An American Monarch

Obama’s attack on the Supreme Court is just the latest in a long history of presidential power grabs. Gordon Wood dissects John Yoo.

Issue: Jan-Feb 2010

John Yoo, Crisis and Command: A History of Executive Power from George Washington to George W. Bush (New York: Kaplan Publishing, 2010), 544 pp., $29.95.


[amazon 1607145553 full] ARTICLE II of the United States Constitution is very vague on the extent of the president's power. All it says is that "the executive power shall be vested" in the president and that "the President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States." Since we now have a very powerful modern presidency, it has been the historical experience of the past two centuries that has clarified and filled out the brief words of the article.

John Yoo has set out to explain what has happened to presidential power since its beginnings in 1789. Yoo is a professor of law at Berkeley and the author of some controversial memos as a member of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice in the administration of George W. Bush. Since Yoo's robust view of presidential power is well-known, any history of the presidency written by him might initially seem suspect and agenda driven. He realizes only too well that his book is apt to be read "as a brief for the Bush administration's exercise of executive authority in the war on terrorism." But if it is a brief for an expansive understanding of presidential authority, it is a remarkably persuasive one.

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