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Noah Weisling
Mr. Adye
US History AP
26 November 2013
The Expansion of the Presidency in the 20th Century
A presidency becomes imperial when it relies on powers beyond those allowed by the
Constitution (7). The separation of powers into the three branches; the executive branch (the
presidency), the legislative branch (Congress), and the judicial branch (the Supreme Court), is
the basis of American politics. As the executive branch became more powerful throughout the
20th century it led to an imbalance of power and one man controlling making many decisions on
his own. The presidents who increased their power the most in the 20th century include the
Progressives, Theodore Roosevelt, William Taft and Woodrow Wilson; the World War II
presidents, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman; and the Cold War presidents, Eisenhower to
Nixon.
It was under the Presidential administration of Theodore Roosevelt that the Presidency
really began to evolve. Roosevelt mainly grew the Presidency through his aggressive foreign
policy. First, President Roosevelt added a corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. This corollary stated
the United States will intervene on behalf of the European powers in any legitimate claims the
European powers make against Latin American countries (13). This theorem was used by all
three Progressive presidents to justify military interventions in Latin America. President
Roosevelt used it to put troops in Cuba from 1906-1909. President Taft put troops in Nicaragua
from 1909 to 1910, and again in 1912 to 1913. Finally, President Wilson used the corollary to
have troops in Nicaragua from 1913 to 1921, Haiti from 1915 to 1921, and the Dominican

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Republic from 1916 to 1921. The new Roosevelt Corollary allowed these presidents to put the
United States military in four different countries without very little Congressional interaction
(13).
Another very important example of President Theodore Roosevelt's administration
increasing the powers of the presidency is his involvement in Panama. As the Columbians
realized the value of the Panama Canal Zone the Columbian Senate refused to ratify the treaty,
already signed by both nations. This angered President Roosevelt, and while Congress debated
the treaty President Roosevelt put his "gunboat diplomacy" to work, hinting to the Panamanian
rebels that the United States would recognize their independence efforts from Colombia. In
exchange for their independence the Panamanians returned the favor to President Roosevelt and
gave him the rights to the Panama Canal Zone in exchange for the $10 million offered to the
Colombians in the earlier treaty (5). After the deal was over President Roosevelt said "I took the
Canal Zone and let Congress debate; and while the debate goes on, the canal does also." The
entire deal was done without Congressional approval making it the first direct assault on
Congressional powers by President Roosevelt.
Wilson was the next president to increase the powers of the presidency. Most of the
expansion during President Wilson's administration came during World War I, after Congress
gave President Wilson special war time powers. A week after Congress declared war on
Germany, officially bringing the United States into World War I, President Wilson created the
Committee on Public Information (CPI) through Executive Order 2594. The CPI was used to
sway public opinion in favor of World War I through the use of many propaganda methods such
as newsprint, radio, and movies. President Wilson also used The Espionage Act of June 1917
and the Sedition Act of May 1918 which made it illegal to criticize the government in any way

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(12). President Wilson went far beyond his power in the Constitution to take away the rights of
American citizens given to them in the Bill of Rights.
President Franklin Roosevelt entered office at the height of the Great Depression and
along with the depression came citizens looking to the federal government for direct help and
involvement in their lives. This new involvement came to the American people through President
Roosevelt's New Deal. President Roosevelt's first actions combated the laissez-faire ideals of the
time. President Roosevelt dramatically increased the president's role in economic affairs with
many new public works programs such as the Public Works Administration and the Works
Progress administration. Under President Roosevelt the federal government also took a more
direct approach in banking regulations. President Roosevelt first sent Congress the Emergency
Banking Act. This included a system for reopening stable banks under the supervision of the
United States Treasury (11). The Emergency Banking Act also gave the president the power to
control the national finances and foreign exchange during an emergency (6). President Roosevelt
also gained a lot of power with the New Deal because of all the new federal agencies it created.
The President has the power to appoint the heads of federal agencies. The creation of the
Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), and the
National Recovery Administration (NRA) all gave President Roosevelt a lot more control over
the United States economy through his appointments to head these powerful economic agencies
(11). President Roosevelt used the New Deal to give the presidency a lot of new power through
many new federal agencies and Congressional acts that would change the fiscal policy of the
United States that still continue today.
In the second term of his presidency President Franklin Roosevelt made an unsuccessful
attempt to give the presidency more power within the Supreme Court. President Roosevelt

