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Title:Seeing the constitution as they see it: Presidential reconstitutions, executive power, and interbranch conflict
Author(s):Bisbee, Donovan Stuart
Director of Research:Murphy, John
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Murphy, John
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Finnegan, Cara; O'Gorman, Ned; Cisneros, David; Russell, Lindsay R
Department / Program:Communication
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Constitutional Crisis
Presidential Rhetoric
Constitutional Interpretation
Rhetorical History
Franklin Roosevelt
Abraham Lincoln
Andrew Jackson
Abstract:Conflict in the U.S. constitutional system is not an error but a feature. The structural sparring between the executive and judicial branch is typically mundane, but when presidents fight with the judiciary in times of national crisis, those conflicts have profound ramifications for political reality and executive power. In moments of large-scale national crisis, presidents enjoy expanded authority to reshape national politics, redefine government structures, and to articulate constitutional visions. Presidents facing such contexts articulate new visions of the Constitution for the nation as they navigate national crises and spar with other branches—redefining national identity and their own constitutional roles. This dissertation excavates the constitutional arguments these presidents advanced in interbranch conflict during moments of national crisis. It offers rhetorical studies a deeper rhetorical understanding of these historical events, analysis of the growth of executive power, and investigation of interbranch conflict. This study examines the interbranch conflict between three presidents who each governed in moments of national crisis, clashed with the judiciary, and expanded executive power: Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt. Jackson’s Veto Message on the Bank defended a “glass cage” Constitution, where the slightest deviation would shatter an authoritative but fragile document. Lincoln defended the suspension of habeas corpus (his most controversial wartime action) in his July 4, 1861 Message to Congress and a public letter to Albany Democrats in 1863. Lincoln argued that the Constitution was capacious: an ongoing rebellion that threatened the public safety activated expansive powers that were purposely put in place by the founders for just such an occasion. Franklin Roosevelt’s Court-packing fight saw him attempt to expand the Supreme Court in order to defend the New Deal from judicial opposition. He argued that the Constitution was kairotic, able to respond to the needs of the moment flexibly and creatively without loss of form or substance. Interbranch conflict has not abated, and the examples of Jackson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt remain powerful rhetorical resources for presidents who wish to argue that new understandings of the Constitution are necessary.
Issue Date:2020-04-06
Rights Information:Copyright 2020 Donovan Bisbee
Date Available in IDEALS:2020-08-26
Date Deposited:2020-05

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