end with not many chapters or pages devoted to Desert Storm or Iraqi Freedom or the current war in Afghanistan. However the book ended well and it was tied together to a good conclusion proving his thesis. It is also an interesting study on the growth of presidential power in 200 years with each war time presidents setting precedents for the succeeding presidents. I highly recommend this book!
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Top reviews from other countries

Jonathan D.
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Stick with it
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on March 16, 2021
Starts off a bit awkward. The sentence structure was not easy to read for me, a non-academic, but became more flowing as the book went on. The level of detail, quotes and references were very impressive. I would also say that it was politically neutral. Although this is not...See more
Starts off a bit awkward. The sentence structure was not easy to read for me, a non-academic, but became more flowing as the book went on. The level of detail, quotes and references were very impressive. I would also say that it was politically neutral. Although this is not the fault of the author, I would also like to point out that the asterisks pertaining to footnotes were difficult to see and I sometimes missed them. Also, the printing was blotchy on three separate pages, rendering some of the words on one page unreadable. To conclude, I''m glad I read this book and feel more knowledgeable about the subject covered.
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Milvia van Rij-Brizzi
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
To be read
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on November 7, 2018
Well researched
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Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Great service
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on October 24, 2018
Excellent
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mishmish
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Wartime in America
Reviewed in France on July 7, 2019
I haven''t quite finished this book which is very readable as well as well documented and detailed. Some of the later wars will be more familiar to readers than the early ones such as Madison''s war or Polk''s, but there is plenty of material on all of them. One does end up...See more
I haven''t quite finished this book which is very readable as well as well documented and detailed. Some of the later wars will be more familiar to readers than the early ones such as Madison''s war or Polk''s, but there is plenty of material on all of them. One does end up with the feeling that the US has been at war continuously since its creation, and of course that leaves out the Civil War which even today divides the country in many ways. Wars bring about change in a country in many ways, the main effect seeming to be the increase in Presidents'' executive powers. The vast powers of today''s President are quite contrary to the Founders'' attempt to restrict those very powers. Much food for thought here.
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Marcos Luz
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
One of a kind, it''s a must read
Reviewed in Brazil on November 10, 2018
This book has huge information inside. It covers since the 1812 war against the British until Vietnam war and a little bit about Iraq and al-Qaeda too. The most important thing here is that the author did not stay on the common ground of those wars, he dove to the bottom of...See more
This book has huge information inside. It covers since the 1812 war against the British until Vietnam war and a little bit about Iraq and al-Qaeda too. The most important thing here is that the author did not stay on the common ground of those wars, he dove to the bottom of it.
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