Eleven Presidents
Eleven Presidents

Eleven Presidents

Promises vs. Results in Achieving Limited Government


384 Pages, 6 x 9

Formats: Hardcover, ebook: PDF, Mobipocket, ebook: EPUB

Hardcover, $24.95 (US $24.95) (CA $33.95)

Publication Date: November 2017

ISBN 9781598133066


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Presidents who claimed to limit government often actually did the opposite. History often looks unfavorably on presidents who may have actually contributed smart and important policies. Were Harding and Coolidge really as ineffective as their reputations maintain? Did Hoover not do enough to end the Depression? Was Reagan a true champion of small-government conservatism?   We all know that the American president is one of the most powerful people in the world. But to understand the presidency today we often have to learn from the past. Author Ivan Eland offers a new perspective in Eleven Presidents on the evolution of the executive office by exploring the policies of eleven key presidents who held office over the last one hundred years: Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. The book combines an exploration of how political currents shape historical legacies with an in-depth analysis of presidents' actual policies. An important, revealing book about the presidency, legacy, and the formation of history, Eleven Presidents is essential reading for understanding the American presidency.


"Ivan Eland has done it again. In Eleven Presidents, he looks at the history of the presidency from an entirely new perspective. Along the way, this well-written and thoroughly researched book persuasively challenges the conventional wisdom at every turn. Even when readers disagree with Eland's interpretations, he will make them think and ponder." —David T. Beito, Professor of History, University of Alabama; author, From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State: Fraternal Societies and Social Services, 1890-1967

"Political conservatism may or may not be out of ideas as some of its adversaries claim, but sincere small-government advocates like Ivan Eland in Eleven Presidents are continuing to stimulate debate in original and highly interesting ways." —Richard Shenkman, Founder and Publisher, History News Network

"'All is not what it first appears to be in presidential history,' as the excellent volume Eleven Presidents makes painfully clear. The book offers a devastating critique of Republican presidents and their 'limited government hypocrisy.' Beginning with Herbert Hoover, GOP presidents have expounded on the benefits of smaller government but expanded it nonetheless. (Dwight Eisenhower gets credit for being the one Republican president who kept his promises.) 'Watch what they do, not what they say' is a lesson to be learned from this insightful volume. Carefully comparing promises with results, Eland shows how GOP presidents, from Hoover to George W. Bush, have been Big Government Republicans, despite their rhetoric about 'limited government.' Eleven Presidents turns historical assessments of U.S. Presidents upside down—and makes for a fascinating read. Eland makes a good case that Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, normally ranked low in presidential polls that prize presidential 'energy,' were in fact two of our greatest presidents when judged by keeping their promises to limit government, both here and abroad. The lesson here is that neither major political party is committed to limited government in practice. While there are episodes of deregulation (under Jimmy Carter) or restrained spending (Eisenhower, Clinton), government grows inexorably. So, what is to be done? Eland states that the 'continuing hypocrisy of promising limited government and then not delivering it should be penalized [by voters], not rewarded.' Whether there is any public will to hold presidents accountable or not is then a serious question for readers to ponder." —Jonathan J. Bean, Professor of History, Southern Illinois University

"Ivan Eland's Eleven Presidents looks to be as indispensable as his last excellent book on the U.S. presidents, Recarving Rushmore. How well have American presidents since World War I done in keeping their promises to constrain government? Read this book!" —Ron Paul, former U.S. Congressman and candidate for U.S. President  

"Whatever prospects lie ahead for limited government, the rule of law, and authentic Constitutionalism, Americans first need to know their history. Leviathan did not emerge by accident. Democrats and Republicans alike have built the welfare-warfare state over the past century. Even self-described 'conservatives' have been complicit. In a moment when labels seem to be losing their meaning and once-familiar categories have been upended, Americans find themselves facing urgent questions about the political, economic, and social conditions necessary to a free society. In his important and well-written book Eleven Presidents, Ivan Eland unmasks the pretensions of power in Washington, D.C., and invites us to take a fresh and honest look at deeds more than words, at policy more than rhetoric." —Richard M. Gamble, Anna Margaret Ross Alexander Chair in History and Politics, Hillsdale College

