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Take Up Your Pen

Unilateral Presidential Directives in American Politics

By Graham G. Dodds

Publication Year: 2013

Executive orders and proclamations afford presidents an independent means of controlling a wide range of activities in the federal government—yet they are not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. In fact, the controversial edicts known as universal presidential directives seem to violate the separation of powers by enabling the commander-in-chief to bypass Congress and enact his own policy preferences. As Clinton White House counsel Paul Begala remarked on the numerous executive orders signed by the president during his second term: "Stroke of the pen. Law of the land. Kinda cool."

Although public awareness of unilateral presidential directives has been growing over the last decade—sparked in part by Barack Obama's use of executive orders and presidential memoranda to reverse many of his predecessor's policies as well as by the number of unilateral directives George W. Bush promulgated for the "War on Terror"—Graham G. Dodds reminds us that not only has every single president issued executive orders, such orders have figured in many of the most significant episodes in American political history. In Take Up Your Pen, Dodds offers one of the first historical treatments of this executive prerogative and explores the source of this authority; how executive orders were legitimized, accepted, and routinized; and what impact presidential directives have had on our understanding of the presidency, American politics, and political development. By tracing the rise of a more activist central government—first advanced in the Progressive Era by Theodore Roosevelt—Dodds illustrates the growing use of these directives throughout a succession of presidencies. More important, Take Up Your Pen questions how unilateral presidential directives fit the conception of democracy and the needs of American citizens.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press


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pp. c-ii

Title Page

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p. iii-iii

Copyright Page

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p. iv-iv

Dedication Page

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pp. v-vi

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Chapter 1. Unilateral Directives and the Presidency

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pp. 1-28

On December, 15, 2005, Americans were shocked to learn that President GeorgeW. Bush had issued an executive order directing the National Security Agency (NSA) to engage in domestic spying on U.S. citizens. Bush secretly issued the order in 2002 as part of the government’s effort to prevent...

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Chapter 2. The Constitutional Executive

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pp. 29-53

This chapter examines the question of the place of unilateral presidential directives in the broader constitutional order. These directives do not obviously comport with the U.S. Constitution. After all, in a system of limited government characterized by a separation of powers and checks and balances, how can the president unilaterally make law by a mere stroke of the...

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Chapter 3. Judicial Sanction

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pp. 54-85

Unilateral presidential directives are not in the Constitution but have been essentially read into it, even though they are arguably in tension with its premises of separation of powers and checks and balances. Like judicial review, unilateral presidential directives made a transition from a starting point of constitutional silence, through a period of constitutional contestation,...

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Chapter 4. Early Unilateral Presidential Directives

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pp. 86-119

This chapter examines the presidential use of unilateral directives from the founding of the country to the dawn of the twentieth century. This period is important for unilateral presidential directives for several reasons. First and foremost, these early unilateral directives helped to establish precedents and norms, both constitutionally and politically, that greatly influenced...

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Chapter 5. Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of Unilateral Presidential Directives

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pp. 120-151

This chapter examines Theodore Roosevelt’s pivotal role in the evolution of unilateral presidential directives. TR established and largely institutionalized the practice of regularly using unilateral presidential directives for significant purposes. His practices became precedents that permanently altered the presidency and the politics of the policymaking process. This...

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Chapter 6. Unilateral Presidential Directives from Roosevelt to Roosevelt: Taft through FDR

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pp. 152-185

This chapter examines the evolution of the presidential use of unilateral directives from the end of Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency through that of his fifth cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This thirty-six-year period constituted a crucial phase in the development of these important presidential tools, as it marked the entrenchment of TR’s novel uses of such directives,...

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Chapter 7. Unilateral Presidential Directives from the Postwar Era to the Present Day

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pp. 186-222

This chapter examines the use of unilateral presidential directives from Truman’s presidency to the present day. Like their predecessors, presidents from the postwar era to the present have used unilateral directives for a great variety of purposes, at times provoking controversies both politically and constitutionally. Better-known directives in this period include Harry..

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Chapter 8. Conclusions

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pp. 223-246

The previous seven chapters have traced the development of unilateral presidential directives in some detail, noting the roles of various theorists, jurists, and politicians, but focusing on the actions of U.S. presidents from George Washington through Barack Obama. I have argued that American political development has seen a major expansion of presidential power...


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pp. 247-284


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pp. 285-302


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pp. 303-310


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pp. 311-312

E-ISBN-13: 9780812208153
E-ISBN-10: 0812208153
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812245110
Print-ISBN-10: 0812245113

Page Count: 304
Illustrations: 1 illus.
Publication Year: 2013