Cover image for The soul of America : the battle for our better angels / Jon Meacham.
Title:
The soul of America : the battle for our better angels / Jon Meacham.
Author:
ISBN:
9780399589812
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York, N.Y. : Random House, [2018]

©2018
Physical Description:
xii, 402 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Contents:
Introduction : To hope rather than to fear -- The confidence of the whole people : visions of the Presidency, the ideas of progress and prosperity, and "We, the people" -- The long shadow of Appomattox : the Lost Cause, the Ku Klux Klan, and Reconstruction -- With soul of flame and temper of steel : "the melting pot," TR and his "bully pulpit," and the Progressive promise -- A new and good thing in the world : the triumph of women's suffrage, the Red Scare, and a new Klan -- The crisis of the old order : the Great Depression, Huey Long, the New Deal, and America First -- Have you no sense of decency? : "making everyone middle class," the GI Bill, McCarthyism, and modern media -- What the hell is the presidency for? : "segregation forever," King's crusade, and LBJ in the crucible -- Conclusion : The first duty of an American citizen.
Abstract:
"We have been here before. In this timely and revealing book, ... author Jon Meacham helps us understand the present moment in American politics and life by looking back at critical times in our history when hope overcame division and fear. With clarity and purpose, Meacham explores contentious periods and how presidents and citizens came together to defeat the forces of anger, intolerance, and extremism. Our current climate of partisan fury is not new, and in The Soul of America Meacham shows us how what Abraham Lincoln called 'the better angels of our nature' have repeatedly won the day. Painting surprising portraits of Lincoln and other presidents, including Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, and Lyndon B. Johnson, and illuminating the courage of such influential citizen activists as Martin Luther King, Jr., early suffragettes Alice Paul and Carrie Chapman Catt, civil rights pioneers Rosa Parks and John Lewis, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and Army-McCarthy hearings lawyer Joseph N. Welch, Meacham brings vividly to life turning points in American history. He writes about the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the birth of the Lost Cause; the backlash against immigrants in the First World War and the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s; the fight for women's rights; the demagoguery of Huey Long and Father Coughlin and the isolationist work of America First in the years before World War II; the anti-Communist witch-hunts led by Senator Joseph McCarthy; and Lyndon Johnson's crusade against Jim Crow. Each of these dramatic hours in our national life has been shaped by the contest to lead the country to look forward rather than back, to assert hope over fear--a struggle that continues even now. While the American story has not always--or even often--been heroic, we have been sustained by a belief in progress even in the gloomiest of times. In this inspiring book, Meacham reassures us, "The good news is that we have come through such darkness before"--as, time and again, Lincoln's better angels have found a way to prevail."--Dust jacket.
Holds:
Copies:

Available:*

Copy
Library
Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Status
1
Searching...
973 MEA Book Adult General Collection
Searching...

On Order

Summary

Summary

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER * Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jon Meacham helps us understand the present moment in American politics and life by looking back at critical times in our history when hope overcame division and fear.

Our current climate of partisan fury is not new, and in The Soul of America Meacham shows us how what Abraham Lincoln called the "better angels of our nature" have repeatedly won the day. Painting surprising portraits of Lincoln and other presidents, including Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, and Lyndon B. Johnson, and illuminating the courage of such influential citizen activists as Martin Luther King, Jr., early suffragettes Alice Paul and Carrie Chapman Catt, civil rights pioneers Rosa Parks and John Lewis, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and Army-McCarthy hearings lawyer Joseph N. Welch, Meacham brings vividly to life turning points in American history. He writes about the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the birth of the Lost Cause; the backlash against immigrants in the First World War and the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s; the fight for women's rights; the demagoguery of Huey Long and Father Coughlin and the isolationist work of America First in the years before World War II; the anti-Communist witch-hunts led by Senator Joseph McCarthy; and Lyndon Johnson's crusade against Jim Crow. Each of these dramatic hours in our national life have been shaped by the contest to lead the country to look forward rather than back, to assert hope over fear--a struggle that continues even now.

While the American story has not always--or even often--been heroic, we have been sustained by a belief in progress even in the gloomiest of times. In this inspiring book, Meacham reassures us, "The good news is that we have come through such darkness before"--as, time and again, Lincoln's better angels have found a way to prevail.

Praise for The Soul of America

"Appalled by the ascendancy of Donald J. Trump, and shaken by the deadly white nationalist rallies in Charlottesville in 2017, Meacham returns to other moments in our history when fear and division seemed rampant. He wants to remind us that the current political turmoil is not unprecedented, that as a nation we have survived times worse than this. . . . Meacham tries to summon the better angels by looking back at when America truly has been great. He is effective as ever at writing history for a broad readership." -- The New York Times Book Review

"This is a brilliant, fascinating, timely, and above all profoundly important book." --Walter Isaacson


Author Notes

Jon Meacham was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee on May 20, 1969. He received a degree in English literature at the University of the South. He joined Newsweek as a writer in 1995. Three years later, at the age of 29, he was promoted to managing editor, supervising coverage of politics, international affairs, and breaking news. In 2006, he was promoted to editor at Newsweek. He is currently an executive editor at Random House.

He won the Pulitzer Prize for American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House in 2009. His other works include Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship, American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation. In 2001, he edited Voices in Our Blood: America's Best on the Civil Rights Movement. In 2013 his title Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power made The New York Times Best Seller List. In 2015 Meacham's title Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush made The New York Times Best Seller List. His most recent book is entitled The Soul of America: The Battle for our Better Angels (2018).


Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

America's centuries-long struggles about race, gender, and immigration are viewed through the lens of presidential calculation and convictions in this sonorous but shallow study. Vanderbilt historian Meacham (Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power) examines presidential leadership on issues of civil rights and equality, from Ulysses S. Grant's vigorous action to protect freedmen from Ku Klux Klan attacks during Reconstruction to Lyndon Johnson's moral and political dynamism in enacting civil rights legislation in the 1960s. In between, he surveys presidential vacillations that mirrored the nation's contradictory moods: Theodore Roosevelt awkwardly married white supremacism with progressive stances on race and women's suffrage; Franklin Roosevelt defended democratic values against fascism but allowed the racist internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II; Eisenhower was largely missing in action in the fight against Joe McCarthy's inflaming of anti-foreign sentiment. Meacham's gracefully written historical vignettes don't break new scholarly ground, but they do highlight patterns that resonate with today's controversies over immigration and white nationalism. (In the 1920s, he notes, Klan membership numbered in the millions, and one nativist demagogue called for a "wall of steel" against immigration from southern Europe.) Unfortunately, Meacham's focus on presidents as moral exemplars and embodiments of America's political soul feels more like mysticism-and anti-Trump panic-than cogent analysis. Photos. (May) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


New York Review of Books Review

She thought she knew what she was about. The heroine of a sensational and successful novel, "Democracy," published anonymously in 1880, Madeleine Lee, who is young, rich and beautiful, moves from New York to Washington to pass a season in a house on Lafayette Square. "She wanted to see with her own eyes the action of primary forces; to touch with her own hand the massive machinery of society; to measure with her own mind the capacity of motive power," the novel's author writes of Mrs. Lee. "She was bent upon getting to the heart of the great American mystery of democracy and government." ft was the grandest of missions: "What she wished to see, she thought, was the clash of interests, the interests of 40 millions of people and a whole continent, centering at Washington; guided, restrained, controlled, or unrestrained and uncontrollable, by men of ordinary mold; the tremendous forces of government, and the machinery of society, at work." And see them she did. The novel that tells her story is an entertaining tale of manners and an important meditation on democracy and its discontents - a narrative about politics that resonates even now, nearly 140 years after its first appearance, ft is a reflection on corruption within the political class, but, read carefully, it also reinforces an ancient view that those who are disgusted with republican government need to remember that the fault, as Cassius in Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" remarked, lies not in the stars, but in ourselves. The enduring relevance of "Democracy" is a tribute to the gifts of Henry Brooks Adams, whose identity as the author was revealed by the publisher after Adams died in 1918. Few people in the midst of the postCivil War Gilded Age had a better feel for American democracy than Adams. Greatgrandson and grandson of presidents, historian, professor and journalist, Adams had left Boston in 1877 for Washington. "1 gravitate to a capital as a primary law of nature," Adams wrote a friend. "This is the only place in America where society amuses me, or where life offers variety." As he worked on his monumental histories of the early Republic, Adams took time to write "Democracy," a novel that one might have expected if Anthony Trollope and Ward Just had somehow managed to collaborate across time and space. Mrs. Lee, a widow and an idealist about public life, is a desirable catch. Two suitors are especially drawn to her: John Carrington, an aristocratic young Virginian, and the practical and ambitious Senator Silas Ratcliffe, a rising man from Illinois. The love story is told well enough, but the novel's strength derives from its observations about the possibilities and perils of power in a democratic government subject to corruption and moral compromise. "Are we forever to be at the mercy of thieves and ruffians?" Mrs. Lee asks Ratcliffe. "Is respectable government impossible in a democracy?" Senator Ratcliffe's answer is telling. "My reply is that no representative government can long be much better or much worse than the society it represents. Purify society and you purify the government." An uncomfortable truth, but a truth nonetheless. Democracies have long been understood as the sum of their parts. No less a student of politics than Niccolö Machiavelli believed that it was "impossible for a corrupted people to set up a good government, or for a tyranny to be introduced if they be virtuous," as Algernon Sidney, the 17thcentury English politician, put it. In the 19th century, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that "the form of government which prevails, is the expression of what cultivation exists in the population which permits it." And in the 20 th century, Harry Truman argued the same point: "The country has to awaken every now and then to the fact that the people are responsible for the government they get. And when they elect a man to the presidency who doesn't take care of the job, they've got nobody to blame but themselves." Adams wished things were different. The corrupt politician is the putative villain of his book, the idealistic wayfarer his heroine. A cleareyed reading of the novel, however, suggests that his view of democracy has much in common with that of Machiavelli, Sidney, Emerson and Truman. After hearing conflicting opinions about the matters of the day, Mrs. Lee sighs and wonders: "Who, then, is right? How can we all be right? Half of our wise men declare that the world is going straight to perdition; the other half that it is fast becoming perfect. Both cannot be right." She has, she says, a single goal. "1 must know," she muses, "whether America is right or wrong." Turning to a character named Nathan Gore, a man of letters and an occasional diplomat (rather like Henry Adams himself), Mrs. Lee asks, "Do you yourself think democracy the best government, and universal suffrage a success?" Gore answers reluctantly but revealingly. "1 believe in democracy," he says. "1 accept it. 1 will faithfully serve and defend it." "I grant it is an experiment," Gore continues, "but it is the only direction society can take that is worth its taking; the only conception of its duty large enough to satisfy its instincts; the only result that is worth an effort or a risk." Like many reformers, Mrs. Lee longs for a North Star. "Where did the public good enter at all into this maze of personal intrigue, this wilderness of stunted natures where no straight road was to be found, but only the tortuous and aimless tracks of beasts and things that crawl?" she wonders. "Where was she to look for a principle to guide, an ideal to set up and to point at?" No such principle or ideal, it becomes clear, will be found in Senator Ratcliffe. As he courts Mrs. Lee, Ratcliffe has to explain a pair of political transgressions. The first dated from the Civil War when, as governor of Illinois, he manipulated election returns to ensure the success of Lincoln's 1864 campaign. The second was his acceptance, as a senator, of a large payment for his vote on a bill he had previously opposed. As Ratcliffe told the story, the bribe went to supporting his party in the first post-Civil War presidential election - a race that, if lost, would have "meant that the government must pass into the bloodstained hands of rebels." Mrs. Lee would have none of it. She declines Ratcliffe's hand, saying: "1 will not share the profits of vice; 1 am not willing to be made a receiver of stolen goods, or to be put in a position where 1 am perpetually obliged to maintain that immorality is a virtue!" So there it was. Adams's Madeleine Lee will strike some readers as a kind of American Dorothea Brooke, the protagonist of George Eliot's "Middlemarch." Inspired by St. Theresa of Avila, Dorothea sought "some illimitable satisfaction" in the provincial world of 19th-century England; Mrs. Lee, too, is anxious to find unleavened goodness in the drawing rooms of Washington. Both are doomed to be disappointed, but Dorothea is the far more profound character, for she does realize that the perfect must not be the enemy of the good. "What do we live for," Dorothea asks, "if it is not to make life less difficult to each other?" Mrs. Lee has no such epiphany. She is not obtuse. ("Ah, Mr. Carrington," she says at one point, "this world will not run as we want. Do you suppose the time will ever come when every one will be good and happy and do just what they ought?") Yet she prefers to abandon an arena she finds morally suspect to remaining in the fight that Nathan Gore had described to her. Readers of Adams's "Democracy" are left in a curious conundrum as the novel closes. We are to approve of Mrs. Lee's rejection of Ratcliffe and of her retirement from Washington while understanding that Ratcliffe has what the historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. described as "the more powerful arguments." Schlesinger, himself a figure in the Adams tradition, added: "As a novel of political ideas, 'Democracy' is intermittently brilliant but ultimately unsatisfactory." The same, alas, can - must, really - be said of democracy itself. JON meacham is the author, most recently, of "The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels."


