The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly American Presidents

By  December 30, 2015

In his new book, 9 Presidents Who Screwed Up America – And Four Who Tried to Save Her, Brion McClanahan presents a masterful and superbly-scholarly discussion of how nine presidents, beginning with George Washington himself, effectively destroyed constitutional government.  On the brighter side, he also explains how four presidents – Jefferson, Tyler, Cleveland, and Coolidge – did their best to preserve the Jeffersonian vision of limited constitutional government.

In a sense, the book demonstrates the futility of “limited constitutional government” for precisely the reasons given by Calhoun.  For example, even George Washington acted in ways that were destructive of constitutional government.  McClanahan describes how slick political manipulators like Alexander Hamilton were able to talk Washington into things that were either of dubious constitutionality or plainly unconstitutional.  Washington wanted America to stay out of foreign wars, so he issued a “Proclamation of Neutrality.”  That sounds fine, but there was no constitutional authority for the president to intervene in foreign policy in that way.  Nor did Washington have the constitutional authority to call up the state militia (only Congress does) to invade Pennsylvania during the Whiskey rebellion – another one of Hamilton’s heavy-handed, tyrannical adventures.

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