Franklin D. Roosevelt, World War II, and the Reality of Constitutional Statesmanship (Spring 2024)

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2024

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Texas National Security Review

Abstract

Is statesmanship compatible with constitutional government? Scholars have posited the possibility of “constitutional statesmanship” in America but have done little to probe its historical reality or to evaluate its consequences. To illustrate some of the limits, possibilities, and ambivalences of constitutional statesmanship in practice, this article examines Franklin Roosevelt’s leadership on the home front as the country contemplated and later waged war abroad. I argue that, while the president applied constitutional statesmanship to prepare his nation for war, this brand of circumscribed statesmanship later struggled to resolve the tensions between the demands of war and the dictates of constitutionalism. After explaining how distinct notions of constitutionalism generate unique expectations of statesmanship, I show how Roosevelt’s own conceptions of the U.S. Constitution and American statesmanship, developed before World War II, elucidate his leadership decisions during wartime. His leadership, for good or ill, indelibly shaped the powers of the U.S. president and the constitutional order we live under today.

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