Leaders of the United States

From http://www.geocities.com/Athens/1058/rulu.html :
 4 Jul 1776                independence declared (United States of America)
                           (Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts,
                           New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina,
                           Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Virginia)
 2 Mar 1781                Articles of Confederation effective
 3 Sep 1783                independence recognized by Britain
 4 Mar 1789                Constitution effective; 11 of the 13 original states have
                           ratified it by that time
21 Nov 1789                North Carolina ratifies Constitution
29 May 1790                Rhode Island ratifies Constitution

Presidents of the ("Continental") Congress
 5 Sep 1774 - 22 Oct 1774  Peyton Randolph (1st time)         (b. 1721 - d. 1775)
22 Oct 1774 - 26 Oct 1774  Henry Middleton                    (b. 1717 - d. 1784)
10 May 1775 - 24 May 1775  Peyton Randolph (2nd time)         (s.a.)
24 May 1775 - 29 Oct 1777  John Hancock                       (b. 1737 - d. 1793)
29 Oct 1777 -  1 Nov 1777  Charles Thomson (acting)           (b. 1729 - d. 1824)
 1 Nov 1777 -  9 Dec 1778  Henry Laurens                      (b. 1724 - d. 1792)
10 Dec 1778 - 28 Sep 1779  John Jay                           (b. 1745 - d. 1829)
28 Sep 1779 -  2 Mar 1781  Samuel Huntington                  (b. 1731 - d. 1796)
Presidents of the United States in Congress Assembled
 2 Mar 1781 - 10 Jul 1781  Samuel Huntington                  (s.a.)
10 Jul 1781 -  4 Nov 1781  Thomas McKean                      (b. 1734 - d. 1817)
 5 Nov 1781 -  3 Nov 1782  John Hanson                        (b. 1721 - d. 1783)
 4 Nov 1782 -  2 Nov 1783  Elias Boudinot                     (b. 1740 - d. 1821)
 3 Nov 1783 - 31 Oct 1784  Thomas Mifflin                     (b. 1744 - d. 1800)
 3 Nov 1783 - 13 Dec 1783  Daniel Carroll                   (b. 1730 - d. 1796)
                           (acting for Mifflin)
30 Nov 1784 -  6 Nov 1785  Richard Henry Lee                  (b. 1732 - d. 1794)
23 Nov 1785 -  5 Jun 1786  John Hancock                       (s.a.)
23 Nov 1785 - 12 May 1786  David Ramsay                     (b. 1749 - d. 1815)
                           (acting for Hancock)
15 May 1786 -  5 Nov 1786  Nathaniel Gorham                  (b. 1738 - d. 1796)
                           (acting for Hancock to 5 Jun 1786)
 2 Feb 1787 -  4 Nov 1787  Arthur St. Clair                   (b. 1736 - d. 1818)
22 Jan 1788 -  2 Nov 1788  Cyrus Griffin                      (b. 1748 - d. 1810)
30 Apr 1789 -  4 Mar 1797  George Washington                  (b. 1732 - d. 1799)
 4 Mar 1797 -  4 Mar 1801  John Adams                    Fed  (b. 1735 - d. 1826)
 4 Mar 1801 -  4 Mar 1809  Thomas Jefferson              D-R  (b. 1743 - d. 1826)
 4 Mar 1809 -  4 Mar 1817  James Madison                 D-R  (b. 1751 - d. 1836)
 4 Mar 1817 -  4 Mar 1825  James Monroe                  D-R  (b. 1758 - d. 1831)
 4 Mar 1825 -  4 Mar 1829  John Quincy Adams             D-R  (b. 1767 - d. 1848)
