The Growth of Modern Executive Power in the U.S.

Throughout the history of presidents since the 1930’s a multitude of presidents have expanded and influenced their presidential executive powers. One of the initial and prominent examples was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. From the time of his election in 1933, Roosevelt was intent upon issuing plans with his executive power to lift the nation out of a crippling depression. His establishment of the New Deal in the 1930’s brought a new perspective to the powers of the president. The New Deal itself was a critical example of executive power because it demonstrated how the president could institute massive reforms to the nation created under executive orders. Some of these orders included the establishment of a plethora of agencies and actions that were often labeled by letters prompting criticism of the plans as “submerged in an alphabet soup”. Regardless of the criticism Roosevelt received, and the seemingly overbearing authority of the president, the plans Roosevelt instituted strengthened and confirmed his ability to carry out his executive powers on the nation. Since then executive orders have been used countless times in many different scenarios; however, the sweeping reforms achieved by Roosevelt have, undoubtedly, been a crowning executive achievement of the last century. As a whole, the actions, orders, and reforms promulgated by F.D.R. during his presidency were legal under my interpretation of the Constitution and although the creation of the New Deal agencies was believed to be unjust or unconstitutional, the reality is that many of the agencies formed during the New Deal were passed by Congress, and, under executive orders, they were necessary for sustaining the fiscal security of a nation in distress. Another president in this time period who utilized and strengthened his executive powers was president Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower's major contribution to executive power was his use of executive privilege. The concept of executive privilege, a privilege used by many presidents after Eisenhower, outlines the right of the incumbent executives to resist and reject certain actions of intervention by the legislative and judicial branches into the actions of the executive. This privilege was used frequently and extensively during Eisenhower’s period in office. Specifically, the privilege was invoked during the infamous Army-McCarthy Hearings of 1954. In total, President Eisenhower used the executive privilege nearly fifty times from 1955 to 1960. The lasting effects these actions had on the executive power was in the president’s ability to use the executive privilege as a veritable shield from government scrutiny and judgement. Moreover, although the executive privilege is not explicitly outlined in the U.S. Constitution, its use and implementation by Eisenhower was pivotal in establishing executive powers in the 1950’s. In my perspective, Eisenhower’s use of executive privilege during his time in office was justified due to the intense political climate around him that, from a Constitutional perspective, was not legal because it was not included anywhere in the document; however, it is a reasonable protection that I believe should fall under the president’s authority as an executive. Harry S. Truman, the presidential predecessor to Eisenhower, was also a president that was able to expand executive powers while in office. During Truman's presidency, he was able to enact executive orders, that, unlike his predecessor Roosevelt, were not massive or expansive; instead, they were highly controversial at the time and affected a largely contentious area of U.S. politics. This contentious executive order was Executive Order 9981, which, at the time, was revolutionary. Order 9981 effectively ended racial discrimination in the armed forces in 1948. This order was a critical example of the president's ability to act and enact tradition-shattering laws outside of a time of national crisis. Before Truman’s presidency, most sweeping reforms to the national system made by presidential executive orders were, in the majority, mad in times of great imminent crisis, such as the World Wars or the Great Depression. This executive order was pivotal in establishing a firm precedent to which future executives could live up to, the ability to institute executive orders in times of peace and, more importantly, the ability to enact orders that deal directly with granting liberties to people who need them. Therefore, Truman’s executive order was monumental in shaping the roles and usage of executive orders. In my perspective, Truman’s actions were completely legal under the constitution because they were lawful in their enactment and they also effectively provided a means for minorities in the army to have essential access to liberty and equality in the armed forces. Another president who expanded executive authority was president Lyndon B. Johnson. Johnson, throughout his career, in many different ways, sought to increase the executive power in the United States. One major example of this expansion was the response to the Gulf of Tonkin incident in which the president ordered an exponential increase of the number of personnel present in Vietnam, which, in turn, increased casualties in the Vietnam War. This clear use of overruling executive power to initiate this massive troop transfer into Vietnam was one of the pivotal events in which a U.S. president has initiated “war” in a military sense, without express backing from Congress. Moreover, the congressional establishment of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution granted Johnson the legal ability to take any course of action that he believed to be necessary in securing peace and safety in Southeast Asia. This action massively opened up the possibilities of Johnson’s power in Vietnam and granted him immense power and set a precedent for nations intervening in conflicts without the express need for a declaration of war, as was the case in Korea and Vietnam. From my own Constitutional interpretation I believe that it is (in the broadest sense) Constitutional because Section II of Article II of the Constitution states that the president is Commander in Chief of the United States and from a reasonable position, the Commander in Chief should have the ability to intervene on behalf of the safety of the nation and the world. Finally, one president who expanded executive powers was president Barack Obama. During Obama’s administration, the president has issued a wide variety of executive orders, (over 200 total) one of the most controversial and monumental ones being on the topic of immigration. The president has, in previous years issued a number of reforms on immigration policy that has changed the immigration climate of America dramatically. For example, Obama’s executives orders that have granted more leniency to immigrants in this nation, some of whom have come illegally, has come under intense disapproval from political critics for issuing too large of a change to allow immigrants when the nation is needing to accept less immigrants. However, Obama’s reforms have been completely legal under the president’s exercised and precedented right to executive order and the president also has made reforms that have benefitted the lives of many. Moreover, although these presidential reforms have not single-handedly solved immigration conflicts, the pushes, strides, and executive orders that Obama has issued demonstrates how a president in the 21st Century can institute policies that increase executive authorities by granting liberties to many, even if many in the nation disagree with his actions. Additionally, Obama's efforts to create economic sanctions to the Russian Federation over the previous year also illustrates Obama’s new positions as an executive, a national and international leader who has the ability to communicate and organize internationally recognized initiatives that over the past few decades have become more consolidated. From my perspective, the actions of president Obama are legal by the Constitution because over the course of these reforms the president has not broken any laws or codes of conduct for the executive during the time of these reforms. Moreover, the orders and reforms made by the president also illustrate the president's ability to conform to the Constitutional goal of providing the blessings of liberty and attempting to establish a safer and firmer union by using executive precedents set by other strong presidents before him.


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  • commented 2016-04-07 00:28:42 -0400
    Simply, the increasing use of Executive Power, takes us back to our roots, that being a strict Monarchy!
    I ask, is that desirable?

    Observer Jules