These Leaders Were Accused of Abusing Their Power

These Leaders Were Accused of Abusing Their Power

Larry Holzwarth - May 18, 2019

The evolution of the office of President of the United States has been one of steadily expanded power assumed by the chief executive. Instances of the president exercising his authority to the point of being accused of abusing the powers of his office are many, and in most cases have changed the course of American history. Presidents have long sought the ways and means of accomplishing goals which they deemed critical despite the opposition of a recalcitrant Congress. Some were successful, while others faced humbling rebukes from the legislature, or defeat in the courts. Only two American presidents have, as of this writing, been impeached by the House of Representatives and tried in the Senate, but many more have been accused during their administration of abusing the power of their office.

These Leaders Were Accused of Abusing Their Power
John Jay negotiated the treaty which gave England favorable trade status and raised shouts of Washington abusing his Presidential powers. Wikimedia

Such abuses have included the acquisition of territory, the waging of war, the suspension of citizens’ legal rights, or their suppression under illegal circumstances. What they all have in common is the belief by the president that the action was necessary for the benefit of the nation, despite political opposition at the time. Some presidents – Lincoln comes to mind – themselves questioned the legality of their actions under the Constitution but took them anyway. Others blithely ignored the constitutional restraints on their power to take action which was eventually overturned by legal authority. Here are examples of the President of the United States being accused of abuse of his power in the course of American history.

These Leaders Were Accused of Abusing Their Power
George Washington appeared at the end of his Presidency in 1797. Wikimedia

1. George Washington’s invoking executive privilege over the Jay Treaty

The first president to be accused of abuse of power (and to hear calls in Congress for his impeachment) was George Washington. During the French Revolutionary Wars, Washington declared the United States to be neutral, denying support to either France or Great Britain. When John Jay negotiated a treaty with the British which among other things brought the United States and the British closer in trade relations and in Indian affairs, Congressmen from the southern states opposed it fiercely. Despite it being ratified in the Senate, members of the House sought to overturn it in effect by refusing to authorize the funding needed to allow its terms to be met.

During the debate over the funding of the treaty, Congress demanded the President provide them with all documentation covering the treaty’s negotiation, including all correspondence between the President and John Jay. Washington refused, and although he did not directly refer to what later became known as executive privilege, his argument in refusal established the precedent for that term. There were calls in the House for Washington’s impeachment in early 1797 as a result. The Jay Treaty was eventually funded by the House, in a vote which carried by a margin of three, and once in place did much to lead to the Quasi-War with France during the subsequent administration of John Adams.

These Leaders Were Accused of Abusing Their Power
During the Louisiana Purchase debates, Napoleon’s right to sell and Jefferson’s right to buy were both questioned by opponents. Wikimedia

2. Thomas Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase

It was the Federalist Party supporters, primarily in New England, who accused Thomas Jefferson of both abusing the powers of his office and violating the Constitution when he negotiated, through agents, the purchase of Louisiana from Napoleon Bonaparte. Even the validity of French ownership of the land involved was called into question. But the primary argument supporting Jefferson’s abuse of power was that the Constitution did not give the executive the power to purchase land and expand the boundaries of American territory. They argued that Jefferson was abusing his office by violating the Constitution and illegally expanding the powers of the Presidency.

Jefferson agreed that the Constitution did not give the President the authority to purchase land through a contract with another nation. But he pointed out that the Constitution gave the President the authority, with the advice and consent of the Senate, to negotiate treaties and the Louisiana Purchase was just that – a treaty. After the Senate ratified the Louisiana Purchase the House reluctantly authorized the funding. During the debate, the House voted on a motion to deny funding for the treaty, which failed by only two votes, and despite the loud charges of Jefferson’s abuse of power, the Louisiana Purchase was funded, more than doubling the territory of the United States for about 3 cents per acre.

