Roosevelt is the youngest President to ever take office. He is considered as the first modern
President of the United States, but his young age had nothing to do with it. Roosevelt is one of the few presidents
who expanded the powers of the executive. Known
for his aggressive personality, he would do the same with his executive powers.
believed, like Andrew Jackson, the president was to be completely serviced to
the people. However, unlike Jackson, Roosevelt believed the path to strong
executive power was one backed by other popular leadership. Teddy’s reasoning for broadening the
use of the executive was for the public welfare.
Roosevelt’s opinion on strong executive power was not anything new. Alexander Hamilton had expressed his
views long before Teddy’s time, stating, “the executive power of the nation is
vested in the President; subject only to the exceptions and qualifications
which are expressed in the instrument.”
What was new, was the political atmosphere in which Roosevelt embraced Hamilton’s
view on the executive.
Lincoln and Jackson did so during wartime. Teddy,
however, embraced Hamilton’s view during ordinary times. Not only did Roosevelt embrace Hamilton’s
ideals, he would also expand upon them. Theodore Roosevelt was one of the first
presidents to dive into social and economic reform.
Teddy’s strong effort to use the presidency to serve the people, change of
conduct in the executive office followed. Roosevelt
was known for his energetic speeches. His character and will for a new role in
the executive advanced the president’s role as the leader of public opinion. Yet another unconditional trait,
compared to the conventional roles stated in the Constitution. The founders mentioned only two
occasions in which the president was to speak publicly: when vetoing a bill in Congress
or giving a State of the Union address. Roosevelt’s
presidency reflected that of the progressive movement. Much of Teddy’s legislative programs
revolved around welfare, government regulation and conservation. He was met with resistance from Congress,
as conservatives were the majority. Roosevelt
showed how much he opposed unregulated big corporations when he passed the
Hepburn Act of 1906.
The act reinforced the power of the Interstate Commerce Commission to regulate
railroad shipping rates and enforce its regulations. Roosevelt would also change America’s
role in foreign affairs.
He believed strong foreign policy served the country’s national interest. This was obvious with his oversight
of the Panama Canal.
By working with Congress, he would also strengthen the Navy. Roosevelt would continue to work for
the welfare of the people even after leaving office. His early progressive movements would
be a stepping stone for the progressive movements of the 1930s and the 1960s. Teddy Roosevelt’s will for the
people, charisma, and his ability to work together with Congress enabled an
expansion of executive power.
Woodrow Wilson was progressive like
Roosevelt and embodied many of the same ideas as Roosevelt, but lacked the charisma
Teddy had. His presidency would end quite differently than Roosevelt’s. Woodrow Wilson didn’t have the same
speaking talents as Roosevelt, but he was still able to gather large public
support with his progressive politics.
Wilson wanted to empower the executive as much as Roosevelt, and his desire to
do so strengthened the president’s position within party councils. Wilson opposed the convention system
as it was founded on patronage-based state and local party organizations. He would become a supporter of the
Wilson also acknowledged the president’s obligation to the people to be the
voice of the people. Teddy
Roosevelt used popular rhetoric infrequently and only in defense of specific
Wilson, however, believed keeping the American people involved and informed was
the best way to lead.
Wilson would also continue with Theodore Roosevelt’s
progressive legislation in advancing the welfare state. He did so by enacting the largest
program of federal oversight of the nation’s economy. With the Federal Reserve System,
bank reform was enacted, along with tariff reductions, federal regulation of
business, and expanding federal finances to agriculture and education. Wilson most notably changed U.S.
foreign policy from isolation to internationalism. He did so by expanding the
president’s influence and reducing the effectiveness of Congress in foreign affairs.
Wilson’s foreign initiatives were like that of Teddy Roosevelt’s, progressive and
rooted in the American economic strategy. Wilson’s energy in foreign affairs
prevailed during conflict with Mexico when he was able to persuade European
countries to withhold military and economic support from Victoriano Huerta’s regime.
The small conflict in Mexico was only an easy quiz compared to the big test Wilson
would face during World War I. Which is a war that could have possibly been
avoided if Wilson would have restricted Americans from traveling to the war
zone in Europe.
