Thursday, December 16, 2010

Article II, Powers of the President

December 16, 2010 Constitution Study with Douglas V. Gibbs, Temecula, California

Article II, Powers of the President

The Founding Fathers of the United States of America, though unified under the Articles of Confederation, needed a new constitution to serve as the young nation’s backbone. The Articles of Confederation failed to effectively protect and preserve the union of the individual states. A new government under a new constitution was needed; one that could ensure the new nation succeeded as a sovereign country. Fresh in the minds of the Founding Fathers were the reasons the revolution had been fought. The colonies had been freed from the misrule of a king and the tyranny of a centralized monarchy. Knowing this, the Founding Fathers in the Constitutional Convention realized that to protect the union the thirteen states would be required to relinquish some of their sovereignty to a centralized governing body with sufficient power to protect, and preserve, the union. However, organizing a federal government was a fearful endeavor, for many of the founders feared it may mirror the body which it was to replace. The US Constitution put forth a system of checks and balances intended to protect the rights of individual states, while setting limitations on the powers that would be granted to the three branches of the federal government.

Article II of the US Constitution establishes the Executive Branch, and provides the limits of the office of President. The article sets presidential and vice-presidential term limits at four years and states the manner through which they are to be elected. The presidential compensation is fixed, and cannot be changed during a presidential term. The President’s decision making process would also always be checked by Congress, in most cases specifically by the Senate, or the voice of the States. The limits on the office of President were designed to prevent aristocratic control of the nation.

Section two of Article II establishes the President as the “Commander and Chief” of the army and navy, as well as the militias of the original thirteen states, though only when they are called into service of the United States. This allows for the President to wage war, if necessary, without Congressional approval. However, if Congress does not agree with the President’s actions, they can pull the funding, and the use of the military for whatever operations the president chose them to operate in will cease. The President is also given the power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment. Though section two granted the President with significant powers, it also placed restrictions upon the position so as to ensure that the American President would not become like a king. Unlike monarchs, who maintain control over all of a nation’s military forces without limit, the president could only exert control over state militias in order to “execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections, and repel Invasions.” This would protect the citizens from a president who would use the armed forces against the people.

The president is granted the ability to make treaties and to nominate members to the executive branch, Supreme Court, and other offices not expressly provided for in the Constitution. Agreement and consent of two thirds of the Senate is necessary for any treaty or nomination to become effective. This once again disallowed the executive branch from mirroring the centralized British Model of unilateral control under the king.

Article II, Section 3 obligates the president to inform Congress of the state of the union and to recommend measures which they feel are necessary and expedient, and “to convene Congress in emergencies; to receive foreign diplomats; to ‘take care that laws are faithfully executed;’ and to commission all executive and judicial office.”

Article II, Section 4 provides for the most significant check to presidential power. “The President, Vice-President, and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office, on impeachment for and conviction of treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” British law lacked any mechanisms for the people to get rid of a tyrannical king. The U.S. Constitution, however, by providing for the people through the House of Representatives to initiate impeachment, and for the Senate to conduct hearings on impeachment, made the president, as well as his cabinet members, responsible for any personal misconduct while serving as the nation’s leaders. Though entrusted with great powers, the president could be removed by an involved American public, who could render ultimate political judgment.

Unfortunately, as time has passed, the scope of presidential powers has changed dramatically. The presidency has become a far more powerful position than originally intended, largely through the concept of interpreting the Constitution, and through such interpretation gaining a whole host of implied powers.

Presidential power is strictly limited. The powers of the executive extend only to those specifically enumerated in the Constitution. U.S. presidents up to the Civil War conveyed a shared desire to uphold such a literal interpretation of presidential power as stipulated by the Constitution.

Progressive theories entered into the political debate after the Civil War, arguing that a president of the United States could do anything that was not expressly forbidden in the Constitution or by laws passed by Congress working within its constitutional authority. The powers of the president were expanded, and has increased with each presidency since. These post-Civil War presidents have taken their interpretation of their enumerated powers beyond what might be considered legitimate. The Constitution was created with the goal of uniting the nation while preventing the national government from coming to resemble that of the British Empire. However, the continuous expansion of the presidency and presidential powers has cycled America into reverse, bringing us ever closer to becoming the despotic empire the Founding Fathers fought so bravely to be freed from.


Thank You to Faith Armory, 27498 Enterprise Circle West, #2 in Temecula, California, for the use of their classroom.

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