Mr. President: How and Why the Founders Created a Chief Executive.

Author:Newman, Paul Douglas
Position:Book review
 
FREE EXCERPT

Mr. President: How and Why the Founders Created a Chief Executive. By Ray Raphael. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012. 324 pp.

In Mr. President, a traditional and engaging political history, Ray Raphael seeks to answer How and Why the Founders Created a Chief Executive by using "narrative as an analytical tool." Raphael focuses squarely on the single issue of the presidency, carving the debate and parliamentarianism chronologically at Philadelphia, to excise "the day-by-day and even minute-by-minute dynamics of the dialogue" (p. 281). This technique is not new, historians have often culled single issues from the debates for narrative and analysis, but Raphael is the first to do so for the presidency. Raphael's how and why are not limited to the convention, as he divides his investigation into three parts: "Precedents," "Conjuring the Office," and "Field Tests." Throughout, Raphael stresses the unlikelihood of a powerful American executive and reveals that political maneuvering by key players led to its creation. Further, Raphael argues that while most founders wished the presidency to be a unifying factor in American politics both inside and out, the office and its first three inhabitants deepened and hardened existing divides into entrenched partisanship and political warfare.

In "Precedents," Raphael travels the familiar road from American monarchism at 1750, through its opposition to programs by Parliament and placemen, to the rejection of the king in the Declaration of Independence, followed by the creation of strong state governments with varying forms of executives, bound together loosely by a weak confederation with no executive (and no governing power, for that matter). He is at his best in "Conjuring the Office," where his use of narrative as an analytical tool reveals the central role of Pennsylvania delegate Gouverneur Morris at the Constitutional Convention. In debate, Morris's advocacy for a single, powerful executive and for the method of selection evolved over the summer, and he used the committee structure of the convention to his advantage when he perceived vulnerability for his plans in general session. Raphael's focus on Morris explains in stunning clarity the sensibility of a system that most today deem arcane and undemocratic: the Electoral College. As the presidency emerged and grew in power, the mode of selection became more contentious, pitting many interests against one another: state governments versus the national...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP