All the Presidents’ Men

Many politicians, public intellectuals, and political pundits have been greatly influenced by former U.S. presidents, be it Jefferson, Hamilton, Wilson, or Jackson.



Famous Jeffersonians: John Quincy Adams, Dwight D. Eisenhower, George F. Kennan, J. William Fulbright

Likes: limiting overseas entanglements, prioritizing domestic reform, warning of “imperial overstretch”

Dislikes: bloated military budgets, imposing American values abroad, close alliances with foreign regimes

“[W]e must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence … by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” Dwight D. Eisenhower, farewell address, Jan. 17, 1961


Famous Hamiltonians: Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, Theodore Roosevelt, George H.W. Bush

Likes: economic frameworks for prosperity, G-20 summits, American power used to advance the national interest, opening foreign markets for American business, realism regarding U.S. goals and capabilities

Dislikes: expending resources on humanitarian missions, undue focus on the domestic politics of foreign allies, international human rights watchdogs

“One class of our citizens indulges in gushing promises to do everything for foreigners, another class offensively and improperly reviles them; and it is hard to say which class more thoroughly misrepresents the sober, self-respecting judgment of the American people as a whole. The only safe rule is … to ‘speak softly and carry a big stick.'” Theodore Roosevelt, An Autobiography, 1913


Famous Wilsonians: Eleanor Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Paul Wolfowitz, Christopher Hitchens

Likes: spreading democratic values as a prerequisite for international stability, the United Nations, human rights

Dislikes: isolationism, alliances with unsavory regimes, making policy based on narrow economic interests, balance-of-power politics

“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty. This much we pledge — and more.” John F. Kennedy, 1961 inaugural address


Famous Jacksonians: William Tecumseh Sherman, George S. Patton, Jesse Helms, Ronald Reagan, Sarah Palin

Likes: muscular expansion of American power, unapologetic defense of U.S.

Dislikes: international treaties, the United Nations, timidity, undue concern with human rights and other countries’ sovereignty

“Americans love a winner. Americans will not tolerate a loser. Americans despise cowards. Americans play to win all the time. I wouldn’t give a hoot in hell for a man who lost and laughed. That’s why Americans have never lost nor will ever lose a war, for the very thought of losing is hateful to an American.” George S. Patton, speech to the 3rd Army, June 5, 1944

Walter Russell Mead is the Henry A. Kissinger senior fellow in U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. This essay is adapted from his forthcoming book, Power, Terror, Peace, and War: America's Grand Strategy in a World at Risk (New York: Knopf, 2004).