These Leaders Were Accused of Abusing Their Power
Adams was accused of abusing his power in a dispute over individual states’ rights to make treaties with the Indians. White House

3. John Quincy Adams and the conflict with the state of Georgia

During the Presidency of John Quincy Adams, for the first time in American history, the mid-term elections led to the opposition party achieving firm control of Congress. Adams thus found himself unable to obtain legislation which supported his ambitious agenda in domestic affairs, as the Jacksonian Democrats stood in opposition to the President. The Jacksonians supported Indian Removal west of the Mississippi, and when Adams learned of a treaty with the Muscogee Indians which had been imposed upon them by the Governor of Georgia, George Troup, he used his office to suspend the treaty and dispatched negotiators which arrived at a new treaty, allowing the Muscogee to remain in Georgia.

The Governor of Georgia refused to accept the new treaty, accusing the President of abuse of power which interfered with the rights of his state and exhorted the citizens of Georgia to ignore the federal treaty and evict the Muscogee from their tribal lands. Adams insisted that the right to negotiate treaties was assigned to the President under the Constitution, and a looming showdown with Georgia and the other states of the South (which favored Indian Removal), appeared. It was averted when yet another treaty with the Muscogee was reached. The Indians were removed to what later became Alabama, and the issue of Adams’ abuse of power cost him the support of the South and some western states during the election of 1828, leading to his defeat.

These Leaders Were Accused of Abusing Their Power
Henry Clay moved to censure the President over his actions regarding the Bank of the United States. Transylvania University

4. Andrew Jackson and the Bank of the United States

President Andrew Jackson’s expansion of Presidential power was demonstrated in many areas, but perhaps none more so than in his determination to exterminate the 2nd Bank of the United States in 1833. Jackson intended to cripple the bank by removing its deposits and distributing them to banks throughout the states, which became known as pet banks to the opposition. At the time the United States government did not issue paper money; banknotes were issued by the state banks, and the receipt of deposits from the Bank of the United States led the pet banks to issue an increasing amount of paper money, leading to inflation. Jackson refused to re-charter the Bank of the United States in the belief that it held too much power.

By 1834 opposition to Jackson had led to the formation of the Whig Party and a movement within the Senate, led by Henry Clay, to censure the President. Politically motivated by Clay, who intended to use the censure as an issue during the next presidential election, the motion passed by a vote of 26 – 20, and Jackson was officially censured by the Senate in March 1834. Jackson responded by saying that Clay was, “as full of fury as a drunken man in a brothel”. The House of Representatives supported Jackson, passing resolutions which agreed that the bank should not be re-chartered and that the deposits should not be returned, which the Senate had demanded. In January of 1835, Jackson succeeded in completely paying off the national debt, the only time that feat has been accomplished in American history.

These Leaders Were Accused of Abusing Their Power
Congressman John M. Botts (seated) called for the impeachment of the President, a fellow Virginian. Library of Congress

5. John Tyler and the impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives

John Tyler was a member of the Whig party when he ascended to the Presidency following the death of William Henry Harrison. His party supported high tariffs as a means of protecting American products, which he opposed. Tyler was not averse to tariffs themselves, but the distribution of the funds to the states was something he opposed. Tyler was from Virginia, where tariffs were generally opposed as they were throughout the South, where access to British markets for sale of cotton was a critical part of the economy. Northern states supported higher tariffs. When the Whig controlled Congress sent the President two bills raising tariffs and affecting distribution he vetoed both.

An outraged Whig coalition expelled the President from his own party. Congress responded by combining the two into one bill with some minor changes and Tyler vetoed it again. Prior to Tyler’s administration vetoes of Congressional bills had been based on issues of whether or not they were constitutional, rather than a matter of policy (other than Andrew Jackson). On July 10, 1842, Congressman John Botts introduced a resolution of impeachment, calling for a committee to be formed. The resolution was tabled until the following January through the intervention of Henry Clay, though he did not rule out impeachment. It was finally voted down 127 – 83. It was not the only act of Congress which hinted at impeaching John Tyler.

These Leaders Were Accused of Abusing Their Power
The imperious Tyler, first to ascend to the Presidency due to the death of his predecessor, faced more than one call for his impeachment. White House

6. A former President led another attempt to impeach John Tyler

One of the reasons Henry Clay tabled the Botts resolution was the activity of a House Select Committee which was chaired by former President John Quincy Adams. Adams was a noted abolitionist, who had argued against the Van Buren administration during the Amistad affair. Tyler was, as noted, from Virginia and a slaveholder, with slaves serving his administration in the White House. Adams used the committee to both question the legality of the tariff vetoes and the morality and character of the President, and the committee released a report to the full House which was endorsed by that body in August 1842. Though it did not call for impeachment directly, it indicated the possibility.

