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The Presidents and the Constitution

The Presidents and the Constitution: A Living History

Edited by Ken Gormley
Copyright Date: 2016
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 672
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  • Book Info
    The Presidents and the Constitution
    Book Description:

    In this sweepingly ambitious volume, the nation's foremost experts on the American presidency and the U.S. Constitution join together to tell the intertwined stories of how each American president has confronted and shaped the Constitution. Each occupant of the office-the first president to the forty-fourth-has contributed to the story of the Constitution through the decisions he made and the actions he took as the nation's chief executive.

    By examining presidential history through the lens of constitutional conflicts and challenges,The Presidents and the Constitutionoffers a fresh perspective on how the Constitution has evolved in the hands of individual presidents. It delves into key moments in American history, from Washington's early battles with Congress to the advent of the national security presidency under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, to reveal the dramatic historical forces that drove these presidents to action. Historians and legal experts, including Richard Ellis, Gary Hart, Stanley Kutler and Kenneth Starr, bring the Constitution to life, and show how the awesome powers of the American presidency have been shapes by the men who were granted them. The book brings to the fore the overarching constitutional themes that span this country's history and ties together presidencies in a way never before accomplished.

    Exhaustively researched and compellingly presented,The Presidents and the Constitutionshines new light on America's brilliant constitutional and presidential history.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-3541-6
    Subjects: Law, History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-v)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vi-x)
  3. Introduction: An Unfinished Presidency (pp. 1-14)

    The presidency of the United States is the most powerful position in the American system of government, and perhaps in the world. As Woodrow Wilson once wrote, the chief executive “is the vital place of action in the system, whether he accepts it as such or not, and the office is the measure of the man—of his wisdom as well as his force.”¹ Yet the Constitution dedicates surprisingly little space to defining the duties or powers of the president; instead, it leaves the contours of that high office to be sketched out in real time, as history plays itself...

    • 1 George Washington (pp. 17-33)

      When it comes to the presidency, the Constitution of the United States is a document of remarkably few words. Most presidents navigate their way around the silences of the Constitution by emulating, rejecting, or modifying the actions of their predecessors. In the unique case of George Washington, who served as the nation’s first president from 1789 until 1797, there were no presidential precedents to help him figure out what the Constitution required or allowed. There was, of course, the British monarchical model, but few Americans—least of all Washington—wanted the president to be a king. There were also the...

    • 2 John Adams (pp. 34-46)

      The second president of the United States (1797–1801), John Adams, was born on October 19, 1735, in the village of Braintree, near Boston. Although his family means were modest, his parents were determined to send him to private schools and provide him with assistance from tutors. Adams attended Harvard to become a clergyman and graduated at age nineteen, impressing professors with his intellectual dedication. Instead of becoming a clergyman, however, Adams preferred to teach and became active in public life. Studying in the law office of James Putnam, he was admitted to the Boston Bar on November 7, 1758.¹...

    • 3 Thomas Jefferson (pp. 47-60)

      Thomas Jefferson left a unique imprint on the nation. He drafted the Declaration of Independence and advocated an enumeration of individual rights—a concept that evolved into the Bill of Rights.¹ He also championed free speech and free press and fiercely defended the freedom of religion.²

      Known for his lasting contributions as an architect of a nation dedicated to safeguarding “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” Jefferson also engaged in extensive battles regarding the proper allocation of power between the federal and state governments. Federalism animated Jefferson’s constitutional philosophy throughout his tenure in public office. His life experiences produced...

    • 4 James Madison (pp. 61-74)

      James Madison (1751–1836), planter, constitutional theorist, legislator, and fourth president of the United States, was born in Port Conway, King George County, Virginia. His ancestors, probably all from England and tradesmen and farmers at first, quickly acquired more lands and soon were among “the respectable though not the most opulent class,” as Madison himself described them. He lived all his life in Orange County, Virginia, on Montpelier, a 5,000-acre plantation that produced tobacco and grains and was worked by perhaps a hundred slaves. Though he abhorred slavery and had no use for the aristocratic airs of Virginia society, Madison...

