Sunday, December 9, 2012

Article Two - The Executive

For such and important position, the article describing and authorizing the executive (the president) is fairly short.  Yet, in the beginning, the title for this office holder was fairly long.  "His High Mightiness, the President of the United States and Protector of their Liberties" (yes, really!) was initially the formal title for George Washington, though this, to many, sounded entirely to monarchical and at the urging of James Madison and the House, it was shortened to simply "Mr. President".  John Adams thought that this shorter title lacked prestige (and no doubt gave ammunition to his critics who thought him a monarchist), but was unsuccessful in changing it, even when he was president.  But I digress a little.

Section One of Article II simply states that all executive power lies with the president.  Sounds simple, but was a departure form other governments in which executive power was shared by a leader (such as a king or prime minister) and a body of advisers or legislators.  This ensured, in our case, the separation of powers and established the system of checks and balances with which we are all familiar.

Section One also established the method of electing the president.  Indeed, of you think the Electoral College process is confusing and cumbersome now, go read the original.  Suffice to say that the 12th Amendment simplified the process a bit.  And rather than go into the relative merits of the Electoral College System here, you can refer back to my previous blog about it here:

This section also spelled out the requirements for eligibility to be president: natural-born citizen, age at least 35, and having been a resident of the U.S. for at least 14 years.  It also provides a mechanism for removal of the president, and succession (modified later by the 20th and 25th Amendments), and for the president's compensation.  Finally, it contains the wording for the president's oath of office.

Section Two appoints the president as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, establishing civilian control over the military - a time-honored tradition and a system that has generally been proved effective.  It also gives the president the power to enter into treaties and appoint judges and other officers of the nation (both with advice and consent of the Senate).  In the case of recess of the Senate, the president can also make appointments, but such appointments expire sooner than confirmed ones.

Section Three requires the president to report to Congress regularly - what we now know as the State of the Union Address.  It also gives him the power to convene Congress during extraordinary circumstances, to execute the laws of the land, to receive foreign ministers and ambassadors and to commission officers (for example, my own commissioning order has President George H.W. Bush's signature on it).

Section Four states simply: "The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors."  The actual process of impeachment is rather cumbersome, and probably rightly so, as it prevents impeachments over purely partisan, trivial matters.  To date, only two presidents, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton have been impeached, though both men were later acquitted.   (Nixon resigned when he knew articles of impeachment were imminent.)

Next up - The Judiciary

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