A fluidly fashioned collection of essays about how the roster of American presidents shaped the executive duties as defined in the Constitution.
Editor Gormley (Dean, Duquesne Univ. School of Law; The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr, 2010, etc.) assembles an evenhanded consideration of each president’s operating style and effectiveness, from George Washington to Barack Obama. Each executive has had to assume the constitutional duties of the office: serving as the commander in chief of the Army and Navy, appointing ambassadors and judges, granting reprieves and pardons, delivering the State of the Union address to Congress, and vetoing legislation. Yet the Constitution is maddeningly vague on specifics and even, as Gormley notes in his crisp introduction, seems to assume “that the president and Congress will have to duke it out, battling over the parameters of their respective powers,” as most evident in the current political climate under President Obama. Precedent has established the strictures of the office, starting with Washington’s keen sense of caution in respecting the separation of powers (he only used the veto twice) and in exercising executive restraint; he stepped down after two terms in order to avoid the appearance of a long-reigning monarch. Yet these precedents were exploded during the four terms of Franklin Roosevelt, who expanded emergency executive powers during extraordinary “times of war and hysteria.” James Monroe’s historic Monroe Doctrine (1823) first set the principles that guided foreign policy in the Western Hemisphere, while the death in office of William Henry Harrison forced the determination of succession from then on. Each scholarly essayist—all of whom provide extensive notes at the conclusion of each chapter—pinpoints a defining presidential moment, from the Emancipation Proclamation of Abraham Lincoln to Watergate and the presidential pardon of Richard Nixon to the navigation of war powers under both of the Bush administrations.
A useful, educational tome featuring top-drawer contributors—though female scholars are woefully underrepresented.