    • 5 James Monroe (pp. 75-88)

      Long minimized as the “last of the Virginia dynasty,” after Washington, Jefferson, and Madison, James Monroe played a much greater role in defining America’s role in the world of the nineteenth century and beyond than he is traditionally given credit for. And in playing that role, he advanced the notion of a powerful executive beyond the bounds of either his Republican or his Federalist predecessors. He dealt with an ambitious military leader, Andrew Jackson, in a manner that forecast struggles over the role of the commander in chief up to and including the twentieth-century confrontation between President Harry Truman and...

    • 6 John Quincy Adams (pp. 89-100)

      John Quincy Adams had several distinctions: the first president whose father had held the office; the first president who had not obtained even a plurality of the popular vote; the last president chosen by the House of Representatives; and the only president to serve in the House of Representatives after leaving the White House.¹ In many ways, Adams can fairly be viewed as a less-than-successful chief executive. Yet he had an extraordinary career in public service and confronted important constitutional issues at several stages of that career.

      Adams seemed destined for public service. He was born on July 11, 1767,...

    • 7 Andrew Jackson (pp. 103-115)

      Andrew Jackson was the first president who was neither a founder nor personally connected to the founders. George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson were members of the Continental Congress. Washington and James Madison played crucial roles in the convention that drafted the Constitution. James Monroe and Madison were members of the Virginia ratification convention. John Quincy Adams was the son of a founder and personally connected to other prominent New England founders. Andrew Jackson was too young at the time to participate meaningfully in either the Revolution or any constitutional convention, and he lacked personal, professional, or political associations...

    • 8 Martin Van Buren (pp. 116-125)

      Martin Van Buren, the first president to be born a citizen of the United States, came from modest beginnings. He was born on December 5, 1782, in the small village of Kinderhook, New York, to a tavern keeper and farmer.¹ Van Buren did not attend college, but he learned the law as an apprentice to one of the town’s lawyers and established a thriving law practice. He married his childhood sweetheart, Hannah Hoes, in 1804 and fathered four sons.

      Van Buren launched his political career by joining and working tirelessly for the state Democratic-Republican Party. He proved quite adept at...

    • 9 William Henry Harrison (pp. 126-135)

      William Henry Harrison is one of the least-known presidents in history. This unlikely American symbol of rustic simplicity and rural rectitude was territorial governor of Indiana at the opening of the nineteenth century. He was the principal negotiator of the 1809 Treaty of Fort Wayne—an agreement that ceded three million acres of American Indian land to the United States. Two years later, Harrison was lauded for battling the heroic Shawnee leaders Tecumseh and the Prophet at Tippecanoe Creek. His grandson, Benjamin Harrison of Indiana, became president in 1889, making William Henry Harrison the only president to have a grandchild...

    • 10 John Tyler (pp. 136-148)

      John Tyler will never make the list of best or greatest American presidents—nor should he. Yet Tyler’s presidency proved to be one of the most important in framing, resolving, and advancing constitutionally based executive power. Tyler was a man of principle, of intelligence and learning, of courage, and of extensive political experience—all traits venerated as indispensable to a successful president. But Tyler proved himself a maladroit political leader who managed to infuriate supporters and opponents in equal measure, undercut his own already-precarious standing, and ultimately precipitate the nation’s first impeachment crisis. As one biographer noted, Tyler’s career was...

    • 11 James K. Polk (pp. 149-158)

      James Knox Polk, the nation’s eleventh president, was an unlikely candidate for that post, entering into the 1844 presidential race only after matters of foreign policy, namely, the U.S. expansion, became the dominant campaign issue. The young Tennessean and Jackson protégé nicknamed “Young Hickory” took office in 1845. He had a penchant for westward expansion and, just over a year later, informed Congress that the nation was at war with Mexico. It was this declaration that would cause Polk’s critics to raise issues of constitutional dimension, challenging the president’s authority to set such a policy. Despite such criticism, when Polk’s...

