Words That Men Live By
Pres. Harry S. Truman (1954)
NEW YORK, N. Y., May 8, 1954 - An angry voice was raised here tonight in the historically exceptional circumstance of a former and often–criticised President demanding greater power for the Presidency now held by the spokesman for the opposing political party.
Harry S. Truman, who personally led the campaign against President Dwight D. Eisenhower, lashed out at the broadened investigative activities by the Congress where the Republican leadership is, he said, embarrassing its own President by encroachment on the Executive establishment.
The argument is not a new one. This debate began in the first Administration of the American Government when President George Washington, angered by demands for information by a Senate Committee, refused there - after to discuss his contemplated actions. He thereby established a precedent for Presidential right to act first in executive affairs and relegate Congressional action to review in connection with subsequent legislation.
As a natural sequel, President Truman had a hard tussle during two years of his own terms, when Republican control of Congress threw all the old debates between the two governing branches – President and Congress – into a turmoil. Yet today, it is not Democratic leadership but Republican in both Senate and House that is demanding continually broadened rights to subpoena members of the Executive Branch and their files, question them – particularly in the realms of foreign and military policy – and to make public as they desire the information so gathered.
Mr. Truman, is speaking as guest of honor at a dinner honoring his birthday anniversary, drew attention to a facet of his career that some observers believe will outlive the memory of his more direct actions as Senator, as Vice President and as President. This is his tireless study and frequently original presentation of new arguments interpreting the extraordinary form of government under which this country thrives.
It is also is notable that while he often prefers the colloquial, and sometimes salty, brand of American speech to advance political arguments, he has the vocabulary and the power of language to discuss the classical question in the language befitting its dignity.
There’s never been an office – an executive office – in all the history of the world with the responsibility and the power of the Presidency of the United States. That is the reason in this day and age that it must be run and respected as at no other time in the history of the world because it can mean the welfare of the world or its destruction.Printable version
When the founding fathers outlined the Presidency in Article II of the Constitution, they left a great many details out. I think they relied on the experience of the nation to fill in the outlines. The office of the chief executive has grown with the progress of this great republic. It has responded to the many demands that our complex society has made upon the Government. It has given our nation a means of meeting our greatest emergencies. Today, it is one of the most important factors in our leadership of the free world.
Many diverse elements entered into the creation of the office, springing, as it did from the parent idea of the separation of powers.
In the first place, the President became the leader of a political party. The party under his leadership had to be dominant enough to put him in office. This political party leadership was the last thing the Constitution contemplated. The President’s election was not intended to be mixed up in the hurly-burly of partisan politics.
I wish some of those old gentlemen could come back and see how it worked. The people were to choose wise and respected men who would meet in clam seclusion and choose a President and the runner-up would be Vice President.
All of this went by the board-though most of the original language remains in the Constitution. Out of the struggle and tumult of the political arena a new and different President emerged-the man who led a political party to victory and retained in his hand the power of party leadership. That is, he retained it, like the sword Excalibur, if he could wrest it from the scabbard and wield it.
Another development was connected with the first. As the President came to be elected by the whole people, he became responsible to the whole people. I used to say the only lobbyist the whole people had in Washington was the President of the United States. Our whole people looked to him for leadership, and not confined within the limits of written document. Every hope and every fear of his fellow citizens, almost every aspect of their welfare and activities, falls within the scope of his concern-indeed, it falls within the scope of his duty. Only one who has held that office can really appreciate that. It is the President’s responsibility to look at all questions from the point of view of the whole people. His written and spoken word commands national and often international attention.
These powers which are not explicitly written into the Constitution are the powers which no President can pass on to his successor. They go only to him who can take and use them. However, it is these powers, quite as much as those enumerated in Article II of the Constitution, which make the Presidential system unique and which give the papers of Presidents their peculiarly revealing importance.
For it is through these great powers that leadership arises, events are molded and administrations take on their character. And so a successful administration is one of strong Presidential leadership. Weak leadership, or no leadership, produces failure and often disaster.
This does not come from the inherent incapacity of the people of the nation. It is inherent in the legislative government where there is no executive strong and able enough to rally the people to a sustained effort of will and prepared to use its power of party control to the fullest extent.
Again, we see today history repeating itself as the legislative branch of the Government, under the overshadowing fear of Communism, expands its functions and activities into the very center of the power of the executive branch.
The President is responsible for the Administration of his office. And that means for the administration of the entire executive branch. It is not the business of Congress to run the agencies of government for the President.
Unless this principle is observed, it is impossible to have orderly government. The legislative power will ooze into the executive offices. It will influence and corrupt the decisions of the executive branch. It will affect promotions and transfers. It will warp and twist policies….
To this kind of encroachment it is the duty of the President to say firmly and flatly, “no, you can’t do it.” The investigative power of Congress is not limitless….Today the tasks of leadership falling upon the President spring not only from our national problems but from those of the whole world. Today that leadership will determine whether our Government will function effectively, and upon its functioning depends the survival of each of us and also on that depends the survival of the free world, if I may be so bold as to say that.
And today our government cannot function properly unless it follows the provisions of the Constitution. Our government cannot function properly unless the President is matter in his own house and unless the Executive departments and agencies of the Government, including the armed forces, are responsible only to the President.