A high-level overview of how the presidency has been enhanced beyond its expressed constitutional powers.
How much power should the president have? On one hand, a powerful executive permits quick and decisive action, which is important for responding to current events. On the other hand, if the president gets too powerful, Congress and the people may lack the ability to hold him or her accountable.
|Powers expressly granted to the president under Article II of the Constitution. Examples include making treaties, commanding the military, appointing Supreme Court justices, and vetoing legislation.
|Powers claimed by presidents as necessary in order to execute the law. Examples include issuing executive orders and negotiating executive agreements.
|An executive branch led by a single person.
|Twenty-second Amendment (1951)
|The Twenty-second Amendment to the US Constitution applies term limits to the office of the president. Under the Twenty-second Amendment, no one may be elected president more than twice, or serve as president longer than ten years.
|War Powers Act (1973)
|Also called the War Powers Resolution, the War Powers Act limits the president’s power to deploy US armed forces. Every president since Nixon has contested the War Powers Act as an infringement of their role as Commander in Chief of the armed forces.
Document to know
Federalist No. 70 (1788) — “The Executive Department Further Considered,” written by Alexander Hamilton. In this essay, Hamilton argues that a single executive (led by one person as president, rather than several people acting as a council) is the best form for the executive branch of the United States.
He reasons that one president can act more quickly, and with more secrecy when necessary, than a larger group of leaders. He also argues that a single executive is less dangerous to democracy than a council, because it is easier to identify and remove one corrupt person than to discover who among several leaders is a bad actor.
Beyond the Constitution — The Framers wanted a single executive to give energy and efficiency to the executive branch. But the extent of presidential power has been an ongoing negotiation—over time, presidents have claimed powers beyond the expressed constitutional powers in Article II, while Congress has made attempts to limit the president’s power through laws and Constitutional amendments.
What are the benefits of a single executive? What are the potential dangers?
Why do you think the president’s informal powers have grown over time?