    • 12 Zachary Taylor (pp. 161-172)

      Zachary Taylor was born in Virginia in 1784, but was raised in rural Kentucky, where his father, a Revolutionary War officer and minor Virginia politician, moved in 1785. Through his mother, Taylor was related to both James Madison and Robert E. Lee. In addition, before her untimely death, Taylor’s daughter was married to Jefferson Davis. Thus, early in Taylor’s life, he was also the father-in-law of the president of the future Confederacy. Accordingly, Taylor’s familial connection to the Constitution was to its primary author, to a traitorous general who tried to destroy it, and to the West Point–trained former...

    • 13 Millard Fillmore (pp. 173-180)

      In virtually every ranking of U.S. presidents, Millard Fillmore is rated near the bottom. Yet Fillmore faced a complex set of historical forces. He was catapulted from the relative obscurity of the vice presidency after the death of the illustrious President Zachary Taylor and forced to deal with the issue of slavery then consuming the nation. His undistinguished place in history is doubtless influenced by his support for the Compromise of 1850 with its infamous Fugitive Slave Act and the supposed betrayal of his own Whig Party principles. Fillmore, in part, was thrust into difficult circumstances. He was neither incompetent...

    • 14 Franklin Pierce (pp. 181-193)

      Few presidential candidates were less qualified or less prepared for the office than Franklin Pierce was in 1852. His entire political career consisted of four years in the New Hampshire legislature, two utterly unremarkable terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, a partial term as U.S. senator, and a few years as the U.S. attorney in New Hampshire. Pierce’s only other experience was as a practicing attorney (where he was quite successful), a leader of the Democratic Party in New Hampshire, and as a minor and utterly unimportant brigadier general in the Mexican War. With his father the governor of...

    • 15 James Buchanan (pp. 194-208)

      On June 4, 1868, three days after his death at his beloved estate in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, former president James Buchanan was buried by family, friends, and neighbors. His funeral, attended by a crowd of more than twenty thousand, included several speakers who reminded mourners of Buchanan’s achievements and his many years of devoted public service to the nation. One orator even compared the former president to his successor, Abraham Lincoln, claiming that two barefoot boys had “climbed to the highest office in the world.”¹ Comparisons of these two men would continue to be made in the future, but usually with...

    • 16 Abraham Lincoln (pp. 211-226)

      According to polls of scholars, Abraham Lincoln usually ranks first among American presidents—surely as the greatest nineteenth-century president.¹ Yet these polls do a disservice because other data suggests that he is one of the greatest democratic political leaders in world history. More books have been written about him than about any other political leader.² Moreover, there are more memorials dedicated to him around the world than any other American president or world leader. His name appears on schools, streets, and businesses on every continent save Antarctica, and his image on stamps, paintings, and sculptures are equally ubiquitous.³ Even his...

    • 17 Andrew Johnson (pp. 227-238)

      Andrew Johnson became the seventeenth president of the United States upon the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Born in poverty in North Carolina, Johnson moved to Tennessee, where he became a successful tailor and a Democratic politician. Elected U.S. representative, governor, and U.S. senator, he defended slavery but was a strong Jacksonian unionist. During the secession crisis, he was the only senator from a seceding state who did not resign his seat. In 1862, Lincoln appointed him military governor of Tennessee. In 1864, the Union party, a coalition of Republicans and War Democrats, nominated Johnson for the vice presidency to balance...

    • 18 Ulysses S. Grant (pp. 239-250)

      His tomb sits upon high ground in upper Manhattan, one of the most famous and largest mausoleums in the world. President Ulysses S. Grant and his beloved wife, Julia, lie there side by side. Along with Abraham Lincoln, he was one of the heroes of the Civil War, which preserved the American Union and ended slavery. His election to the presidency in 1868 seemed almost preordained, as Grant was, even more than Lincoln, the most revered American of his time. Both Northerners and Southerners hoped he would bring the nation back together after the horror of war, the Lincoln assassination,...

