The Development of the American Presidency

By Richard J. Ellis

© 2012 – Routledge

586 pages

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Paperback: 9780415878814
pub: 2012-01-19
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About the Book

Our understanding of the politics of the presidency is greatly enhanced by viewing it through a developmental lens, analyzing how historical turns have shaped the modern institution. The Development of the American Presidency pays great attention to that historical weight but is organized topically and conceptually with the constitutional origins and political development of the presidency its central focus. Through comprehensive and in-depth coverage, this text looks at how the presidency has evolved in relation to the public, to Congress, to the Executive branch, and to the law, showing at every step how different aspects of the presidency have followed distinct trajectories of change. All the while, Ellis illustrates the institutional relationships and tensions through stories about particular individuals and specific political conflicts.

Ellis's own classroom pedagogy of promoting active learning and critical thinking is well reflected in these pages. Each chapter begins with a narrative account of some illustrative puzzle that brings to life a central concept. A wealth of photos, figures, and tables allow for the visual presentations of concepts. A companion website not only acts as a further resources base—directing students to primary documents, newspapers, and data sources—but also presents interactive timelines, practice quizzes, and key terms to help students master the book's lessons.


"Many presidency textbooks present the contemporary presidency as a relatively static institution, defined by its structure and its relationship to other political actors. Ellis is to be applauded for rejecting this model and for embracing a more dynamic vision of this political institution. By chronicling the historical development of the presidency, Ellis highlights the evolving character of presidential power and practices. In doing so, he encourages readers to think about the causes and processes of institutional change, as well as the consequences and desirability of such change."—Ann-Marie Szymanski, Associate Professor of Political Science, The University of Oklahoma

"The Development of the American Presidency is a superb and distinctive textbook combining developmental and conceptual approaches to the presidency. It teaches students to see the presidency as an evolving institution in American history. At the same time, Ellis shows how individual incumbents have used the presidency and how their leadership, in turn, changed the institution."—Peri E. Arnold, Professor of Political Science, University of Notre Dame

"This book contributes an innovative developmental perspective to the American presidency's central topics. By doing so, it uncovers many insights missing from more conventional textbooks. The concluding chapter draws on the book's many original insights to provide a highly rewarding summary view of the contemporary presidency."—Steven E. Schier, Professor of Political Science, Carleton College

"This masterful book brings the development of the presidency to life for undergraduate students and graduate students alike. Ellis's command of presidential history is unmatched."—Terri Bimes, Lecturer, University of California, Berkeley

"Astute analyses and vivid story-telling make The Development of the American Presidency fascinating reading. Richard Ellis's text is unique in examining presidential history topically and in paying extensive attention to the early presidents."—Bruce Miroff, Professor of Political Science, SUNY Albany

"For teachers of the presidency, Richard Ellis has squared the circle. The Development of the American Presidency is both topical and chronological and, as a result, it is an invaluable classroom text. More than that, it is also a handy reference for professors, graduate students, and anyone interested in the presidency."