 4 Mar 1829 -  4 Mar 1837  Andrew Jackson                Dem  (b. 1767 - d. 1845)
 4 Mar 1837 -  4 Mar 1841  Martin Van Buren              Dem  (b. 1782 - d. 1862)
 4 Mar 1841 -  4 Apr 1841  William Henry Harrison        Whg  (b. 1773 - d. 1841)
 4 Apr 1841 -  4 Mar 1845  John Tyler                    Whg  (b. 1790 - d. 1862)
 4 Mar 1845 -  4 Mar 1849  James K. Polk                 Dem  (b. 1795 - d. 1849)
 4 Mar 1849 -  9 Jul 1850  Zachary Taylor                Whg  (b. 1784 - d. 1850)
 9 Jul 1850 -  4 Mar 1853  Millard Fillmore              Whg  (b. 1800 - d. 1874)
 4 Mar 1853 -  4 Mar 1857  Franklin Pierce               Dem  (b. 1804 - d. 1869)
 4 Mar 1857 -  4 Mar 1861  James Buchanan                Dem  (b. 1791 - d. 1868)
 4 Mar 1861 - 15 Apr 1865  Abraham Lincoln               Rep  (b. 1809 - d. 1865)
15 Apr 1865 -  4 Mar 1869  Andrew Johnson                Dem  (b. 1808 - d. 1875)
 4 Mar 1869 -  4 Mar 1877  Ulysses S. Grant              Rep  (b. 1822 - d. 1885)
 4 Mar 1877 -  4 Mar 1881  Rutherford B. Hayes           Rep  (b. 1822 - d. 1893)
 4 Mar 1881 - 19 Sep 1881  James A. Garfield             Rep  (b. 1831 - d. 1881)
19 Sep 1881 -  4 Mar 1885  Chester A. Arthur             Rep  (b. 1830 - d. 1886)
 4 Mar 1885 -  4 Mar 1889  Grover Cleveland (1st time)   Dem  (b. 1837 - d. 1908)
 4 Mar 1889 -  4 Mar 1893  Benjamin Harrison             Rep  (b. 1833 - d. 1901)
 4 Mar 1893 -  4 Mar 1897  Grover Cleveland (2nd time)   Dem  (s.a.)
 4 Mar 1897 - 14 Sep 1901  William McKinley              Rep  (b. 1843 - d. 1901)
14 Sep 1901 -  4 Mar 1909  Theodore Roosevelt            Rep  (b. 1858 - d. 1919)
 4 Mar 1909 -  4 Mar 1913  William Howard Taft           Rep  (b. 1857 - d. 1930)
 4 Mar 1913 -  4 Mar 1921  Woodrow Wilson                Dem  (b. 1856 - d. 1924)
 4 Mar 1921 -  2 Aug 1923  Warren G. Harding             Rep  (b. 1865 - d. 1923)
 2 Aug 1923 -  4 Mar 1929  Calvin Coolidge               Rep  (b. 1872 - d. 1933)
 4 Mar 1929 -  4 Mar 1933  Herbert Hoover                Rep  (b. 1874 - d. 1964)
 4 Mar 1933 - 12 Apr 1945  Franklin D. Roosevelt         Dem  (b. 1882 - d. 1945)
12 Apr 1945 - 20 Jan 1953  Harry S. Truman               Dem  (b. 1884 - d. 1972)
20 Jan 1953 - 20 Jan 1961  Dwight D. Eisenhower          Rep  (b. 1890 - d. 1969)
20 Jan 1961 - 22 Nov 1963  John F. Kennedy               Dem  (b. 1917 - d. 1963)
22 Nov 1963 - 20 Jan 1969  Lyndon B. Johnson             Dem  (b. 1908 - d. 1973)
20 Jan 1969 -  9 Aug 1974  Richard M. Nixon              Rep  (b. 1913 - d. 1994)
 9 Aug 1974 - 20 Jan 1977  Gerald R. Ford                Rep  (b. 1913 - d. 2006)
20 Jan 1977 - 20 Jan 1981  Jimmy Carter                  Dem  (b. 1924)
20 Jan 1981 - 20 Jan 1989  Ronald Reagan                 Rep  (b. 1911 - d. 2004)
20 Jan 1989 - 20 Jan 1993  George Bush                   Rep  (b. 1924)
20 Jan 1993 - 20 Jan 2001  Bill Clinton                  Dem  (b. 1946)
20 Jan 2001 - 20 Jan 2009  George W. Bush                Rep  (b. 1946)
20 Jan 2009 -              Barack Obama                  Dem  (b. 1961)
Party abbreviations: Dem=Democratic, D-R=Democratic-Republican, Fed=Federalist, Rep=Republican, Whg=Whig

