The Heir Apparent Presidency
Donald A. Zinman
It was during the Depression, with the Republican regime in disarray, that Franklin D. Roosevelt came into office with a mandate to change the role of government. His was one of the presidencies—like Jefferson’s, Jackson’s, and Lincoln’s before his, and Reagan’s after—that transformed the political system. But what of the successors of such transformative figures, those members and supporters of the new regime who are expected to carry forward the policies and politics of those they replace? It is these “heir apparent” presidents, impossibly tasked with backward-looking progress, that Donald Zinman considers in this incisive look at the curious trajectories of political power.
An heir apparent president, in Zinman’s analysis, can be successful but will struggle to get credit for his achievements. He must contend with the consequences of his predecessor's policies while facing a stronger opposition and sitting atop an increasingly weakened and divided party. And he will invariably alternate between three approaches to leadership: continuity, expansion, and correction. Looking in depth at James Madison, Martin Van Buren, Ulysses S. Grant (an heir apparent as the first genuine Republican to succeed Lincoln), Harry S. Truman, and George H. W. Bush, Zinman reveals how these successors of regime-changing presidents at times suffered for diverging from their predecessors’ perceived policies. At times these presidents also suffered from the consequences of the policies themselves or simply from changing political circumstances. What they rarely did, as becomes painfully clear, is succeed at substantially changing the policies and politics that they inherited.
“A systematic, convincing study based on Skowronek’s paradigm. . . political scientists will appreciate its explicitly comparative framework and systematic search for truths that transcend chronological time.”
—Congress & the Presidency
“Zinman provides an in-depth account of the presidents who follow transformational presidencies. The Heir Apparent Presidency is a well-researched work providing readers with a nuanced description of these individuals and how they struggled to continue the momentum of their predecessors while seeking their own paths. Highly recommended.”
—ChoiceSee all reviews...
“Don Zinman has written an excellent book examining the leadership dilemmas faced by presidents who succeed the great regime builders in American politics. It can’t be easybeing the president who follows Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Roosevelt, or Ronald Reagan, and Zinman’s analysis explains why. Working comfortably in the political time paradigm established by Stephen Skowronek over two decades ago, Zinman’s work represents a genuine contribution to our understandingof the place of “heir apparent presidents” in American history.Readers who see more in common with presidents across various eras will appreciate this survey of problematic administrations. It turns out that Madison and Van Buren have a lot to teach Truman and Bush.”
—David A. Crockett, author of Running against the Grain: How Opposition Presidents Win the White House
“This book is a must-read for all students of the presidency and of American political development. Because it is so engaging it will also be of great interest to a wider public as well. Given how important it is to study presidential leadership thematically over time, there are surprisingly few successful efforts to do so. Leuchtenberg’s In the Shadow of FDR comes to mind. This book is of comparable importance and quality. Zinman’s focus on the “heir apparents” provides a good corrective to those of us who write about the “greats” The “heir apparents” are far more numerous than the greats, or the dreadfuls for that matter, and it is thus all the more important to understand their commonalities. Zinman brings out those commonalities in a manner that is both analytically shrewd and historically accurate.”
—Marc Landy, co-author with Sidney M. Milkis of Presidential GreatnessSee fewer reviews...
It is a perilous and often thankless business, as The Heir Apparent Presidency makes abundantly clear, to follow and lead at once. Tracing the ways in which heir apparent presidents have met this challenge, this book offers rare and valuable insight into the movement of political time, and the shaping of political order.