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The American Presidency

The American Presidency
Origins and Development, 1776–2014

Seventh Edition


March 2015 | 624 pages | CQ Press
The American Presidency examines the constitutional foundation of the executive office and the social, economic, political, and international forces that have reshaped it along with the influence individual presidents have had. Authors Sidney Milkis and Michael Nelson look at each presidency broadly, focusing on how individual presidents have sought to navigate the complex and ever-changing terrain of the executive office and revealing the major developments that launched a modern presidency at the dawn of the twentieth century. By connecting presidential conduct to the defining eras of American history and the larger context of politics and government in the United States, this award-winning book offers perspective and insight on the limitations and possibilities of presidential power.

In this Seventh Edition, marking the 25th anniversary of The American Presidency’s publication, the authors add new scholarship to every chapter, reexamine the end of George W. Bush’s tenure, assess President Obama’s first term in office, and explore Obama’s second term.  

Chapter 1: The Constitutional Convention
The Constitutional Convention  
Chapter 2: Creating the Presidency
The Making of the Presidency: An Overview  
Number of the Executive  
Selection and Succession  
Term of Office  
Institutional Separation from Congress  
Enumerated Powers  
The Vice Presidency  
Ratifying the Constitution  
Chapter 3: Bringing the Constitutional Presidency to Life: George Washington and John Adams
The Election of George Washington  
Making the Presidency Safe for Democracy  
Forming the Executive and Judicial Branches  
Presidential “Supremacy” and the Conduct of the Executive Branch  
Presidential Nonpartisanship and the Beginning of Party Conflict  
Washington’s Retirement and the Jay Treaty: The Constitutional Crisis of 1796  
The 1796 Election  
The Embattled Presidency of John Adams  
The Alien and Sedition Acts  
Chapter 4: The Triumph of Jeffersonianism
The “Revolution” of 1800  
Jefferson’s War with the Judiciary  
The Democratic-Republican Program and the Adjustment to Power  
The Limits of “Popular” Leadership  
The Twelfth Amendment  
Jefferson’s Mixed Legacy  
The Presidency of James Madison and the Rise of the House of Representatives  
The Presidencies of James Monroe and John Quincy Adams  
Chapter 5: The Age of Jackson
Jacksonian Democracy  
The Rise of the Party Convention  
Jackson’s Struggle with Congress  
The Aftermath of the Bank Veto  
The Decline of the Cabinet  
The Limits of the Jacksonian Presidency  
Martin Van Buren and the Panic of 1837  
The Jacksonian Presidency Sustained  
John Tyler and the Problem of Presidential Succession  
The Presidency of James K. Polk  
The Slavery Controversy and the Twilight of the Jacksonian Presidency  
Chapter 6: The Presidency of Abraham Lincoln
Lincoln and the Slavery Controversy  
The Election of 1860  
Lincoln and Secession  
Lincoln’s Wartime Measures  
The Emancipation Proclamation  
The Election of 1864  
Lincoln’s Legacy  
Chapter 7: The Reaction against Presidential Power: Andrew Johnson to William McKinley
Reconstruction and the Assault on Executive Authority  
The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson  
Ulysses S. Grant and the Abdication of Executive Power  
The Fight to Restore Presidential Power  
Congressional Government and the Prelude to a More Active Presidency  
Chapter 8: Progressive Politics and Executive Power: The Presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson
Theodore Roosevelt and the Expansion of Executive Power  
The Troubled Presidency of William Howard Taft  
Progressive Politics and the Elections of 1912  
Woodrow Wilson’s Theory of Executive Leadership  
Wilson and Party Reform  
The Art of Popular Leadership  
Wilson’s Relations with Congress  
Wilson as World Leader  
Chapter 9: The Triumph of Conservative Republicanism
The Harding Era  
The “Silent” Politics of Calvin Coolidge  
Herbert C. Hoover and the Great Depression  
The Twentieth Amendment  
Chapter 10: The Consolidation of the Modern Presidency: Franklin D. Roosevelt to Dwight D. Eisenhower
Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Modern Presidency  
The Modern Presidency Sustained: Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower  
Chapter 11: Personalizing the Presidency: John F. Kennedy to Jimmy Carter
John F. Kennedy and the Rise of the “Personal Presidency”  
Lyndon B. Johnson and Presidential Government  
The Twenty-Fifth Amendment  
The Presidency of Richard Nixon  
Gerald R. Ford and the Post-Watergate Era  
A President Named Jimmy  
Chapter 12: A Restoration of Presidential Power? Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush
The Reagan Revolution  
A Reagan Court?  
The Bush Presidency  
Chapter 13: Bill Clinton and the Modern Presidency
The Election of 1992  
The First Year of the Clinton Presidency  
The 1994 Elections and the Restoration of Divided Government  
The Comeback President  
Balanced Budgets, Impeachment Politics, and the Limits of the Third Way  
Chapter 14: George W. Bush and Unilateral Presidential Power
The 2000 Election  
Bush v. Gore  
The Early Months of the Bush Presidency  
September 11 and the War on Terrorism  
An Expanded Presidency  
Bush and the Republican Party  
Courts and Parties  
Chapter 15: Managing Alone: Barack Obama and the Dilemma of Modern Presidential Leadership
The 2008 Elections  
The New Foundation and Partisan Rancor  
We Can’t Wait: Obama and the Administrative Presidency  
Obama’s Reelection and the Perils of Managing Alone  
Obama, Partisanship, and the War on Terrorism  
Barack Obama, the Modern Presidency, and American Democracy  
Chapter 16: The Vice Presidency
The Founding Period  
The Vice Presidency in the Nineteenth Century  
Theodore Roosevelt to Harry S. Truman  
The Modern Vice Presidency  
Constitution of the United States  
U.S. Presidents and Vice Presidents  
Summary of Presidential Elections, 1789-2012  

