The Presidents and the Constitution

A Living History

672 pages

44 halftones

May, 2016

ISBN: 9781479839902



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Ken Gormley is the newly appointed President of Duquesne University (PA), where he previously served as Dean and Professor of Law. Gormley is the award-winning author of The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr,  a New York Times bestseller, and Archibald Cox: Conscience of a Nation. He is the former Mayor of Forest Hills, PA, where he lives with his wife and four children.

All books by Ken Gormley

In this sweepingly ambitious volume, the nation’s foremost experts on the American presidency and the U.S. Constitution join together to tell the intertwined stories of how each American president has confronted and shaped the Constitution. Each occupant of the office—the first president to the forty-fourth—has contributed to the story of the Constitution through the decisions he made and the actions he took as the nation’s chief executive.
By examining presidential history through the lens of constitutional conflicts and challenges, The Presidents and the Constitution offers a fresh perspective on how the Constitution has evolved in the hands of individual presidents. It delves into key moments in American history, from Washington’s early battles with Congress to the advent of the national security presidency under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, to reveal the dramatic historical forces that drove these presidents to action.  Historians and legal experts, including Richard Ellis, Gary Hart, Stanley Kutler and Kenneth Starr, bring the Constitution to life, and show how the awesome powers of the American presidency have been shapes by the men who were granted them.  The book brings to the fore the overarching constitutional themes that span this country’s history and ties together presidencies in a way never before accomplished.
Exhaustively researched and compellingly presented, The Presidents and the Constitution shines new light on America’s brilliant constitutional and presidential history.
   Instructor's Guide      


  • "A fluidly fashioned collection of essays about how the roster of American presidents shaped the executive duties as defined in the evenhanded consideration of each president's operating style and effectiveness...A useful...tome featuring top-drawer contributors."

    Kirkus Reviews

  • "Gormley has assembled a first-rate group of scholars of the American presidency...This book deserves close scrutiny by any student of the U.S. presidency and political development."

    Library Journal

  • "Ken Gormley and 44 writers on all our presidents have connected the Constitutional dots brilliantly, demonstrating the immense concentration of power in the chief executive and the different, often contradictory, ways it has been used or misused. The book is a class in Constitutional Law all by itself. In several crucial ways this is what the 2016 race for the White House is aboutwho has precisely what power, who shares it, how is it going to be exercised, and what, if any, are its limits."  

    —Bob Woodward, Associate Editor, The Washington Post

  • "In our system of divided powers, presidents shape Constitutional interpretation with their appointments and by the arguments they make. But often, they have looked on helplessly as the Constitution was used to curb their powers and foil their hopes. This remarkable collection of writers captures the drama of this history, president-by-president. A great idea, well and gracefully executed."

    —E.J.Dionne, Jr., author of Why the Right Went Wrong

  • “Everything you ever wanted to know about the Supreme Court and the Presidency but were afraid to ask.”

    —Nina Totenberg, correspondent for NPR

  • "An indispensable book on a touchy subject. The American Constitution is not abstract art, it is the foundation of all of our laws. We cut ourselves adrift at great risk to the survival of our civilization. Reviewing the constant, ongoing battle between each successive president and the laws that limited his power offers a perspective that we haven't seen. Gomley has connected the dots and the results offer lessons beyond American history. This is a book about human nature and the struggle for power. As we can see, getting to the White House was not the end of that struggle. It was just the beginning."

    —Doug Wead, author of The Raising of a President: The Mothers and Fathers of Our Nation's Leaders

  • “Gormley and his impressive roster of collaborators have abundantly delivered on the promise of this book's title. The balance between presidential power and presidential accountability is indeed a living history. And good thing, too, as the past generation alone has given us countless examples of how new conflicts and crises create new demands to revise and clarify the practical meaning of constitutional principles. Readers familiar with Gormley's authoritative work on the Clinton impeachment drama will recall how he blended scholarly detachment and fluency with the legal principles at stake with a journalistic gift for making political characters come to life, illuminating their human strengths and frailties, their mix of high and low motives. Here he has replicated that achievement and coaxed his fellow contributors to do the same. Their brisk and readable survey of 44 presidencies puts present-day controversies in context and shows how living history isn't about legal abstraction—it is about ambition, conflict, and the consequences and limits of presidential power.”

    —John Harris, Politico