Title Reviewed:
A History of Presidential Elections

Author Reviewed:
Eugene H. Roseboom

Vincent P. De Santis


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 54, Issue 2, pp 194-195

Article Type:
Book Review

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A History of Presidential Elections. By Eugene H. Roseboom. (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1967. Pp. vi, 568. Bibliography, index. $8.50.)

H. L. Mencken once described our presidential elections as quadrennial circuses, and on many occasions the proceedings at the national conventions and the antics of campaigns would seem to justify such a conclusion. Yet presidential elections are necessary in the functioning of our Republic, and they are a vital part of our national history. Moreover, they have been a source of wonder and mystery both to the politician and the scholar. For no one can be absolutely certain what a national convention will do or what way the voters will turn, and likewise no one can be absolutely certain why a candidate has won or lost. This element of uncertainty and guessing has made Presidential elections an elusive and exciting game for everyone in the country.

While there has been a profusion of literature about American politics—leaders, campaigns, parties, theories, and so forth—little has been written in the way of a connected account about the struggles that take place every four years for the presidency. Edward Stanwood's History of the Presidency, which comes closest to this, is outdated and has little to say about the elections of the twentieth century. Professor Roseboom's study fills the need of treating our presidential elections as distinguishable and as important events in our national history. His objective is "to present the essential facte about conventions, campaigns, and elections, briefly to assess the effectiveness of Presidents and other important party figures as political leaders, to indicate the more significant Congressional struggles of a political character, and to explain the trends of politics in the social and economic settings of the different periods, with particular attention to change."

This was a formidable task, but Professor Roseboom has done very well indeed, and has produced a very useful volume that will long serve the needs of all those interested in American politics. The book is a convenient summary of the main developments of presidential politics, and in general it reflects the latest and best scholarship on these matters. While the book is a popular account that will have a greater interest and use for the general reader and for the undergraduate, it will be a handy reference for the serious student of American politics, Everyone will enjoy the lively manner in which it has been written, and everyone can profit from the selective bibliography that Professor Roseboom has prepared.

The problem of emphasis and selection was a very difficult one in writing this book, and Professor Roseboom anticipated criticism on this point. Overall he has done very well in solving this problem, but the book might have been even more useful had he given greater attention and care to the really significant and meaningful elections like those of 1800, 1828, 1860, 1912, and 1932. In all of these there was a meaningful division of the parties, and the voters were presented with fundamental differences in political issues and questions. The treatment of these elections in the same way as the other elections is one shortcoming of this book.

Universiy of Notre Dame, Vincent P. De Santis

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.