Theories of presidential power

Theories of Presidential Power

The Stewardship Theory

  • Overview: This theory, proposed by President Theodore Roosevelt, argues that the president is a “steward” of the people and has a duty to act in their best interests. The theory supports a strong, proactive presidency and the right to take whatever actions are necessary for the public good, unless expressly forbidden by the Constitution or laws.

  • Limitations and Criticisms: Critics argue that this expansive view of presidential power could easily lead to abuse of power or an “imperial presidency”. It is often cited as the basis for executive orders and other actions that bypass Congress, raising debates about checks and balances.

The Constitutional Theory

  • Overview: This theory, proposed by President William Howard Taft, believes that the president’s powers are limited to those specifically granted by the Constitution. The president should not take action unless it is in strict accordance with the Constitution or delegated by Congress.

  • Limitations and Criticisms: Critics say this narrow view can limit the effectiveness of the president, especially in today’s complex and fast-moving political environment. This can also create a passive presidency where actions are heavily scrutinized by legality rather than justified by necessity.

The Prerogative Theory

  • Overview: This theory, based on John Locke’s writings, gives the president the power to act according to discretion for the public good, even if it contradicts the law or the Constitution. It’s an argument to handle emergencies or critical situations the framers of the Constitution could not foresee.

  • Limitations and Criticisms: This could lead to an excessive concentration of power in the presidency and has potential for misuse in the absence of a strong and effective system of checks and balances. Critics often argue that it disregards rule of law for expediency.

Comparing the Theories

  • Understanding these theories is key to understanding how different presidents have wielded power. Each theory speaks to a different view of the balance of power between branches of government and can shape how a president uses their power.

  • Presidents may not strictly adhere to one theory; they often mix and apply elements from different theories based on situations, public sentiment, and their personal beliefs.