The Evolution of the Presidency

The presidency in the 21st Century is very different from the one created at the end of the 1700s. The Constitution limited the early presidency, although the personalities of the first three — George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson — shaped it into a more influential position by the early 1800s. However, throughout the 1800s until the 1930s, Congress was the dominant branch of the national government. Then, the balance of power shifted dramatically. The executive branch currently has at least equal power to the legislative branch.

Article II of the Constitution defines the qualifications, benefits, and powers of the presidency. The President must be at least 35 years old, have lived in the United States for at least 14 years, and be a "natural born" citizen. Congress determines the President's salary.

The Constitution assigned the following powers to the President:

  • Military power. The founders wanted a strong military to protect the country and its citizens, but they named the President, a civilian, the "commander in chief" of the armed services. He can grant pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.
  • Diplomatic power. The President can make treaties with foreign nations, together with the "advice and consent" of the Senate. The Constitution also provides that the President can receive ambassadors and other public ministers, which includes the duty of recognizing new nations.
  • Appointment power. The President can appoint ambassadors, other public ministers, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States. The Senate must approve these appointments.
  • Legislative power. The President can veto legislation. Every bill that passes both houses of Congress must be submitted to the President. Congress can get around the President in several ways. If the President fails to sign the bill within ten days, it becomes law anyway. Also, Congress can override a presidential veto by a vote of two-thirds of each house.

Source: The Evolution of the Presidency
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