Library Journal Review

History does not actually repeat itself, but studying how countries have worked through trying times can be reassuring. This is the message that Pulitzer Prize-winning Meacham (political science, Vanderbilt Univ.; American Lion) provides in his exceptional new book. Here, Meacham recalls the struggles the United States has faced, including issues of racism, sexism, war, and pestilence. The author describes how, through what Lincoln famously called "the better angels of our nature," the country has prevailed and tried to move forward in the fervent belief that all Americans deserve guarantees of equality and justice. Using examples of challenging periods in U.S. history, such as Reconstruction, the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, and the anti-Communist witch hunts led by -Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s, Meacham helps readers understand that the country has experienced difficulties before and will endure them again. VERDICT An excellent work by a skilled historian and worthy of all library collections.-Ed Goedeken, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

one The Confidence of the Whole People Visions of the Presidency, the Ideas of Progress and Prosperity, and "We, the People" Energy in the Executive is a leading character in the definition of good government. --Alexander Hamilton, The New-York Packet, Tuesday, March 18, 1788 I think that 'twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. --Words popularly attributed to Sojourner Truth, the Woman's Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, 1851 Dreams of God and of gold (not necessarily in that order) made America possible. The First Charter of Virginia--the 1606 document that authorized the founding of Jamestown--is 3,805 words long. Ninety-eight of them are about carrying religion to "such People, as yet live in Darkness and miserable Ignorance of the true Knowledge and Worship of God"; the other 3,707 words in the charter concern the taking of "all the Lands, Woods, Soil, Grounds, Havens, Ports, Rivers, Mines, Minerals, Marshes, Waters, Fishings, Commodities," as well as orders to "dig, mine, and search for all Manner of Mines of Gold, Silver, and Copper." Explorers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries sought riches; religious dissenters came seeking freedom of worship. In 1630, the Puritan John Winthrop, who crossed a stormy Atlantic aboard the Arbella, wrote a sermon, "A Model of Christian Charity," that explicitly linked the New World to a religious vision of a New Jerusalem. "For we must consider that we shall be as a City upon a hill," Winthrop said, drawing on Jesus's Sermon on the Mount. (Forever shrewd about visuals, Ronald Reagan added the adjective shining to the image several centuries later.) We've always lived with--and perpetuated--fundamental contradiction. In 1619, a Dutch "man of warre" brought about twenty captive Africans--"negars"--to Virginia, the first chapter in the saga of American slavery. European settlers, meanwhile, set about removing Native American populations, setting in motion a tragic chain of events that culminated in the Trail of Tears. And so while whites built and dreamed, people of color were subjugated and exploited by a rising nation that prided itself on the expansion of liberty. Those twin tragedies shaped us then and ever after. As did basic facts of geography. There was a breathtaking amount of room to run in the New World. The vastness of the continent, the wondrous frontier, the staggering natural resources: These, combined with a formidable American work ethic, made the pursuit of wealth and happiness more than a full-time proposition. It was a consuming, all-enveloping one. For many, birth mattered less than it ever had before. Entitled aristocracies crumbled before natural ones. If you were a white man and willing to work, you stood a chance of transcending the circumstances of your father and his father's father and of joining the great company of "enterprising and self-made men," as Henry Clay put it in 1832. The next year, President Andrew Jackson appointed one such man to be postmaster of Salem, Illinois. Though a Whig at the time--Jackson was a Democrat--Abraham Lincoln was happy to accept. His rise from frontier origins became both fable and staple in the American narrative. Lincoln understood the power of his story, for he knew that he embodied broad American hopes. "I happen, temporarily, to occupy this big White House," Lincoln told the 166th Ohio Regiment in the summer of 1864. "I am a living witness that any one of your children may look to come here as my father's child has." No understanding of American life and politics is possible without a sense of the mysterious dynamic between the presidency and the people at large. Sundry economic, geographic, and demographic forces, of course, shape the nation. Among these is an unspoken commerce involving the most ancient of institutions, a powerful chief, and the more modern of realities, a free, disputatious populace. In moments when public life feels unsatisfactory, then, it's instructive--even necessary--to remember first principles. What can the presidency be, at its best? And how should the people understand their own political role and responsibilities in what Jefferson called "the course of human events"? In the beginning, at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, the presidency was a work in progress. Ambivalent about