Getting Started
History and Constitutional Background
Selection of the President and Term Limits
Presidential Succession
Head of State
Presidential Appointments
Presidential Responsibilities
Interaction with the Legislative Branch
Interaction with the Judicial Branch

The Idea of the Presidency

On the Eve of the Philadelphia Convention

The Urgent Need of an Executive

       The invention or creation of the Presidency was an immediate and, in many respects, an urgent response to the omission in the Articles of Confederation of an executive authority to enforce laws, implement programs and policies and generally administer the government. The practice of Congress under the Articles of organizing itself into ad hoc committees to conduct executive business was wholly inefficient and unsatisfactory. Beyond the initial impulse for the creation of the executive lay the repudiation of the powers of the English Crown—its sweeping powers, excesses and imperial ways. The design of the Presidency reflected republican manners, principles and values:  modest powers, sharply limited and defined. Great questions confronted the delegates in their construction of the nation’s highest office.  Indeed, the thorny questions facing the Framers were among the most difficult that the Convention encountered in the long summer of 1787.  

      The pressing political problems confronting America on the eve of the Philadelphia Convention were, in fact, constitutional problems.  Questions of governmental authority are resolved through mechanisms, processes and procedures created by the distribution of powers. Thus, fundamental questions about war making, treaty making, the enforcement of laws, appointments to office, the scope of legislative and executive authority, the role of the judiciary, as well as inter-branch relations and, possibly, the conception of separation of powers and checks and balances were, among others, central to the constitutional order.  Other knotty issues, such as the selection of the executive, the matter of re-eligibility, succession and removal were political problems that required, ultimately, constitutional resolution. The nature of these great questions invited considerable and, occasionally, heated conflicts that reflected the various views, values, hopes, aspirations and fears of representatives drawn from the four corners of the nation.

The Legacy of an Unchecked Executive

A Complex Story

       The challenges confronting the Framers in their creation of the architecture of the Presidency were truly complex and daunting.  Overshadowing their work was the persistent fear of the unchecked powers and ambitions of the executive, a spectre that was not the product of their imaginations, but the reality of their experience under King George III and their penetrating study of history. But the creation of a weak, enfeebled executive, unable to enforce the laws and administer the government, would severely undermine the capacity of government to govern.  Indeed, failure to vest in the executive sufficient authority, indeed, the energy to perform the duties and responsibilities of the office would prevent the new Republic from taking flight. Thus, there was a compelling need, as Justice Joseph Story put it, to create an organization that would secure energy in the executive, without threatening the security of the people. Drawing necessary lines for both power and boundaries to power was a question of great moment for the Framers in their invention of the Presidency. The great questions of the structure of the office, as well as the method of selecting or electing the President; the term of office; possible reelection, as well as the removal of the executive, if necessary, as well as the powers that would be vested in the Presidency, were complex matters that required careful attention to detail and considerable vision.