What Are the Most Important Factors That Contributed to the Rise of Presidential Power in the Modern American Government?
Take foreign policy, for example. Congress may be well suited to the task of drafting educational reform legislation—but 535 people cannot negotiate treaties or efficiently respond to a national security crisis. And even complicated domestic legislation can be difficult for Congress to manage. When confronting the scientific complexities of environmental supervision or the financial intricacies of banking regulation, Congress's 535 members rarely manage to agree on more than the broad outlines of a legislative proposal. Consequently, many of the details are left for the president to work out after he is handed the bill for implementation.
Presidents also further developed the concept of executive privilege, the right to withhold information from Congress, the judiciary, or the public (Mark J. Rozel. 1999). This right, not enumerated in the Constitution, was first asserted by George Washington to curtail inquiry into the actions of the executive branch. The more general defense of its use by White House officials and attorneys ensures that the president can secure candid advice from his advisors and staff members. Increasingly over time, presidents have made more use of their unilateral powers, including executive orders, rules that bypass Congress but still have the force of law if the courts do not overturn them. More recently, presidents have offered their own interpretation of legislation as they sign it via signing statements (discussed later in this chapter) directed to the bureaucratic entity charged with implementation. In the realm of foreign policy, Congress permitted the widespread use of executive agreements to formalize international relations, so long as important matters still came through the Senate in the form of treaties (Charles Stewart. 1989). Recent presidents have continued to rely upon an ever more expansive definition of war powers to act unilaterally at home and abroad. Finally, presidents, often with Congress’s blessing through the formal delegation of authority, have taken the lead in framing budgets, negotiating budget compromises, and at times impounding funds in an effort to prevail in matters of policy.
The Emancipation Proclamation also allowed for the enrollment of freed slaves into the United States military. During the war nearly 200,000 blacks, most of them ex-slaves, joined the Union Army. Their contributions gave the North additional manpower that was significant in winning the war.
Mark J. Rozel. 1999. "’The Law': Executive Privilege: Definition and Standards of Application," Presidential Studies Quarterly 29, No. 4: 918–30.
Glen S. Krutz and Jeffrey S. Peake. 2009. Treaty Politics and the Rise of Executive Agreements: International Commitments in a System of Shared Powers. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Charles Stewart. 1989. Budget Reform Politics: The Design of the Appropriations Process in the House of Representatives, 1865-1921. New York: Cambridge University Press.