Revisiting Arthur Schlesinger’s The Imperial Presidency: Richard Nixon, George W. Bush, and Executive Power

  • Jon Herbert
Part of the The Evolving American Presidency Series book series (EAP)


The Imperial Presidency is widely recognized as one of the most important and influential books written on the American presidency. First published in 1973, it explained Watergate’s significance even before Richard Nixon had left office. In his best-selling work, eminent historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (1917–2007) characterized the “third-rate burglary” of Democratic National Committee (DNC) offices as a peripheral element within a revolutionary project to undermine America’s constitutional democracy. In Schlesinger’s assessment, the main significance of the botched break-in was to highlight the threat of the imperial presidency. Regardless of Nixon’s fate, Schlesinger warned that this “imperial” entity would continue to endanger America’s constitutional system because the structural factors that underpinned its development remained in place. George W. Bush’s extensive assertions of presidential authority, which some analysts characterized as a “new imperial presidency,” appeared to fulfill this prediction.1 Yet, the matter of causation remains open. Did the structural forces that Schlesinger identified as driving the original version also impel development of the new imperial presidency? This chapter examines his thesis and assesses its continued applicability regarding early twenty-first-century assertions of enhanced executive authority.


Bush Administration Central Intelligence Agency Executive Power Enemy Combatant Trouble Asset Relief Program 
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© Michael A. Genovese and Iwan W. Morgan 2012

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  • Jon Herbert

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