People's History, Founding Myths, and the American Revolution
Ray Raphael - People's Historian


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Mr. President: How and Why the Founders Created a Chief Executive

Alfred A. Knopf, 2012


“In Mr. President, historian Ray Raphael explores the birth and early molding of the presidency. The journey is an illuminating one, throwing off wisdom that resonates as the nation prepares to choose its president again… Mr. President provides a rich harvest of insights for reflection during the next five months of political bloodletting.” – Washington Post
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“In a time when many find themselves questioning the efficacy of the presidency (seemingly regardless of party affiliation), the eligibility of future candidates, and the efficiency of the election process, a look back at the origins of the highest office in the U.S. is particularly timely. In this engaging narrative, Raphael (Founders: The People Who Brought You a Nation) elucidates the goings-on of the Federal Convention; the Continental Congresses and the various committees and debates that stemmed from them; and the myriad questions (some of which we still ask today) that shaped the American presidency: "Who would elect a chief executive? How long would he serve? What authority would he exercise? Who could check his power?" Peopled by such well-known figures as James Madison and George Washington, Raphael's latest also includes notable characters like the brilliant, "flamboyant, peg-legged orator" Gouverneur Morris, and the man responsible for the initial motion that the presidency consist of a single individual, James Wilson. Meticulously detailed and thoroughly researched – Raphael cites the papers of many icons of the nation's birth, such as Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin – this is a valuable read for Democrats and Republicans, as well as historians and those interested in contemporary American politics.” – Publishers Weekly
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"Renowned historian Raphael (Revolutionary Founders: Rebels, Radicals, and Reformers in the Making of the Nation, 2011, etc.) delivers an authoritative biography of the Constitutional Convention and the herculean task faced by the representatives.

"The author paints a picture of heroes — Edmund Randolph, George Mason, James Wilson and James Madison, among others — noting that the founders developed a government presupposing that George Washington would be the first chief executive. They believed Washington would set a nonpartisan tone and establish precedents for the office. Knowing the first man at the helm would be a good one, they then had to imagine successors who might not be quite as upright and accommodating. In order to show how their views evolved as they toiled, Raphael explores the founders’ writings in chronological order. The office developed slowly and with fervent discussions, and many wished the executive branch to be a committee out of fear of another monarchy like the one they had just rejected. They struggled with questions of popular or legislative election, term of office and re-eligibility before they ever began to worry about the powers the executive would wield. The question of direct election by the people was rejected out of hand, and selection by the senate would inextricably tie the executive to it. The electoral system involved the legislators while successively filtering the people’s wishes. The fear of a strong executive played equally against the notion that the aristocratic senate would overpower the government as they debated the division of powers. Remarkably, by the fall of 1787 two branches of the government were up and running, only awaiting the appointment of judges to complete the third.

"Raphael’s exceptional history of the beginning years of the United States should be required reading, especially in an election year." – Kirkus Reviews
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“Raphael offers an insightful narrative that follows the development of executive power in the U. S. political system from pre-Revolutionary veneration of the British monarchy to the expansion of presidential authority during the administration of Thomas Jefferson. The author’s lucid treatment explores in grand detail how delegates to the Federal Convention, James Wilson, James Madison, and Gouverneur Morris in particular, constructed what became the most powerful office in U. S. politics. Raphael forcefully argues that the direction the office took under the first three administrations (which he explores in some detail) was closer to the more monarchical vision of Alexander Hamilton and that from the very beginning, “the presidency embarked on an evolutionary course” that carried it “well beyond the strictures of the original rule book.” With a deep consideration for the modes of elections, a jealous regard for the separation of powers, and a frightening awareness of their Colonial history, the founders attempted to fashion an energetic executive consistent within the dominant paradigm of republicanism. Summing Up: Recommended. Raphael’s superb study is well suited as a general introduction to the topic and as a primer for undergraduate studies.” – Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries (American Library Association)
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“In Mr. President, Raphael … provides a careful, engaging and at times surprising account of the origins and early evolution of what is now the most powerful office in the world… Mr. President also presents lively and lucid lessons in civics.” – Tulsa World
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“Ray Raphael recreates the formation of the executive office, giving those interested in political history a narrative insight into the decisions behind the creation of American presidential power.” – Utne Reader
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Comments from other historians

“It’s not easy to find something new to say about the most powerful office in the world. Ray Raphael succeeds through the ingenious expedient of taking us back to the time when we had a country but no president, and reminding us how much work it took to fill that void. All fans of presidential history will need this book.” –Ted Widmer, Director, John Carter Brown Library, Brown University, and author of Ark of the Liberties: America and the World

“This is a fascinating and fresh narrative that takes the reader from the fierce debates establishing the federal executive at the Constitutional Convention through Thomas Jefferson’s election which tested the framers’ handiwork. It makes you wonder why it’s never been told before.” –Joyce Appleby, Past President of the American Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians, and author of The Relentless Revolution: A History of Capitalism

“Ray Raphael’s Mr. President presents to the reader a careful, lively, and in many respects, wholly surprising history of the origins and early development of the American presidency. His analysis of the years immediately preceding the Constitutional Convention of 1787 helps us understand better why the job of creating an American presidency was such a difficult one for the framers; and his meticulous examination of the records of the Convention yields a wholly novel conclusion: the man who played the most important role in determining the character of America’s executive branch was not James Madison or James Wilson, but the flamboyant, outspoken delegate from Pennsylvania, Gouverneur Morris. This book will command the attention of both professional historians and the general reader for decades to come.” –Richard Beeman, author of Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution

“Ray Raphael’s Mr. President is a brilliant analysis of why our Founding Fathers thought a Chief Executive was necessary for the American democratic experiment to flourish. The shrill arguments between Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton, Mason (and other law wizards) are recounted in these pages in vivid detail. A classic work of history!” –Douglas Brinkley, Professor of History at Rice University, author of The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America

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