By Order of the President

The Use and Abuse of Executive Direct Action

Second Edition, Revised and Expanded

Phillip J. Cooper

Scholars and citizens alike have endlessly debated the proper limits of presidential action within our democracy. In this revised and expanded edition, noted scholar Phillip Cooper offers a cogent guide to these powers and shows how presidents from George Washington to Barack Obama have used and abused them in trying to realize their visions for the nation.

As Cooper reveals, there has been virtually no significant policy area or level of government left untouched by the application of these presidential power tools. Whether seeking to regulate the economy, committing troops to battle without a congressional declaration of war, or blocking commercial access to federal lands, presidents have wielded these powers to achieve their goals, often in ways that seem to fly in the face of true representative government. Cooper defines the different forms these powers take—executive orders, presidential memoranda, proclamations, national security directives, and signing statements—demonstrates their uses, critiques their strengths and dangers, and shows how they have changed over time.

“Cooper provides an important primer on the president’s administrative tools, and his contributions fill an important void in the literature. This study will be valuable to a wide audience of scholars including experts on the presidency, public policy, and public administration.

—Congress & the Presidency

“It is fortunate when a scholar has the opportunity to illuminate a topic that is both timely and, for the most part, not widely appreciated. Such is the case with Cooper's study of what he aptly calls the presidential ‘power tools,’ those devices that enable a president to take ‘direct action’ absent specific legislative or judicial authorization. Cooper provides detailed historical analyses of how each of those devices developed and how each has been used by the most recent presidents.

—Journal of American History
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Cooper calls on events in American history with which we are all familiar but whose implications may have escaped us. Examples of executive action include, Washingtons Neutrality Proclamation; Lincolns Emancipation Proclamation; the more than 1,700 executive orders issued by Woodrow Wilson in World War I; FDR also issued the order to incarcerate Japanese Americans during World War II; Trumans orders to desegregate the military; Eisenhowers numerous national security directives. JFKs order to control racial violence in Alabama.

As Cooper demonstrates in his balanced treatment of these and subsequent presidencies, each successive administration finds new ways of using these tools to achieve policy goals—especially those goals they know they are unlikely to accomplish with the help of Congress.

A key feature of the second edition are case studies on the post-9/11 evolution of presidential direct action in ways that have drawn little public attention. It clarifies the factors that make these policy tools so attractive to presidents and the consequences that can flow from their use and abuse in a post-9/11 environment. There is an important new chapter on executive agreements which, though they are not treaties within the meaning of the U.S. Constitution and not subject to Senate ratification, appear in many respects to be rapidly replacing treaties as instruments of foreign policy.

About the Author

Phillip J. Cooper is Professor of Public Administration, Mark O. Hatfield School of Government, Portland State University. He is the author of Battles on the Bench: Conflict Inside the Supreme Court.

Additional Titles in the Studies in Government and Public Policy Series