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Clerk in Chief - Washington carried himself in a...

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Clerk in Chief (1840s–1900) Even though the end of King Caucus opened up the possibility of greater presidential power, presidents refrained from seizing that power because of long-standing attitudes toward the presidency. For most of the nineteenth century, political leaders believed that political power should center on Congress and that the president’s job should be to execute decisions made by Congress. Some scholars have referred to the presidency during this era as a “clerk in chief” because the president was not expected to initiate or guide national policy. Many nineteenth-century presidents acted more like clerks in chief, exercising little initiative or independent power. Assertive Early Presidents Despite the general trend of weak presidents, several early presidents stand out for their assertiveness and importance. George Washington (president from 1775 to 1783) established the character of the office that nearly all his successors would emulate.
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Unformatted text preview: Washington carried himself in a statesmanlike manner and set the standard of serving no more than two terms. He also created an indelible image of what a president should be: strong, capable, honorable, and above partisanship. Thomas Jefferson (president from 1801 to 1809), in contrast, acted without congressional approval a number of times, such as when he made the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Andrew Jackson (president from 1829 to 1837) was another assertive president and was the first to appeal directly to the average voter as a means of building support. Abraham Lincoln (president from 1861 to 1865) took substantial control of the federal government in order to conduct the Civil War effectively. Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus and other civil liberties, for example, and also spent money without congressional authorization. After the war, however, Congress reasserted itself as the dominant branch of the federal government....
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