Charles O. Jones, an American political scientist who was a leading authority on Congress and the United States presidency, died on Jan. 3 in Fishersville, Va. He was 92.

His death, in a hospice facility, was confirmed by his son Daniel.

Through decades of teaching at several universities, as well as in some 18 books he wrote or edited and dozens of review articles and oral history projects, Mr. Jones, a former president of the American Political Science Association, demonstrated a distinctive gift for simplifying the complexities of the American political system.

The American way of governing “is the most intricate ever devised,” Mr. Jones wrote in “The Presidency in a Separated System” (1994). But though he was respectful of that intricacy, he wasn’t awed by it. As a Midwesterner of working-class origins, he felt his mission was to demystify the complex.

Mr. Jones was at pains to show, in a plain, down-to-earth style, that though the American system of checks and balances and separation of powers was unique, it was the product of flesh-and-blood humans interacting with one another.

He wrote in “The American Presidency: A Very Short Introduction” (2007) that from the country’s founding, “presidents would live and work within a constitutional construction that divvied up powers in order to promote and preserve unity.”

Then he admonished the reader:

“Think about it: separating to unify. Pondering that aphorism will enhance your admiration for what was accomplished in Philadelphia, not to mention providing a basis for understanding American government and politics.”

Mr. Jones was “an amazingly productive and meticulous researcher,” Ross K. Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University, said in a phone interview.

“Particularly in his research on Congress, he wanted to touch the bones,” Mr. Baker said. “He felt he needed to go talk to them. Political scientists rarely do that. He thought the human side was so important.”

That grounding in the earthy realities of politics made Mr. Jones a favorite of journalists, who called on him over the years to supply the quote that would neatly summarize a complicated situation.

Though he was an expert on the presidency — he spent hours interviewing former White House officials for an oral history project at the University of Virginia, — he insisted that American presidents were merely one part of a system of American governance. They should not, he insisted, be the central focus.

“Focusing exclusively on the presidency can lead to a seriously distorted picture of how the national government does its work,” Mr. Jones wrote in “The Presidency in a Separated System.” “The plain fact is that the United States does not have a presidential system. It has a separated system.”

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where Mr. Jones taught from 1988 to 1997 and was a professor emeritus, he was part of “one of the most distinguished political science faculties in the country,” Mr. Baker said. He also taught at the University of Pittsburgh, among other places, and was affiliated with the Brookings Institution.

Mr. Jones’s other books included “The Trusteeship Presidency: Jimmy Carter and the United States Congress” (1988), “The Reagan Legacy: Promise and Performance” (1988), “Separate but Equal Branches: Congress and the Presidency” (1995), “Passages to the Presidency: From Campaigning to Governing” (1998), “Clinton & Congress, 1993-1996: Risk, Restoration, and Reelection” (1999); and “Preparing to Be President: The Memos of Richard E. Neustadt” (2000).

Mr. Jones was what Mr. Baker called “an Eisenhower Republican,” mistrustful of Democrats, whom he considered “a bit too eager to expand the scope of the federal government.” He had, his son Daniel said in a phone interview, a “real pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps approach to life.”

That approach was most likely influenced by the unusual circumstances of Mr. Jones’s difficult beginnings in the Midwest.

Charles Oscar Jones was born on Oct. 28, 1931, in Worthing, S.D., the eldest son of Llewellyn and Marjorie Jones. His father was an impoverished Congregationalist minister.

Both parents were abusive, Daniel Jones said, and at the age of 12 Charles decided he had had enough. With money saved from a paper route, he bought a bus ticket and ran away from home (which at the time was in Davenport, Iowa) with his belongings in a pillow case.

He made it to Dallas, where he lived on the street and was arrested and jailed for vagrancy, Daniel Jones said. When authorities called his parents, he said, they responded, “Keep him.” Mr. Jones finally reached his paternal grandparents in Canton, S.D.; they had cared for him before, and arranged for his trip back home, to them. He spent the rest of what turned out to be a happy childhood brought up by his grandfather, a grain elevator manager he called “Pa,” and his grandmother.

Mr. Jones went on to earn a B.A. in political science from the University of South Dakota in 1953, and master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Wisconsin in 1956 and 1960.

In addition to his son Daniel, he is survived by his wife, Vera (Mire) Jones; another son, Joe; two brothers; a sister; and three grandchildren.

Daniel Jones said the travails of the presidency, an institution his father revered, were “hard for him in the last 20 years of his life” and left him “disillusioned.” But, he added: “He was still very patriotic. He would always treasure this country as a beacon.”

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