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Keywords:

  • presidential character;
  • James David Barber;
  • presidential power;
  • nineteenth-century presidency;
  • joyful presidency

Political scientist James David Barber (1972) built bis well-known theory of presidential character on the premise that psychological health could be measured by whether a president enjoys the exercise of political power. Although this psychological theory may predict presidential success in the twentieth century, the theory fails to illuminate the behavior of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century presidents. None of the great or near great nineteenth-century presidents gave the appearance of having fun in the White House. To behave in such a way would have seemed conduct unbecoming of the president of the United States. Presidents in the nineteenth century largely experienced presidential power as a burden and a duty not because they were psychologically unsuited to the office but because powerful cultural norms and expectations told them that was how a president should experience the exercise of power.