Presidential Leadership in Feeble Times

Click here to purchase

Table of Contents

1. Introduction
2. The Puzzle of the Presidents and the Economy during the Gilded Age
3. Prelude: The Civil War
Interlude: Into the 1870s
4. Ulysses S. Grant: “A great soldier might be a baby politician,” 1869-1873
5. Ulysses S. Grant: Panic, Depression, and The Dawn of the Gilded Age, 1873-1877
6. Rutherford B. Hayes and the Great Economic Boom, 1877-1881
Interlude: Into the 1880s
7. James A. Garfield and the Economy of 1881
8. Chester Arthur and the Smoldering Depression of 1881-1885
9. Grover Cleveland: Strict Constitutionalism and the Challenge of Recession, 1885-1889
Interlude: Into the 1890s
10. Benjamin Harrison—Patriot and Partisan: Planting the Seeds of Crisis, 1889-1893
11. Grover Cleveland Returns: The Great Depression of 1893-1897
12. William McKinley and the Developmental State, 1897-1901
13. Conclusions
14. Appendix: Estimating the Presidents’ Economic Performance—Data, Sources, and Methods

Do presidents matter for America’s economic performance? We tend to stereotype Gilded Age presidents as weak. We also assume that the American people did not understand how the economy worked or the government’s role in it. And we generally dismiss the Gilded Age macro-economy as boring—little interesting or important happened. Instead, the micro-economics of the business world was where the action was at. More broadly, many economists and political scientists believe that individual presidents simply do not matter much, even in the 21st century. Institutional constraints and historical circumstance dictate success or failure; the White House is just along for the ride.

This book shows that all of this is mistaken! It tells the story of three decades of Gilded Age economic upheaval with a focus on presidential leadership—why did some presidents crash and burn, while others prospered? It explains how differences in presidential vision and leadership style can have dramatic consequences. It shows that, even in this unlikely period, presidents powerfully affected national economic performance and that their success came from surprising sources, with important lessons for us today.