That fall in the mid-term elections, the Whig party retained the majority in the Senate, but lost it in the House, and the ability to charge Tyler with the constitutionally mandated “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” was lost. Throughout his Presidency he was at odds with the Whigs in the Senate, submitting three different candidates for two vacancies on the Supreme Court, all of which were denied by the Senate multiple times. The rejections of Tyler’s nominees were motivated by the hope of a Whig victory in the Presidential election of 1844. Tyler finally succeeded in having a nominee confirmed by the Senate in February 1845, with less than a month remaining in his single term.

These Leaders Were Accused of Abusing Their Power
Polk manipulated events that lead to war with Mexico and calls for investigations in Congress. Wikimedia

7. James K. Polk and the War with Mexico

Throughout the first year of his administration, 1845, James Polk prepared for a war with Mexico, dispatching troops to a disputed portion of the border area between Texas, which had been annexed as a state, and Mexico. When forces under Zachary Taylor became involved in a skirmish largely of their own making, American troops were killed and Polk presented his war message to Congress as recognizing that a state of war already existed. His message and his version of how events had transpired were disputed by Whigs in Congress, including Abraham Lincoln. One Congressman claimed that, “It is our own President who began this war”.

Polk was also a vocal opponent of the federal government undertaking or funding internal improvements such as roads, canals, and the growing railroads, despite Congress passing bills for that purpose. He either vetoed them on constitutional grounds or exercised the pocket veto, which meant he did not have to send a message to Congress describing his reasons. At the end of his, Presidency Congress outmaneuvered the lame-duck President, sending to his desk a bill which established the Department of the Interior. Polk opposed the bill but lacked sufficient time remaining in office to establish a means of establishing constitutional grounds to veto it, and with the knowledge that his successor would sign it, Polk signed it into law.

These Leaders Were Accused of Abusing Their Power
Lincoln’s proclamation suspended habeas corpus, September 1862. National Archives

8. Abraham Lincoln and the suspension of habeas corpus in Maryland

When Abraham Lincoln entered the office of the President seven southern states had already seceded from the Union, and the nation’s capital was bounded by two states in which slavery was practiced – Maryland and Virginia. Virginia had not yet seceded from the Union, but its intentions were clear. Following the attack on Fort Sumter Lincoln set out on a series of steps which would expand the powers of the Presidency, though many of them were of questioned legality and led to strong opposition in the Congress and in the minds of the public. One of the earliest actions was the suspension of habeas corpus.

Lincoln suspended habeas corpus between Washington DC and Philadelphia, giving the army the right to arrest and detain individuals without charging them. On May 25, 1863, a man arrested by the army and held at Fort McHenry applied for his release under a writ of habeas corpus. Chief Justice of the United States Roger Taney found that Lincoln did not have the right to suspend habeas corpus, but did not direct action regarding the prisoner. Lincoln ignored the finding and continued to hold the prisoner, as well as others who were covered under Taney’s finding. In July Lincoln informed Congress that he was authorized to suspend habeas corpus under the Constitution, Article I, Section 9, which allowed for the suspension of the right, “…when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it”.

These Leaders Were Accused of Abusing Their Power
Even Lincoln questioned (privately) the legality of his Emancipation Proclamation, but issued it anyway. National Archives

9. Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation

The Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order issued under the President’s war powers, and as such only applied to the areas which were still deemed to be in rebellion. It had no effect on the slaves in areas already under Union control or in the slave states which had not seceded. About 500,000 slaves remained slaves, with 3.5 million declared by the President to be “henceforth and forever free”. Despite the executive order, Lincoln was aware that slavery was protected by the Constitution, and that he was powerless to take steps to end it except as a tactic of war under his power as Commander in Chief. There was also debate over whether the slaves, considered property under the Constitution, would legally remain the property of their owners after the war.

Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation changed the war into a declared crusade against slavery, but the President knew the order stood on shaky legal ground, and that the only way to truly end slavery in the United States was through passage of the 13th Amendment. When that amendment went into effect in December 1865, slavery was gone from the defeated Confederacy, and the last states to have slavery legal in the United States – Delaware and Kentucky – saw it ended with ratification. Scholars still debate the legality of the Emancipation Proclamation and whether it would have prevailed against challenges in the courts, but it was unquestionably an example of the expansion of Presidential power in time of war, though no state of war was declared during the Civil War.

These Leaders Were Accused of Abusing Their Power
Abraham Lincoln and his Cabinet, which he staffed with political opposites. Wikimedia

10. Abraham Lincoln and the Draft Laws

It was Congress which enacted the law which led to federal conscription in the Union, which came about because recruiting had come to a standstill in the states which comprised the old Northwest territory. The populations of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan were largely against the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation, with newspapers and politicians claiming that the act would prolong the war, rather than shorten it as Lincoln intended. Eligible men were not encouraged to join in a long and bloody war. After Congress passed the draft bill and Lincoln signed it into law opposition to the draft began almost immediately.

When the Draft Riots occurred in New York in 1863, Lincoln ordered troops from George Meade’s Army of the Potomac, then involved in the Gettysburg campaign, diverted to New York to suppress the riots. In doing so, Lincoln assigned the riots status as a rebellion, rather than as a civil disturbance, which should have been suppressed by the city’s police force and the state militia, though most of the militia were serving with the Union army at the time. The Draft Riots and the soaring casualty figures of the war were serious blows to Lincoln’s popularity and he was excoriated as a dictator and worse for his actions in office, but eventual Union victories in the field and the steady retreat of the Confederate armies in 1864 led to his re-election, and his eventually being regarded as one of America’s greatest Presidents.

These Leaders Were Accused of Abusing Their Power
The first President tried in the Senate, Andrew Johnson, was acquitted by one vote. Wikimedia

11. Andrew Johnson and the Tenure in Office Act

Andrew Johnson managed to antagonize Congress and his own party early in his administration, vetoing the Civil Rights Act of 1865, which Congress managed to override. Johnson claimed that he, like Lincoln, had the authority to take certain actions because of the war powers inherent in his office, to which opponents in Congress argued that the war was over, and that reconstruction was not covered by war powers. Johnson undertook tours to carry his message directly to the people, meanwhile Congress passed the Tenure in Office Act, which restricted the President’s ability to remove some officeholders unless the action was approved by the Senate. In 1867 Johnson suspended Secretary of War Stanton while the Senate was out of session.

When the Senate reconvened it disapproved the removal of Stanton and ordered him reinstated rather than approve Johnson’s attempted replacement. With the Republicans holding substantial majorities in both houses of Congress the party leaders moved to impeach the President. Johnson was the first President to be impeached in the House and tried in the Senate, officially charged with eleven specific examples of “High Crimes and Misdemeanors“, though the Republicans failed to win a conviction in the Senate and Johnson was acquitted after a trial which lasted three months, absorbing the nation’s attention. Twenty years after the trial the Tenure in Office Act was repealed by Congress, and subsequent Supreme Court decisions indicated that Johnson did not abuse his power by attempting to fire Stanton.

Also Read: First Vote to Impeach Andrew Johnson Fails.

These Leaders Were Accused of Abusing Their Power
William McKinley ordered US troops in the Philippines to suppress the rebellion which demanded indepence for the archipelago. US Army

12. William McKinley and the conquest of the Philippines

When the United States went to war with Spain in 1898, the short conflict known to history as the Spanish-American War, the American triumph led to the acquisition of overseas territories which other countries would call an empire. Among the territories acquired were the islands of Guam and Wake in the Pacific, and the former Spanish possessions of the Philippines. The Filipinos had been fighting for their freedom from Spain before the war, and welcomed the American victory over their oppressors, believing it meant that Filipino independence and freedom were at hand. President McKinley had other ideas.

McKinley ordered the US Army to remain in occupation and to suppress the rebellion which had started against Spain, and then continued against the United States. The military occupation of the Philippines led to one of the most brutal wars in American history, largely ignored by the history classes taught in American schools. American tactics included reprisals against civilians who aided, or were believed to have aided, the rebels. Concentration camps were built and quickly riddled with disease and malnutrition. The war, which was well covered in the press at the time, grew to be unpopular in the United States, but the desire to retain the Philippines as a military base outweighed public concerns.

