In This Review
Behind the Throne: Servants of Power to Imperial Presidents, 1898-1968

Behind the Throne: Servants of Power to Imperial Presidents, 1898-1968

Edited by Thomas J. Mccormick and Walter Lafeber

University of Wisconsin Press, 1993, 271 pp.

In this slim volume, eight students of Professor Fred Harvey Harrington honor him with the publication of original articles on a common theme, foreign policy advisers to presidents. That he was a great teacher is obvious, as his students have uniformly gone on to prominence in their field; that he was a powerful personality is also obvious, as his students generally adopted his methods and interpretations.

Harrington taught at the University of Wisconsin in the 1940s and 1950s. He was a disciple of Charles Beard, and thus terribly unhappy with the consensus school of American history that dominated in the post-World War II years. He wrote and taught from a Progressive, that is to say, critical point of view, buttressed by a commitment to democracy. He was concerned with power, contention and economics.

That Beardian, Progressive emphasis led to William A. Williams, Harrington's most famous student, founding the New Left in diplomatic history, which held that foreign policy was not the result of idealism or ideology but interests. More specifically, the interests were those of the great corporations, which were motivated by their needs for overseas markets and raw materials. Thus the key to American foreign policy in this century was the need for an Open Door.

Some of the things Harrington's students have in common include careful scholarship, exhaustive research, a Beardian conviction that men and nations are driven by economic motivations, a straightforward writing style that emphasizes facts without dramatizing the story (as Harrington's colleague and friend William B. Hesseltine taught his students to do), and a love of the word key, as in key player or appointment or result. Among the advisers examined in this volume are Brooks Adams, Charles Conant, Admiral William Caperton, Thomas Lamont, Harry Hopkins and Arthur Vandenberg, so it has lots of keys in it.