The American Government: 1865 to Present

Published 22 Jul 2017

Perhaps it can be said that the strength of the United States of America, as a nation, has always been temporary, in that it is dependent on the capability and proficiency of the President in office. Thus it is more apparent in democracies, where a change in leadership occurs more frequent, and often, much too soon. It is a case where a President’s term, if found inept, is too long; and a competent one, too fleeting.

The years 1865 to 1900 were pictures of contrasts. President Chester Arthur, who served from 1881-1885, was a champion of the reformation of the civil service through the Pendleton Act of 1883, which protected the government employees from termination due to political grounds (White President Arthur likewise enacted, against his party’s principles, the Tariff Act of 1883, which lowered the government’s tariff rates in order to lessen the huge revenue surplus. President Ulysses Grant’s term of office, from 1869-1867, meanwhile, was marred with controversies. Although he was generally known to be an honest man, he associated himself with men of questionable character, and whom he had defended, even when their corruption was already evident. The nation’s economic policies were questionable during his term, and this may have resulted in the Panic of 1873.

The Years between 1901 and 1932 were no different. President Thomas Woodrow Wilson, who served from 1913 to 1921, was a leader whose mettle was tested by the First World War. President Wilson never once was in doubt of the eventual result. As was written of him in an article, “He had mobilized the entire nation—its manpower, its industry, its commerce, its agriculture” ( 1). President Theodore Roosevelt’s term, from 1901-1909, in contrast, was characterized by indecisions, especially on urgent economic programs. The Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act, both enacted under his term, were only instigated because of the mounting pressure resulting from the banning of American meat products by the international community. Later revelations by the men directly involved in the authorship of the bills would reveal that President Roosevelt had in actuality, no participation in its drafting, a typical trait of limited governance.

President Richard Nixon term, which lasted from 1969 to 1974, was perhaps the most controversial. His Watergate Scandal, which eventually forced him to resign, was just one of the many accusations against his administration. The severity of his administration’s corruption can be evidenced in his appointees’ as well as some Cabinet members’ confession of guilt concerning Watergate-related crimes. This was a direct contrast to President John F. Kennedy’s strong administrative style, from 1961 to 1963, which was the first time that the government’s budget exceeded $100 billion, and in 1961, had the first non-recession deficit. America’s phenomenal growth in GDP over a sustained period during his term had never been duplicated since.

In more recent times, the governance of President Bill Clinton is perceived as being limited, and had been pictured as in the back seat while Congress was the one driving. His failure to implement developments in healthcare had resulted in his party’s loss in the Congressional elections during his two-term tenure, save for one. President George W. Bush, from 2001 to 2009, meanwhile, clearly demonstrated strong leadership in the face of adversity. His unswerving decision to wage war against terrorism, and in the process rid of foreign leaders who had shown sympathy to known terrorists groups, for the safety of the American nation, was a national posture never before experienced in American history.


It has been evident that a nation’s strength and stability corresponds directly with the competence of its leader. United States, in its long history, had displayed this phenomenon clearly and had, in its downslide, suffered the consequences. Perhaps we should muster the will to learn that history, in its cycle of repetitions, leaves behind lessons for us, the citizens, to utilize and learn from.

Works Cited

  • The White Home page. 29 July 2009
  • Woodrow Wilson: The Nobel Peace Prize 1919. Home page. 29 July 2009
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