The Wartime Faith of Washington, Lincoln, and Roosevelt
An excerpt from a speech by David M. Abshire at the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church
New York City, April 23, 2003
Full speech published in Vital Speeches of the Day
(Vol. 69, Issue 17, June 15, 2003)
My role tonight is to reflect on the story of three great American Presidents—George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt—and what their faith in time of war might say to us today. Similarities in how each man dealt with the mystery of God in his faith and work while leading our country through its greatest wars makes these three Presidents especially compelling.
Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln made history moving forward. But as English historian C.V. Wedgwood notes, history is written backwards, while lived forward. Moving forward, the path is filled with ambiguities, calculations, and risks, especially when in the fog of war. When writing history backwards, these factors are frequently obscured and the way often seems easy and predetermined, since the fog of war has lifted
The day after Lincoln’s inauguration, he was presented with the ultimatum on Fr. Sumter. This one-time three-week-long captain in the Black Hawk War, who had never fired a shot in combat, sat with his Cabinet members. They were against attempting to reinforce Sumter. They were backed by the hero of the Mexican War, General Winfield Scott. The green Captain Lincoln made the first move to save the Union by overriding the general and the Cabinet, and promptly ordered reinforcement.
Along with this decisive move, he made clear that this was a war waged to save the Union, not to emancipate slaves. The latter, as an immediate war objective, would have lost the Border States and the Democrats in the North, and indeed thereby lost the war. Frederick Douglas and many other abolitionists pilloried this author of the “Housed Divided” speech as duplicitous, hypocritical, and a moral relativist.
But as a great war leader, Lincoln knew the importance of timing, of mixing realism with idealism, and of the danger of a moral absolute taken out of context. Brilliantly timed, after the 1862 victory of Antietam, he could safely move toward emancipation, recruit 180,000 black troops in the process, and also win over Europe from the Confederacy. He had moved from saving the Union to freeing the slaves, and indeed had prepared the way to what has aptly been called the Second American Revolution by Professor James McPherson.
It took faith to negotiate these narrow and perilous passages. Unlike President McKinley, who felt he had a direct message from God to go to war with Spain, Lincoln never assumed he was in lock step with God, nor that the Almighty divinely directed all he did. Rather, he was a constant inquirer and aware of his fallibility. His second inaugural address is filled with the subjective, “If God wills . . .” Both sides, he noted, read the same Bible and the prayers of both would not be answered fully, for the Almighty has his own purposes. Lincoln, who was a true genius in so many ways, never confused himself with the Almighty.
George Washington. If Lincoln saved the country once, Washington did so three times: in the Revolutionary War, at the Constitutional Convention, and as President. Unlike Lincoln, Washington was not a genius and he made some bad mistakes. But he learned from them.
As a young 21-year-old Lt. Colonel in the colonial forces, Washington constantly bickered with Governor Dinwiddie over his pay not being equal to that of British regulars. He had been a hotshot surveyor before that and had made good money. He, to be frank, had become something of a horse’s ass.
He was sent on a mission toward modern-day Pittsburgh, encamped in the mountains at a vulnerable place called Great Meadows, and built “Ft. Necessity.” He was surprised and forced to surrender to the French and Indians, and subsequently was written up in the Times of London as a disgrace to the colonial service. A cocky Washington learned from this devastating experience, not only a new modesty, but also a new unconventional way of warfare. Later, fighting General Braddock, he survived showers of bullets, and someway felt he must be under the “miraculous care of Providence” as bullets tore his clothes and killed the horses under him.
More than three decades later, when this same yet quite different Washington took command of the Continental Army, the one who had argued with Governor Dinwiddie over adequate pay refused to take any pay whatsoever. He was a good horseman and a superb tactical field-commander, but was never a brilliant strategist. He had a rough ride as a commander who lost more battles than he won when only one-third of the Americans enthusiastically supported the war. And yet the losing general who won the war had an extraordinary bulwark of character in a world he believed to be designed by Providence. This same bulwark of character saved the Constitutional Convention, which produced a Constitution in which the powers of the Presidency were described with Washington in mind.
