Excerpted from Presidential Temperament, by David Keirsey and Ray Choiniere
Copyrighted © 1992 by David Keirsey and Ray Choiniere
The year 1912 was a presidential election year, and former President Theodore Roosevelt was again campaigning for the nation's highest office. By the evening of October 14 his campaign had carried him to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he was to deliver a speech in the city's public auditorium.The time was nearing for him to speak, so he strode from his hotel onto the sidewalk outside, where a car was waiting to take him to the auditorium.
As Roosevelt walked toward the car a man suddenly stepped up to him and pointed a pistol at his heart. The gunman pulled the trigger and a bullet burst from the pistol and smashed its way into Roosevelt's chest. His shirt was suddenly spattered with red, and more blood immediately began seeping from the ugly hole. The bullet had come to rest against his rib cage, a mere half inch from his lungs.
"He pinked me!" shouted Roosevelt, as bystanders rushed to subdue the gunman, John Shrank. They wrestled Shrank to the ground and then, seeing Roosevelt's bloody clothing, prepared to rush him to the hospital. But they found Teddy Roosevelt a more difficult man to deal with than the would-be assassin. "TR" adamantly refused to go for help. "You just stay where you are!" he thundered. "I am going to make this speech and you might as well compose yourself."
Teddy Roosevelt was as good as his word that October evening. Still wearing his torn and red-stained shirt, he had himself driven to the auditorium and there, Shrank's bullet lodged in his chest, he pulled out his blood-spattered notes and gave his speech. "I have a message to deliver," he declared to the stunned audience, "and I will deliver it as long as there is life in my body."
It was a rousing performance. Roosevelt was a wonderful, charismatic orator under any circumstance, and the sight of his spattered shirt and notes added a spectacular portion of drama to his speech. Only after he had completely finished his performance did he take time to go to a hospital and have the wound tended.
Perhaps Americans were more shocked than surprised by the shooting. After all, only eleven years earlier, in September of 1901, President William McKinley had also been the victim of a gunman. The details of McKinley's shooting were almost identical to Roosevelt's: a famous political figure is walking in public; a lone madman steps up and fires a pistol point blank into his chest; the gunman is immediately wrestled to the ground while the bloodied victim, still conscious, sees his assailant subdued. In President McKinley's case, however, the rest of the story is quite different. As the mortally wounded McKinley watched the madman Leon Czolgosz being subdued, he cried out, "Don't let them hurt him!" Then, to his secretary George Cortelyou he gasped, "My wife--be careful, Cortelyou, how you tell her--oh, be careful!" Then as his supporters rushed him to the hospital he sighed, "It must have been some poor misguided fellow."
Two shootings, two very different responses from the victims. Though we can never be entirely certain how anyone will respond to critical events, no one knowledgeable about temperament theory would have been surprised by either man's reaction to these extraordinary circumstances. Roosevelt responded to the shooting like the vigorous and sometimes fierce bulldog he had been all his life. McKinley, though he too was a persistent and determined man, was naturally more gentle and considerate. His immediate display of worry and compassion for his assassin and his wife was typical of him, just as a fiery, impetuous response was typical of Roosevelt. Roosevelt and McKinley both reacted to the shooting in ways quite consistent with their life-long, unchanging temperaments: Roosevelt as a spontaneous, ebullient adventurer, and McKinley as a serious and kindly caretaker.
The forty men who have been President of the United States have behaved in a remarkable variety of ways. Some have been commanding figures, others have been timid; some have been remarkably vigorous, others have been almost inert; some have been recognized by history as heroic, others have been brushed aside as pedestrian. Certain American Presidents might remind us of foxes, wily, solitary creatures on the lookout for their advantage, or like playful dogs, looking for an exciting romp or a good chase. Other Presidents have been more reminiscent of beavers, busy, socially cooperative creatures, carefully building and guarding their communities. Still others are like the silent owl, sitting high in his tree, moving only when there is a target worthy of his concentration.
The premise we will be exploring in the pages that follow is that the widely different actions of our Presidents arise from the temperament each was born with. To understand a person's behavior requires us to recognize what is unique in an individual, and what social forces are at work on the individual. But that will never be enough. To try to understand a person without recognizing that person's character, his or her gradually emerging, lifelong pattern of behavior, is always to miss the mark, for our character arises from the interplay of our environment and our temperament.
There are four basic temperaments out of which our character can be fashioned, and each temperament is quite different from the other three. Teddy Roosevelt, for example, with his remarkable bravado, is an engaging example of the venturesome Artisan temperament. And as an Artisan he resembles some of our most colorful Presidents, daring and charming men like Andy Jackson, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Ronald Reagan.
William McKinley, in contrast, is a fine example of the steadfast Guardian temperament, and joins the distinguished company of American Presidents like George Washington, Grover Cleveland, and Harry Truman, all sober and serious men.
There are two other temperaments. One, the analytic Rational, has given us some of our most far-sighted and controversial Presidents, men of theory and strategy such as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Abraham Lincoln.
The other temperament, the Idealist, has provided one of the great surprises in this study of character: we find that there has never been an Idealist President in all the two hundred year history of The United States of America. We will comment later on this curious void in American politics, and we will look extensively at one Idealist, Eleanor Roosevelt, who came close to wielding presidential power, and another, Mahatma Gandhi, who was more powerful than some United States Presidents ever hoped to be.
Presidents, like all of us, are complex creatures. To understand them, biographers must study the effects upon their lives of family background, education, economic conditions, and social status, as well as the particular events and the general circumstances of their times. But we believe the temperament a President is born with is a more fundamental determinant of his behavior than the complex of extrinsic influences usually studied by biographers. Many of these biographical studies are excellent, and demonstrate scholarship and creativity of the highest order. Nonetheless, something is missed when the qualities of the seed and the tree, of temperament and character, are overlooked.
For example, three very different Presidents, Lyndon Johnson, Harry Truman, and Dwight Eisenhower (an Artisan, Guardian, and Rational respectively), were from rural backgrounds. Their families frequently had to struggle to stay solvent, and each young man had to find jobs to help pay the family's bills. Eisenhower attended West Point because it was a tuition-free college; Johnson worked as a manual laborer and then had to struggle to make ends meet in college, even leaving school for a year to work; Truman never attended college at all. On the other hand, three other very different Presidents, John Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, and Thomas Jefferson (another Artisan, Guardian, and Rational), were never confronted with these struggles. Each, at least in terms of his own community, was from birth a part of the aristocracy; each was free from financial worry; and each attended college as a matter of routine.
In spite of the parallels in their social or family histories, however, the cunning Johnson's character could never be confused with the self-controlled Eisenhower's, nor the stylish Kennedy's with the moralistic Carter's. Essential similarities in character cut across enormous differences in social background and historical context, just as essential differences in character clearly separate people of the most similar backgrounds. The Rational farm boy Eisenhower would have no difficulty making sense of the Rational aristocrat Jefferson's absorption in designing both the buildings and the curriculum of the University of Virginia. Nor would the Guardian aristocrat Carter have trouble comprehending how the Guardian farm boy Truman arrived at his decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. And the charismatic Artisan aristocrat Kennedy may have disliked--and been disliked by--the hard-living rural Artisan Johnson, but each could readily take the other's measure, and knew what to expect from the other in the political arena.
We are not suggesting here that social background and personal history are unimportant. Far from it; our social context stamps us inevitably and indelibly. But we feel quite safe in proposing that our life-long patterns of action, our character, will always arise from and be consistent with our temperament. Thus William McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt, each of a different temperament, could never have developed similar characters, similar ways of looking at and responding to the world. They saw differently and they responded differently, quite consistently with their differing temperaments, even to the almost identical traumas of their shootings.
Temperament, then, is a lifelong predisposition toward certain identifiable patterns of behavior. Dogs are predisposed to chase cats, beavers to dam up streams to create quiet ponds, and owls to hunt in the dark. Each, unless impaired by its environment, subsequently develops the habit of (respectively) chasing cats, damming up streams, and hunting at night. So with the Presidents, we can say that Andy Jackson and Teddy Roosevelt, predisposed by their Artisan temperament to act spontaneously and with impact, inevitably made a habit of doing so. These actions became part of their character. Thus the innately vigorous Artisan Teddy Roosevelt could rejoice, "A President has a great chance; his position is that of a king and a prime minister rolled into one," and his habitual behavior would consistently reflect this dynamic Artisan perspective.
Similarly, Calvin Coolidge, with his Guardian's propensity for taking the cautious and pessimistic perspective, for anxiously building and guarding his territory, made his worried pessimism part of his character. Thus in 1928, while the country seemed to be riding comfortably and cheerfully on an ocean swell of great prosperity and hugely profitable speculation, Coolidge could warn that the country was prospering, but "having reached this position, we should not fail to comprehend that it can easily be lost."
In the same way, the Rational Thomas Jefferson, with his penetrating vision, was naturally given to long-range, strategic planning and to architectural design, whether of buildings, curricula, or nations; such behavior was a life-long habit, part of his character. So Jefferson could declare that the United States was not merely another nation, but an "experiment to show whether man can be trusted with self-government."
In short, each man's temperament, in interaction with his circumstances, gave rise to his character. And so it has always been. Twenty-five hundred years ago Hippocrates took note of four fundamental and distinct patterns of human behavior, and he observed that each of us consistently displays only one of these patterns. Thus we could be either Sanguines, or Melancholics, or Phlegmatics, or Cholerics. From Hippocrates' time on the same four patterns have been described with such consistency that we may assume that they are rooted in our biological heritage, and that temperament is oblivious to gender, age, nationality, religion, race, and geography. Humanity seems designed on the same four fundamental patterns of speech and action that we have introduced in these pages as the Artisan, Guardian, Rational, and Idealist temperaments.
Problems and Talent
Presidential Character and the Character of the Times
Presidential Temperament Timeline