These Leaders Were Accused of Abusing Their Power
Senator John Sherman, former US Senator, brother of William Tecumseh Sherman, and author of the Sherman Antitrust Act. Wikimedia

13. Theodore Roosevelt and the Sherman Antitrust Act

The Sherman Antitrust Act was passed by Congress and enacted into law in 1890. The three subsequent Presidents, Benjamin Harrison, Grover Cleveland, and William McKinley combined to prosecute a total of 18 anti-trust violations before Roosevelt took office in 1901 following the death of his predecessor. Roosevelt, over the course of the next seven years, prosecuted 44 anti-trust cases using the authority of the act, breaking up railroad monopolies and the Standard Oil Company, among many others. When Congress balked at his creation of the Department of Commerce and Labor he appealed directly to the public to pressure their representatives to give the President what he wanted, an effort which was successful.

Roosevelt used the power of the Presidency to threaten striking coal miners with military intervention. He liberally used the executive order to achieve what could not be achieved through Congress in the realm of conservation and protection of natural resources. When Congress passed a bill which limited his ability to reserve any more federal land, Roosevelt issued executive orders creating an additional 21 forest reserves before signing the bill into law. A total of 1,262 executive orders were issued by the first 25 Presidents. Roosevelt issued 1,081 during his administration and used the Presidential office and his own popularity with the public to pressure Congress into enacting the policies he wanted.

These Leaders Were Accused of Abusing Their Power
Teddy Roosevelt grew so incensed with the press that he brought criminal charges against two newspapers. Library of Congress

14. Theodore Roosevelt and the criminal charges against the press

In the early 1900s Panama, then part of Colombia, was selected as the site for the cross isthmus canal to be completed by the Americans after the French had failed there. The United States offered Colombia a treaty which the Colombian government rejected, leading to a rebellion in Panama which the United States supported. The successful rebellion led to an independent Panama and the new government agreed to a treaty to create the Canal Zone and build the canal in 1903. Almost immediately charges of corruption emerged in the press and Roosevelt was forced to address the issue in his message to Congress in 1906, in which he denied the charges.

In 1909 Roosevelt took the unprecedented step of bringing criminal charges against two of the newspapers which continued to print stories of allegations of corruption regarding the canal and relations with Panama. The papers, the New York World and the Indianapolis News denied the libel charges leveled against them and the cases were dismissed by District Courts. Roosevelt pressed the issue and the case eventually reached the United States Supreme Court, which upheld the earlier decisions to dismiss the charges. Roosevelt’s actions against the press were criticized as an abuse of power at the time and by historians later though there was disagreement whether there was actual corruption in the building of the canal.

These Leaders Were Accused of Abusing Their Power
Herbert Hoover used the US Army to evict veterans demanding their bonuses be paid early from their Washington camps. National Archives

15. Herbert Hoover and the crushing of the veterans camp

In the 1920s veterans of the First World War were issued bonus certificates for their services, which were not redeemable until 1945. During the Great Depression, many of those same veterans were out of work. About 17,000 of them descended upon Washington DC to demand that their certificates be cashed early, as relief for the loss of wages. They encamped in Washington, many with their wives and children with them. On July 28 the federal government ordered the DC police to disperse the camp, which then held about 43,000 men, women, and children. When the police failed in an attempt which led to the death of two veterans, Hoover ordered the army to clear the campsites.

The job fell to Douglas MacArthur, who exhibited the same character he displayed throughout his military career by ignoring the President’s explicit orders and advancing on the camps the night of July 28, 1932. MacArthur entertained the opinion that the veterans and their families were socialists. His advance was supported by tanks under the command of George S. Patton. Dwight Eisenhower was present as well. The advance of the American army against American war veterans and their families in the nation’s capital led to the death of one child, the injuring of 55 veterans, and the arrest of 135, in the shadow of the Capitol building. The episode was a political disaster for Hoover. MacArthur never expressed any remorse for his action, nor was he subjected to disciplinary action for disobeying orders.

