Arguments in American Political Development: The Role of the Presidency in the Passage of Constitutional Amendments

My paper will focus on the role of the executive branch in the constitutional amendment process—despite no well-defined constitutional role—in an effort to determine whether this significant change is driven from the top or from some other institution or process.

Initially, it would seem that the American presidency does have a significant role in the process, as amendments have traditionally occurred in waves and in certain presidencies—the Civil War Amendments during Lincoln’s years, the Progressive Amendments under Taft and Wilson, and the Civil Rights Amendments of the 1960s. Simultaneously, amendments can drastically alter the political system, so it would seem the executive would have a vested interest in ensuring that framework fits his individual agenda. However, I will thoroughly research the 16th (Income Tax), 17th (Direct Election of U.S. Senators) and 26th (18-year-old suffrage) amendments to determine what caused the amendments to pass at the time and challenge that hypothesis. 

In researching the role of the American presidency in the passage and failure of constitutional amendments, I have been introduced to the arguments in the sub-field of American Political Development, or APD. This example of constitutional amendments will help me enter the debate about the role of the executive branch in American Political Development. I will be able to provide evidence as to whether this significant change is initiated by the presidency or, rather, is a result of public opinion shifting over political time and culminating in a wave of support for a series of amendments.   

In my previous coursework on the American Presidency, we had read works by presidential scholars Stephen Skowronek and George Edwards that helped clarify the argument, and I hope to be able to add to their research with this evidence. I also have begun to utilize many articles from the Studies in American Political Development Journal, which frequently publishes articles questioning the extent of the role of the executive branch in leading change.

This topic’s relevance today continues to grow, as it will try to apply the lessons from the early- and mid-20th Century to the modern era. We have gone 42 years without a significant constitutional amendment, and whatever my conclusion, it could help explain or justify that action. Furthermore, this research could help advocacy groups pushing for constitutional amendments (e.g. an amendment to overturn Citizens United) to understand where and how change emerged. 

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