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The Expansion Of Presidential Power

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Published: Thu, 04 May 2017

Andrew Jackson and Herbert Hoover effected the office of the president in different ways. As Jackson has often been referred to as autocrat or a dictator by his opponents because of his excessive abuses of power, Hoover is often viewed by historians as a weak president stemming from his inability to deal with the Great Depression of 1929. Andrew Jackson will completely transform the office of the presidency, implementing new practices by the presidents. Herbert Hoover unknowingly will bring about presidents, such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt, with strong political wills who will expand the powers of the presidency after he leaves office. Hoover’s laissez-faire approach to the economy failed during his tenure of office and future presidents will opt for more government intervention in economic affairs in the future. Both of these presidents changed the office of the president, Jackson directly, Hoover indirectly.

The era of Jackson’s presidency is known as the Age of Jackson (M., and Nelson 122) as he dominated politics during his tenure of office. The Age of Jackson ushered in a new era of politics. In the early years of country politics were dominated by the wealthy, Jackson changed that by becoming the first non-aristocrat to be elected president. Jackson appealed to the common man for this reason. During his time in office the federal government doubles in size, a class of professional politicians and strong party machines are created, and the first party in convention will be held (lecture 2/14/11). Jackson became the first president to reward his supporters with government posts, this became known as the spoils system. Jackson’s campaign in 1828 was the first campaign in American history to that gained voter support through professional political organizations (M., and Nelson 123). It was the first time that the election was viewed with intensity from a broad audience as voting greatly increased (M., and Nelson 123) In this era many men were given the right to vote since owning property and being literate were no longer qualifications for voting. This led to the lower and middle class becoming more involved in politics. Jackson’s presidency brought new spheres of influence into politics.

During Jackson’s time as president he greatly increased the power and prestige of the position. Jackson said that members of Congress only represent one state while the president represents every person in the United States (M., and Nelson 126). Jackson’s use of the presidential veto completely altered its usage. In the past presidents only used the veto if they believed a bill to be unconstitutional. Jackson became the first president to use it because he disagreed with policy. He also used the veto more than any other president in American history to that point. An example of Jackson’s use of the veto when he disagreed with policy was in the case of the 2nd Bank Charter of the United States. In the case of McCulloch vs. Maryland the Supreme Court ruled that the bank was constitutional (M., and Nelson 127) . Jackson did not care for their decision since he held the view that the bank was adverse to the nation’s well being and vetoed the bill anyway. This would not be the last time Jackson disobeyed the Supreme Court.

Jackson thought that the executive branch should be the strongest of the three branches in government. The job of the executive branch is to execute the laws of the United States, Jackson became the first president to determine what laws he will execute and which he will not. Jackson held the policy of Indian removal to the west. In the Supreme Court case of Worcester vs Georgia the court’s ruling said laws could not be passed that are incompatible with the laws in federal Indian treats. The ruling also stated that the federal government was required to stop American citizens from trespassing on Indian lands. An angry Jackson said “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it.” (M., and Nelson 131) Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act of 1830. This authorized the forcible removal of multiple Native American tribes. By doing this Jackson expanded presidential power by demonstrating that the executive can get away with not enforcing a law.

Jackson held the belief that the federal government reigned supreme over the state governments. Jackson argued that a state that ignores a federal is “incompatible with the existence of the Union, contradicted expressly by the letter of the Constitution…” (M., and Nelson 123). In 1828 South Carolina nullified what became to be known as the Tariff of Abominations in the south (M., and Nelson 123). Jackson was outraged by this even though he did not agree with the tariff. Jackson organized an army to enforce the tariff in South Carolina. Henry Clay averted disaster by organizing the Compromise Tariff of 1833 which lowered the original tariff. Jackson’s show of might in this event strengthened the federal government and the presidency by setting upholding the precedent of federal supremacy over the states by any means necessary. During his presidency, Herbert Hoover will come no where near Jackson in terms of expanding the powers of the president.

Before his time as president, Hoover served in the Wilson administration as food administrator during World War I and as secretary of commerce under Harding and Coolidge (M., and Nelson 271). Hoover entered the oval office with a great reputation. Within a year his reputation would be shot. While Jackson would be considered a loose constructionist, meaning he interpreted that the constitution only forbade him of the acts that were explicitly written as against the constitution, Hoover would be considered a strict constructionist, believing he only had powers that were delegated to him by the constitution. Hoover is viewed as a weak president because when the Great Depression hit in 1929 he seemed powerless to do anything to weaken its effects on the country. Hoover at first downplayed the severity of the market crash but as time went on the situation did not improve Hoover still stuck to his laissez-faire approach to a situation that was in desperate need of some type of government intervention. The next president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, will dramatically increase the size of the federal government, simultaneously increasing presidential power, by learning from Hoover’s inaction.

Hoover will make failed attempts in trying to help the economy. In 1830 he signed into law the Smoot-Hawley tariff (M., and Nelson 273). This raised the tariff on imported goods by sixty percent. The logic behind it was to protect American businesses from foreign competition. This backfired however as country’s put up similar tariffs on American goods. In 1932 Hoover established the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. Its job was to provide loans to large institutions such as banks and state governments, not to individuals (M., and Nelson 275). Hoover hoped this would have a trickle down effect. This was as far as he was willing to go, Hoover strongly disagreed with socialistic relief programs such as the ones that would be setup by his successor in office. It can be argued that Roosevelt’s expansion of power was due to Hoover’s lack of ability to weaken the effects of the Great Depression.

Jackson and Hoover both increased the power of the president but in different ways. Jackson did it directly in the way he exercised his executive powers so vigorously. In the case of the Bank of the United States he ignored congress. He changed the way the veto would be used by future presidents and stressed the superiority of the federal government over the state governments. Alexis de Tocqueville has an interesting take on Jackson’s presidency “General Jackson’s power is constantly increasing, but that of the president grows less. The federal government is strong in his hands; it will pass to his successor enfeebled.” He believes that since Jackson was such a powerful president he will hurt the future of the position’s strength since the federal government, specifically Congress, will look to constrain presidential power. Hoover increased presidential power with his hands off style. Since it proved to be such a failure, future presidents will flex their powers and expand them on a whim in an attempt to resolve a crisis. In that regard Jackson and Hoover both shaped the office of the president but they did so in a completely different fashion.

M., Sidney, and Michael Nelson. The American presidency: origins and development, 1776-2007. Fifth Edition. Cq Staff Directories, 2007. 121-131, 271-275. Print


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