Living history forward, the writers of the final draft of the Constitution considered it an imperfect document. Writing history backwards, it was considered the “Miracle at Philadelphia,” as Catherine Drinker Bowen labeled her book. Like Lincoln, Washington believed that America “was the last best hope.” Washington believed that the American experiment was exceptional. “The eyes of the world” were upon us and we found ourselves in a “time to establish or ruin . . . our national character forever.” Lincoln believed we were “God’s almost chosen people.” Washington said, “Heaven crowned” this nation.
Washington, while an Anglican and a vestryman, spent time as President talking to different religious groups, from the Baptists to the Jews of the synagogues of Rhode Island. He understood that it was the freedom of religion in America that protected a very religious America. His was the achievement of protecting diversity in the American experiment. He believed a religious America was essential to good governance, and protection of religious diversity was essential to maintain a religious America.
What especially marked Washington, man of faith and humility, was how he freely let go of power. As Professor Gordon Wood has written, this “stunned the world.” After the war, the commander-in-chief turned in his sword to Congress. He turned back the invitation to be a Cromwell when the chance arose at the Newberg Conspiracy, and he refused to run for a third term as President. Self-restraint and self-denial were part of his faith.
Franklin Roosevelt. F.D. Roosevelt was called “Feather Duster” Roosevelt by some detractor students at Harvard. The young patrician from the Hudson Valley may have too-obviously felt that he was headed for the top—with his handsome bearing, athletic figure, and large ambition—to follow in the footsteps of his illustrious cousin, Theodore Roosevelt, to the White House itself. But when polio struck him down in 1921, that career seemed washed up; Presidential ambitions were ended. He became “Daddy of the Dead Legs,” as young Jimmy Roosevelt said.
Amazingly, stranger than fiction, the Daddy of the Dead Legs led us through the Great Depression and the Second World War, all from a wheel chair the public scarcely acknowledged. Thus, this triumphant cripple could credibly say to a crippled America in 1933, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” I think every Roosevelt biographer would admit that it was his great tragedy that gave birth to great triumph. FDR, like Washington, believed that Providence acted in mysterious ways.
Besides his polio attack, Roosevelt’s greatest stress and depression came at the end of 1940 as he alarmingly watched Hitler’s gains. As the leader of an unconcerned and isolationist America, Roosevelt felt suddenly like a political cripple as he painfully recalled how Woodrow Wilson had miserably failed with the Versailles Treaty ratification because he lacked the Congressional and popular support. To make matters worse, FDR received in December 1940 a message, known as the “long letter,” from Winston Churchill stating that the UK couldn’t last. Roosevelt did an emotional retreat for days, emerging only after a political epiphany produced a scheme for America to become the “arsenal of democracy.” He clearly argued for the isolationists “to keep us out of the war” through the Lend-Lease Act. Washington and Lincoln saved America. Roosevelt saved Great Britain.
How did the cripple do it? Certainly, a dogged characteristic in his rehabilitation from polio was his intense Christian faith. He believed in a divine design, but like Lincoln did not believe he was so anointed as to be in lock step with God. He understood the mysteries of that design. Unlike Lincoln, he was a very conventional Episcopal Church member and he often said that the United States was a “Christian nation,” hardly politically correct today. He believed almost playfully that the Lord would occasionally make small things happen to encourage him forward and build hope.
He, like Washington and Lincoln, believed the world depended upon us. As he said in his final inaugural address, “The Almighty has blessed our land in many ways. He has given our people stout hearts and strong arms. . . He has given to our country a faith that has become the hope of all peoples in an anguished world. So we pray to Him now for a vision to see our way.” With mighty allies led by America and the war moving in our favor, he humbly noted that we had to be citizens of the world, “members of the human community” and, quoting Emerson, stated, “The only way to have a friend is to be one.”
Transformational Leaders. All three leaders had humility in many ways. Roosevelt, the cripple, was the most egotistical, but still humble in his relationship with his God. All three leaders held a sense of awe over the “outer circle,” which some call pure chance—where they did not control events—as contrasted to the “small circle” of their free will. Looking back like the historian, each retroactively delegated to God’s goodness, not to themselves, the good things of the past and the great victories they had achieved.
