The Development of the American Presidency. By Richard J. Ellis. New York: Routledge, 2012. 585 pp.
Many of the canonical scholarly treatments of the presidency have been sensitive to the evolution of the institution and the ways in which contemporary actions have developed from past practices. That canon now has another volume: Richard Ellis's The Development of the American Presidency. Ellis's approach is deeply historical, and his efforts to make sense of the contemporary presidency are informed by considerations of Barbary pirates, the 1864 Hodges letter, and the Whiskey Ring, among other historical factors.
Ellis's book is consciously constructed as an alternative to Sidney Milkis and Michael Nelson's popular text on the "origins and development" of the presidency (The American Presidency: Origins and Development, 1776-2011 [CQ Press, 2011]). The key difference is that Ellis's book is organized not chronologically, but rather by subject. Thus, readers interested in how the president's relation with the bureaucracy has evolved, for example, need only turn to the appropriate section, rather than piece together relevant parts from a lengthy chronological narrative.
The book is structured around four main parts (sandwiched between an introduction and conclusion), each of which has two separate chapters, each of which starts with an intriguing puzzle. These parts explore the president's relationship with the people, Congress, the executive branch, and the law.
The section on the president's relation with the people covers the history of presidential elections and presidential rhetoric. The section on the president and Congress reviews broad changes in the dynamics of policy making and, also, the control of war making. The section on the executive branch discusses White House staff, the cabinet, the Executive Office of the President, Bureau of the Budget, Office of Management and Budget, and political appointees, as well as the president's removal power and the unitary executive theory. The section on the presidency and the law covers judicial appointments and the Office of Legal Counsel and briefly discusses the evolution of some major jurisprudential themes and landmark judicial rebukes of executive excess.
Despite the book's topical structure, Ellis does state explicitly, if briefly, some of the main implications of his account for broader debates about the development of the presidency. For example, he claims that the Constitution is...