—Jeremy D. Bailey, Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Houston

Table of Contents

1. Envisioning the Presidency

1.1 The Revolutionary Experience

1.2 The Framers’ Doubts and Disagreements

1.3 Four Visions of the Presidency

1. 4 Theories of Political Development


2. Selecting the President

2.1 Introductory Puzzle: How Was Jefferson Almost Beaten by His Own Vice President?

2.2 The Framers’ Presidential Selection Plan

2.3 Founding Elections

2.4 Playing a New Party Game

2.5 The Contemporary Nomination Process

2.6 The Contemporary Debate over the Electoral College

2.7 Obstacles to Reform in a State-Based Electoral System

3. The Public Presidency

3.1 Introductory Puzzle: Why did Lincoln Play Second Fiddle at Gettysburg?

3.2 The Gauntlet of Conflicting Public Expectations

3.3 The Old Patrician Ways

3.4 The New Partisan Ways

3.5 Going Public at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

3.6 Penning the President’s Words: The Rise of the Speechwriter

3.7 Faith in Words: The Effects of Presidential Rhetoric in the Television Age


4. The Legislative Presidency

4.1 Introductory Puzzle: Lessons from Obama’s Joe Wilson Moment

4.2 The Constitutional Brakes

4.3 "From Motives of Respect": George Washington’s Relations with Congress

4.4 Alexander Hamilton: Walpole to Washington’s George II

4.5 The Hidden Hand Leadership of Thomas Jefferson

4.6 Congress Resurgent

4.7 The Veto: Whig Theory and Democratic Practice

4.8 Abraham Lincoln: Whig in the White House?

4.9 Clay’s Revenge: The Era of Legislative Supremacy

4.10 The New School of Executive Leadership

4.11 Woodrow Wilson: The President as Prime Minister

4.12 More Wilsonian than Whig: From Harding to Hoover

4.13 FDR: Legislator in Chief

4.14 In the Shadow of FDR

5. The War-Making Presidency

5.1 Introductory Puzzle: Why Didn’t Truman Call a War a War?

5.2 Opening the Debate over Prerogatives and Power

5.3 Original Understandings

5.4 Debating Washington’s Neutrality Proclamation: Helvidius v Pacificus

5.5 Fighting Indians and Pirates in the Early Republic

5.6 The Congressional "Propensity to War"

5.7 The First Presidential War: Polk’s War with Mexico|

5.8 Fighting the Civil War

5.9 Becoming a World Power

5.10 Entering World War II

5. 11 The Cold War and the Origins of the National Security State

5.12 The Vietnam War: Origins and Aftermath

5.13 Congressional Checks on Presidential War Powers

5.14 The War on Terror: The Presidency in Perpetual War


6. Organizing the Presidency

6.1 Introductory Puzzle: Why does a "Kid" get to tell Bill Clinton’s Cabinet what to do?

6.2 The Founders Organize the Presidency

6.3 "An Almost Insupportable Burden": The Origins of Presidential Staff

6.4 Organizing the Lincoln White House

6.5 Salvation by Staff: The Cautionary Tale of Ulysses Grant

6.6 Settling for Second Best: Private Secretaries in the Gilded Age

6.7 Managing Government and Budgets in the Nineteenth Century

6.8 "No Responsibility Exists": The Progressive Quest for Administrative Reform

6.9 FDR and the Making of the Managerial Presidency

6.10 Richard Nixon and the Origins of the Administrative Presidency

6.11 The Administrative Presidency after Nixon

7. The Removal Power and the Unitary Executive

7.1 Introductory Puzzle: The Curious Case of the IBC Commissioner

7.2 "The Great Debate of 1789"

7.3 Removals in the Early Republic

7.4 The Jacksonian Defense of Rotation in Office

7.5 Jackson’s Removal of William Duane

7.6 Hypocrites All: "The Tumultuous Scramble for Place"

7.7 Andrew Johnson and Tenure of Office Act of 1867

7.8 Party Patronage and Civil Service Reform

7.9 Enter the Courts

7.10 The Political Origins of the Unitary Executive: The Reagan Years

7.11 The Unitary Executive in the Presidency of George W. Bush

7.12 The Unitary Executive Reconsidered


8. The President and the Judiciary

8.1 Introductory Puzzle: How Earl Warren Became the Last Liberal Chief Justice

8.2 Founding Arguments

8.3 Court Packing in the Federalist Era

8.4 Jefferson’s Assault on the "Gibraltar of the Judiciary"

8.5 "Driving Us into Consolidation": On the Road to McCulloch

8.6 Andrew Jackson Confronts the Court

8.7 Making the Court Safe for Slavery

8.8 Ridding the Court of Southerners

8.9 The Rise of Judicial Supremacy

8.10 Franklin Roosevelt v. the Supreme Court

8.11 A "Reinvigorated, Liberal-minded Judiciary"

8.12 Tilting Right

8.13 Partisan Polarization in the Contemporary Confirmation Process

8.14 The Future of Judicial Supremacy

9. Law and Executive Power

9.1 Introductory Puzzle: What was Nixon Thinking?

9.2 Law and the Constitution

9.3 "So Far Above the Law": Executive Power from Locke to Lincoln

9.4 Judging Executive Power

9.5 All the President’s Lawyers


10. Evaluating Presidents

10.1 The Presidential Ratings Game

10.2 The Deal of the Cards

10.3 The Play of the Hand

10.4 Where have all the Great (or even Good) Presidents Gone?

About the Author

Richard J. Ellis is the Mark O. Hatfield Professor of Politics at Willamette University. He has been awarded Oregon Teacher of the Year from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, as well as numerous other awards for both scholarship and teaching. He is the author or editor of over fifteen books, including Judging Executive Power: Sixteen Supreme Court Cases That Have Shaped the American Presidency; Debating the Presidency: Conflicting Perspectives on the American Executive; and Presidential Travel: The Journey from George Washington to George W. Bush.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Political Ideologies / Democracy
POLITICAL SCIENCE / History & Theory
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Government / Executive Branch