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The Unitary ExecutivePresidential Power from Washington to Bush$
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Steven G. Calabresi and Christopher S. Yoo

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780300121261

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: October 2013

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300121261.001.0001

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James Buchanan

James Buchanan

(p.157) 15 James Buchanan
The Unitary Executive

Steven G. Calabresi

Christopher S. Yoo

Yale University Press

This chapter tells the story of James Buchanan, who came to the presidency with a well-established reputation as a defender of the president's authority to execute the law but ended up as the worst president in American history. His administration got off to a horrible start, according to his biographer Elbert Smith, when the president-elect undertook to communicate with several Supreme Court justices about the pending Dred Scott case. This correspondence involved a severe dereliction of duty by both Buchanan and the justices involved, and Buchanan's involvement, in particular, constituted a failure of his responsibility to faithfully execute the Constitution—in violation of his oath of office. Buchanan had defended the president's veto power on Jacksonian grounds and had personally drafted the Democratic response to Whig assertions of limited executive power as a Democrat in the Senate during the Tyler administration.

Keywords:   president's authority, James Buchanan, worst president, Elbert Smith, Supreme Court justices, Dred Scott case, dereliction of duty, oath of office

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