FDR and the Modern Presidency: Leadership and Legacy

By Mark J. Rozell; William D. Pederson | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION

Contrary to the views of some critics of the prerogative presidency, the American constitutional system allows the chief executive to act unilaterally, in the national interest, in extraordinary circumstances--especially those in which the very survival of the system itself is threatened by events from within or without. In confronting calamity at home and abroad, FDR exhibited the very "energy and despatch" that the constitutional framers envisioned as necessary to the preservation of the republic. FDR's critics adopt a narrow, legalistic view of the president's powers that fails to take into account the broader purposes of Article II of the Constitution: to ensure the survival of the system itself as a prerequisite to guaranteeing all of the rights that the Constitution grants to the people.

None of this is to suggest that all presidents exercise such authority prudently or properly. The prerogative power can be--and has been-- abused. That fact alone does not justify the view that such a power should not exist at all. The constitutional system of separation of powers provides for checks against executive abuse of the prerogative power. Congress and the courts possess sufficient countervailing powers to challenge the president's actions. In the case of the destroyers deal, for example, Congress could have challenged the president's decision. Not only did Congress choose not to do so, it quickly appropriated funds for the use of the naval bases.

For years legal scholars have celebrated the remarkable flexibility of our constitutional system and the ability of that system to meet numerous exigencies. The president's authority to exercise the prerogative power is a leading facet of that characteristic of the system. Prerogative powers allow for unified, resolute action during extraordinary circumstances so as to preserve and protect the basic rights and liberties ensured by the Constitution during normal times. Because of his skillful exercise of prerogative powers, FDR proved that democratic societies can both respond effectively to crises and preserve freedom.


NOTES
1.
"The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt", Vol. 2, The Year of Crisis, 1933 ( New York: Random House, 1938), p. 15.
2.
Basil Rauch, ed., Franklin D. Roosevelt: Selected Speeches, Messages, Press Conferences, and Letters ( Norwalk, Conn.: Easton Press, 1989), pp. 187- 188, 190-191.
3.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, Public Papers and Addresses, 1933-1941 ( New York: Macmillan, 1939), p. 3.

-144-

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