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InThe Constitutional Legacy of Forgotten Presidents, eminent constitutional scholar Michael Gerhardt covers the presidencies of thirteen "forgotten" presidents and shows why their presidencies were far more consequential than most believe. Through engaging chapters on Martin Van Buren, Chester Arthur, William Howard Taft, and Jimmy Carter (among others), Gerhardt explains how forgotten presidencies have ushered in some most important constitutional changes in American history. From the early nineteenth century onward, the lesser presidents played an important role in shaping major developments such as the growth of federal power at the expense of the states and the expansion of executive authority vis-à-vis Congress. Gerhardt claims that the problem with forgotten presidents, such as Millard Fillmore and Franklin Pierce, was not that they were weak, ineffective, or indecisive but rather that they had remarkably strong constitutional convictions that provoked stronger, often overwhelming political opposition. These presidents are forgotten because they sacrificed their political fortunes for the sake of defending constitutional commitments that often placed them on the losing side of history. By revealing these often-untold presidential legacies, Gerhardt debunks some of the most widely-believed myths about the American presidency. Most importantly, perhaps, is his assertion that Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Jackson, two of the most famous American presidents of the nineteenth century, were not the only strong presidents in their era. Gerhardt's analysis also points to another startling conclusion about the American presidency: that the presidency's gradual pull is institutional and not the product of individual great men's wills. A powerfully insightful study, The Constitutional Legacy of Forgotten Presidents will reshape our understanding of American political and legal history.
Michael Gerhardt is Samuel Ashe Distinguished Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. A nationally recognized authority on constitutional conflicts, he has testified in several Supreme Court confirmation hearings, and has published five books, including The Power of Precedent.