4) Can you trace the expansion of presidential power throughout American history? What are the formal powers of the president and how have presidents expanded their power beyond the Constitution? How does a president utilize informal powers?

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The general trend in presidential power over the course of American history has been upward.  Presidents have gained power over time.  However, the trend has not been continuous.  Instead, there have been times when presidential power has declined.  The increase in presidential power has come in both formal and informal...

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The general trend in presidential power over the course of American history has been upward.  Presidents have gained power over time.  However, the trend has not been continuous.  Instead, there have been times when presidential power has declined.  The increase in presidential power has come in both formal and informal types of power.

Early in our nation’s history, the presidency (and indeed the entire national government) was not very strong.  Congress was generally the strongest branch of the federal government but the government was not very expansive compared to its current status.  There were times when presidents’ powers increased.  This was especially true in time of war.  For example, Abraham Lincoln exercised rather significant powers during his time in office.

From the beginning of the 20th century on, the power of the presidency has grown fairly consistently.  This has happened for two reasons.  First, presidential powers have grown during times of war.  This was seen most clearly in World War II and then in the early stages of the War on Terror.  Second, there has been a major expansion of the federal government, thus giving the president power over more areas of American life.  Expansion of the government happened, for example, during the Progressive Era, the New Deal, and the Great Society.  In these ways, presidents have gained more power over time.

Some of this power has been formal.  This has come with the expansion of the federal executive branch.  As the executive branch has gotten so much bigger, presidents have been able to appoint more officials.  They have also presided over an executive branch that reaches into more and more aspects of our lives.  The recent creation of “Obamacare” is an example of this.

However, the expanded power of the president has also been informal.  This has come largely through the mass media.  It has been said that the presidential power is the power to persuade.  With the rise of mass media, presidents have been able to appeal directly to the people.  This was done, for example, by Franklin D. Roosevelt through his “fireside chats.”  Today, it happens when all of the networks break away from their regular programming to broadcast presidential speeches.  The media increases the president’s power to persuade (if the president has the skills and popularity needed to persuade people).

So, presidential power has generally increased over time.  The increase has been in both formal and informal power.  It has come about because of crises like wars, changes in technology, and changes in our attitudes towards government.

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