Ohio History Journal

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
  • 11
  • 12
  • 13
  • 14
  • 15
  • 16




William McKinley and the

Expansion of Presidential Power



In the wake of the Vietnam War and Watergate, much attention,

both scholarly and popular, has been devoted to the rise of the "Im-

perial Presidency" in this century.1 Those who have traced the evolu-

tion of this concept of presidential power appear to date its modern

emergence from the accession of Theodore Roosevelt to the office in

September 1901. Writing in the mid-1950s in his influential The Amer-

ican Presidency, Clinton Rossiter described Roosevelt as "a brilliant

molder and interpreter of public opinion" who "scored several genu-

ine triumphs as leader of Congress" and "conducted our diplomacy

with unusual vigor." Loren P. Beth concluded in 1971 that "the out-

lines of the modern presidency were clearly discernible" when Roose-

velt left office. In a recent three-volume examination of the growth of

presidential power, William M. Goldsmith said that Roosevelt pro-

vided "an irrevocable model for dynamic presidential leadership which

would serve as a paradigm for the presidency in the twentieth century."

A new survey of the American past likewise asserted that Roosevelt

"had raised his office to its twentieth-century position of dominance."2

The popular impression is that Roosevelt wrote on a clean slate,

and that the earlier Republican administration had left only a slim


Lewis L. Gould is Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin. An

earlier draft of this essay was presented at the Organization of American Historians

meeting in St. Louis in April 1976. Professor Gould wishes to acknowledge the assis-

tance of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the University Research In-

stitute, University of Texas at Austin. He also wishes to thank Joan Hoff Wilson, Paul

Holbo, and R. Hal Williams for their suggestions and criticisms.


1. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Imperial Presidency (Boston, 1973) is the most

noteworthy example of the growing literature. For others, see Dale Vinyard, The Presi-

dency (New York, 1971); James David Barber, The Presidential Character: Predicting

Presidential Performance in the White House (Englewood Cliffs, 1972); Erwin C. Har-

grove, The Power of the Modern Presidency (Philadelphia, 1974); Rexford G. Tugwell

and Thomas E. Cronin, eds., The Presidency Reappraised (New York, 1974); Philip C.

Dolce and George H. Skau, eds., Power and the Presidency (New York, 1976).

2. Clinton Rossiter, The American Presidency (New York, 1963), 104; Loren P.

Beth, The Development of the American Constitution, 1877-1917 (New York, 1971),

20; William M. Goldsmith, ed., The Growth of Presidential Power: A Documented

History (3 vols., New York, 1974), III, 1281; Bernard Bailyn et al., The Great Republic

(2 vols., Lexington, MA, 1977), 934.