From a historical and secular perspective, that “inner circle” of their free will and judgment was much bigger than they suspected. I cannot imagine an American figure other than Washington saving this country in the Revolutionary War, an American other than Lincoln saving the Union, or an American other than Roosevelt saving England and sustaining America so well through depression and war. Each believed in his oath to serve “to the best of my abilities.” Their failures—Washington’s defeats, Lincoln’s setbacks, and Roosevelt’s Pearl Harbor blunder—were on God’s shoulders and beyond the best of their abilities. Still, in retrospect and despite their protests to the contrary, they were not only actors, but transformational Presidents moving far beyond their greatest expectations.
Spirituality as a Bridge: The Examples of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln
Whenever religion in America angrily divides us, that division violates the spirit of the world’s great religions, as well as the convictions of our nation’s founders. It is also against the teachings of our more thoughtful religious leaders. Inclusiveness, especially in a religious context, is not new. For instance, early in the Christian tradition, even the Apostle Paul struggled to contain the deep division in the early Jesus movement between the Jewish Christians, who demanded circumcision for all the followers, and the Gentiles, who vehemently opposed this and other Levitical requirements. Yet in his epistles to the Romans and the Ephesians, time and again Paul told each movement to support its individual belief on such matters. Do not compromise the details of your belief but “welcome all.” “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another. . . Welcome one another, just as Christ has welcomed you.” This teaching is filled with the search for civility and inclusiveness.
At a meeting for fellow evangelists, the Rev. Robert Schuller recently lamented, “What upsets me about religious leaders of all faiths is that they talk like they know it all, and anybody who doesn’t agree with them is a heretic.” To take Schuller’s words a step further, too often religious leaders believe—a bit arrogantly—that they have at last solved the mystery of God. Likewise, we are approaching an era of partisanship that echoes this mind-set of absolutism that can close off dialogue and mutual respect, if we are not able to reclaim our civility.
In dealing with religious difference, we must remind ourselves of the tradition set by our first President, George Washington. An Anglican, Washington conversed alike with the Jews at the synagogue at Newport, the Quakers in Pennsylvania, and the Catholics in Maryland. He epitomized the American genius of unity in diversity. This is a political unity that coalesces around common political philosophy—our religious traditions, rising from the Judeo-Christian and later incorporating other traditions, that acknowledges these “self-evident truths” to allow unity in diversity. Washington and other early American leaders were influenced by the leading preachers of their time and also by the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason. It is important to recall that John Witherspoon of Princeton and Samuel Cooper of Harvard emphasized “the consonance of faith and reason” that they held together as friends from different religious traditions.
Abraham Lincoln, our most articulate and spiritual President, knew much of the Bible by heart. He was even called the “redeemer president.” Not only was he possessed of extraordinary humor, but he also had an uncanny ability to penetrate to the core of the human condition and its hypocrisies. When Lincoln was asked why he had not formally joined any church, he replied:
When any church will inscribe over its altar as its sole qualification for membership, the Saviour’s condensed statement of both Law and Gospel—“Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind, and thy neighbor as thyself,”—that church I will join with all my heart and soul.
Religion and Civility in Colonial America
What a sense of awe they must have felt, those early Puritan settlers, as they courageously sailed out of England on a March morning in 1630, leaving behind years of religious turmoil en route to establish their vision of God’s kingdom on earth. They were deeply devout people, committed to reforming the Church of England from within and establishing in America a “city on the hill” which would be to the entire world a beacon of Christian righteousness. These were not small goals, and they were not small people. Theirs was a commitment so intense that American history would be forever shaped by their deeds. But contrary to popular myth, it was not just commitment that drove Puritan society. For all the caricatures painted of the Puritans—the self-righteous reformers, the nosy neighbors, the witch-burning zealots—their communal ethic is one that required no small amount of civility and, yes, tolerance.
“We must knit together in this work as one man,” wrote John Winthrop, first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, as his ship crossed the Atlantic, “that we, and our seed, may live by obeying His voice.” The New England town would quickly become the very epitome of a tight-knit society that made civility a precondition to daily survival. Each town agreed to establish a covenant that formally articulated consensual agreements on most matters affecting public and private life. Disputes were handled through arbitration, first by a group of neighbors and then, if necessary, by the town, assembled weekly at the now iconic town meeting. This was an intentionally non-litigious society where social harmony was achieved through consensus, not conflict.
