March 3, 2024

Patriotism and the presidency




Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

Patriotism and the presidency

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – The first prerequisite for any U.S. president is patriotism, that one simple, overused word that means a person has the best interests of the nation in his or her thoughts. Put another way, it means the person places the safety, security, and welfare of the nation above all other nations.

Past presidents, vice presidents, and candidates for those offices have had their biases. John Adams favored Britain over France. Thomas Jefferson, an avowed Francophile, favored the reverse.

In a letter dated June 7, 1797, French Consul General Philippe-Henry-Joseph de Létombe claimed Vice President Jefferson told him: “Mr. Adams [the U.S. president] is vain, suspicious, and stubborn, of an excessive self-regard, taking counsel with nobody . . . . But his presidency will only last five years [sic]; he is only president by three [Electoral College] votes . . . . It is for France [Jefferson said], great, generous, at the summit of her glory, to pretend to take no notice, to be patient, to precipitate nothing, and all will return to order. . . . drag out the negotiations at length, and mollify them by the urbanity of the proceedings.”

We cannot know if Jefferson actually said such things. We do know the sentiments were correct as Jefferson confirmed in his March 21, 1798, letter to James Madison: “As to do nothing, and to gain time, is everything with us [Democratic-Republicans], I propose that they [Congress] shall come to a resolution of adjournment ‘in order to go home and consult their constituents on the great crisis of American affairs now existing.’ Besides gaining time enough by this to allow the descent [Napoleon’s invasion, which was soon called off as impractical because Britannia ruled the seas] on England to have its effect here as well as there, it will be a means of exciting the whole body of people . . .”

Less than a month later, President Adams exposed the XYZ Affair, a French attempt to demand a bribe from U.S. envoys who were in Paris to address French dissatisfaction with the Jay Treaty between the U.S. and Great Britain that had tilted U.S. policy away from France.

Two years later, Jefferson barely defeated Aaron Burr for the presidency. Burr became Jefferson’s vice president and was later accused of attempting to set up an independent empire west of the Mississippi River.

As the decades passed, other presidents would foment or initiate wars, including the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and the Second Gulf War. Even America’s entry into World War II was pushed along by President Franklin Roosevelt, who understood strict neutrality would have doomed Great Britain to defeat at the hands of Nazi Germany.

Yet, except for Burr, who was a near rather than a sitting president, no president or vice president intentionally acted to undermine the nation, although some of their actions did so. They did not aid and abet an enemy, although in some cases their actions created enemies. They did stretch the limits of executive power to choose sides.

Today, Vladimir Putin’s Russia is clearly an opponent, if not an outright foe. He continues to threaten European nations from Ukraine to the NATO-member Baltic States. He has joined forces with U.S. enemy Bashir al-Assad in the Syrian Civil War. And he has interfered with the recent U.S. presidential election. Yet, President-elect Donald Trump continues to turn a blind eye to all this and remains unrestrained in his admiration for the Russian strongman. In this, Trump is not choosing sides between foreign nations, he is choosing sides between the United States and Russia. And in this he is unique among American presidents.


          Find Douglas Cohn’s new books, “World War 4: Nine Scenarios” (endorsed by seven flag officers) and “The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency” at:

Twitter:  @douglas_cohn

© 2017s U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *