The Modern Presidency

Academic Responsibility: Mr Mark Ledwidge

Module Aims

The main aim of the module is to enable students to gain an understanding of the Presidency as it has developed since 1945. Major events and issues are discussed, such as the Cold War, Watergate and the Iran-Contra scandal and their impact on the Presidency is assessed. A further aim is to employ a number of theoretical perspectives that cast light on the nature of the Modern Presidency. A final aim is to place the Presidency in the wider framework of American politics and government in order to analyse the power of, and constraints upon, the President.

Module Content

The module builds upon the content of the Year One Politics section and examines the nature of the Presidency since 1945. In the first term the historical development of the Presidency is analysed in terms of the main characteristics of successive Presidents from Harry Truman to George W Bush. The key events and issues affecting each Presidency are identified, e.g. the Cold War, Korea, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam, Watergate, the Iran-Contra affair, the Gulf War, Clinton's impeachment and the events of September 11 2001. The relationship between foreign and domestic policy is underlined throughout. Theoretical perspectives are employed alongside an historical approach, with reference to the "Imperial Presidency" thesis (Schlesinger), the notion of the "Two Presidencies" (Wildavsky), the active/passive/positive/negative classification of Presidents (Barber), etc.

In the second term the focus is on the Presidency as in institution. A number of institutional relationships are explored which elucidate the power of, and constraints upon, the modern Presidency by placing it within the wider context of American politics and government. These themes include the White House staff and the Executive Office of the President, including the position of Chief of Staff in the White House; the role of the Cabinet; the position of the Vice President vis à vis the President; the President, the National Security Council and the State Department; the President and Congress; the President and the Supreme Court; the President and the media; the President and special interest groups; and the President and the political parties. In the process of exploring these relationships, insight will be gained into the nature of policy-making across a range of subjects, including the economy, foreign policy, health, education, welfare and civil rights.

Teaching and Learning strategies

The main means of teaching and learning are lectures, seminars and tutorials. Video material will be used when appropriate. Students will be encouraged to use the Internet for some assignments.


Assessment consists of three course work assignments.  There is no examination.