    • 19 Rutherford B. Hayes (pp. 253-265)

      When Rutherford B. Hayes is called the first Gilded Age president, it is usually not meant as a compliment. Instead, Hayes is regularly depicted as the president who steered the Republican Party away from its commitment to guarding the rights of African Americans in the South and toward support for unfettered corporate industrialism. He was the president who ended Radical Reconstruction and then used some of the federal troops that had been protecting the freedmen to put down the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. The Republicans under Hayes, one historian has written, “with scarcely a shrug … abandoned the freed...

    • 20 James A. Garfield (pp. 266-275)

      James Abram Garfield was in many ways an unintended president, a position that resulted from the deadlocked Republican National Convention of 1880. A man with perhaps the potential to be a great leader, he served the second-shortest term of any president, dying within six months of his inauguration. President Garfield was shot by Charles Guiteau, a delusional office-seeker, at the Washington, D.C., train station on July 2, 1881. Had Garfield been treated properly by doctors, he might have survived the shooting. Medical deficiencies and professional pride resulted in his slow, agonizing decline and death on September 19, 1881.¹ Garfield’s life...

    • 21 Chester A. Arthur (pp. 276-287)

      Chester Alan Arthur was born October 5, 1829, in the farming community of Fairfield, Vermont. His father, William, had settled in Vermont after emigrating from his native Ulster, Northern Ireland, to Canada. To support his large family, William Arthur moved around frequently in the New York area, abandoning plans for a legal career to become a Baptist minister.¹

      From his father, Arthur inherited strong abolitionist views. He enrolled in Union College in New York in 1845 and studied the classics, earning part of his tuition teaching in schools around the area. Thereafter, he moved to New York City in 1854...

    • 22 Grover Cleveland First Term: 1884–1888 (pp. 288-296)

      By virtually all accounts, President Grover Cleveland was openly conscientious, honest, principled, purposeful, determined, energetic, and even courageous, in an age when corruption and sloth were sometimes countenanced in high places.¹ In those same accounts, however, Cleveland often appears as unimaginative and the antithesis of a reformer and intellectual, reflecting instead a conservative, property-oriented outlook on public affairs—an outlook shared at that time by many Republicans and Democrats alike. Indeed, this solitary Democratic president between James Buchanan’s election in 1856 and Woodrow Wilson’s victory in 1914 was seen as so intensely conservative that Wilson supposedly once jested that he,...

    • 23 Benjamin Harrison (pp. 297-307)

      Benjamin Harrison remains one of the least known of the nation’s presidents over the past 125 years. Harrison served only one term between the two separate terms of Grover Cleveland, and it is as though Harrison has been lost among the presidents of the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth century—those presidents who served between Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt and who have been viewed as inept, powerless, or both. Yet Harrison deserves recognition for what his administration accomplished or tried to accomplish, particularly concerning the Constitution.

      Benjamin Harrison was born in Ohio on August 20, 1833, the great-grandson...

    • 24 Grover Cleveland Second Term: 1892–1896 (pp. 308-315)

      Grover Cleveland, the only president to win nonconsecutive terms in the White House, retreated to New York City after his defeat in the election of 1888, waiting for his opportunity to return to public life. That opportunity arose when the Harrison administration both raised the tariff to record levels and instituted a heavy purchase of silver, policies that Cleveland viewed as risky. Seizing the moment, Cleveland spoke out with an open letter to reformers. The “silver letter” sharply criticized the runaway coinage of silver and thrust him back into the political spotlight. Although initially viewed as political suicide, the “silver...