On six occasions, a president took the oath of office one or (in Tyler's case) two days after the beginning of his term of office, either because the demise of the presidency was due to the death of the incumbent or because of religious scruples about swearing an oath on Sunday. These occasions are: Monroe 1821 (upon reelection), Tyler 1841, Taylor 1849, Fillmore 1850, Arthur 1881, Coolidge 1923. Although the oath is necessary for a president to "enter on the execution of the office," the presidential term itself begins on time. On two occasions the new president took the oath of office in public the day after the beginning of the term but, in view of the concerns voiced about earlier Sunday deferrals, had taken the oath in private (Hayes 1877 actually one day early). The beginnings of the terms are listed here, not the oath-taking dates. It may be noted in this context that there is no substance to the legend that David Rice Atchison was president 4-5 Mar 1849. (If not being sworn in as president is held against Zachary Taylor's being president already from noon on 4 Mar 1849, it cannot be argued that another person, however qualified otherwise, could have been acting president without being sworn in in that capacity.)

Confederate States of America

Note: The states making up the Confederate States of America previously seceded from the United States; the secession of Missouri and Kentucky affected only geographic parts of these states.

 8 Feb 1861                Confederate States of America founded by Alabama, Florida,
                           Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina
 5 Mar 1861                accession of Texas
20 May 1861                accession of Arkansas and North Carolina
23 May 1861                accession of Virginia
22 Jul 1861                accession of Tennessee
28 Nov 1861                accession of Missouri
10 Dec 1861                accession of Kentucky

President of the Congress
 8 Feb 1861 - 18 Feb 1861  Howell Cobb                        (b. 1815 - d. 1868)
18 Feb 1861 - 10 May 1865  Jefferson Davis               Dem  (b. 1808 - d. 1889)
Job Description: President of the United States of America

Mandatory Prerequisites

Recommended, but not required: Responsibilities
  • Must oversee the execution of all federal legislation.
  • Must be available at all times to take command of the armed forces.
  • Must be willing to lead the nation, and pretend to lead the free world, during times of crisis.
  • Must be willing to abandon private life in favor of public life.
Compensation package includes: Job security: This position is guaranteed for four years, barring assassination or impeachment. It may be extended to eight years with good behavior, but no further extensions of contract are possible.

Theoretically, a president can serve for up to ten years: they are limited to two four-year terms, and if they happen to come into the presidency in the middle of the last president's term, that term only counts if they serve for more than half of it. But that's a bit pedantic, and I wouldn't have considered mentioning it if mkb hadn't brought it up. Thanks, mkb!

Also, just for the record, you don't have to be Vice President to become President if the President dies. The Speaker of the House and President pro tempore of the Senate, as well as the Cabinet secretaries, are also in line, and get to become president if everyone above them in the pecking order dies at the same time.

"Mothers all want their sons to grow up to be president, but they don't want them to become politicians in the process."

--John Fitzgerald Kennedy

The President of the United States of America is one of the most prominent figures in the world today. He (there have only ever been male Presidents at this point so I will refer to the President in the masculine from here on in) is influential on the world as a whole due to the immense power that is held by the United States.

Due to the circumstances which led to the creation of the United States of America (namely the oppression incurred upon the British colonists by the Monarch in England, a revolution and then the creation of a confederacy) the Constitution was written in such a way as to give the new nation a strong but stringently controlled executive. Having just escaped tyranny by partaking in a revolution the people of the various colonies were desperate to avoid the same restriction of liberties again. Having said this, it was obvious that the stronger powers in Europe may not just leave them alone. It is not everyday that a brand new land is discovered, especially one which is sparsely populated (at least not with civilizations at the same level of technology) and has great wealth. The British and French were envious of the Spanish who had gone to South America and brought back much wealth and Northern America was their attempt at riches through the exploitation of the New World. This led to the position where the Confederacy, formed out of the revolution, was still on shaky ground. Rather than working as a close knit alliance of states it seemed more prudent to form a nation state (especially since they shared the same history, fought the same revolution and were currently working together in a confederacy). This nation state needed to preserve their liberties, both as individuals and as states, and be strong enough to repel invaders (not to mention the ease of trade). To create a strong nation you needed a strong executive that can make quick decisions about crises that arise, lead the nation (mainly in relation to armed forces) and represent the country in foreign affairs. To stop any branch from becoming too powerful (and especially the Presidency) each of the three branches of government (the executive, legislative and judicial) were separated and given powers to check the others. I implore you to correct my history (I would like sources if you wish to correct me) since I don't do history, this is just the info I got from teachers and various nodes.

Therefore it is a mistake to claim that the USA has a Presidential system of government. It actually just has a separated system (Charles O. Jones agrees with me on this one as well as Max Belof). In a Presidential system there is a President (who fulfils a Head of State role usually) and an Head of the Executive. This added separation is missing from the US system which makes it particularly interesting because it affords the man a position of great power. The President of the United States (from here on in I shall use the Tom Clancy/Secret Service contraction of the phrase to POTUS which saves my fingers from destruction) has a fusion of several leadership roles, namely: Head of the Executive, Head of State and Head of the Armed Forces. These can again be split into smaller roles and it is from these positions that the President receives various powers.

Head of State

The President takes on the role of Head of State where in other systems this role is usually separated from the role of Head of the Executive. This is mainly a ceremonial role in the same way that the Monarch entertains merely a ceremonial role as Head of State in Britain and the President in Israel and India. He will, for example, receive Ambassadors of other countries in his role of Head of State. However, the POTUS can garner some power from this position since it places him in the limelight, leading the country into the harshness of the real world! This can allow the President to show his leadership skills as well as his charisma since he acts as the national spokesman in a time of crisis.

Presidents can be either made or broken in this role. A President's view on foreign affairs and running of the state affect how he performs his Head of State role and if these do not fit with the views of the people he may be in trouble. It will also damage the view of America to the rest of the world. People usually judge a country by the central figure even if that person is not a fair representation of that country.

For example, take George W. Bush. In the international world of today (especially after 11th September, 2001) he managed to gain large amounts of support in the polls through his decisive leadership during the War on Terror (90% out of 1000 people thought he was doing the right thing according to a CNN poll recorded at the war against terrorism timeline under 25th October 2001). However, does he have enough charisma to retain the high polling figures? Also, it can be seen that he is viewed by other countries (especially Germany) to be arrogant and brash which makes getting their support (while performing his Chief Diplomat role, see below) difficult.

Chief of the Executive

The executive power shall be vested in a president of the United States of America.

--The Constitution of the United States of America, Article 2, Section 1.

As seen above, the President is granted by the Constitution the position of the Chief of the Executive. This position has expanded since 1787 due to the many crises that have affected the country such as the two world wars and The Great Depression. All these have increased the power at the hands of the President as he has needed to respond to these in a way that would make the electorate (who elected him) happy. These conflicts also increased the size of the federal bureaucracy and therefore the White House. This allows the President to hold more power since he now has the administrative staff and advisors to respond to events.

In this role, the President 'carries them [laws] into effect or secures their due performance' Webster 1913, definition of executive. This means that it is his duty to make sure that laws of the land are implemented even with the use of force if necessary. A famous example of this was the case with the Brown vs. The Board Of Education when Harry S Truman had to use the National Guard to protect black students as they attended classes.

This is tied to the issue of federalism which I shall try to write about later since how the President looks at federalism affects the way that he uses the Executive office. Some Presidents believe that the federal government should be subservient to the States (such as Reagan). This tends to be a very Republican view which harkens back to the days of the civil war and the confederacy. On the other hand are the Democrats who tend to be more in favour of strong federal government to make it easier to attain social reform. Depending on what type of federalism you believe in depends on the executive axe that you wield and therefore how much you use this role.

The President also has the power to fill vacancies in the Senate if they occur during a recess. These last until the next time that those seats were up for election. In effect, they run as the ex-senator would have run and stand for election when that senator would have stood for re-election. They have to be from the same political party and meet the usual Senatorial rules laid out in the Constitution to be eligible for appointment. This would allow the President to possibly tip the House in his favour if an unfortunate end met one of the Senators. This is a possible tool for the conspiracy theorists but is only a temporary measure and the Senator would probably (if he had any sense of decency) follow what the people want of him.

If such an occurrence does not happen during a recess then the governor of the state chooses someone to be in that seat until it is next up for election. Some states do things slightly differently since the 17th amendment which sets out this procedure says that it is up to the state legislatures to decide whether the governor is allowed this power. Washington state, for example, has a committee to decide things and the governor only makes a decision if the debate is tied. This is contrary to what happens in the UK where a bi-election is held for the seat. Things are slightly different though since one seat rarely affects the running of the government.

As the executive, the President has the power to make certain appointments, notably:

All these have to be ratified by Congress and it is not unusual for them to reject candidates for the position.

Chief Legislator

This title seems to be contradictory to the Constitution. The President has few legislative positions according to the Constitution; the Congress has much more standing in this respect due to its position as the legislature in the country. The President holds only three powers in this respect:

  • the power to veto bills
  • he proposes legislation
  • gives a State of The Union address (where the President lays out a general program of the year past and the year to come).
Congress also passed a provision in 1996 to allow the President to exercise a line-item veto. This was intended to allow the President to veto only a certain part of an appropriation bill rather than vetoing the whole thing if he disliked one clause. This was intended to increase efficiency and speed (especially since financial bills have more aggressive debate) by stopping the bill being vetoed in its entirety and sent back through the process of legislation with a letter saying what was wrong with it. It was also useful since it allowed the President to eliminate 'pork barrel' articles which are there purely to win extra support for a member. However, the US Supreme Court struck it down as unconstitutional in June 1998 with a 6-3 majority in the Clinton v. City of New York case (the normal veto power is in the Constitution).

In the UK, the executive is almost solely in charge of introducing bills and trying to get them through the Houses of Parliament. This is not the case in the US where a bill can easily be proposed by any member of Congress whereas in the UK, Private Member's Bills are infrequent and quite often are not passed (not to mention the fact that a lot of them are concerning petty matters). Secondly, the Constitution does not mention the President's job as proposing the legislation for the country. Presidents also tend to be elected for their (apparent) leadership abilities and general idealogical swing but rarely for a program (or manifesto) of policies which is what the British political parties get elected into power for (mainly because people in the UK vote for a party with a manifesto they like the sound of and the PM just so happens to be the leader of the party).

The role as legislator has increased as the executive office has increased. It has become possible for the President to launch himself into the fray that is Congressional approval and attempt to swing the balance in his favour for bills that he has proposed. This transformation could be seen to arrive when Franklin D. Roosevelt became President since his desire for a 'New Deal' while the depression was massacaring the economy required a strong executive and many pieces of legislation to be pushed through Congress.

This 'New Deal' is what we in Britain would call a manifesto, something more or less unheard of in American politics especially at this time. This means that once the President has been voted into power he has an obligation (a mandate) to implement these policies. This requires a strong legislative function.