executive authority, many of the framers were nevertheless anxious to rescue the tottering American nation. Governed by the weak Articles of Confederation--national power was diffuse to nonexistent--the country, George Washington wrote in November 1786, was "fast verging to anarchy & confusion!" The Constitutional Convention, which ran from May to September of 1787, was focused on bringing stability to the unruly world of competing state governments and an ineffectual national Congress. In 1776's Common Sense, Thomas Paine had suggested the title of "President" for the leader of a future American government. Still, the colonial suspicion of monarchial power was evident in Paine's pamphlet. "But where, say some, is the king of America?" Paine wrote. "I'll tell you, friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the royal brute of Great Britain. . . . For as in absolute governments the king is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king, and there ought to be no other." The tension between the widespread Paine view (that central authority was dangerous) and the practical experience of the Revolutionary War and the Confederation period (that a weak national government was even more dangerous) shaped the thoughts and actions of the delegates who gathered in the Pennsylvania State House, now known as Independence Hall, in May 1787. Physically diminutive but intellectually powerful, James Madison, who laid out a plan for the new government with care, admitted the proper executive structure was a perplexing problem. "A national Executive will also be necessary," Madison wrote fellow Virginian Edmund Randolph before the convention. "I have scarcely ventured to form my own opinion yet, either of the manner in which it ought to be constituted, or the authorities with which it ought to be clothed." Madison's uncertainty reflected the reality of the time. There were competing schools of thought. On the floor of the convention, Alexander Hamilton of New York proposed a president to be elected for life; others favored plans by which the legislative branch would select the executive, effectively creating a parliamentary system. Even when the drafting was done, the precise nature of the presidency--of its powers and relative role in guiding the nation--was an open mystery to the framers. Yet they were willing to live with ambiguity. Why? Because of George Washington. It was generally assumed that General Washington, a man with Cincinnatus-like standing who had voluntarily surrendered military power at the close of the Revolutionary War, would be the first to hold the post. (The delegates did provide that the president had to be a natural-born citizen, "or a citizen of the United States at the time of the adoption of this Constitution," suggesting that there has always been a wariness of foreign influence and of the foreign-born.) All in all, given the expectation of a President Washington, the creation of the office was an act of faith in the future and an educated wager on human character. From the start Americans recognized the elasticity of the presidency--and hoped for the best. Such hopes have not always been realized. Near the end of Donald Trump's first year in power, for instance, The New York Times reported that, before taking office, he had "told top aides to think of each presidential day as an episode in a television show in which he vanquishes rivals." This Hobbesian view of the presidency--that every single day is a war of all against all--is novel and out of sync with much of the presidential past. In his 1867 book The English Constitution, Walter Bagehot delineated the elements crucial to the government of a free people: "First, those which excite and preserve the reverence of the population--the dignified parts . . . ​and next, the efficient parts--those by which it, in fact, works and rules." Bagehot argued that the projection of aspirations above the usual run of political business was vital. "The dignified parts of government," Bagehot wrote, "are those which bring it force--which attract its motive power." In the American context, this is especially true of the presidency, for the president, in the words of James Bryce, had become "the head of the nation." Speaking in Bagehot's vernacular, Bryce also observed: "The President has a position of immense dignity, an unrivalled platform from which to impress his ideas (if he has any) upon the people." His influence could therefore be nearly total. "As he has the ear of the country," Bryce wrote, "he can force upon its attention questions which Congress may be neglecting, and if he be a man of constructive ideas and definite aims, he may guide and inspire its political thought." In a twenty-first-century hour when the presidency has more in common with reality television or professional wrestling, it's useful to recall how the most consequential of our past presidents have unified and inspired with conscious dignity and conscientious efficiency. "Every hope and every fear of his fellow citizens, almost every aspect of their wealth and activity, falls within the scope of his concern--indeed, within the scope of his duty," Harry Truman said. "Only a man who has held the office can really appreciate that." Reflecting on his historic push for civil rights after President Kennedy's assassination, Lyndon Johnson recalled: "I knew that, as President and as a man, I would use every ounce of strength I possessed to gain justice for the black American. My