Presidential Difference in the Early Republic: The Highly Disparate Leadership Styles of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson


  • AUTHOR'S NOTE: I am indebted to the following for their comments on drafts of this article: Tim H. Blessing, Thomas E. Cronin, John Ferling, Richard H. Immerman, Robert Jervis, Robert M. Johnstone, Jr., Stanley Kelley, Jr., Bruce Miroff, William K. Muir, Jr., John Murrin, Barbara Oberg, Roberta Sigel, J. C. A. Stagg, and Rupert Wilkinson.

Fred I. Greenstein is a professor of politics emeritus at Princeton University and director of the Woodrow Wilson School Program in Leadership Studies. His most recent book is The Presidential Difference: Leadership Style from FDR to George W. Bush. He is at work on a book on the leadership of the presidents from Washington through Jackson.


The absence of well-established political precedents and norms presented the early American presidents with the political equivalent of a Rorschach test. This made for highly diverse leadership styles, as can be seen by comparing the leadership of George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson. This article makes such a comparison, doing so on the basis of cognitive style, emotional intelligence, public communication, organizational capacity, political skill, and policy vision.