    • 25 William McKinley (pp. 316-328)

      William McKinley was born January 29, 1843, in Niles, Ohio. His parents, William and Nancy McKinley, had nine children, of whom William Jr. was the seventh. His father was a farmer who also worked in a local iron furnace and was an inventor.¹ The family was of Scotch-Irish heritage; originally Presbyterian, the McKinleys became committed Methodists after moving from Pennsylvania before William Jr.’s birth. Their conversion and commitment to Methodism, born out of the revivalism of the early nineteenth century, had a profound effect on William. According to Aaron Morton, the pastor of McKinley’s church in 1867, McKinley’s faith was...

    • 26 Theodore Roosevelt (pp. 331-342)

      President Theodore Roosevelt regarded the Constitution as a stubborn obstacle to overcome in the fight for his Progressive political agenda. In this respect, he was the forerunner of his distant cousin Franklin D. Roosevelt and other “imperial presidents.”

      Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt Jr. was born on October 27, 1858, into an old and aristocratic New York family.¹ His father, Theodore Roosevelt Sr., was independently wealthy and spent most of his time pursuing good works in New York City.²

      Young Roosevelt was deeply influenced by his father.³ A special bond was created between the two because of the boy’s severe asthma. When...

    • 27 William Howard Taft (pp. 343-354)

      William Howard Taft’s path to the U.S. presidency in 1909, in retrospect, appears logical and measured. Born in 1857, and raised in Cincinnati, he came from lawyerly stock. Both his grandfather and father were attorneys, his father serving in President Grant’s cabinet and as ambassador to Austria and Russia. After working steadily to obtain his undergraduate degree at Yale and while earning a law degree at Cincinnati Law School, Taft launched a career of increasing stature and visibility in the fields of law and government. With only one slightly out-of-the-ordinary job as a reporter during his law school years, he...

    • 28 Woodrow Wilson (pp. 357-370)

      When Woodrow Wilson was elected America’s twenty-eighth president in 1912, he was, perhaps since John Quincy Adams, the office holder who was best educated on the basic provisions and arguments concerning the American Constitution. Owing to his roles as a political scientist and former president of Princeton University, Wilson’s understanding of the founding period was rooted in years of academic training and writing. Coupled with his practical political experience as governor of New Jersey, Wilson’s unique set of skills made him, arguably, among the most prepared executive leaders to ever take the reins of the presidency. Yet, despite Wilson’s formal...

    • 29 Warren G. Harding (pp. 371-384)

      War leaves in its aftermath economic misery and social turmoil. Opportunistic greed overruns the public good. Markets jump and jitter. Hysteria runs rampant. This is the precisely the world that Warren Harding confronted on his fifty-fifth birthday, November 2, 1920, which was also the day he was elected the twenty-ninth president of the United States.

      Warren Harding came from a common Ohio background. His father was a Civil War soldier (he once met Lincoln in the White House along with a group of fellow Ohio soldiers) and became a country doctor, traveling on horseback between patients and otherwise farming to...

    • 30 Calvin Coolidge (pp. 385-394)

      The reputation of John Calvin Coolidge, the nation’s thirtieth president, as a preternaturally quiet man with a wry sense of humor is well known.¹ Yet the man who bore the sobriquet “Silent Cal” holds an important place that is frequently overlooked in American history. Coolidge’s administration was perhaps the most trouble-free of any twentieth-century chief executive, and it would be hard to identify an American president who left office with greater popularity than that enjoyed by Coolidge. Thus, to paraphrase one biographer, it is important to delve beneath the witticisms and blather to properly understand—and appreciate—Coolidge’s strengths and...

    • 31 Herbert Hoover (pp. 395-406)

      Few reputations have risen and fallen like that of Herbert Hoover. By the end of World War I, he was a world hero whom many Americans could not wait to elect president, if only he would run. In 1928, he sought the office (as a Republican), and they did elect him. Less than a year later, the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began. During the rest of Hoover’s presidential term, the American public, which had viewed him as a managerial superman, came to conclude that he was not solving and could not solve this calamity. In 1932, the...

