Part 1: What’s So Great About Our Constitution, Anyway?
Essay 15 – The Executive
“The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.”
– Article II, Section I, U.S. Constitution
The main roles of the Executive Branch are:
1. To faithfully execute the laws that the Legislature creates.
2. Perform the duties and responsibilities of Commander in Chief of our armed forces.
3. To act as one voice for the country in dealing with foreign affairs, to include negotiating treaties.
4. To make appointments to certain offices within the federal government, including Ambassadors, judges of the Supreme Court as well as inferior courts, and various others.
These powers are vested in one person…the President of the United States, who administers the Executive Branch.
The Founders debated over the decision of whether to make this one person, or share the powers between two, or even make it a committee. In the end, to ensure that the position was energetic enough, as well as being able to be held accountable, they agreed that one person would best fit those requirements.
By energetic, they meant that the President must be able to act quickly and decisively, especially during emergency situations. If decisions needed to be made by two or more people, that tends to delay things as they debate about what to do. And then, when actions are taken, it wouldn’t be clear on who is specifically accountable…they would each point fingers at one another.
Another thing that was debated concerning the President was the term of office. Should it be life-time, like a king? Twenty years? Two years? They settled on a four year term as one that would be long enough to enable the President to take control of things but not long enough to do too much damage if proven to be incompetent or ineffective.
The method by which the President was to be chosen was another issue that the Founders took great care in creating. The power that was being given to this one person was of such concern that they wanted to take as many precautions as possible in order to make sure that only the most qualified and virtuous people among us would attain the position.
They wanted the people to have a say in the selection, but not a direct say. They understood that if the President was elected by a straight, popular vote by the people (pure democracy), then it would be ripe for dishonorable people to use demagoguery to be elected.
They were also very concerned about foreign entities manipulating the system in order to get a person with allegiance to them planted at the helm of our government.
“Nothing was more to be desired than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue, and corruption. These most deadly adversaries of republican government might naturally have been expected to make their approaches from more than one querter, but chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils. How could they better gratify this, than by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union?”
– Alexander Hamilton, Federalist 68
The process that was developed for the election of the President is known as the Electoral College.
After this system was created during the constitutional convention, it was one area that received very little argument from those opposed to the new constitution. Most agreed that this method of election for the President was as near perfect as could be, all things considered.
We’ll discuss the Electoral College in greater detail in the next essay as it is a very important part of our system and is currently under attack. It’s crucial that it is fully understood before we make the mistake of dismantling it.
Where we’ve gone wrong…
The Executive Branch has grown out of control and morphed into something it was never intended to be.
Again, I’ll take you back about 100 years when President Woodrow Wilson and other Progressives, began to propose the idea that the President needed to be more than what was originally intended by the founders and the Constitution.
They argued that our system was preventing what they deemed as progress. It was just too hard and too cumbersome to make changes to the Constitution and to get anything done in Washington. They wanted a system where the President would drive policy and become the voice of the people and where the President would use experts in all fields concerning more and more aspects of our daily lives to decide what is best and how to administer it.
This created the “Administrative State” with all of the various agencies and bureaucracy that goes along with it.
Coincidentally (or not), it was also the time of Woodrow Wilson that we got the 17th Amendment (changing the Senate to a popular vote) and the 16th Amendment (the individual income tax). This gave the federal government power over more money and the ability to create all sorts of manipulation through the tax code as well as the powers that were rightfully owned by the states due to the states no longer having a direct voice in the federal government.
All of this combined created the opportunity for the Executive Branch to assume much of this power and change its role as Wilson envisioned.
Another way we have gone wrong is the alteration of the Electoral College system. We still use it, but not in the way it was intended and most voters have no clue on how it is supposed to work. Many of the protections built into the Electoral College have been removed due to the lack of an informed people. Again, we’ll discuss this more in the next essay, specifically concerning the Electoral College.
About this series:
The People Are Sovereign! is a series of 30 essays that will be posted on a daily basis. The series will continue tomorrow with Essay 16 – The Electoral College
To view the previous essay in the series, click this link: Essay 14- The Legislative
To view the next essay in the series, click this link: Essay 15- The Electoral College