FDR is therefore an example of an Imperial Presidency (see below). No longer was he just guiding the ship of state but he was at the helm steering it through the seas himself (a rather Sophoclean metaphor for you, try reading Oedipus the King to understand more).

However, compared to Britain the amount of legislation that goes through and is backed by the POTUS is rather small. Only about 50% of Congressional bills are backed by the President and not all these will go through. In Britain, there are few bills that aren't backed by the executive.

It is unlikely that this figure will get any better due to the fact that since the 1970's Congress has halted its retreat after the depression (and other crises) and started to claw back power from the executive. This is especially prevalent over the budget which is an highly fought over area since it is one of the best checks that the Congress can wield on the executive.

Take for example the "Gingrich Revolution" during the 1994 mid-term elections, when the Congressmen for Georgia, Newt Gingrich, rallied a group of fellow members of Congress behind his 'Contract with America', which he hoped to implement within 100 days if he was elected. He hoped that this would help to alleviate the problems that were left after Clinton's health reforms failed in 1993. This action allowed the Republicans to wrestle back both Houses of Congress to offset the powerful Bill Clinton but they didn't manage to implement their contract in its entirety or within 100 days.

Executive Orders can also be classed as legislation but stems from legislation that Congress has already passed or from the Constitution. They can also sometimes called secondary or delegated legislation though this has a different meaning in the UK where it used to discuss Devolution. Executive Orders are basically directives issued by the President which are legally binding but are not checked by Congress. When a President wants something to happen he either does it through a statute or an executive order. Some examples of executive orders are:

Since the 1946 Administrative Procedures Act all executive orders have to be published in a register which can be found online here:- http://www.archives.gov/federal_register/executive_orders/disposition_tables.html

Chief Diplomat

There is an entertaining episode of Yes Prime Minister where Jim Hacker is astonished to hear that the President would not be greeting him if he did not shelve his plans for the armed forces. The embarrassment that he thought he would feel forced him to enter political manoeuvring in order to meet the President.

This is true in reality as well as this fictional world. The President is the one that foreign ambassadors and Heads of State meet when having talks or ceremonial occasions. However, rather than just being a figurehead, occupying a purely ceremonial role, he also has the power to make decisions based on the talks and create treaties. This is a powerful role in the modern world due to the internationalisation of politics today. President Clinton exercised this role often notably for the Kyoto agreement discussions and the help in brokering peace between Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat. Not only is this seen as doing what is necessary but it also boosts the Presidents image. By carrying out popular foreign policy the President gains the trust of the people and the other branches of government.

The main power that the President exercises using this role is that of signing treaties on behalf of the United States of America. However, he cannot sign anything he wants. He must get the approval of two thirds of the Senate in order to be allowed to sign any treaty and they can even go behind his back and sign/refuse to sign any treaty. This is the trouble that Woodrow Wilson had after World War I.

Take, for example, the recent efforts of President Bush. When he announced the War on Terror the people and the Congress backed him wholeheartedly to the point where he was able to quickly, and effectively, pass the USA Patriot Act on 25th October 2001. This was to allow the NSA and FBI to gain warrants for tapping, bugging etc. (see PGP for more on this as well).

This rise in the foreign policy role can partly be attributed to the change away from the US's previous isolationalist stance. World War I is often attributed to the increase of America's role in the affairs of other nations when Woodrow Wilson finally persuaded the public (and more importantly the Senate) to aid in the war against Germany. Though the country soon returned back to the isolationalist stance after the war (even though Wilson had been paramount in the creation of the League of Nations and the 14 point plan for Germany) it left its mark on America. World War II brought America back onto the international stage and this time they kept a large standing army. From here, America grew in economic, military and political strength making it almost impossible to exclude America from international treaties if they were to work correctly (this was one of the reasons that is used for the downfall of the League of Nations, America was absent from it).

Head of Party

This is a less important role in America due to the relative weakness of the political parties in comparison to the UK. It is perfectly normal for the President not to have the support of the party when trying to pass bills through Congress and there are no form of party whips, comparable to the whips present in British political parties, to keep the party in line. Also since the party is not as strong candidates need to do a lot of fundraising for themselves instead of relying on the party machine to do it for them.

There is also no formal opposition which can bully and check the executive. Though it can be seen that the Majority and Minority leaders and the Speakers of the Houses in the Congress act as a semi-opposition it is not institutionalised in the same way as Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition.

This position puts extra time constraints on an already busy man. It requires large amounts of time to fundraise and campaign without a party machine to take care of everything for you. This is compounded by the fact that the country is very large and it takes time to tour the country.

There is also an issue over a conflict of interests. As the President he is supposed to look after the interests of the country not of the party however he may find it difficult to 'bite the hand that feeds him' to coin a phrase.

On the positive side, the position does lend itself to a lot of time travelling and therefore a lot of prominence in the public eye. This helps to keep the main attention on his good points (party tours would hardly deliberately demonise their candidate) and away from any problems that may be arising elsewhere.

There is also the ability to bestow patronage on other officials (such as a candidate for a Senatorial position) which may allow him to be reciprocated if his support allows the candidate to win. This is tied into the fact that being head of the party allows him some access to Congress since close to half the members will be in his party and informal meetings would be easy to arrange and probably very productive. It would be possible for him to use his position partially as leverage when negotiating with Congress.

Manager of Prosperity

It does sound like a fairly pretentious title to give to the President but it merely means that he is responsible of keeping the economy and general standard of living at an acceptable (and hopefully better) level according to my notes, this phrase was actually coined by Clinton Rossiter. It is important to note that the management of the economy was deliberately focused in Congress by the Constitution. The only way that the President has gained power in this area is through the need for faster, unified responses to economic problems. There are also strong checks on the economic powers of the President.

This power started to really come into sight with the Great Depression where FDR had to restore the national economy. The New Deal was instrumental in this and started an era of interference in affairs by the government. This power was finally institutionalised in 1946 with the passing of the Employment Act which set out in the statute books the need for the President to aim for full employment. He was

"to avoid economic fluctuations [and]...maintain employment, production and purchasing power".
It also set up a council of economic advisors to aid the President in creating economic policies (joined to the White House).

Obviously the main way that the President exercises this role is through the creation of the budget. Basically the system has reached the point where the executive branch draws up a possible budget which it then presents to Congress (well, to the plethora of committees) which goes over it with a fine toothed comb. This is the point where, like most legislation, there is much debate between the executive and the various parts of the legislature as to which provisions to keep, which to amend and which to scrap entirely. To help the President with the creation of a budget (he may not have the requisite know how and definitely won't have the time to actually create the budget) there is the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) which is part of the Executive Office of the President. They do most of the work, taking in reports from the various departments about how much money they need and drawing a budget from this information and the political/economic stance of the President. The Budget and Impoundment Act (among other things) set up the Congressional Budget Office to mirror the work of the OMB to make sure that Congress had a way of checking the work of the OMB and aid them in the creation of their own amendments.

The Imperial Presidency

This is a term first coined by Arthur Schelcniger Jr. and is used to describe the Presidency as being more powerful than when the office was first occupied. It is possible to argue that over the years the Presidency has gained more and more power from the other branches of government to be extremely overbearing in its roles of government.

Why did this happen?

Domestic Role
Theodore Roosevelt felt that he was in direct contact with the people and that it was his duty to look after them. In 1913, Congress allowed creation of a federal income tax to raise funds for the government to perform acts in the public interest by passing the 16th Amendment. Without a national coffer to fund projects from, the central government relied solely on the states to act and since they were not overly professional at this time (and they all vary in the strength of their economy) this was hardly satisfactory.

Then under FDR the Imperial presidency was further strengthened by his "New Deal". This was an active form of government attempting to initiate a state of Keynesian economics. Part of this project was the use of public works to stimulate the economy (building of roads, dams etc.) and a welfare service.

Lyndon B. Johnson (yet another Democrat) initiated his "Great Society" programme. This was an extension in many ways of the "New Deal" with welfare being extended as well as the introduction of healthcare, inner city housing and fighting racial problems (furthering the work of JFK who he replaced after the unfortunate assassination).

Foreign Defence Role
The most necessary increase in the Presidents power (and therefore the creation of an Imperial President) is the amount of foreign intervention that the USA has partaken of. World War I, World War II and the Cold War all needed the President to be in strong control and leading the nation. Rather than being just a backseat driver he had to stand up and show the strength of the country. Whether this was achieved depends a lot on their character. Since the President (as Commander-in-chief) has the responsibility to drop nuclear weapons et al. It is necessary that he has the strong character to take part as an Imperial President.

It can possibly be argued that the personality of the President affects whether they partake in an Imperial Presidency. Though other factors will affect this, if they don't have the type of character that lends itself to the enforcement of positive action then no matter of circumstances will be able to initiate an Imperial Presidency. For example, Dwight D. Eisenhower was a former general before becoming President which could be used as an argument for his style of governing. JFK and FDR also had very strong personalities which caused them to be able to stand up to the people and start the nation in a new direction. JFK, for example, was able to stand up for equal rights even though many people didn't care or were against it. He also expedited the space program which no one can state was a bad thing even though at the time there were many sceptics.

The Imperilled/Impaired Presidency

This term is used to describe a President's term that is hindered in some way. This could be due to many aspects both out of their control and perfectly within it.

Why did this happen?

Domestic Role
During the 1970's there had arisen questions over the domestic role of the President. There was a relative economic decline which was mainly attributed to the interferance of the federal government. Excessive borrowing of the government was seen to be swamping other borrowers and the neo-classical economists (who were in favour of laissez-faire capitalism) criticised the government over its excessive interference. Things were not aided by the claims that the federal budget was grossly exuberant.