Woodrow Wilson believed he was destined to establish peace. He believed with
his Fourteen Points, World War I would end. In
domestic affairs, Wilson worked closely with the House and the Senate. But in foreign affairs, he felt
constitutionally justified in acting alone.
Wilson’s determination to establish the League of Nations caused conflict
between him and the Senate.
In an attempt to get approval, he delivered a speech asking his constituents to
return to a Democratic majority in the House and Senate. It was all downhill from there. His
conflation with partisanship and patriotism was a mistake. Wilson’s most extreme effort in being
the voice of the people was establishing the Committee on Public Information. Seventy-five thousand speakers were
enlisted to persuade Americans that the war was a crusade for freedom and democracy. But still there was a split in his
Over three hundred thousand American lives were lost in the war and many
Americans were not even sure why the U.S. got involved in the first place.
president to face world war would be Franklin Roosevelt. FDR came into the
presidency during the Great Depression. During his campaign Roosevelt had
promised a “new deal.” Under Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, the U.S.
government would take small steps in placing more power in the federal government.
But FDR was able to implement a system in which the federal government role in
the nation’s economy, welfare, health, and even corporate life would be more
powerful. The welfare state, the Fair Standards Act of 1938, union rights, and
social security were all part of the New Deal. And FDR was able to get the New
Deal passed by working with and getting support from Congress.
FDR would also follow in Teddy Roosevelt’s
and Wilson’s footsteps in becoming the voice of and for the American people.
Most popularly he did so with his “fireside chats.” He was able to make a
strong connection between himself and the public. FDR’s persistence expanded
the role of the presidency to implanter of policy and chief legislator. The New
Deal and the rest of FDR’s political ambitions required a full-time staff
dedicated to domestic and foreign policies. FDR had done an okay job at keeping
the U.S out of the conflict in Europe, but after the U.S. was attacked on
December 7, 1941, FDR had no choice but to declare war on Japan and its allies.
We see a similar scenario in the 21st
century when George Bush in in office. After the U.S. was attacked by terrorist
groups on September 11, 2001, Bush would adopt a unilateral power as commander
in chief. Bush’s political agenda before 9/11 is often forgotten. He called for
changes in federal and state regulations that would allow churches and other
faith-based organizations to play a larger role in providing government funded
social services. He also wanted to federal government to take part in securing
the general welfare.
With his No Child Left Behind Act the Department of Education was charged to make
public schools more accountable by linking federal aid to national standards
and measurements of student learning. Bush was also able to get Congress to
sign his Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief in 2002 to combat AIDS in Africa. When Bush and Congress refused to
cooperate, Bush resorted to executive orders.
In 2001, he mandated the Department of Labor, Education, Health and Human
Services, and Housing and the attorney general’s office to establish Centers
for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives within their departments. In August of 2001, Bush’s attempts at
being the voice of the people and for the people failed. He was addressing the U.S. on
stem-cell research but failed to persuade opposing sides. His attempt to resolve the controversy
highlighted the tension between the modern presidency and constitutional democracy. After 9/11, his focus changed. Bush
prepared the nation at home and abroad for new responsibilities. He issued an
executive order on November 13, 2001, declaring those not wearing the uniform
of a nation’s military would be brought to trial not in a civil court but in a
military tribunal and with no right of appeal.
For a while, the nation was fine with the expansion of Bush’s executive power.
It wartime and a tough time for the nation.
It was almost the same as Wilson and FDR’s executive powers during World War I
and World War II. But
Bush adopted unilateralism. He was skeptical of the powers in treaties,
international law and institutions and therefore he withdrew from many
international agreements like the Kyoto Protocol on climate change and the Anti-Ballistic
Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, and George Bush all tested and pushed the limits
of executive power.
Teddy and Woodrow would set new boundaries and received mostly good praise for
FDR and George Bush would push those boundaries even further. FDR has been
praised and Bush has been the least praised of all four mentioned. The opinion towards these presidents
and the extent of their executive power is all judged and determined by the
political atmosphere of their time.