strength as President was then tenuous--I had no strong mandate from the people; I had not been elected to that office. But I recognized that the moral force of the Presidency is often stronger than the political force. I knew that a President can appeal to the best in our people or the worst; he can call for action or live with inaction." To hear such voices is to be reminded of what we have lost, but also what can one day be recaptured. The possibilities of a powerful president informed several of Hamilton's contributions to The Federalist, his joint effort, with Madison and John Jay, to support the ratification of the Constitution. Hamilton defended article 2, the establishment of the executive, with characteristic eloquence. In his Federalist published on Tuesday, March 18, 1788, Hamilton wrote, "Energy in the Executive is a leading character in the definition of good government. It is essential to . . . ​the security of liberty against the enterprises and assaults of ambition, of faction, and of anarchy." Still, Hamilton's enthusiasm had its limits. Eight days later, in a subsequent Federalist essay, he observed, "The history of human conduct does not warrant that exalted opinion of human virtue which would make it wise in a nation to commit interests of so delicate and momentous a kind, as those which concern its intercourse with the rest of the world, to the sole disposal of . . . ​a President of the United States." The Founders saw, then, that the executive office would require check and balance. With Hamilton and Madison's counsel, President Washington gave the institution its founding form. "As the first of everything, in our situation will serve to establish a Precedent," he wrote Madison, "it is devoutly wished on my part, that these precedents may be fixed on true principles." As Thomas Jefferson, the first secretary of state, recalled it, Hamilton once said that "the President was the center on which all administrative questions ultimately rested, and that all of us should rally around him, and support with joint efforts measures approved by him." In 1792, when farmers in western Pennsylvania were gathering forces to rebel against a federal excise tax on whiskey, Hamilton urged Washington to take a direct hand. "Moderation enough has been shown; it is time to assume a different tone," Hamilton argued. "The well-disposed part of the community will begin to think the Executive wanting in decision and vigor." Washington agreed, writing, "Whereas it is the particular duty of the Executive 'to take care that the laws be faithfully executed' . . . the permanent interests and happiness of the people require that every legal and necessary step should be pursued" to avoid "violent and unwarrantable proceedings." Within two decades, Thomas Jefferson, after serving in the highest office himself for eight years, came to share something of Washington's understanding of the presidency. "In a government like ours it is the duty of the Chief-magistrate, in order to enable himself to do all the good which his station requires, to endeavor, by all honorable means, to unite in himself the confidence of the whole people," Jefferson wrote in 1810. "This alone, in any case where the energy of the nation is required, can produce an union of the powers of the whole, and point them in a single direction, as if all constituted but one body & one mind: and this alone can render a weaker nation unconquerable by a stronger one." Many of even the most divisive figures in our history have shared this Jeffersonian vision. Before Andrew Jackson, for example, power tended toward the few, whether political or financial. After Jackson, government, for better and for worse, was more attuned to the popular will. In the American experiment, Jackson proved that a leader who could inspire the masses could change the world. He was the most contradictory of men--but then, America was, and is, among the most contradictory of nations. He had massacred Indians in combat, executed enemy soldiers, fought duels, and imposed martial law on New Orleans. A champion of even the poorest of whites, Jackson was an unrepentant slaveholder. A sentimental man who adopted an Indian orphan, he was one of a line of leaders who drove Native American tribes from their homelands. An enemy of the Second Bank of the United States, Jackson would have given his life to preserve the central government. Jackson spoke passionately of the needs of "the humble members of society--the farmers, mechanics, and laborers" and made the case for popular politics and a more democratic understanding of power. He did so in part because he had begun his life as one of that "humble" class. A self-made man who had risen to the highest levels of a slaveholding society, he wanted to open the doors of opportunity for men like him. Today we find many of his views morally shortsighted, but in his time he was a figure of democratic aspiration. In the presidency, compromise was a little-remarked Jacksonian virtue. No other president fulminated more passionately or threatened his foes more forcefully, but Jackson believed in the union with all his heart. To him, the nation was a sacred thing, hallowed by his family's blood, for he had lost his mother and brothers in the Revolutionary War. We were then, and are now, what Jackson called "one great family." Excerpted from The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels by Jon Meacham All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.