The Readings for Democracy in America unit
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Unit 7 Readings, The Modern Presidency: Tools of Power
- IntroductionThe Modern Presidency: Tools of Power
- Tocqueville, Democracy in America: The Executive Power
- Federalist Papers: Federalist No. 69
- Jackson, On Indian Removal
- Lincoln, The Emancipation Proclamation
IntroductionThe Modern Presidency: Tools of Power
In what political arena does the executive typically find
the greatest occasion to exert his skill and authority?
What is the most important difference between the kings
war power and the chief executives war power in the United
States Constitution, according to Alexander Hamilton?
Which branch of government possesses the war powers that
the president lacks?
Our conduct toward these people, Andrew Jackson
explained concerning native Americans, is deeply interesting
to our national character. What did Jackson believe our
Who did Lincoln free with the Emancipation Proclamation?
It is a lesser question for the partisans of democracy to find
means of governing the people, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in
a letter to John Stuart Mill, than to get the people to choose
the men most capable of governing. Choosing good leaders, whether
men or women, is often a matter of choosing leaders who can themselves
choose well, and can lead their staff as well as the nation. Executive
leadership has changed greatly since the days of George Washingtonthe
modern president is a creature of vast power. Presidents exercise
a wide range of powers, including the ability to set a national agenda,
to appoint members to executive agencies and to courts, to conduct
a wide range of foreign affairs concerns, and to control the extensive
military resources of the United States. In all of these areas there
has been a significant shift in power from the legislative branch
to the executive. Many cultural demands have contributed to thisthe
presidents power of charismatic leadership, the growth of mass
communication with its focus on a single speaker, the growth in international
American power, and the deference of the other branches to the executive.
In 1960, Richard Neustadt suggested that students of the executive
branch should maintain the difference between the presidents
power of personal influence and the powers of the office. This difference
is important in understanding the growth of executive power. During
the twentieth century, the terms of executive power have not changed
very much by the terms of the Constitutionin fact, one of the
major changes would be an apparent reduction in the constitutional
power of the president by the limiting of the number of terms of office
the president can serve. The power of the president has, however,
vastly increased in all the areas mentioned above. Presidents are
in charge of ever larger institutions of administrative power, more
than ever they are expected to be the pilot of national policy, and,
moreover, the president is now widely conceived to posses the sole
power in foreign affairs, including the ability to make decisions
of war and peace.
Incidentally, this growth of presidential power has not met with significant
success. Presidential use of these extensive powers has often brought
remarkable failure. They geld us first, President Lyndon
Johnson told David Brinkley, and then expect us to win the Kentucky
Derby. Johnson experienced failure both in domestic and foreign
policy realms, none so extensive as the popular and political failure
of his policies in Vietnam. There are, of course, numerous other failures,
Kennedys Bay of Pigs, Clintons health care plan, Reagans
Iran-Contra Affair, and Reagans Beirut. If there has been a
growth in presidential power, it is highly difficult for presidents
to use it with impunity.
Questions of the success and failure of presidential action performed
under extra-constitutional political power, however, should not distract
citizens from their concerns about the constitutionality of the action.
If presidents are allowed to posses all the power they currently claim,
especially the extra-constitutional powers, then citizens of the United
States face a substantially new form of government, whether a success
or a failure. Instead of a government limited by the constitutional
document, the powers of government are regulated only by what the
people will beara plebiscite, not a constitutional, government.
Constitutional government requires that people pay attention to the
constitutional fidelity of government. The readings collected in this
section begin with accounts of the early founding period, then explore
the historical actions and actual behaviors of presidents. A
good government implies two things: claimed the author of Federalist
No. 62, first, fidelity to the object of government, which
is the happiness of the people; secondly, a knowledge of the means
by which that object can be best attained. This chapter seeks
to examine the means of executive power, with an emphasis on retaining
the constitutional power of the office.