The Presidency and the Constitution

"The Progressives and Presidential Leadership"


Many features of today’s presidency originated in the Progressive Era. Progressive leaders, including Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, sharply criticized American political institutions and the Founding principles on which they were built. In particular, Progressives believed that the separation of powers and other constitutional limits on federal power were antiquated, prohibitive, and unnecessary. To break these constitutional shackles, Progressives turned to the office of the presidency, which they thought could transcend such limits by becoming a steward of the people’s will.


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Recommended Readings

Discussion Questions

  • What is the stewardship theory of the presidency, and how does it manifest itself in modern politics?
  • Progressives rejected the notion that human nature is immutable. How does this rejection necessarily lead to a rejection of the Founders’ constitutionalism?
  • How do Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt differ in terms of the ways they seek to avoid constitutional limits? How are they similar?

Q & A Session

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Ronald J. Pestritto is the Charles and Lucia Shipley Professor in the American Constitution at Hillsdale College. He received his B.A. from Claremont McKenna College and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Claremont Graduate University.