John Dearborn ’13 defended his senior thesis, “Presidential American Exceptionalism and US Foreign Policy Since 1897.” He was advised by Prof. Ron Schurin. This fall, Dearborn will enter the PhD program in political science at Yale University. Congratulations!
“American exceptionalism” has been an important part of presidential foreign policy, especially since the end of the nineteenth century when the United States emerged as a global power. I argue that presidents’ beliefs, rhetoric, and actions during their administrations reveal their attitudes toward exceptionalism. In this paper, I propose four types of Presidential American Exceptionalism that presidents’ foreign policies since 1897 can be categorized into: messianic Americanism, messianic internationalism, realist exemplarism, and pragmatic moralism. I define these categories and explain them using case studies of Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. Furthermore, I offer a more general overview of presidents during the last 116 years and explain how these four types of exceptionalism have interacted with each other. Finally, I examine the importance of context and discuss other findings related to party identification and “muscle-flexing wars.”