    • 32 Franklin Delano Roosevelt (pp. 409-426)

      Scholars often rank Franklin D. Roosevelt as the greatest president of the twentieth century and second only to Abraham Lincoln (and, in some rankings, George Washington) among all the presidents of the United States.¹ Just as Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, successfully dealt with the twin domestic issues of secession and slavery, FDR successfully dealt with the twin international issues of the Great Depression and then World War II. Elected to an unprecedented four terms (1933–1945), the active and flexible president forever changed the institution of the presidency and transformed the nation into the world’s most successful constitutional democracy.


    • 33 Harry S. Truman (pp. 427-440)

      Harry S. Truman assumed the presidency on April 12, 1945, when a war-weary President Franklin D. Roosevelt suddenly succumbed to a cerebral hemorrhage at Warm Springs, Georgia. While the nation mourned the loss of one of its greatest presidents, a relatively unknown vice president took the oath of office. The next day, the stunned Truman remarked to reporters, “Boys, if you ever pray, pray for me now. I don’t know whether you fellows ever had a load of hay fall on you, but when they told me yesterday what had happened, I felt like the moon, stars, and all the...

    • 34 Dwight D. Eisenhower (pp. 443-458)

      Dwight David Eisenhower, the last American president to be born in the nineteenth century, capitalized on his tremendous personal popularity and image as a war hero to secure election to the White House in 1952. Eisenhower’s impeccable national security credentials made him the overwhelmingly popular choice for president, considering the volatile global environment. The U.S. was mired in an increasingly dangerous Cold War (as evidenced by the Soviet Union’s then-recent acquisition of nuclear weapons and the establishment of the communist People’s Republic of China). There was mounting anxiety at home over the dangers of communist subversion, and an unresolved “hot...

    • 35 John F. Kennedy (pp. 459-472)

      John F. Kennedy’s presidency constituted little more than a thousand days in office. Yet two issues that arrived with him at the White House’s threshold on January 20, 1961, race and religion, would draw him into constitutional debates that remained on the public agenda well into the twenty-first century.

      Kennedy’s life story illuminates how the issues of religion and race informed the constitutional issues he faced during his presidency. Born into the parochial world of Boston’s Irish-Catholic middle class on May 29, 1917, young Jack felt the tug of his parents’ divergent approaches to Roman Catholicism. The devout product of...

    • 36 Lyndon B. Johnson (pp. 473-488)

      “When I was young,” Lyndon Johnson recalled in 1965, “poverty was so common that it didn’t have a name.” Economic distinctions between the comparatively better-off in Johnson City, Texas, and those struggling to pay the mortgage were slight by the standards of the outside world. Some accepted the wearing routines of farming, ranching, and day labor as their fate; others seized on education as the way to change their lives. “Education,” LBJ observed later, “was something you had to fight for.”¹

      From the beginning of his life on August 28, 1908, Lyndon seemed to be marked for great things. His...

    • 37 Richard M. Nixon (pp. 491-506)

      The Succession Clause of the U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 1, provides for the death or resignation of the president or the executive’s inability to discharge the powers and duties of the office of president. Richard Nixon, the man who liked to claim numerous firsts, uniquely is the first and thus far the only president to resign—and in disgrace. His final official act involved the Constitution, undoubtedly with a choice he preferred not to make.

      Impeachment is the only constitutional means to bridge the separation of powers and bring the head of state to accountability. Of the nation’s presidents...

    • 38 Gerald R. Ford (pp. 507-520)

      Gerald R. Ford never planned to become the thirty-eighth president of the United States. He recited the oath of office having never run on a national ticket for the presidency or vice presidency; nor had he ever served in the Senate or as a state governor. He had aspired to be Speaker of the House, but because Republicans were not the majority party during most of Ford’s time in the legislature, he had to settle for the role of minority leader.

      After serving twenty-five years in the House of Representatives representing Michigan’s Fifth District, Ford found himself sitting in the...

