Role of the Presidents in the United States

Paper by Matthew Jacob

Paper by Matthew Jacob

The highest elected office in the United States is that of the president. Originally the office of the president was designed to be one of the weaker branches of the federal government, which consists of the executive, legislative and Judicial branches. But, now with advances in technology and the need for split second decisions the role of the president has become even more important. Arguably the four most prominent men in advancing the roles and powers of the president are Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Thomas Jefferson made the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. The Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of the United States. But, this purchase was hotly debated in Jefferson’s times since there was nothing in the constitution about that granted the president the power to make a land purchase. Andrew Jackson forced the Cherokees out of their land and caused the March of Tears, despite the fact the Indians won a case in the Supreme Court allowing them to stay. Andrew Jackson simply told the Supreme Court to enforce it themselves.  Abraham Lincoln issued martial law, the emancipation proclamation and suspended habeas corpus. And, finally Franklin Roosevelt completely changed the role of the government in the everyday life of the people with the New Deal. The reason these people were so important is that they took the opportunity and circumstances of their time in office to expand their powers past anything that the Constitution explicitly granted. Rather through crises or opportunity these men helped craft the office of the president, as we know it today Jefferson through land acquisition, Jackson with force, Lincoln through martial law, and Roosevelt through legislation and technology.

The actions of the presidents often times mirror the actions of the country. What they decide to do with their power sets the standard for future presidents. It would have been more difficult for Lincoln to do so many things without direct backing from the Legislative and Judicial branches if Jackson had not defied the courts years earlier. It is important to understand the roles these and all the presidents played in establishing the government we have today. To understand these roles it is necessary to study the events that occurred around each president and what led them to those decisions. For example the Civil War allowed Lincoln to claim all the power that he did.

One way to understand all the events that contributed to the Presidents is the Presidential Libraries. The presidential libraries are an invaluable source for students of political science Rather than being a traditional library the presidential libraries are interactive museums that house all of the records and papers of a president’s term. The museums are an invaluable source to scholars of all types to truly understand the times the American Government faced during their term. President Roosevelt began the presidential library system in 1939 when he donated his presidential papers to the Federal Government. This began a tradition followed by all the succeeding presidents.

More information about the presidential libraries can be found at

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