The Presidential Veto: Touchstone of the American Presidency

By Robert J. Spitzer | Go to book overview

6
Conclusion

The veto power . . . is a sort of appeal to the people. The executive power, which without this security might have been secretly oppressed, adopts this means of pleading its cause and stating its motives.

Alexis de Tocqueville
Democracy in America ( 1835)

This book began with the straightforward proposition that the evolution of the presidential veto power is symptomatic of the rise of the modern strong presidency. Despite being one of the few powers of the president clearly enumerated in the Constitution, the veto has, in many ways, been overlooked as a central and important presidential power. Considerations of presidential powers invariably include an obligatory nod to the veto, but little more.


From monarch to plebiscitarian

The founders were careful to establish a government of limited powers. Even so, they fretted about the potential for the abuse of power. They feared a tyrannical national legislature, but also the elevation of an autocratic monarch. The antiautocratic sentiment not only persisted, but if anything, intensified in the nineteenth century. Though the presidency of the 1800s was constrained by interpretation and precedent far more than that of this century, questions about the limits of presidential power and authority were no less germane. As the account in chapter 2 reveals, much of this debate centered on the presidential veto. Those who sided with the Whiggish interpretation of presidential power were quick to point to the vigorous use

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