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Reassessing the Presidency

June 28, 2001

[This essay is drawn from the introduction to Reassessing the Presidency: The Rise of the Executive State and the Decline of Freedom , Auburn. AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2001; 850 pages.]

There are already many books analyzing the American presidency, that unique political institution created by our eighteenth-century Framers of the US Constitution. Two of the most popular books on this subject are The Imperial Presidency, by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., and The American Presidency, by Forrest McDonald. These books are well-researched, and both authors are competent scholars who express their ideas through excellent prose. 

So why another book on this subject? The main reason is to express various viewpoints in the long tradition of classical liberalism which are not contained in any other books on the presidency with which I am familiar.  

The viewpoints expressed in this volume are very different from the perspectives of most of the professional historians. In every published poll taken of selected groups of professional historians since 1948, for example, Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt have been rated as two of the three "greatest." This book rates them as the two "worst." 

The Founders intended for the legislative branch of Congress, composed of both the House and Senate, to be the dominant branch of the federal government, which was then very limited in scope and power. Today the executive has become, by far, the dominant branch of government, even to the point that it is the main threat to the liberty and freedom of American citizens. 

In twenty-two essays, this volume covers both the domestic and foreign policy of major, and many minor, presidents from the founding through the present day. The focus on foreign policy is indispensable, because, as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.,  admits:  "The Imperial Presidency was essentially the creation of foreign policy. A combination of doctrines and emotions—belief in permanent and universal crisis, fear of communism, faith in the duty, and the right of the United States to intervene swiftly in every part of the world—had brought about the unprecedented centralization of decisions over war and peace in the Presidency."

The Founders looked to the example of the ancient Roman Republic and its leaders for much of their inspiration in creating the American Republic. One of the heroes of the Roman Republic was the legendary general and statesman Cincinnatus who was chosen by the Senate and called from his farm in 458 B.C. to lead Rome and its army in order to save the Republic. 

Upon achieving victory he immediately relinquished all of his political and military powers and returned to his plow on his four-acre farm. In fact, George Washington became the first president of The Society of Cincinnati in America because of his relinquishment of military and political power and retirement to his home at Mt. Vernon. 

The main theme of the book traces the progression of power exercised by American presidents from the early American Republic, which compared favorably with the laudatory ideal of Cincinnatus, up to the eventual reality of the power-hungry Caesars which later appeared as presidents in American history. The history of Rome is very similar in this respect to the history of America. 

The question inherent in our study of the American presidency as created by our Founders is to determine how it degenerated into the office of American Caesar. Did the character of the man who held the office corrupt it, or did the power of the office, as it evolved, corrupt the man? Or was it a combination of the two? Was there too much latent power in the original creation of the office as the Anti-Federalists claimed? Or was the power externally created and added to the position by corrupt or misguided men?

TABLE OF CONTENTS (or in .pdf)

Introduction

John V. Denson . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .v-xxxv

1. Rating Presidential Performance

Richard Vedder and Lowell Gallaway . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

2. George Washington: An Image and Its Influence

David Gordon . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .33

3. Thomas Jefferson: Classical-Liberal Statesman of the Old Republic

H. Arthur Scott Trask . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .45

4. Supreme Court as Accomplice: Judicial Backing for a Despotic Presidency

Marshall L. DeRosa . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .105

5. The Electoral College as a Restraint on American Democracy: Its Evolution from Washington to Jackson

Randall G. Holcombe . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .137

6. Martin Van Buren: The American Gladstone

Jeffrey Rogers Hummel . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .169

7. Abraham Lincoln and the Triumph of Mercantilism

Thomas J. DiLorenzo . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .203

8. Lincoln and the First Shot: A Study of Deceit and Deception

John V. Denson . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .231

9. President Andrew Johnson: Tribune of States’ Rights

H. Arthur Scott Trask and Carey Roberts . . . . . . . . . . . . . .289

10. William McKinley: Architect of the American Empire

Joseph R. Stromberg . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .319

11. Theodore Roosevelt and the Modern Presidency

Thomas E. Woods, Jr. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .341

12. The Use and Abuse of Antitrust From Cleveland to Clinton: Causes and Consequences

George Bittlingmayer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .363

13. From Opponent of Empire to Career Opportunist: William Howard Taft as Conservative Bureaucrat

William Marina . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .385

14. Woodrow Wilson’s Revolution Within the Form

Richard M. Gamble . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .413

15. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal: From Economic Fascism to Pork-Barrel Politics

Thomas J. DiLorenzo . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .425

16. Roosevelt and the First Shot: A Study of Deceit and Deception

John V. Denson . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .453

17. Despotism Loves Company: The Story of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Josef Stalin

Yuri N. Maltsev and Barry Dean Simpson . . . . . . . . . . . . .527

18. Harry S. Truman: Advancing the Revolution

Ralph Raico . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .547

19. From Kennedy’s "New Economics" to Nixon’s "New Economic Policy": Monetary Inflation and the March of Economic Fascism

Joseph T. Salerno . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .587

20. The Managerial President

Paul Gottfried . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .641

21. The President as Social Engineer

Michael Levin . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .651

22. The Impossibility of Limited Government and the Prospects for a Second American Revolution

Hans-Hermann Hoppe . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .667

23. The American President: From Cincinnatus to Caesar

Clyde N. Wilson . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .697

Appendix A

John V. Denson . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .711

Appendix B

John V. Denson . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .733

Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .747-791


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