To be fair, though, the Puritan “Bible commonwealths” had many shortcomings. Not all dissent was handled quietly at town meetings or tolerated for the maintenance of unity. Roger Williams, perhaps the best known of the rebellious Puritans, criticized the Massachusetts settlement for its lack of religious purity. He had qualms with the mingling of church and state, by which civil officials could increasingly influence religious matters. He preferred a complete separation from the Church of England—“perfection,” in his view, was not simply purification of the faith. Thus when Williams established freedom of the individual conscience and religious toleration in Rhode Island, he did so to promote what he saw as an even truer Christianity than the Puritans sought in Massachusetts.
Williams sought freedom to worship, not freedom from worship, and in doing so established a model of religious society that would later inspire the Founding Fathers and the U.S. Constitution. Perhaps it was his commitment that assured the mercy of Governor Winthrop, who, by the standards of the time, could have punished Williams far more severely. Instead, in an act of tolerance, Winthrop let him depart for Rhode Island.
Another colonial experiment with religious toleration took place in Maryland, led by the second Lord Baltimore, Cecilius Calvert. After receiving a joint-stock company charter similar to Winthrop’s for Massachusetts Bay, Calvert sought to establish this colony as a Catholic refuge in the New World. He quickly found that “Catholics could survive in the English world only as a tolerated minority; they were in no position to impose their will on others.” To protect his religion, then, Calvert passed the Toleration Act of 1649; what scholars have called a “bold move for that era.” The Act even anticipates our modern constitutional statement on religious freedom and deserves quoting: “No person or persons whatsoever within this Province . . . professing to believe in Jesus Christ, shall from henceforth be in any ways troubled, molested or discountenanced for or in respect of his or her religion in the free exercise thereof within this Province.”
This “free exercise” clause is one predecessor to our First Amendment clause outlawing legislation “prohibiting the free exercise’ of religion. Even though the Maryland act extended freedom of worship only to Christians, it was nonetheless a historic step toward the preservation of religious diversity and commitment.
Following on these early traditions of religious toleration, Thomas Jefferson, a deist, drafted in 1779 for the Virginia State Legislature the “Act for Establishing Religious Freedom.” Like Roger Williams, Jefferson declared the awareness that “Almighty God hath created the mind free” and that “all attempts to influence [the mind] by temporal punishment or burdens . . . are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion.” Here again, religious freedom is meant to preserve the true meaning of the “Holy Author,” not to dilute or usurp it. Jefferson, in fact, was so fond of this act that he had a reference to it engraved on his tombstone along with the better-known inscription, “Author of the Declaration of American Independence.” He makes a similar argument for religious freedom in his “Notes on the State of Virginia,” where he writes, “Had not the Roman government permitted free [religious] enquiry, Christianity could never have been introduced. Had not free enquiry been indulged, at the era of reformation, the corruption of Christianity could not have been purged away. If it be restrained now, the present corruptions will be protected and new ones encouraged.”
Neither is this ethic of tolerance with commitment strictly for the religious. The American religion has become as much a civil religion as a spiritual one and is as important in politics as it is in theology.
As James Morone concludes in his book Hellfire Nation, America’s colonial religious foundation created a “nation with the soul of a church,” a “brawling, raucous, religious people” whose moral fervor inspires dynamic revivals in its faiths—political, social, and religious. Around the world, that fervor gave us a providential mission as a redeemer nation. At home, fervor drives two great moral paradigms from opposite sides of the political spectrum: first, an individualist ethic of “strength, patriotism, and manliness” and the political of good versus evil; and second, a new social gospel of communal responsibility and corporate solutions. Though both sides are deeply rooted in different moral convictions, Morone maintains, we “remain Puritans all.”
Religious Liberty and the American Tradition
America’s commitment to religious liberty—and its complement, religious tolerance—did not evolve into a firmly established ideal until many decades after the American Revolution. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and other Founding Fathers strove to secure religious freedom in the new nation. But widespread acceptance of religious diversity—especially for non-Christian religions—evolved over time, rather than emerging in short order.
