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The American Presidency

The American Presidency
Origins and Development, 1776–2018

Eighth Edition

February 2019 | 720 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. Authors Sidney M. Milkis and Michael Nelson broadly examine the influence of each president, focusing on how these leaders have sought to navigate the complex and ever-changing terrain of the executive office and revealing the major developments that launched the 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 vital perspective and insight on the limitations and possibilities of presidential power. The Eighth Edition examines recent events and developments including the latter part of the Obama presidency, the 2016 election, the first twenty months of the Trump presidency, and updated coverage of issues involving race and the presidency.

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 Presidency of James Monroe

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 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

Partisanship and Unilateralism at the Twilight of the Bush Presidency

Chapter 15 Barack Obama and Presidential Leadership in Polarized Times
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 Partisanship

Obama, Partisanship, and the War on Terrorism

Barack Obama’s Fragile Legacy

Chapter 16 The Trump Presidency and Resilience of Constitutional Government
Taking Office

Forming the Administration

Trump’s Administrative Presidency

The Courts

Trump and Congress

The Rhetorical Presidency

Foreign Policy


Chapter 17 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, 1789–2016


“Milkis and Nelson provide the gold standard for a political development approach to the American presidency.”

Jasmine Farrier
University of Louisville

“The American Presidency is a comprehensive view of the institutional development of the presidency. It provides a compelling narrative for the constitutional impetuses, debates, and interpretations for the presidency and how they persist and change throughout the 19th and early 20th century as well as apply to the presidential politics since FDR.”

Jeffrey W. Ladewig
University of Connecticut

“This textbook uses an outstanding political historical approach to understand the constitutional basis of the American presidency, key features of each president’s term/s and tenure, and broad trends in relationships between historical and modern presidents and Congress, and changing domestic and foreign policy issues and topics.”

Michael Petersen
Utah State University

“I would describe the book’s approach as historical and comprehensive; thorough but not intimidating for an undergraduate, introductory course.”

Ted Ritter
Virginia Union University

“I always recommend this book. The historical approach with its inclusion of the how the presidency has changed as an institution is unique.”

Kenneth R. Stevens
Texas Christian University

Great text. Even the students enjoy it

Professor Keith Bolte
Public Policy Dept, William Jessup University
November 10, 2021
Key features


  • Up-to-date coverage of recent presidential events and developments provides students with a  balanced perspective of current events, including the latter part of the Obama presidency, the 2016 elections, and the first 21 months of the Trump presidency.  
  • New scholarship has been included to refresh the discussion of the origins and development of the American presidency.  
  • Coverage of issues involving race and the presidency have been expanded to provide a more relevant exploration of the topic.  


  • The historical approach to the presidency integrates every aspect of the office in a way that accurately reflects the dynamic interaction of the various parts. This approach also brings to light the history of how the institution of the presidency was created and how it has developed during its more than two centuries of existence.  
  • A chronicle of the most important institutional characteristics of the presidency provide students with a foundational understanding of the Constitutional Convention and the earliest days of the Republic.  
  • Discussions of highly significant patterns and practices of presidential conduct show students how Jeffersonianism, the Jacksonian Democracy, the Emancipation Proclamation, and Abdication of Executive Power took shape.    
  • A critical look at the modern presidency as the leading instrument for popular rule enables students to see how Theodore Roosevelt’s and Woodrow Wilson’s practices strengthened the president as the nation’s popular and legislative leader. Students will also learn how Franklin Roosevelt and his successors institutionalized the president’s new leadership roles in ways that subsequent presidents have continued.  

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