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The Man in the White House

His Powers and Duties

Wilfred E. Binkley

Publication Year: 1959

The Constitution of the United States says little about the president's specific duties other than the enforcement of the laws of the land. Combining brilliant scholarship with a lively style, this book reveals how deep-seated forces, inherent in American society and affecting the presidency for over two centuries, have transformed the office created by the framers of the Constitution into the complex, powerful, and responsible institution it is today. The administrations of the "strong" presidents have added to the powers and duties of the office as we know them. In addition, such social and political forces as the growth of political parties, economic and geographic expansion, and the changing nature of the national government have all had their influence on the presidency. These processes are historically traced by the author and illustrated by vivid examples of how they worked in the case of such holders of the office as Washington, Jackson, Polk, Lincoln, the two Roosevelts, and Eisenhower. Every chapter of the book brings a fresh and authoritative approach to an office and an institution that is the subject of searching debates today.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. v-viii

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I: The Presidency as an Institution

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pp. 1-20

In one of those exquisite phrases that he so neatly turns, Walton Hamilton characterized the term institution as "a verbal symbol which for want of a better describes a cluster of social usages.”1 That phrase, "a cluster of social usages," serves to floodlight the concept "institution." As to the particular institution under consideration, we seem never to have neglected the presidency as a product of Constitution, statute...

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II: Apprenticeship for the Presidency

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pp. 21-50

The Governor of colonial Virginia was sending young Washington on the eve of what would turn out to be the French and Indian War upon a perilous mission far beyond the remotest settlements of the Virginia frontier in order to warn the intruding French away from territory well within the bounds of the Virginia Charter grant. In mid-November, 1753, with six frontiersmen Washington...

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III: Pressures on the President

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pp. 51-78

A president who had been inaugurated with no adequate conception of what the office involved is reported to have protested, after a few months, that he was "getting damned tired of the pressures on him." He should have known that the very raison d'etre of the American presidency had become the reception and management of the public pressures through which the people conveyed their opinions and desires to their representative- in-chief. The most capable presidents have managed to...

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IV: The Influence of Nominating Methods

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pp. 79-95

The administration of Andrew Jackson constitutes a well-known landmark in the evolution of the presidency. Verily a new Pharaoh reigned in the land, one that knew not Joseph. The "rich, the well born and the wise" had been in charge of the Federal government for a long generation, employing methods perfectly acceptable to them for choosing the chief magistrate....

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V: The Presidency as Molded by the Campaign and Election

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pp. 96-113

The presidential election is essentially a battle between the managers of the two major parties to capture the presidency with all its prestige, patronage, and power. Because the stakes are so enormous, the very nature of the presidential office is inevitably profoundly affected by this quadrennial competition. No matter what the Constitution provides with respect to the president, it is his virtually direct election by a nationwide electorate, contrary to the intention of the framers of the Constitution that has so largely converted the presidency into...

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VI: The President as Party Leader

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pp. 114-141

The party leadership now expected of the president is an example of nothing else than pure and simple custom. The Founding Fathers anticipated nothing of the sort, and the very idea would have been abhorrent to them. In their minds political parties, especially on a national scale, represented pure poison to the body politic. The provision for the election of the president by presidential electors, each one exercising his personal judgment and without knowing which of his two ballots...

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VII: The President and Congress

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pp. 142-160

Mustered out after four years of service in the Union army Captain Oliver Wendell Holmes was back home in Boston. Presently he went out to call on his old philosopher friend at Concord. Emerson's conversation flowed on smoothly as he aired his transcendental abstractions of life and death, conscience and duty. The veteran of many a bitterly contested battle left convinced that Emerson was out of touch with reality. Battle...

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VIII: The President as Chief Legislator

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pp. 161-184

Where can one find a finer example of the natural history of our political institutions than the way Where can one find a finer example in which the dynamic forces of American society have transformed the chief executive of the written Constitution into the chief legislator of our unwritten constitution? Apparently the framers of the former expected the president to be most of all a coordinator of the political organs of the federal government, and it is by no means certain that they intended him to be even the...

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IX: The Chief Executive

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pp. 185-205

No distinct executive organ, on a continental scale, was created when, in 1775, the responsibility for conducting the collective concerns of the thirteen Revolutionary states suddenly fell into the lap of the rather astonished Second Continental Congress, which had convened in May, 1775, for no such purpose. By sheer necessity the Congress assumed charge of the war and the other common concerns of the thirteen colonies still...

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X: Implementing the Presidency

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pp. 206-224

Somewhat more than a century ago President James K. Polk could "faithfully execute the office of President of the United States" at the same time that he was managing two or three of the executive departments whose heads had fled from the sweltering summer heat of Washington. Of course this extraordinarily faithful Chief Executive was expending his physical reserves so rapidly that he was to have the shortest...

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XI: The Commander-in-Chief

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pp. 225-244

In making the President commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the nation, the framers of the Constitution were following precisely the model to which they had turned with one accord for the presidential office, that of the state governor, whom twelve of the thirteen state constitutions had made commander- in-chief of the state's military forces. Incidentally, in one sense at least, the Revolutionary state governors were by no means mere ciphers, as they assumed paramount leadership whenever...

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XII: The President as Chief Diplomat

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pp. 245-261

"Our procedures for the democratic review and execution of international engagements are . . . in an unholy mess," declared President Dickey of Dartmouth College several years ago. It should be emphasized that this stricture was on procedure and not on policy. That the management of foreign relations is difficult enough for any self-governing people was demonstrated, for example, by the acrimonious debate in Britain's...

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XIII: The Vice-Presidency and Succession to the Presidency

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pp. 262-287

The vice-presidency appears to have crept into the Constitution with a curious casualness. Its first mention therein is in the provision that the vice-president shall preside over the Senate and, when necessary, vote to break a tie, but there is no intimation of just how such an office came to be. So it pops up here and there in our fundamental instrument with a happy-go-lucky nonchalance as if it were just something to be...

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XIV: The President as a National Symbol

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pp. 288-297

In a flash of intuitive insight the late Henry Jones Ford perceived "that in the Presidential office as it has been constituted since Jackson's time, American democracy has revived the oldest political institution of the race, the elective kingship. It is all there: the prerecognition of the notables, and the tumultuous choice of the freemen, only conformed to modern...


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pp. 298-304


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pp. 305-310

E-ISBN-13: 9780801896156
E-ISBN-10: 0801896150
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801811951
Print-ISBN-10: 0801811953

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 1959