The views of the presidency by the first sixteen presidents varied widely but all of their actions set precedents for their successors to use, expand, or even curtail the power of the office. Some believed in the Whig theory of strict adherence to the constitution, while others believed the president was the steward of the people with a loose interpretation of it. The power of the office expanded through the years, however it only expanded as far as the public and congress allowed.
George Washington was the first President of the United States of America and realizing this he acted carefully and deliberately, aware of the need to build an executive structure that could accommodate future presidents. Washington's position as the first president of the United States allowed him to set many precedents that are still followed by executives today. Washington believed his power came from article II of the U.S. Constitution. He was very protective of executive powers and did not involve the executive branch in legislative matters. He established the initial implied powers of the president by creating the national bank, excise tax, and assumption of state debts from the Revolutionary War. The creation of those bureaucracies set the precedent that allowed presidents after him to establish and empower new bureaucratic agencies to execute the duties of the executive office.
Thomas Jefferson was the third president of the United States and viewed the office of the president to be strictly constructed by the constitution. He, like Washington, believed his power as president derived directly from the constitution and the affection of the people. Although he had a Whig theory he made the Louis...
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...y of the treasury furnish two million dollars for military use without the required congressional approval. This precedent allows future presidents to take actions strictly forbidden by the executive branch in times of national emergency without congressional approval.
The most important expansion of the power of the presidency happened during the Jackson administration. When Jackson used the veto power of the president to influence legislation as a matter of policy and not constitutionality he arguably altered the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches. This shift in power resulted in presidents being able to dictate with the threat of a veto the way congress writes laws. This set a precedent for future presidents to push legislation such as "The New Deal", "The Fair Deal", and "a Great Society" all of which are presidential proposals.
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