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The Imperial Presidency: 1933-1970's
A label for the increased authority and decreased accountability of the presidency, at its
peak by the late `60's, early `70's. Signified an era in which there was a high-handed and
often secretive handling of foreign policy issues and in domestic policy, they were able to
evade the usual systems of checks and balances.
1933 marked the beginning of the modern presidency, for the Great Depression created a
fundamental change in political behaviour in the US, shedding the laissez-faire approach to
government. The inadequacy of this approach was revealed with the sheer scale of economic
dislocation and the hardship which overwhelmed the states. Everyone turned to the federal
government to promote measures of recovery and the
administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt was ready to respond.
Since then, the America's system has been central to
presidential power, with the political process now requiring a
continued sequence of presidential initiatives in foreign
policy and in the domestic arena to function properly
Modern presidents impose themselves with far greater effect
on the political environment than did their counterparts of
the 19th C.
Domestic Policy under an Imperial President
The early 60's saw the peak of enthusiasm for presidential power, with a many people
welcoming this idea, for post-1945 there was a consensus about domestic and foreign policy
which encouraged a delegation of power to the president. What made it easier was that there
was a greater degree of agreement about the fundamentals of policy-making, and the level and
extent of debate over public policy were less intense and robust than at times.
However, this of course wasn't a peaceful time in presidency. There was still division
and disputes, but many things were agreed.
The legacy of the New Deal, the great postwar economic expansions, the growing
confidence of managing the economy, the belief in easily allowing legislation to pass
through and the increasing claims on the federal government combined to create a
feeling of well-being.
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Many welcomed the idea of the president being relatively free to lead his country
It was seen for federal government to have a significant role in the nation's economy,
alongside creating and maintaining a welfare system.
The Johnson era (1963-69) was the zenith of the postwar domestic consensus that was about
to collapse. Until this moment, there was a belief that
social problems could not be solved with spending
money, and this confidence in the power of economic
growth and social engineering increasingly enhanced
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Corruption and Disharmony
In 1974, many Americans became aware for the first time of the tremendous accumulation of
power in the hands of the president. Many checks and balances had
been placed on the president in the Constitution, which all wanted
to prevent a concentration of power in one part of government.…read more