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The American Presidency has exercised an enormous fascination on the
minds of historians and political theorists. The result has been an immense
literature, with currents and cross-currents of tendency, with evaluation countering
evaluation, View neutralizing view. This literature, and particularly its
historical component, is often recurred to for the ascertainment of the correct
view of presidential power, or for arguments leading to what someone is putting
forward as the correct view. This is as it should be. But to me the literature
on the Presidency-and most emphatically the historical part-teaches a
larger and more general truth. Questions about presidential power have in
the past produced different answers in different minds; one can conclude
that our own received views are self-evidently right only if one is willing to
assert that such minds as those of Madison and J.Q. Adams could not see the
obvious, as to something closer to them than to us. I would make the contrary
assertion. The history of presidential power is a history of the resolution of
doubtful questions that remain doubtful; it is not, as I think some would
make it, a history of the gradual acceptance of evident truth. It is a history of
the molding and remolding of material of high plasticity, still plastic today.
For there is no reason to think that that material suddenly froze hard around
about 1950.

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