The vast and complicated structure needed to run today's government has brought many changes to the office of the presidency. With each new president, the machinery of government becomes more complex.
The rise of presidential power did not come about all at once. Nor did the growth of leadership follow a fixed and steady course. Some presidents have strongly exercised the power of leadership. Others have been relatively weak leaders.
Since the time of George Washington many presidents have contributed to changing the powers of the office. People often have different views as to whether a president has acted wisely and exercised his power for the general good of the entire nation. Leadership takes many forms, and all leaders cannot appeal to all people. The leadership qualities of a few presidents, however, will serve to show how some have used the power of their office.
Thomas Jefferson was the nation's third president. Even though he served so early in the history of the office, he understood that in order to gain the results he desired, he would have to exercise a great deal of political power. Jefferson skillfully organized his sympathizers in Congress into a strong political group. These men worked together so well that they often were able to defeat their opponents in many important matters. This plan of Jefferson's was the start of the system of political parties as we know it today.
Andrew Jackson, seventh president of the United States, was another strong leader. Jackson was the first man of the people to be elected to the presidency. Many of the men in the government were not friendly to the new president or to his views. But Jackson was determined to overcome his opponents. In critical issues he relied on the support of the people and removed cabinet members who disagreed with his policies. By the skillful use of his leadership qualities, he was able to carry out many of his programs.
The strongest desire of President Abraham Lincoln was to preserve the Union. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Lincoln did not have the power to call up troops or to take certain other actions. But he knew that in order to protect the Union he would have to assume wartime powers. Many people disapproved of his actions. But Lincoln seized the power he felt he must have. By exercising leadership in a time of crisis, he succeeded in preserving the Union.
Woodrow Wilson, during whose term the bitter battles of World War I were fought, had one great dream. The dream was for the creation of a League of Nations that would help to prevent future wars. The League of Nations finally was established at the close of the war. But in spite of Wilson's strength, his own country refused to join. Wilson died a disappointed man. But under his leadership the office of the presidency outgrew the bounds of the United States and became an office with international responsibilities.
In another period of serious trouble for the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt served as president. During the Depression of the 1930's Roosevelt sought tremendous powers. He recommended to Congress legislation that would create jobs for those who could find no work, in order to get the country back on its feet. He even attempted to change the structure of the Supreme Court by increasing the number of justices. During World War II he extended United States influence in the field of international relations.
Even though the president of the United States is today one of the most important individuals in the world, he is not all-powerful. There is an authority that is higher than that of the president. It is the will of the people of the United States, who have reserved to themselves the final authority that is called sovereignty.