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Presidents and the Dissolution of the UnionLeadership Style from Polk to Lincoln$
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Fred I. Greenstein

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780691151991

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691151991.001.0001

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What Difference Did the President Make?

What Difference Did the President Make?

(p.111) Chapter 8 What Difference Did the President Make?
Presidents and the Dissolution of the Union

Fred I. Greenstein

Dale Anderson

Princeton University Press

The Civil War era posed profound challenges to the six presidents. There is widespread agreement that Abraham Lincoln met that test in a superlative manner while Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan responded to it abysmally. It is also widely held that Millard Fillmore's performance was pedestrian and James K. Polk's was unusually effective. This chapter reviews the way each of these protagonists rose, or failed to rise, to the challenges of his times. It then explores the ways in which the leadership criteria employed in this book figured in the period under consideration. It concludes by discussing a pair of theoretical issues implicit in Allan Nevins' assertion in the epigraph to this chapter that if the nation had “possessed three farseeing, imaginative, and resolute” chief executives “instead of Fillmore, Pierce, and Buchanan, the [Civil] War might have been postponed.”

Keywords:   American Civil War, American presidents, James K. Polk, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, leadership

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