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Recent Supreme Court decisions and the impeachment of President Clinton has reinvigorated the debate over Congress’s authority to employ devices such as special counsels and independent agencies to restrict the President’s control over the administration of the law. The initial debate focused on whether the Constitution rejected the “executive by committee” employed by the Articles of the Confederation in favor of a “unitary executive,” in which all administrative authority is centralized in the President. More recently, the debate has begun to turn towards historical practices. Some scholars have suggested that independent agencies and special counsels have become such established features of the constitutional landscape as to preempt arguments in favor of the unitary executive. Others, led by Bruce Ackerman, have suggested that the New Deal represented a “constitutional moment” that ratified major changes in the distribution of power within the federal government. To date, however, a complete assessment of the historical record has yet to appear.

This Article is part of a larger project that offers a comprehensive chronicle that places the battles between the President and Congress over control of the administration of federal law in historical perspective. It reviews the period between 1789 and 1837, beginning with the Administration of George Washington, ending with the Administration of Andrew Jackson. It pays particular attention to one of the defining moments in the history of the unitary executive: Jackson's removal of Treasury Secretary William Duane during his battle with the second Bank of the United States. The record reveals that these Presidents during this period consistently defended the unitariness of the executive branch to a degree sufficient to keep the issue from being foreclosed by history. In fact, the episodes discussed provide eloquent illustrations of the legal and normative arguments supporting the unitary executive.


Legal History, Separation of Powers, Administrative Law, Constitutional Law

Publication Title

Case Western Reserve Law Review

Publication Citation

47 Case W. Res. L. Rev. 1451 (1997).