What It Means to Be American
A National Conversation

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The Swag—and Swagger—Behind American Presidential Campaigns

From a Coloring Book to a Painted Axe, Election Ephemera Remind Us of Hard-Fought Elections of Yore

America’s founding is rooted in the power of the people to select their own leader. Efforts to sway the vote—via gritty campaigns driven by emotion, piles of cash, and brutal, drag-out battles—are equally …

STORY

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A populist desire for “reform” runs deep in the psyche of American voters. Every few decades, a presidential candidate channels this rebellious spirit. Andrew Jackson was such a candidate in 1828. So were William Henry Harrison in 1840, Abraham Lincoln in 1860, William Jennings Bryan in 1896, Teddy Roosevelt in 1912, Franklin Roosevelt in 1932, Jimmy Carter in 1976, and Barack Obama in 2008.
But no candidate for President carried the reform banner for honesty and competence more naturally, or tragically, than Horace Greeley. In 1872, Greeley was the nation’s leading …

The public inauguration of Rutherford B. Hayes takes place in front of the U.S. Capitol on the East Portico in Washington, D.C., on March 5, 1877.   (AP Photo)

We are told that this year’s presidential election is unprecedented in many ways. The American voters are faced with the choice between an unlikely candidate who has been repudiated by many within his own party, and a …

Democratic candidate and Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis shakes hands with Vice President and Republican candidate George Bush, left, prior to their second and final debate at Pauley Pavillion on UCLA campus, in Los Angeles, Calif., on October 13, 1988. (AP Photo/Lennox McLendon)

Today, presidential debates between candidates are considered fixtures of our political scene. Though they generate the occasional dust-up—like Donald Trump complaining that some of this year’s debates conflict with …

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It was not the craziest election of the 20th Century, but it might have been the strangest.One candidate was a natural politician, affable and gregarious, a true man-of-the-people who favored flashy suits and a …

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True or False? Franklin Delano Roosevelt claimed to be a conservative defender of the nation’s founding ideals.

If you answered “both,” you’d be correct. We don’t tend to think of FDR as a conservative today, and at certain points he would have rejected the label, but in 1936 that was how he wanted to be understood. He was three years into his first term and it was far from clear there would be a second. The mandate from his 1932 landslide victory seemed exhausted. Americans were seven years into the catastrophe of the Great Depression, which had destroyed whole industries and spread economic pain across …

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Think The Press Is Partisan? It Was Much Worse for Our Founding Fathers

A Scheming and Salacious Newspaper Reporter Targeted Hamilton and Jefferson—and Nearly Ruined Them

It is a common complaint that the drive for traffic at news sites in the digital age has debased our political dialogue, turning a responsible press into a media scramble for salacious sound bites. But partisanship and …

STORY