“Weaving insightful treatments of major transformations of the presidency into a lively narrative that encompasses every chief executive, Milkis and Nelson have written an essential history of the office.  Still going strong after a quarter of a century, The American Presidency has been a favorite text for generations of my students.”  

Bruce Miroff
SUNY Albany

“Milkis and Nelson’s The American Presidency: Origins and Development, 1776-2014 is an outstanding introduction to the U.S. presidency. It is informative and crisply written. Students like it and it I find it very easy to teach from. It provides students the information they need on the history and development of the U.S. presidency in a format that is accessible without sacrificing intellectual rigor.”

David E. Lewis
Interim Chair, Professor, Department of Political Science, Vanderbilt University

“The Milkis and Nelson text is an excellent example of how to ground Political Science within an historical setting and create a narrative of institutional development. It strikes a good balance between the presidency as an institution occupied by a strong singular personality and the presidency as the executive power of an entire country, growing larger as the country does as well. The chapters, while focusing on the iconic presidents, also do an effective job of framing presidential challenges within themes, such as war powers, hurdles in dealing with the bureaucracy, fighting for (or losing) authority within the political system, etc. The choice to begin with creating the constitutional president and then working through a chronological succession is beneficial for students to grasp how the institution has changed over time and just as importantly, why it has.” 

Timothy Lindberg
University of Minnesota – Morris

“I would not use anything else. Milkis and Nelson provide historical examples and interpretation of the important events in the history of the presidency and of how the presidency as an institution has changed over time. I don’t think the book has any weaknesses. The writing is top notch. I’ve had only positive comments from students about the book.” 

Kenneth Stevens
Texas Christian University

Milkis and Nelson's The American Presidency is the gold standard for an introductory text on the development and evolution of the presidency. It weaves historical events with easy to understand interpretations that bring the subject to life in a way that enlightens and motivates the student for further study.

Dr Ted Ritter
Political Science Dept, Virginia Union University
October 9, 2016
Key features


  • Additional coverage of slavery in the antebellum period
  • New material on the media in the twentieth century
  • A discussion of the combustible polarization in current American politics
  • A fresh and more detailed chapter on Obama that thematically and factually takes account of the momentous first six years of his presidency

Sample Materials & Chapters

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

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