Take Up Your Pen: Unilateral Presidential Directives in American Politics.

Author:Ellis, Richard J.
Position:Book review

Take Up Your Pen: Unilateral Presidential Directives in American Politics. By Graham G. Dodds. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013. 309 pp.

Writing in the Notre Dame Lawyer in 1963, a young law student by the name of Robert B. Cash observed that "The history of executive orders is, to a great extent, a narrative of the evolution of presidential power." Graham G. Dodds' impressive book, Take Up Your Pen: Unilateral Presidential Directives in American Politics, shows how correct Cash was.

Over the past two decades there has been no shortage of scholarly attention to unilateral presidential directives. During President George W. Bush's tenure, four fine books by political scientists were published: Kenneth Mayer's With the Stroke of Pen: Executive Orders and Presidential Power (Princeton University Press, 2001), Phillip Cooper's By Order of the President: The Use and Abuse of Executive Direct Action (University Press of Kansas, 2002), William Howell's Power without Persuasion: The Politics of Direct Presidential Action (Princeton University Press, 2003), and Adam Warber's Executive Orders and the Modern Presidency: Legislating from the Oval Office (Lynn Rienner, 2006). However, each of these books, in keeping with most presidency research, focuses on the post-Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) "modern presidency." What sets Dodds' book apart is the careful attention he gives to the development of unilateral directives from the founding era through FDR. Of Dodds' six substantive chapters, only one is devoted to what most political scientists think of as the modern presidency: the post-WWII era to the present day.

Of course, anyone with even a passing knowledge of American history has heard about the most famous nineteenth-century unilateral directives: Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, Andrew Jackson's Nullification Proclamation, and George Washington's Neutrality Proclamation. But Dodds' in-depth history takes us far beyond these well-known episodes of unilateral presidential action. In Chapter 3 ("Judicial Sanction"), he recounts the many unsung nineteenth- and early-twentieth century cases in which courts placed their stamp of approval on unilateral presidential directives--and in which they sometimes placed limits on what a president could do via executive action. The many cases that Dodds recounts occasionally make for tedious reading, but they amply support Dodds' contention that the judicial sanction of...

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