Foreign Defence Role
A prime example of a foreign matter ruining a Presidency is the case of the Vietnam war. This damaged the President since it is his decision whether to propose to go to war (though it is also Congress' fault since they are the only ones who can declare war). Since there was such a great loss of life people started to blame the Presidents for the continuation of the war. This is also seen as the reason for the first Gulf War to be ended before Saddam Hussein was removed. People tend to agree with war up to the point where their sons start to come back in body bag s.

Scandal & Sleaze
It is inevitable that scandals would damage the Presidency. Clinton is a prime example but there have been a whole plethora of Presidents who have been connected with sleaze and have therefore impaired themselves, sometimes to the point of Impeachment.

This sleaze directly affects the President's personality rating among the people which then gives them a poor image in the peoples' eye. Since President's often rely on their persuasive skills this can be catastrophic. Richard M. Nixon was so badly damaged by the Watergate scandal that there was no point continuing since he was in the process of being Impeached by the House of Representatives so he resigned. Clinton was able to avoid being removed from office but his image was very badly damaged and it could be said that Gore was also troubled by his fellow Democrat's lack of control in the sexual arena.

Checks and Balances

The US political system was created with the idea of checks and balances. None of the branches were supposed to gain any significant strength over the others. To achieve this they were separated and each given powers to influence the other. This was intended to create a system where each institution was always influencing the other to get its way to the point of equilibrium. Therefore there are many checks on the President as well as many checks the President can enforce which are laid out in the Constitution.

Limitations on the President

  1. Supreme Court
    Though the Supreme Court is present to defend the Constitution (this judicial review function was decided by the Supreme Court case of 1803, Madbury vs. Madison) it has had to rule on several cases which stopped the President from over reaching his power. However, the Supreme Court is only allowed to make court judgements so it can't just see something that the President is doing and stop him. Fortunately there is usually someone who will file a lawsuit which is why America is so acclaimed for its litigious nature; its built into their constitution.

    Some more examples:-

    • In 1952, they stopped the President from taking over a steel mill for the war effort and therefore reducing his war-time emergency powers.

    • In 1974, the court stopped Nixon from trying to stop the release of the Watergate tapes to the Congress (though he resigned shortly afterwards which stopped the investigation).

    • In Clinton v. City of New York, the line-item veto was struck down as unconstitutional (see Chief Legislator for a more detailed description).

    • In 2001, Bush v. Gore more or less determined the outcome of the election (it actually merely determined whether another recount was possible, which it wasn't, and therefore Gore lost).

  2. Congress and The Constitution
    The Constitution gives many powers to the Congress to check the President. It seems quite fitting that the institutions that represent the people check the most tyranny prone office. It checks the President in the following ways:-

    • Treaties are made by the President but they are confirmed by a 2/3 majority of the Senate. If the Senate disagrees with the President on a certain treaty they can remove the USA's signature from it or place a signature on it (if the President had originally refused). Many treaties have not been agreed on by the Senate, most notably the Treaty of Versailles (1919) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty of 1999. To get around this restriction Presidents often utilise Executive agreements though these can't be used in all instances and don't carry the same sort of weight as a full treaty endorsed by the Senate.

    • Declarations of war can only be made by Congress even though the President is the Commander-in-Chief. America has only declared war five times (1812, 1846, 1898, 1917 & 1941) and the President instead tends to commit troops without declaring war. There are limits to the number of troops that can be sent to a certain area and the Congress pays the funds for military actions so as soon as they want the troops to return they just cancel the checks.

Limitations the President Wields over the Other Branches of Government

Though the President seems to be constricted by the other branches quite viciously he is also able to apply pressure on the other branches of government.

  1. Supreme Court
    The Supreme Court is checked by the President via the process of appointment. It is the President's decision who is nominated for any vacancies that occur in the Supreme Court (Supreme Court Judges have life tenure and therefore vacancies only occur if a current judge retires or expires). This enables the President to choose a judge who might benefit him. For example, the President may appoint a judge who agrees with him on a certain issue (such as abortion) or it may go along party or ideological lines. However, one must note that it is up to the Congress to ratify the appointment and the American Bar Association also gives a rating to the nomination.

  2. Congress
    The President has a weaker hold on Congress in some respects. Unlike in Britain, the President does not hold a position in Congress and the party lines are relatively weak. The whips hold inconsequential power compared to their brethren in the UK. Though the Vice President holds the casting vote in a dead heat in the House of Representatives this is hardly a compromise. However, the ability to make the nominations for all official appointments is a significant one since the Congress is not able to make them themselves. They cannot choose who is to be the replacement Supreme Court Judge, nor can they choose who is to hold Executive Offices in the White House. They can only vet candidates.

    Also the Constitution affords the President certain powers over Congress. For example, he is allowed to convene and dismiss the Congress at will (he may, on extraordinary occasions, convene both houses, or either of them, and in case of disagreement between them, with respect to the time of adjournment, he may adjourn them to such time as he shall think proper -- The Constitution of the United States of America, Article II, Section 3)

    It can also be seen that the State of the Union address is also a slight control over the Congress since it can be seen as a manifesto. It sets out what political program the President wishes to attempt over the next year. It is similar to a manifesto in that the Congress is slightly more bound (though only through convention) to look at the proposals that the President has put forward. This is a fairly tenuous link though.

    More important are the powers of the President to appoint members of the Senate if a vacancy should occur during a recess. This allows the President to alter the make-up of the house in such a way as to switch the majority in the House.

There is much ambiguity in the Constitution, especially when it comes to the President. This allows variation in the powers that the POTUS can exercise. These can be broadly split into two sections: Formal and Informal powers. I am actually repeating myself here somewhat but I feel that it is easier to read in this more succinct version though some points may not have been mentioned above if I was being dopey. If you want a more detail version read the above!

Formal Powers

Formal powers are those that are set out in the Constitution and resulting statutes (this includes amendments). This allows the President to exercise a large number of powers but with constraints. These powers are:

  • Signs all bills to make them law. See veto below as well.
  • Commander-in-Chief. The President controls that actions of the Army, United States Air Force, Navy and National Guard (which in the Constitution is referred to as the 'Militia').
  • Power to grant reprieves or pardons (except in the case of impeachment). This seems a rather odd power for the President to behold. This especially so since if the President is in his final term of office, he is not up for re-election and so can do anything he wants without having to worry about the public. This means that he can almost pardon anyone he wants. One of the most famous Presidents for doing this was Bill Clinton since he pardoned two of his friends who had been exiled from the country for fraud (I think, I don't trust my notes on this issue and would like some confirmation).
  • Power to make treaties on behalf of the United States of America. This is checked by the Senate since they need to agree with a 2/3 majority to ratify any treaty. The Senate can also go behind the President's back if he tries to do something they don't like in relation to treaties (see checks on the President for more on this).
  • Power to make certain appointments, notably: These all have to be vetted by Congress.
  • Power to fill vacancies in the Senate if they occur during a recess. These last until the next time that those seats were up for election. In effect, they run as the ex-senator would have run and stand for election when that senator would have stood for re-election.
  • can convene and adjourn both Houses of Congress.
  • Wields the power to veto any bill that is passed by Congress by refusing to sign and sending a statement explaining why he did not back to Congress (this has to be done within ten days). Upon receiving this Congress has two options: either take into account the President's objections and make relevant amendments or attempt to overturn the veto. This can only be done with a 2/3 majority in each of the Houses of Congress.
  • Has the ability to take on emergency powers if Congress consents. This is set out in the National Emergencies Act 1976. He can then:
Informal Powers
  • Has a lot of power when it comes to foreign affairs due to the extensive role America plays in international affairs.
  • Controls the executive branch of government.
  • Has a powerful media presence. This often allows him to move the focus of political scrutiny from the public onto specific areas (and maybe away from some others).
  • Head of the Party to some extent. Not really as strong a party structure as there is in other countries.

Hope this is useful to people. Please give me constructive criticism and any typos/formatting mistakes please tell me. I'm a bit confused by the varying ways that all my different browsers are displaying this wu so don't know what the general view of it is.

US Politics Today, Edward Ashbee and Nigel Ashford
American Politics & Society, David McKay
Assorted politics notes from my teachers for my A-Level course.


There's something about the president which clearly separates him from European prime ministers. One way to understand it is to think about the president as something like a monarch.

For most of American history the president has combined in one person both the effective and the symbolic parts of government in a way which no equivalent European high office approximates. We are used to referring to America as a "new" country, but in fact its political institutions - like the presidency - are much older than those of virtually any European country.

This antiquity, traceable back to a revered founder, contributes to its symbolic value. The president is expected to embody the nation as a whole against local or sectional interests, much like a monarch, especially as he is selected by popular vote; and this contributes to expectations of individual probity and a removal from political street-fighting which often seem bizarre or downright perverse to European eyes. The crime of a Nixon or a Clinton lies in large part in standards of behaviour which may be tolerated at lower levels but are considered below the highest office.

As the centre of symbolic power in the American political system, we find that the politics which surrounds the president are court politics: the politics of access, influence and favour. Such things are keenly tracked much more closely than in any European system. And for as long as American society was relatively cohesive, these politics sufficed and it was possible to sustain the view of one office representing the nation in itself, occasionally led astray by poor counsel; the question that recent decades seem to pose is whether, as American society seems to fragment, one man can ever again manage the competing pressures while maintaining the dignity of his office.


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