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created the Judicial Procedures Reform Bill of 1937. This bill, if passed by Congress, would
have granted the President the power to appoint an additional Justice to the U.S. Supreme Court,
up to a maximum of six, for every sitting member over the age of 70 years and 6 months. This
became a very controversial issue because it was seen as a direct assault on the judicial branch of
government and would have given the presidency enough power over the Supreme Court to
really end the idea of the separation of powers within the federal government (8). This attempt to
overstep the separation of powers laid forward in the Constitution is a clear example of how
President Roosevelt attempted to increase the powers of the presidency.
One final example of how President Franklin Roosevelt increased the powers of the
presidency is through his use of National Emergency powers. These new powers gave President
Roosevelt very controversial rights that violated parts of the Constitution. These powers gave the
president the rights to seize property, organize and control the means of production, seize
commodities; assign military forces abroad; institute martial law; seize and control all
transportation and communication; regulate the operation of private industry; and restrict travel
(4). These powers gave the president many new ways to control the lives of the American people
and would be used by even more presidents in the future.
President Truman would continue the use of the Nation Emergency during his presidency.
President Truman used the powers to set up many new national security agencies ran by the
federal government. These new agencies include the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the
National Safety Council (NSC), and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) among others (4).
These new agencies gave the president power over national security intelligence (1), national
security (10), and drug enforcement respectively (3). These new agencies gave the presidency
more control than ever over both national security and law enforcement than ever before. One

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other way President Truman used the new powers from President Franklin Roosevelt's
presidency was when he used the new powers to send over 300,000 American troops to fight in
the Korean War without ever receiving presidential approval (9). Finally, President Truman was
the first president since Abraham Lincoln to increase the size of the military without
Congressional approval (7). This again helped to increase the size of the presidency because it
allowed the president to accomplish more with the military.
Another important event during President Truman's administration was the Truman
Doctrine. The Truman Doctrine was President Truman's foreign relations policy set forward
through a speech on March 12, 1947. The speech stated that the U.S. would support Greece and
Turkey with economic and military aid to prevent them from falling into the Soviet sphere of
influence (15). This protection of other countries by the president from the threat of Communism
would continue until the end of the Cold War in 1991 (2).
President Eisenhower mainly used the CIA to increase the size of the presidency during
his administration. During his administration the CIA, under the president's control, attempted to
overthrow the governments of 5 countries. These governments include Iran (1953), Guatemala
(1954), Indonesia, Egypt (1954), and Laos (1959). All of these attempts were successful except
for Indonesia (7). With the powers that came along with the new CIA, the presidency now had
the power to overthrow foreign governments without the consent of any other government body.
The Presidencys control of foreign policy vastly increased while constitutional separation of
powers decreased during this time.
Finally, both President Lyndon Johnson and President Nixon put the new presidential
powers to use with their aggressive foreign policies. First in 1965 President Johnson sent 22,000
troops to Dominican Republic (7), without Congressional approval, and would again send troops

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to Vietnam at the end of the year. With the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, signed in 1964, Congress
officially gave President Johnson the power to use the military as he pleased without a
declaration of war from Congress in Southeast Asia (14). This is very significant because this
was the first time Congress voluntarily gave up the power to declare war to another branch of the
government. Both President Johnson and President Nixon used the military very secretively in
Southeast Asia. The United States military bombed Laos from 1964 to 1973, and these actions
were kept secret from Congress because Laos was seen as a neutral nation. Other secret military
operations by the Nixon administration discovered in 1971 by Congress include seven secret
bases, 32,000 troops in Thailand, and the secret funding of the Ethiopian government by the
federal government. Finally, in 1971, Congress passed an amendment to terminate all military
operations in Southeast Asia. This amendment was signed by President Nixon, but he continued
the fight anyway (7). Presidents Nixon and John used their aggressive foreign policies to abuse
the power of the presidency in ways that have never been seen before.
The federal government went through a lot of change throughout the 20th century with
the increase of its power. Almost all of the presidents during this time period contributed in some
way to make the presidency more imperialistic. The increase of power originated from Theodore
Roosevelt and continued until the end of the century. The effects of this change are still being felt
today as the presidency continues to grow even within the most recent presidential
administrations, and the United States presidency continues to be seen as one of the most
powerful positions on earth.

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Works Cited
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