    • 39 Jimmy Carter (pp. 521-536)

      Jimmy Carter entered the presidency at a time of transition. Diplomatically, the so-called Cold War consensus, which had emphasized a communist conspiracy driven by the Soviet Union to achieve world dominion, was breaking down. Demographically, the Sun Belt had gained influence as Americans moved from the North and East to the South and West. Politically, the liberalism that had been ascendant from the New Deal of the 1930s through the Great Society of the 1960s was being challenged by an increasingly influential fiscal and social conservatism. Finally, the Vietnam War and Watergate scandals had moved Americans to seek honest leadership...

    • 40 Ronald Reagan (pp. 539-556)

      The year was 1911. The world was a perilous place. Woodrow Wilson would soon take the oath of office. Meanwhile, in the latter years of his short-lived presidency, William Howard Taft was wistfully looking ahead to life teaching at Yale Law School. In this same year, Ronald Wilson Reagan was born in America’s heartland on February 6 to John Edward and Nelle Wilson Reagan. Growing up, as his family moved from one small town in Illinois to another, the future president was involved in sports and drama and worked for a few years as a lifeguard.

      In 1928, student-athlete Ronald...

    • 41 George H. W. Bush (pp. 557-569)

      The presidency of George H. W. Bush represented a time of both political continuity and transition. Because he had served as Ronald Reagan’s vice president for eight years before his own election to the presidency in 1988, the assumption when Bush took the oath of office was that he would continue the Reagan legacy in terms of conservative values and strong leadership. But the American political environment in which Bush needed to govern was changing dramatically by the start of the 1990s. So, too, was the international landscape as the Cold War began to end. Although Bush failed to secure...

    • 42 William Jefferson Clinton (pp. 570-586)

      William “Bill” Jefferson Clinton, the forty-second president of the United States, faced multiple criminal investigations and an impeachment drive during his presidency. Yet he blazed a new trail as a centrist Democrat, and—along with First Lady Hillary Clinton who became a renowned public official in her own right—emerged as one of the most popular chief executives of the twentieth century.

      Bill Clinton was born William Jefferson Blythe III in Hope, Arkansas, on August 19, 1946. His father, a traveling salesman, had died in a freak automobile accident three months before the baby was born. His mother, Virginia Cassidy...

    • 43 George W. Bush (pp. 589-604)

      Many of George W. Bush’s most important constitutional decisions while he was in office were tied to those his administration thought necessary to execute the “war on terror,” in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. Yet for some high-level Bush advisers, the crises created by the war on terror were seen, simultaneously, as opportunities for the legitimate expansion of presidential power. Dating back to the 1980s, Bush’s vice president, Dick Cheney, had written thoughtfully and cogently about the need for a constitutionally independent presidency. Indeed, intellectual leaders of the Republican...

    • 44 Barack Obama (pp. 605-622)

      As the nation’s first African American president, Barack Obama embodied the American dream and symbolized the nation’s progress on civil rights since the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the formal abolition of slavery. Yet, some Americans refused to accept, much less abide by, the sight of a black man—particularly a liberal Democrat—in the White House. These skeptics questioned Obama’s constitutional legitimacy and judgments throughout his presidency. As the fourth professor of constitutional law to become president, Obama had expertise that many believed would equip him to deal with the constitutional challenges likely to confront him as president.¹ However, his...

  16. Conclusion: An Evolving American Presidency (pp. 623-656)

    The “energy” that the framers envisioned in the American presidency is not evident in the sparse text contained in Article II of the Constitution. Nor does it leap from the pages of the presidential-powers cases handed down by the Supreme Court over the past two centuries. Even reading a thick biography of each president would not tell the full story.

    The complete picture only comes to light by tying together threads that span across presidencies. The foregoing chapters, when read together, illuminate remarkable images that would otherwise be obscured by a web of interrelated events. President Gerald Ford might not...

  17. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (pp. 657-658)
  18. ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS (pp. 659-666)
  19. PHOTO CREDITS (pp. 667-670)
  20. INDEX (pp. 671-701)