How has the office of the president evolved over the years from the writing of the constitution to the present?
Before the constitution was written, the American government functioned under the Articles of Confederation, which was very decentralized and exercised little power over the states.† Under the Articles, the officer presiding over Congress had been called the President.† When the Constitution was drafted in 1787, the title of President was again chosen for the leader of the new government.† While the founders originally considered holding election of the President by the legislature a safer alternative than by the people, they realized that this system would be prone to corruption.† Therefore, they decided that the chief executive must be elected (directly or indirectly) by the citizens, but that the president must be limited in his power through a system of checks and balances with the Senate and the House of Representatives.† The Electoral College, which ultimately elects the President, was included in the final draft of the constitution.† Additionally, it was decided that term length should be 4 years and that there would be no restrictions for re-election.† However, in 1951, Amendment 22 stated that the number of terms a President could be elected into would be limited to only two.
Original Constitutional powers of the president included serving as commander in chief of the armed forces; making treaties with other nations (with 2/3 agreement by congress); nominating ambassadors (with majority agreement by senate) and receiving ambassadors from other nations.† Additional powers have, by necessity been added over the years.† Legislative powers now include giving the State of the Union Address to Congress annually; recommending legislation to Congress; Convening both houses of Congress on special occasions; and vetoing legislation (unless Congress overrules that action with a 2/3 vote from both houses).† Issues becoming more prevalent as the years go on include managing the budget, in terms of public services and national debt, and matters of foreign policy relating to national security and economics (trade).
An example of taking Presidential liberties in interpretation of the constitution can be found in Thomas Jeffersonís treaty to buy the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803.† While the Constitution never specifically gave Jefferson the right to purchase new territory, he knew he had to act swiftly or risk losing the sale.† Jefferson decided that the purchase was constitutional under the Presidentís treaty-making power and consequently nearly doubled the size of the United States.† In July of 1832, Andrew Jackson further strengthened the Presidentís role by vetoing a bill to renew the charter of the Second National Bank of the United States, viewed by many as a dangerous monopoly and incapable of establishing reliable currency.† Later that year, South Carolina declared federal tariffs unconstitutional, refusing to collect them at its ports.† Jackson responded, declaring that no state could cancel federal laws and employed federal troops in the collection of the tariffs.† During the Civil war in 1861, Abraham Lincoln spent congressional funds to blockade Southern ports when the South attacked Fort Sumter.† It was unsanctioned by Congress, but he felt it was necessary to preserve the Union.
Franklin D. Roosevelt expanded the powers of the president greatly; when in the 1930ís he gained support for his philosophy that the federal government should play a key role in the economy.†† His plan, the New Deal, created work for millions of Americans and served to enhance the Presidentís role as legislative leader.
The Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 showcased John F. Kennedyís diplomatic skills as evident by the eventual withdrawal of soviet missiles from Communist Cuba. After the Soviet Union announced the placement of several nuclear missiles within striking range of major US cities, Kennedy demanded their removal and ordered a naval blockade of Cuba.† To this, the Soviets withdrew from Cuba in exchange for the withdrawal of US nuclear missiles from Turkey.
The Presidency suffered a major hit during the Vietnam War, under President Lyndon B. Johnson. In 1964, Congress allowed Johnson to take ďall necessary measuresĒ to protect US bases in non-communist South Vietnam.† In the 1960ís and 1970ís Johnson and his successor, Nixon, sent hundreds of thousands of troops into Vietnam, facing much opposition at home.† Protestors claimed that both Presidents had abused their powers and misled Congress.† The Watergate Scandal in 1972 served to further disintegrate public opinion of the presidency when evidence of illegal burglary and wiretaps designed to help Nixon gain reelection was discovered.† The same month (July 1974) that the House Judiciary Committee recommended his impeachment, Nixon lost an appeal to the Supreme Court involving the Presidentís executive privilege, or the right to keep records secret.† In The United States vs. Nixon, the Supreme Court ruled executive privilege was not unlimited and ordered Nixon to release recordings thought to contain evidence relevant to the Watergate Scandal.† By then, Nixon had lost nearly all support in Congress and facing impeachment, resigned on August 9, 1974.
Today, Presidential duties are still strong and vital as citizens look to the President as a source of morale and direction. They expect him to surround himself with the best and the brightest in order to resolve complex issues and defend the rights of all.