Unless otherwise indicated, all OI books are distributed by The University of North Carolina Press.

Presidents Above Party

The First American Presidency, 1789–1829

Ralph Ketcham

Paper: 978-0-8078-4179-2 ($35.00)

Copyright 1984
University of North Carolina Press

George Washington's vision was a presidency free of party, a republican, national office that would transcend faction. That vision would remain strong in the administrations of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and John Quincy Adams, yet largely disappear under Andrew Jackson and his successors.

This book is a comprehensive and pathbreaking study of the early presidency and the ideals behind it. Ralph Ketcham examines the roots of nonpartisan leadership in Western thought and the particular influences on the founding fathers. Intellectual and political profiles of the first six presidents and their administrations emphasize the construction each put on the office, the challenges he faced, and the compromises he did and did not make. The erosion of nonpartisanship under Andrew Jackson is presented as a counterpoint that helps define the early presidency and the permanent transition from it.

Addressing the thoughtful citizen as well as the scholar, the author poses the fundamental questions about presidential leadership, then and now. The best study of the early presidency, this book is an intellectual portrait of the age that will challenge received notions of American history.

About the Author

Ralph Ketcham is professor of American studies at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs of Syracuse University.


This original and challenging work throws fresh light on early conceptions of the Presidency and thereby incites fresh thought about the Presidency as an office.

--Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

Presidents Above Party not only is one of the most important books ever written on the early national period. It also deliberately invites reevaluation of the nature of American political leadership and the purpose of national politics. As if that were not enough, this beautifully written work can also serve students as a good introduction to the political ideology of revolutionary and early nineteenth-century America.

--William Pencak

Ketcham takes the reader on a brilliant intellectual tour tracing 'ideas of leadership' from early Puritan beliefs of what constituted wise magistracy to the post-Revolutionary debates concerning the powers and office of the presidency.

--William and Mary Quarterly