Richard Nixon and the Notion of Presidential Power

"Actions which otherwise would be unconstitutional, could become lawful
if undertaken for the purpose of preserving the Constitution and the Nation."
The idea that certain actions are not illegal if used to preserve the best
interests of a nation has drawn sharp criticism from the time of Lincoln through
today. Presidents of the United States do take a solemn oath in which they
promise to “ . . . preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United
States”, but the means which they have employed to accomplish these ends have
greatly differed and have occasionally sparked great controversy. The
unjustified means which Richard Nixon used to defend this nation and its
Constitution have drawn a great deal of attack not only on his methods but also
on the greater notion of Presidential power.
Many Presidents have faced many different tumultuous challenges and
obstacles which have posed potential threats to American societal stability and
security. Yet very few have used such controversial means to overcome these
threats. For example, after the birth of the nation, Executives faced the
threats of political division and the ideas of the many dangerous paths
prescribed for the Union. As the debate over slavery escalated, the future of
the states and of the Union seemed uncertain. Furthermore, as the nation moved
rapidly through the Industrial Revolution, the future of the nation\'s labor
force and of its general welfare seemed uncertain. As time passed, the nation
would encounter the greatest economic depression of all time, and the challenges
would continue. Our nation would still battle the divisive issues of racism and
discrimination. Yet none of the Presidents who governed during these daring
times exploited the authority of their position in unwarranted manners. The
Nixon Administration would however, exploit its authority and attempt to justify
its actions based on the ‘similar\' actions of Abraham Lincoln.
During the Civil War, this nation\'s greatest test of will and spirit,
President Lincoln felt it incumbent upon the President to assume certain
authority and responsibility not specifically granted to the Executive by the
Constitution. His rationale stemmed from his desire and oath to preserve the
Constitution and the Union as a whole. On the eve of the Civil War, Lincoln,
fearing a strong Confederate threat, initiated a blockade of all Southern ports;
ordering no vessels in or out of the South. Clearly an act of war, Lincoln
faced immediate challenge from Congress and Confederate leaders. His reasoning,
though, for carrying out such a dangerous and controversial act was his belief
that it would tame the South and prevent massive bloodshed in the future. His
concerns would later prove to be warranted.
Although public resentment and dissatisfaction can be used to provoke
government action at any leader\'s discretion, Lincoln truly believed that the
future of the nation was in jeopardy. He saw the issue of slavery as one which
threatened both the economic and social balances between the North and South and
one that could ultimately destroy the young nation. Lincoln sought to blockade
the Southern states and to suspend the writ of habeas corpus (a power originally
granted to Congress) in order to foster stability and security in the confused
nation. He would continually be challenged by Congress, but the Supreme Court
would ultimately uphold his actions as necessary to the security and interests
of the nation, its people, and its future.
While Lincoln was extremely concerned with public opinion, he was not
convinced that the Presidential elections would be the ultimate check. Rather,
Lincoln asserted that the success of the actions taken by a government to
preserve its interest and peace cannot be measured by the electorate but rather
by the final outcome of the actions. Nixon\'s opinion, however, differed.
Richard Nixon saw the ultimate check not in the result or consequences of his
actions, but rather in the response of the electorate / popular opinion. This,
in my opinion, is the dangerous flaw which lead to Richard Nixon\'s decline.
Great danger lies in placing too much value on popular opinion. The
opinion of the electorate, while important for electing a President, should not
have a great deal to do with the process of day to day government decision
making. Because people can be too easily convinced and persuaded into believing
dangerous popular opinion, too much value should not be place on the opinion of
the masses. This nation has seen a great deal of popular support for issues
like discrimination, segregation and a refusal to grant women the right to vote,
yet now these issues are seen as wrong;