Great Power or Great Responsibility: What’s the Priority Americans Should Want in Their Leaders?

Published on September 18, 2018

by Dr. Alan Snyder
Clash Daily Guest Contributor

So many people want to be president. Perhaps it would do them some good to remember comments by America’s first three presidents.

When Washington was elected to the presidency, he wrote to Henry Knox:

My movements to the chair of Government will be accompanied by feelings not unlike those of a culprit who is going to the place of his execution: so unwilling am I, in the evening of a life nearly consumed in public cares, to quit a peaceful abode for an Ocean of difficulties, without that competency of political skill, abilities and inclination which is necessary to manage the helm.

Trending: LMAO! This Eminem Meme Will Make You Howl Like A Spider Monkey

Washington understood the immense responsibility that would rest upon him.

When John Adams succeeded him eight years later, as he and Washington were leaving the scene of his inauguration, he later wrote:

Methought I heard him think, “Ay! I am fairly out and you are fairly in! See which of us will be the happiest!”

Adams had reason to be concerned. Imagine what it would be like having to be Washington’s successor, having to follow the man considered to be the Father of the Country. Regardless of Adams’ many accomplishments, he didn’t measure up to Washington in the eyes of the nation. Certain congressmen and senators, in a rather direct display of disrespect, even referred to him as “His Rotundity”.

Then there was Jefferson. He added the Louisiana Territory to the country, thus doubling its size. He sent out the Lewis and Clark expedition to see what he had bought. He was re-elected easily. Yet, at the end of his second term, when he signed a bill stopping all shipping (in order to avoid a European war), he alienated all of the New England states, which made their living by that very shipping. The historian Paul Johnson comments that Jefferson left office a beaten man. Jefferson said:

Oh for the day when I shall be withdrawn from [office]; when I shall have leisure to enjoy my family, my friends, my farm and books!

Too many individuals seek what they think will be greater power, only to come to the realization that the responsibilities can be overwhelming. I prefer to entrust power and authority to those who don’t want it so badly. Perhaps they will handle it more wisely.

I first posted this in January 2009. The message is still relevant nine years later.

Image: CCO Creative Commons; https://pixabay.com/en/george-washington-on-rushmore-mount-3668615/

Alan Snyder is Professor of History at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida. Ideas expressed in his books, articles, and online posts are his own opinions and do not necessarily represent the policy of Southeastern University.

 

Join the conversation!

We have no tolerance for comments containing violence, racism, profanity, vulgarity, doxing, or discourteous behavior. If a comment is spam, instead of replying to it please hover over that comment, click the ∨ icon, and mark it as spam. Thank you for partnering with us to maintain fruitful conversation.