These Leaders Were Accused of Abusing Their Power
Vice President John Nance Garner led the opposition to FDR’s court packing plan. Roosevelt never forgave him. Library of Congress

16. Franklin D. Roosevelt and his attempt to pack the Supreme Court

Franklin Roosevelt won a second term as President in a landslide in 1936, despite the fact that many of his programs and reforms, part of the New Deal, had by then been overturned by the Supreme Court. In 1937, Roosevelt announced legislation to alter the Supreme Court, allowing the President to add one justice for each justice on the bench over the age of 70. At the time there were six justices who met that age requirement, which would have allowed the President to add six justices, presumably of a much younger age, to the nine sitting justices. The number of justices had been established as nine in 1869, and the size of the court had been altered several times in history, which FDR used as an argument in support of his plan.

FDR was surprised, given his popularity revealed in the most recent election, with the animosity with which his proposal was met in Congress. Prominent members of his own party denounced the idea as a power grab that would enhance the executive branch at the expense of the legislative and judiciary branches. His own Vice-President, John Nance Garner, led the opposition, which led to him being dropped from the Democratic ticket in 1940 by a still angry Roosevelt. Roosevelt lost prestige and influence in Congress as a result of the power grab, though by 1941 seven justices had been replaced by the President as nature took its course, and his expansion of the federal government was looked on more favorably by the Supreme Court.

These Leaders Were Accused of Abusing Their Power
From the earliest days of the war FDR sought ways to circumvent neutrality laws and send aid to Churchill. National Archives

17. Franklin D. Roosevelt and the violation of the Neutrality Acts

During the early days of the Second World War FDR worked often secretively in finding the means to help Great Britain and the British Empire against Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. He openly criticized the invasion of France by the Italians in 1940 in a speech in which he compared the act as akin to stabbing a neighbor in the back. FDR attempted to repeal the Neutrality Acts and when that failed he created ways to circumvent them, including the sales of arms and supplies to the British on a cash basis. Technically the Germans could have purchased materials under the act as well, though they never attempted to. Isolationists continued to warn the President was determined to enter the European war and that he was violating the spirit, if not the letter, of the Neutrality Acts in his efforts to aid Great Britain. Still, he achieved approval to sell surplus American military equipment to the British.

Although the law stipulated that equipment had to be paid for in cash, Roosevelt declared fifty World War One era destroyers as military surplus and transferred them to the British in exchange for the right to acquire advanced bases in the Atlantic and in Newfoundland. Many of the transferred ships were in need of extensive maintenance and when FDR learned of the delays being caused in getting them into service, he augmented the agreement with the transfer of ten newer Coast Guard cutters. Roosevelt’s actions were a violation of the Neutrality Acts, and he made the transfer under executive order as Commander in Chief, thus responsible for the disposal of surplus military equipment, but for his opposition, it was an abuse of the powers of the Presidency.

These Leaders Were Accused of Abusing Their Power
Truman and MacArthur met on Wake Island before the latter’s firing in 1950. Wikimedia

18. Harry Truman and the firing of Douglas MacArthur

When Harry Truman took it upon himself to fire the popular Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War it was not a decision he made without soliciting the advice of military and political leaders. MacArthur had been both insubordinate and inaccurate in his estimates regarding the intervention of the Red Chinese army in the war. Morale among the troops in Korea and in the civilian population of the United States had dropped precipitously. MacArthur had violated protocol by communicating directly with members of Congress regarding the conduct of the war and what were, in his opinion, the President’s failings. Nonetheless, the national shock was palpable, and Truman’s approval ratings dropped dramatically.

There were calls in Congress for the President’s impeachment, led by the influential Republican Senator Robert Taft. Two Senate committees held joint hearings to consider whether the President’s actions were justified. They concluded that firing MacArthur, “was within the Constitutional powers of the President”. Before Truman fired the intransigent MacArthur all of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of Defense George Marshall announced to the President that they supported relieving MacArthur for both military and political reasons. Nonetheless, Republican Congressmen continued to use the action against MacArthur as an example of a President’s abuse of powers in campaign speeches and interviews with the press, radio, and television.