For decades after the enactment of the First Amendment to the Constitution, many states in the new nation enforced official religions and practiced various forms of religious intolerance. Especially egregious cases of state-sponsored persecution occurred with the Missouri state militia massacre and expulsion of Mormons in 1838 and General Grant’s order to expel Jews from the several states during the Civil War (an order President Lincoln ordered rescinded upon hearing about it).
Outside of government, the American ideals of religious freedom and tolerance have been tested by periods of religious bigotry, from the Know-Nothing Party’s crusade against Catholics in the mid-1800s to Father Charles Coughlin’s anti-Semitic radio addresses in the 1930s. Today, fear of Islamic extremism is sometimes distorted into discrimination against American Muslims.
CSPC explores the (fitful) evolution of religious liberty and tolerance in America, how these principals became underlying ideals of American society, and how they have affected the development of America’s democratic system and civil society.
Education, Workforce, and Competitiveness
The 2011 World Economic Forum rankings dropped the United States from fourth to fifth in overall competitiveness. More disturbing than the overall ranking was the trend (U.S. down X%, China up Y%). Moreover, certain much greater vulnerabilities in specific subcategories emerged. The United States ranks 34th in overall quality of primary education, putting it behind Lebanon, Estonia, and Costa Rica.
These rankings are not abstractions, but instead have very real implications for all Americans. As millions of unemployed citizens struggle to find jobs our national security companies are faced with the absurd problem of not being able to find qualified Americans to fill jobs that cannot be occupied by foreign nationals for security reasons. If our educational system continues to fail our nation’s students, not only their futures as individuals, but also our overall national and economic security will be put at risk.
Technological innovation has played a special role in the historical economic prosperity of the United States, and success in this area is predicated upon a world class education system. Even though knowledge is extremely mobile in the global economy there is still a premium to be reaped from being first. It is a premium that we will continue to concede to other nations if we do not heal our broken educational system.
Doing so will require action by all stakeholders: teachers, administrators, students, parents, industry, unions, and government. It will require all these constituencies to, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, “think anew and act anew.” CSPC has committed itself to exploring ways to reform the educational system. It has pursued this goal primarily through three initiatives:
America and the Arab Spring
In December 2010, a Tunisian fruit vendor set himself on fire in front of a government building, triggering popular protests and revolution across much of the Arab world. By the summer of 2011, the “Arab Spring” had brought down dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt, and threatened the survival of other authoritarian regimes, from North Africa’s Mediterranean coast to the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula.
During the summer of 2011, CSPC interviewed sixteen leading scholars and specialists to explore the Arab Spring and its impact. Conducted by visiting scholar Graham West, these interviews are available below. Also, see Graham’s synopsis and analysis in Tectonic Shifts: Lessons for Policy Makers from the Arab Spring Interview Series (PDF).
Graham graduated from Rice University in the spring of 2012. He can be reached at
The American Canon of Religious Tolerance
David M. Abshire, President
April 4, 2011
During our nation’s formative years, with George Washington as a great exemplar, America developed an unofficial concordat between religious commitment and religious tolerance. The Constitution separated Church and State, but George Washington was well aware of the importance of religion in public life. In his farewell speech, he stated that “of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.”
This belief in the special role of religion in society was coupled with a dedication to civility and tolerance toward all faiths. Washington, an Episcopalian, engaged in dialogue with Catholics, Baptists, Presbyterians, and Jews. In a letter to a synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, he wrote, “May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the goodwill of the other inhabitants, while everyone shall sit safely under his own vine and fig-tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.” Washington further specifically disallowed discrimination against Muslims in hiring decisions at his Mount Vernon estates.
Echoing Washington’s tolerant views, Thomas Jefferson authored the 1779 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, a precursor to the “Free Exercise Clause” and the “Establishment Clause” of the First Amendment. He also emphasized in a Presidential address that the United States had no cause for war against the Muslim world. Similarly, John Adams marshaled through Senate ratification the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli, which stated, “The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen [Muslims].”
The Founding Fathers’ commitment to interfaith harmony served as the basis for the First Amendment and what has evolved into an informal canon of religious tolerance. Although tested by periods of intolerance, such as the Know-Nothing Party’s crusade against Catholics in the mid-1800s and Father Charles Coughlin’s anti-Semitic radio addresses in the 1930s, this canon has endured as an ideal to which American society aspires and (imperfectly) practices.
