Blogs > Cliopatria > presidents as analysts and actors

Aug 12, 2005 6:24 pm


presidents as analysts and actors



Greetings and many thanks. Let me start with a quick gloss on Rick's post on TR's Cromwell and the self-awareness of leaders.

Stuart Pratt Sherman concluded his essay on TR in Americans (1922) with TR's own critique of Cromwell.

His strength, his intensity of conviction, his delight in exercising powers for what he conceived to be good ends; his dislike for speculative reforms and his inability to appreciate the necessity of theories to a practical man who wishes to do good work ... all these tendencies worked together to unfit him for the task of helping a liberty-loving people on the road to freedom. (287)

Now, anyone who could write that did not lack an appreciation of theories, speculations, and above all calculation. In truth both TR's admirers and detractors have colluded to do him a disservice by portraying him too much as a man of action and not of thought.

Yet it is almost impossible, as a TR-watcher, not to agree with Sherman when he writes that TR"developed a habit of speaking so scornfully of 'over-civilization' and so praisefully of mere breeding and fighting as to raise the question that he himself raised about Cromwell, whether he had an adequate 'theory of ends,' and whether he did not become so fascinated with his means as frequently to forget his ends altogether." (284)

Me, I'd say he had a theory of ends, and a means too. But he enjoyed the means so much that, as sometimes happens to good stage actors, he lost himself in his performance. And when actors do that, they spoil an overall production. It's hard for the show to go on once the scenery's been chewed to pieces.


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