The Power to Govern: Assessing Reform in the United States

By Richard M. Pious | Go to book overview

Reassessing the "Imperial Presidency"

LOUIS W. KOENIG

Among the innumerable books published about the American presidency in the nearly two centuries of the office's existence, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.'s Imperial Presidency holds a unique place. 1 Published in 1973, the book's title remains part of the American political lexicon. Mention presidency in a word association test administered to any number of politicians, civil servants, academics, and others tolerably informed about the office, and the likelihood is that the word imperial will figure prominently in the results. Adding to the book's impact are Schlesinger's previous writings and service in a presidential administration, a record in sharp contrast to the theme of his book. His earlier works were laudatory chronicles of the presidencies of Jackson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Kennedy, which, with his service in the latter's presidency, were encouraging to other writers, especially in the 1960s, in building their cases for an activist presidency. The Imperial Presidency is a 180-degree turnaround from this previous record.

Writing in 1973, when the unpopularity of the Vietnam war was reaching a crescendo and Richard Nixon's abuses of power were surfacing and straining the credence of shocked citizens, Schlesinger's contention that presidential power had attained a state of extreme aggrandizement seemed justified and aptly timed. In an extended analysis, he argued that Watergate and the Vietnam war were not isolated aberrations but the long-building climaxes of rampant presidential power that had been set in the direction of abuse soon after the office commenced its operations in 1789.

The rock on which the imperial presidency rests is the phenomenon of presidential wars, launched simply by the chief executive's fiat. Innumerable small-scale hostilities were initiated in the nineteenth century; more elaborate conflicts were waged by Tyler, Polk, and above all Lincoln in the Civil War. In the twentieth century such wars were conducted on the scale of the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. The spreading use of executive agreements and ever broaden-

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1
Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Imperial Presidency (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973).

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The Power to Govern: Assessing Reform in the United States
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The Power to Govern: Assessing Reform in the United States *
  • Contents *
  • Preface *
  • Contributors *
  • Prospects for Reform *
  • The Evolving Federal System *
  • The Intergovernmental System *
  • Reassessing the "Imperial Presidency" *
  • Congressional Power *
  • Developing Fiscal Responsibility *
  • Legislative Delegation to Regulatory Agencies *
  • The Changing Federal Courts *
  • Women in Politics *
  • Direct Participation in Politics *
  • The Presidency in the Age of Television *
  • The Impact of Government Employee Unions *
  • New Elites and Pluralism *
  • Formulating Foreign Policy *
  • The Revolution in Communications and Diplomacy *
  • Defining the National Interest *
  • The Impact of Population Shifts *
  • Cities of the Future *
  • The Politics of Scarcity *
  • The Power to Govern *
  • Index *
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