Tragically, this canon has been shaken recently by public Quran burnings, controversy over plans for a Muslim community center in lower Manhattan, and resistance to the building of mosques in Tennessee, California, Kentucky, and elsewhere. Such incidents are affronts to Muslim citizens, but they are also offenses to all Americans who believe in interfaith tolerance and religious liberty, as pursued so vigilantly by the Founding Fathers.
U.S. Foreign Policy and Economics
Many of the Center's programs, both self-initiated and at the behest of Congress or the Administration, look at the country's policy challenges abroad.
Currently, as part of the Strengthening America's Future Initiative, the Center is conducting a series of issues groups on a number of crosscutting issues and synergies within the realms of U.S. foreign policy and economics. These groups include an analysis and recommendations for renewing U.S. geopolitical relations and of the U.S. economic and financial system.
The Middle East
In December 2005, Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) called CSPC President David Abshire to discuss the establishment of a "Fresh Eyes on Iraq" Task Force, which evolved into the Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former 9/11 Commission Co-Chair and retired Congressman Lee Hamilton. CSPC played a critical role in rallying broad bipartisan support from both houses of Congress, with final recommendations to Congress and the White House issued on December 6, 2006.
In the spring of 2007, the Center built on that effort and launched the Afghanistan Study Group, co-chaired by Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering and General James L. Jones, to reassess the effort being undertaken in that country and the significant dangers of it becoming the "forgotten war." On January 30, 2008, the Center released the Afghanistan Study Group Report in a special event on Capitol Hill hosted by Senators John Kerry and Norm Coleman.
The Center also received a $1 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development to strengthen non-governmental linkages in health, science and interfaith access between Israel and the Palestinian territories. Conceived by Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA) and endorsed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, this two-pronged effort was led by Ambassadors Dennis Ross and Tony Hall.
CSPC has been a leader in actively developing the U.S.-Syria relationship through non-governmental efforts. In 2009, the Center led a U.S.-Syrian Dialogue to develop links between Syrian institutions and their counterparts in the United States. The delegation of distinguished science, health, and higher education experts met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as well as other U.S. and Syrian government officials. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN), the Chairman and ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Congressman Howard Berman (D-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, have all encouraged the work.
CSPC's transatlantic efforts have attempted to strengthen U.S. ties with Europe and bring European perspective to events in the U.S. Since 2004, the Center has worked with senior decision-makers in the United States and Europe to address disconnects between the European Union, NATO and the G8. With a focus on foreign policy, homeland security and the Middle East, the first round of these consultations resulted in the Center publication Maximizing NATO for the War on Terror, which recommended steps to pursue shared security interests through better leadership and greater Executive branch coordination. In 2006, Center staff followed up on those efforts with senior European allies in Brussels, London, Berlin and Lisbon, with a goal of strengthening multilateral leadership and seeking European opinions on the way forward in Iraq.
During the 2008 Presidential transition, the Center conducted a European Exchange Program to bring rising European leaders to Washington to explore the transition process, improve future transatlantic communications, and to prevent communication breakdowns between transatlantic governments during the American Presidential transition.
In 2009, CSPC launched an action initiative to mobilize NATO in Afghanistan by persuading European leaders to encourage NATO to enact reforms and encourage member nations to share more equitably in NATO's involvement in Afghanistan. The project will be co-chaired by David Abshire and W. Bruce Weinrod, the former Secretary of Defense Representative for Europe and Defense Advisor to the U.S. Mission to NATO, and advised by recently-retired Supreme Allied Commander for Europe General Bantz J. Craddock.
As part of CSPC's transition efforts in 2001, former Ambassador Richard McCormack conducted an analysis of increasingly complex financial contingencies in Latin America and around the globe. This document was widely circulated among White House, State Department, and Treasury Department officials.
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Science and Technology
While the halls of Congress and the White House are strewn with unsuccessful efforts to address science, health and technology challenges, the Center believes it can help find a path forward. This belief is based on experience. CSPC has broken through partisan barriers and bureaucratic stovepipes on public diplomacy, smuggled nuclear weapons, homeland security, and the loss of civility and creativity in government.
