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Jefferson and Executive Power

37 Pages Posted: 15 May 2008  

John Yoo

University of California at Berkeley School of Law; American Enterprise Institute


This paper argues that Thomas Jefferson was not the opponent of presidential power commonly assumed today. Jefferson is often thought to be a sharp critic of executive authority because he favored a national government of limited powers and because of his opposition to the Washington and Adams administrations. But as President, Jefferson expanded executive authority by resisting the courts, buying Louisiana, conducting foreign affairs, and managing legislation through Congress. Jefferson's actions as President did not contradict his positions in the opposition, as claimed most famously by Henry Adams, but were instead consistent with his earlier views on executive power. In fact, Jefferson supported perhaps the broadest conception of the Presidency in his belief in a Lockean prerogative that would allow the executive to act without constitutional authorization, so long as the people approved after the fact.

Keywords: Thomas Jefferson, presidential power, foreign affairs

Suggested Citation

Yoo, John, Jefferson and Executive Power. Boston University Law Review, Vol. 88, No. 2, 2008; UC Berkeley Public Law Research Paper No. 1133649. Available at SSRN:

John Choon Yoo (Contact Author)

University of California at Berkeley School of Law ( email )

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American Enterprise Institute ( email )

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