Imperial Presidency: Overview


In his book, The Imperial Presidency, Arthur Schlesinger recounts the
rise of the presidency as it grew into the imperial, powerful position that it
is today. His writing reflects a belief that the presidency is becoming too
powerful and that very few people are making a real effort to stop it. He
analyzes the back and forth struggle for power between Congress and the
Presidency. Schlesinger breaks up the first half of the book chronologically. He
begins by discussing the areas concerning the presidency where the founding
fathers agreed and also the areas where they disagreed. He then goes on to
analyze the rise of the imperial presidency through war and recovery, with
emphasis on the events of the twentieth century. After the war in Vietnam,
Schlesinger divides the book based on the specific nature of the events that had
an impact on presidential power. He divides it based on domestic policy, foreign
policy, and the affairs that go on in secrecy.
Schlesinger provides an incredible amount of evidence to recount the ups
and downs of the imperial presidency. He provides a base for his argument with
an in-depth view of what the framers intended and how they set the stage for
development over the next two centuries. An issue that Schlesinger focuses on is
the presidents ability to make war. The decisions of the founders in this area
would have a huge impact on the power contained in the office of the president.
The consensus amongst the framers was that the president, as Commander in Chief,
had the ability to defend the United States and its interests, but the ability
to declare war was vested in the Congress. This decision set the stage for the
struggles between the president and congress. He also discussed the debate over
the power institutionalized in the presidency. At the time, there were two
schools of thought on the subject. Hamilton supported an active president, while
Jefferson argued in favor of a passive president. The final draft included a
compromise of the two theories. There was also some debate over the power of the
president versus the power of congress. Additionally, there was a compromise
made over this issue when writing the final draft. The spirit of compromise
amongst the founders was what provided a viable and secure base for the future
of the presidency.
After his discussion of the founders, Schlesinger shifts to the
president's powers of war. He analyzes every war, excluding the Revolution, that
the United States has participated in up to and including the war in Vietnam. He
discusses the specifics of each scenario and the way in which the president
handles it. Schlesinger develops the slowly growing power of the presidency by
recounting the actions that the president carried out on his own as well as
those that required the consent of Congress to be accomplished. As time
progressed, Schlesinger made note of all the major events that increased and
decreased the power of the presidency. For example, he discusses the almost
dictatorial power of Lincoln during the Civil War and then the impeachment of
Andrew Johnson shortly thereafter. These are two events that are indicative of
the seesaw struggle between the presidency and Congress. Schlesinger goes on to
discuss additional examples of conflict between the presidency and Congress such
as the dominance of Congress during the late 1800's, the annexation of Texas,
the Great Depression, W.W.II, the Korean War, and the war in Vietnam.
Schlesinger focuses a great deal of attention on the events of the
twentieth century, because, in part, this was when the power of the presidency
vaulted to the level that it currently maintains. The reason for this, in
addition to what the early presidents had done, was that the government was
growing fast and the role of the government was increasing. There were many gray
areas in which the president could extend his power. The power of the president
to make war as Commander in Chief is an example of a gray area where the
presidency was able to gain much power. Schlesinger discusses how the president
was able to gain power through the clause in the Constitution that gives the
president the power to mobilize the military, without the consent of Congress,
in the name of national defense. This clause allowed the president to deploy
forces around the world. The grayness of this area comes from the fact that what
one man may consider an act of defense, another man may consider to be an act of
aggression, and vice versa. Because of this, the presidency was able to gain a
leg up on Congress.
Schlesinger also discusses the actions taken within the inner sanctum of
the White House. His focus is on the presidents from