For example, in its 2000 report to the President-Elect and Congress titled Advancing Innovation: Improving the S&T Advisory Structure and Policy Process, the Center sounded an alarm to marshal the nation’s best scientific and technical minds to master the changing post-Cold War environment. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, CSPC focused on responding to terrorism by presenting the insights of Senator William Frist, Presidential Science Advisor John Marburger, Nobel Laureate Joshua Lederberg, Science Board Chairman William Schneider, and Distinguished University of Michigan Professor of Physics Homer Neal in Marshalling Science, Bridging the Gap. The Center also folded much of its science policy work into Homeland Security roundtables and science-based initiatives.
The non-partisan Center organized and led expert working groups on critical national challenges for the President-elect and Congressional leaders. The Center partnered with the National Academy of Sciences, American Association for the Advancement of Science, National Science Foundation, Defense Science Board and leading corporate research centers and universities on this effort. Recommendations from the Science and Technology expert working group, which were published in Presidential Leadership to Ensure Science and Technology in the Service of National Needs: A Report to the 2008 Candidates focus on the early appointment of a Presidential Science Advisor, which would strengthen the science policy process, elevate key policy and R&D issues including the development of alternate energy sources, better delivery of affordable quality health care, securing the homeland and securing multiple economic benefits.
Lessons of History
The Center works closely with senior leadership in the Executive and Legislative Branches on a bipartisan basis to further the understanding and functioning of the American Presidency and its related institutions by drawing on the lessons of the past when confronting current challenges and opportunities. Our nation's experiences, from the Continental Congress through the Cold War until today, can help frame and offer solutions to the problems facing us.
In 1999, the Center provided a series of ground-breaking studies for the incoming President, his new Administration and Congress. The first of these was Triumphs and Tragedies of the Modern Presidency: Seventy-Six Case Studies in Presidential Leadership, in which more than 50 of the nation's leading Presidential historians and journalists describe the most notable successes-and failures-of American presidents from Woodrow Wilson to Bill Clinton, with emphasis on the first 100 days of each Presidency. The book was provided to transition teams for both the George W. Bush and Al Gore campaigns and portions of it were provided to Barack Obama's transition team in 2008. It is still used in universities across the country.
To expand upon themes in Triumphs and Tragedies, the Center published a series of reports on specific policy issues:
In 2008, Center President David Abshire published A Call to Greatness: Challenging Our Next President, which draws from history to outline the characteristics that would be needed in the next President. It was provided in draft form to all of the major Presidential candidates as well as to Members of Congress and the media.
Presidential Studies Quarterly (PSQ) is the only scholarly journal that focuses on the most powerful political figure in our nation-the President of the United States. An indispensable resource for understanding the U.S. Presidency, Presidential Studies Quarterly combines a selection of articles, features, review essays, and book reviews covering all aspects of the American Presidency. PSQ's distinguished contributors are leading scholars and professionals in political science, history, and communications.
The Center's work on homeland defense began in 1999 with the publication of its panel report on Comprehensive Strategic Reform. Since then, the Center has led policy initiatives on combating smuggled nuclear weapons; synergizing the Departments of Defense, State, and Homeland Security; the strategic partnership between the U.S. and Canada; strengthening the transatlantic relationship in the war on terrorism; and crisis leadership. Beginning in 2002, the Center led a unique roundtable series that bridged the Executive Branch, private sector, and think tank community on homeland security challenges.
Throughout 2004-2006 the Center held a series of informal meetings which led to the creation of the Nuclear Defense Working Group (NDWG) in March 2007. This group was chartered to provide independent advice to executive branch agencies and to the Congress on matters related to the threat of clandestine nuclear attack and protecting the nation from it. The NDWG built on previous CSPC efforts on nuclear defense, which ultimately resulted in the creation of the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office within the Department of Homeland Security.
The Center took on the Project on National Security Reform (PNSR) in September 2006, which Congress supports with a $2.4 million appropriation. PNSR is the result of the encouragement of General Peter Pace, Joint Chief of Staff, to James A. Locher III, who helped write the Goldwater-Nichols Act, to team with an independent think tank to evaluate and recommend changes to the National Security Act of 1947. PNSR is now an independent organization.