Encyclopedia of the American Presidency by Michael A. Genovese

By Michael A. Genovese

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Frontiersmen-turned-farmers helped lead the expansion into territory occupied by aboriginal peoples. In any other context this expansion of a people and a new style of economy across a continent, displacing the original inhabitants, would be called imperialism. Instead, presidents, political leaders, and the public saw this Manifest Destiny as inevitable and positive. Development of the Industrial Revolution coincided with rising productivity on farms, freeing labor to move to factory jobs. The laissez-faire approach of presidents in the 19th-century era reinforced a generally hands-off national agriculture policy.

For example, in 1968 the Democratic nominee, Hubert Humphrey, declared his intent to seek the Democratic nomination in late April prior to the August convention. Less than three years later in January of 1971 the eventual Democratic nominee, George McGovern, announced the formation of his campaign organization—an unprecedented 18 months prior to the July convention! Given that announcement speeches are often the formal introduction of the candidate to many voters across the nation, they tend to focus on the biography of the candidate and his or her policy positions.

Political scientist Paul C. Light has undertaken perhaps the most comprehensive analysis regarding the development and pursuit of presidential domestic agendas. Light identifies two sets of resources that directly bear on a president’s agenda. The first is composed of internal resources, such as time, information, expertise, and energy. The second takes in external resources: party support in Congress, public approval, electoral margin, and patronage. These external resources help shape the amount of “presidential capital,” meaning the status, authority, and influence that a president may have at any given time.

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