UCL Institute of the Americas


AMER0003: US Presidents and the Presidency

Module convenor: Professor Iwan Morgan

**Not running in 2020/21**


The leadership responsibilities of the modern US presidency include those of chief executive, commander-in-chief, chief diplomat, chief legislator, manager of prosperity, and party leader. Each president brings his own leadership style and personal attributes to these tasks. Each has his own strengths and weaknesses. Each must also exercise leadership within a constitutional system of separate government institutions sharing power that is designed to constrain the predominance of any single branch.

This one-term course examines how US presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Barack Obama have dealt with the leadership challenges of their office. It analyzes how their personalities, values and skills have shaped their approach to office and their dealings with other branches of US government. It also considers the possibilities and limitations of the president's role as party leader and examines the importance of 'political time' with regard to presidential authority.

The course also considers the central paradox of the US presidency - the holder of the office is arguably the most powerful individual leader in world politics but operates within a constitutional system designed to check and balance its power within government. Accordingly, the course examines how presidents have exercised leadership within these constraints - and how they have sometimes operated beyond the constitutional limits of their office, thereby engendering the so-called 'imperial presidency.'

Teaching is through a combination of lectures and seminars. Assessment is based on a 4,000-word essay.

Introductory Reading

A list of introductory reading is given below. A full course reading list is normally issued at the beginning of the session.

  • Cronin, Thomas and Michael Genovese, The Paradoxes of the American Presidency, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004)
  • Fisher, Louis, "Teaching the Presidency: Idealizing a Constitutional Office," PS 45 (January, 2012), pp. 17-31
  • Genovese, Michael and Iwan Morgan, eds., Watergate Remembered: The Legacy for American Politics (New York: Palgrave, 2012)
  • Greenstein, Fred, The Presidential Difference: Leadership Style from FDR to George W. Bush (New York: Free Press, 2009);
  • Nelson, Michael, ed., The Presidency and the Political System, 9th ed (Washington DC: CQ Press, 2009)
  • Pfiffner, James, The Modern Presidency, 5th ed (Belmont CA: Thomson-Wadsworth, 2008)
  • Neustadt, Richard, Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents: The Politics of Leadership from Roosevelt to Reagan (New York: Free Press, 1990)
  • Skowronek, Stephen The Politics President Make: Leadership from John Adams to Bill Clinton (Boston: Belknap Press, 1997)