"Ivan Eland sets out to puncture the widely-held impression that Republicans acted as the party of limited government over the last 100 years. In the closely argued book Eleven Presidents, he succeeds very well. With the exception of Harding, Coolidge, and to some extent Eisenhower, the author shows that government spending and the national debt, measured against the nation's GDP, rose faster under Republican presidents than under Democrats. Some may disagree with Eland's view that this fact is unfortunate, but none can dispute the fact itself." —James H. Broussard, Professor of History and Director, Center for Political History, Lebanon Valley College

"Finally, with Ivan Eland's Eleven Presidents we have the much-needed book that deals directly with what Gary Gregg calls the 'cult of the presidency'—the obsession with the notion that Presidents can solve all of our problems from the White House by just raising the debt ceiling over and over again. The constant overpromising of Presidents and presidential candidates has enshrined the panacea of government deliverance from all of our problems. Or what William F. Buckley, Jr., in addressing Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, called 'the myth of salvation by brick and mortar.' Eleven Presidents examines the counterpoint to the notion that Presidents can stop the rise of the oceans with the assertion that presidents can return to limited government. Bill Clinton asserted in a State of the Union address that 'the era of big government, as we've known it, is over,' but since then the national debt has gone up by trillions, not merely hundreds of billions, of dollars. Reagan truly believed that the size and scope of the federal government could be scaled back, but then he proceeded to let stand the new Department of Education despite promising to abolish it. Similarly, George W. Bush promised not to engage in 'nation-building' but then proceeded to enter into one of the nation's most grandiose nation building projects in history with the war in Iraq. The great promise to return to limited government, as Elands demonstrates, has met with little success. Republican presidents far outnumber Democrats in the promise of a return to limited government, but their rhetoric has far outweighed the reality of their accomplishments. This book is sobering and enlightening in showing the gap between the mostly Republican promise of limited government and the seemingly inexorable march toward the Leviathan state. The book is a welcome addition to the literature on the presidency. It reminds the reader of William Howard Taft's words: 'The President cannot make clouds rain or crops grow.' We can add to the list, that presidents, for the most part, seem incapable of scaling back the growth of the federal government and returning to some semblance of constitutional restraint." —Phillip G. Henderson, Professor of Politics, Catholic University of America; author, Managing the Presidency: The Eisenhower Legacy-From Kennedy to Reagan; editor, The Presidency Then and Now

"Some idols deserve to be smashed, particularly when it comes to the American presidency. In Eleven Presidents, Ivan Eland sets about the task with a bracing iconoclasm, toppling alleged 'greats,' and elevating others—like Warren Harding and Jimmy Carter—who've never gotten the respect they deserve. 'All is not what it first appears to be in presidential history,' Eland writes; but readers of Eleven Presidents will get a clear-eyed view of which presidents gave lip service to limited government—and which actually delivered." —Gene Healy, Vice President, Cato Institute; author, The Cult of the Presidency: America's Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power

Author Biography

Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at the Independent Institute. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and he spent fifteen years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He also has served as Evaluator-in-Charge (national security and intelligence) for the US General Accounting Office (now the Government Accountability Office) and has testified on the military and financial aspects of NATO expansion before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on the effects of international economic sanctions before that same committee, on CIA oversight before the House Government Reform Committee, and on the creation of the Department of Homeland Security before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Dr. Eland is the author of Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq; Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty; The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed; Putting "Defense"Back into U.S. Defense Policy; No War for Oil: U.S. Dependency and the Middle East; as well as The Failure of Counterinsurgency: Why Hearts and Minds Are Not Always Won. He is a contributor to numerous volumes and the author of forty-five in-depth studies on national security issues. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and a Ph.D. in Public Policy from George Washington University.

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