These Leaders Were Accused of Abusing Their Power
Harry Truman used proclamations – executive orders – to declare national emergenies over labor strikes and enter the Korean War. National Archives

19. Harry Truman and the steel mills

In the years immediately following the end of the Second World War waves of strikes by labor crippled the American economy. In May 1946, a threat of strikes against the railroads presented the possibility of shutting down the majority of America’s interstate commerce. Truman seized the railroads to prevent a strike, but critical unions struck anyway, and the American railroad system was shut down. One hundred and seventy-five passenger trains were idled for two days. Truman urged Congress to enact a bill which would allow the government to draft railroad workers into the Army and order them back to work. The House passed the bill, but the strike was settled on terms of which the President approved. The bill to draft the workers died in the Senate.

In 1952 under the threat of a strike against ten US steelmakers, including the giant US Steel, Truman issued an executive order that nationalized the nation’s steel industry. The steel companies sued the government in order to regain control of their companies and the ongoing negotiations with the unions. Truman’s action was almost universally condemned in the press and other media, and in June 1952, the Supreme Court ruled that Truman’s action was unconstitutional, in essence declaring his executive order to seize the mills an abuse of power. The majority opinion issued by the court included a statement which said that the president had no authority to seize private property on the grounds of national security.

These Leaders Were Accused of Abusing Their Power
Lyndon Johnson ordered the FBI and the CIA to spy on his opponent during the 1964 election campaign and report their findings directly to the White House. White House

20. Lyndon Johnson and the use of the FBI and CIA to spy on political opponents

During the Presidential election of 1964 the campaign of Republican candidate, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, was infiltrated by the CIA, an agency which was not authorized to engage in such activities unless the target was perceived to be a “domestic enemy”, a description which did not apply. The orders for the infiltration came from the President, Lyndon Johnson, who had entered office upon the death of President John F. Kennedy. CIA officials were directed to supply the information they obtained from within the Goldwater campaign to Chester L. Cooper, an aide working for Johnson in the White House. Johnson used the information throughout the campaign to undercut announcements and activities of his opponent.

Johnson also used the FBI to bug campaign offices around the country and even had wiretaps installed on Goldwater’s campaign airplane. J. Edgar Hoover discussed the bugging of the airplane in an interview in 1971. Hoover justified his authorizing the illegal wiretaps in 1964 by saying, “You do what the President of the United States orders you to do”. Johnson’s motives for the illegal surveillance during the election were based on his desire to achieve a massive landslide victory, eliminating the conservatives and giving him a mandate for his projected agenda which he later named the Great Society, an expansion of federal social programs in the mid-to-late 1960s. In the election, Johnson won over 60% of the popular vote.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“The Jay Treaty Debate, Public Opinion, and the Evolution of Early American Political Culture”. Todd Estes. 2008

“Louisiana Purchase”. Entry, Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia. Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Online

“How the Louisiana Purchase Changed the World”.Joseph A. Harriss. Smithsonian Magazine. April 2003

“Nation Builder: John Quincy Adams and the Grand Strategy of the Republic”. Charles N. Edel. 2014

“Jackson’s Fight with the Money Power”. Bray Hammond, American Heritage Magazine. June, 1956

“John Tyler and the Pursuit of National Destiny”. Edward P. Crapol, Journal of the Early Republic. 1997 (2002)

“Mad Old Man From Massachusetts”. Lawrence Lader, American Heritage Magazine. April, 1961

“The Presidency of James K. Polk”. Paul H. Bergeron. 1987

“Theodore Roosevelt assails monopolies, Dec. 3, 1901”. ANDREW GLASS. Politico. March 2018

“Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln”. Doris Kearns Goodwin. 2005

“Profiles in Courage”. John F. Kennedy. 2003

“Bound to Empire: The United States and the Philippines”. H. W. Brands. 1992

“The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal”. David McCullough. 1978

“How Teddy Roosevelt Invented Spin”. David Greenberg, The Atlantic. January 24, 2016

“Eisenhower: A Soldier’s Life”. Carlo D’Este. 2002

“The Constitution and the New Deal”. Edward G. White. 2000

“Franklin D. Roosevelt: Foreign Affairs”. William E. Leuchtenberg, Miller Center, University of Virginia. Online

“Truman”. David McCullough. 1992

“Lyndon Johnson’s Watergate”. Lee Edwards, The Heritage Foundation. July 7, 2005. Online