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The Historical Presidency The Perils of Restoration Politics: Nineteenth-Century Antecedents



This article constitutes a comparative analysis of nineteenth-century “restoration presidents”—presidents from the dominant party who come to power immediately following opposition presidents—to determine the extent to which they were able to act as free agents or were bound by prior commitments. These presidents established the pattern for leadership of which George W. Bush is the latest exemplar. Specifically, this article focuses attention on the Jacksonian Democrats following the Whig presidencies (Polk and Pierce) and the Republicans following Cleveland's two administrations (Harrison and McKinley). A recurrent pattern in these presidencies is that they and their regime allies see their immediate opposition party predecessors as illegitimate threats to the dominant party's ascendancy and in response these “restoration presidents” tend to overreach, pushing the regime toward its disjunction. Exploring the common elements among this group of presidents will facilitate a more accurate understanding of similarly placed presidents in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.