Imperial Presidency is a term that became popular in the 1960s and that served as the title of a 1973 volume by historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. to describe the modern presidency of the United States. The author wrote The Imperial Presidency out of two concerns; first that the US Presidency was out of control and second that the Presidency had exceeded the Constitutional limits.
It was based on a number of observations. In the 1930s the President of the United States had few staff, most of them based in the U.S. Capitol, where the President traditionally had an office. The office is no longer used except for ceremonial occasions, but in 19th and early 20th century, presidents were regularly based there with a small staff. However Franklin D. Roosevelt's leadership during the Great Depression and World War II changed the presidency. His leadership in the new age of electronic media, the growth of executive agencies under the New Deal, his Brain Trust advisors, and the creation of the Executive Office of the President in 1939 led to a transformation of the presidency.
The President has a large executive staff who are most often crowded in the West Wing, basement of the White House, or in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which is beside the White House and used by the Departments of Defense and State. Progressive overcrowding in the West Wing led President Richard Nixon to convert the former presidential swimming pool into a press room.
Arguments that the United States have become an imperial presidency are:
Some have suggested that the range of new agencies, the importance of the Chief of Staff, and the large number of officials created a virtual 'royal court' around the President, with members not answerable to anyone but the President and on occasions acting independent of him also.
The presidencies of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan were particularly described as surrounded by "courts", where junior staffers acted on occasions in contravention of executive orders or Acts of Congress. The activities of some Nixon staffers during the Watergate affair are often held up as an example. Under Reagan (1981–1989) the role of Colonel Oliver North in the facilitation of funding to the Contras in Nicaragua, in explicit contravention of a United States Congressional ban, has been highlighted as an example of a "junior courtier's" ability to act, based on his position as a member of a large White House staff. Howard Baker, who served as Reagan's last Chief of Staff, was critical of the growth, complexity and apparent unanswerability of the presidential "court".
On January 13, 2009, the House Committee on the Judiciary, led by Chairman John Conyers, Jr. released a 486-page report detailing alleged abuses and excesses of the Bush administration and recommending steps to address them.
Those that believe the presidency is not imperial in nature argue that:
It has also been argued that the concept of the imperial presidency neglects several important changes in the context of governance over the last three decades, all of which tend to restrict the actual power of the President. These include: