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S2 Ep4: The Powers of the American Presidency

Research indicates the first person American children recognize outside their friends and family is the President of the United States. The president is commonly known as "The Leader of the Free World," and "The Most Powerful Man in the World." Did the Founders intend to create an American presidency this powerful? How did presidents acquire more power over the last 230 years, and how might the presidency change in the future? Our guests on this episode, Dr. Aaron Mason and Dr. Eric Schmaltz of Northwestern Oklahoma State University, discuss the history of the American presidency, the evolution of presidential power, and some key examples of successful and failed presidencies.

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Links to additional information about topics discussed in this episode:

Read George Washington's "Letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, R.I., 18 August 1790," which embraced a policy of religious liberty that could encompass minority religious groups. In this letter, Washington affirmed the United States would be a country that "gives to bigotry no sanction."

Find resources from the University of Virginia's Miller Center about President James K. Polk, whom our guests cited as an early exemplar of the expansion of presidential power on an international scale.

In the 1864 presidential election in the midst of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln was reelected in a landslide. As our guest Dr. Aaron Mason notes, around 70% of Union soldiers currently at war gave Lincoln their vote. You can find some fascinating analysis of this election, including an interactive Electoral College map, at 270towin.com/1864_Election

In this episode we discuss a quote from John Steinbeck: "We give the President more work than a man can do, more responsibility than a man should take, more pressure than a man can bear." Read more of Steinbeck's thoughts on the American presidency in an excerpt from his essay collection America and Americans.

Our guests mentioned the fascinating book The Paradoxes of the American Presidency, by Thomas E. Cronin and Michael A. Genovese. The book discusses the "unusual character of the institution" of the presidency, which at different times Americans desire to be a leader and a follower, partisan and bipartisan, innovative and conservative.

About our guests:

Dr. Aaron Mason serves as Professor of Political Science at Northwestern Oklahoma State University in Alva. He received his Ph.D. from Northern Arizona University in 2006. He has published articles on American Indian tribal governments and state government interaction as well issues dealing with the founding fathers and the U.S. Constitution. He serves as the Co-Executive Director of the NWOSU-Institute for Citizenship Studies.


Dr. Eric Schmaltz, Professor of History, has taught European, World, and Early American History at Northwestern Oklahoma State University in Alva, Oklahoma, since 2005. In the summer of 2019, he begins serving as the departmental chair. Along with Dr. Aaron Mason, Dr. Schmaltz is both co-founder and co-director of Northwestern’s endowed Institute for Citizenship Studies and co-editor of its journal Civitas. In recent years, he has grown more interested in issues of Diasporas and transnationalism, as well as the complex and evolving relationship between ethnic nationalism and globalization.