Introduction Article II of the United States Constitution provides a spare, even skeletal description of the role of the president of the United States. The president, it says, will be vested with "executive power," will be commander in chief of the nation's military forces, and will have the power to make treaties and appoint judges and executive officers with the advice and consent of the Senate. "He shall from time to time give to the Congress information on the State of the Union" and recommend measures for the legislature's consideration. The president will receive ambassadors and will "take care that the Laws be faithfully executed." Otherwise, the Framers had almost nothing to say about what the president would do or what kind of person the president would be. Through most of American history, however, the presidency has been much more than a simple instrument of executive power. Presidents, far from merely executing laws conceived and passed by others, have been the source of some of the most important shifts in the nation's public policy and political ideology. They have played not only political, but social and cultural roles in American life. They have experienced tremendous variations in their power and prestige. The presidency has hidden its occupants behind a vast screen of delegated powers and deliberate image-making. And the office has been critically shaped not just by individuals but by powerful social, economic, and cultural forces over which leaders have little or no control. Characterizing the American presidency-the task that this book has set for itself-is, as a result, very challenging. We start by distinguishing the presidency from the presidents, the office from those who held it. This book is not, then, a collection of presidential biographies, although it provides much biographical information about each of the forty-two men who have served as president. Rather, its focus is how these individuals have perceived and used the office, and how the office has changed as a result. Since George Washington's Inauguration in 1789, there have been periods of greater and lesser change, of turbulence and calm, of advance and retreat in the American presidency. Across these many years, however, four broad themes stand out: the symbolic importance of the presidency, which transcends its formal constitutional powers; the wide swings in its fortunes; the influence wielded not only by the president but also by his advisers; and the role of contingency and context in shaping the office and particular presidencies. Among the salient characteristics of the American presidency is that it has usually played a role in American life that extends well beyond the formal responsibilities of the office. Almost all presidents-whatever they have or have not achieved-have occupied positions of enormous symbolic and cultural importance in American life. They have become the secular icons of the republic-emblems of nationhood and embodiments of the values that Americans have claimed to cherish. Exaggerated images of the virtues (and occasionally the sins) of American presidents have helped shape the nation's picture of itself. Stories of presidential childhoods and youths have become staples of popular culture and instructional literature. Parson Weems's early-nineteenth- century life of Washington, with its invented stories of chopping down a cherry tree and throwing a silver dollar across the river, contributed greatly to the early self- image of the American nation. The popular Boys'Life of Theodore Roosevelt influenced generations of young Americans and helped form twentieth- century images of the presideBrinkley, Alan is the author of 'American Presidency', published 2004 under ISBN 9780618382736 and ISBN 0618382739.