The Executive Branch and the Bureaucracy for AP U.S. Government
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Constitutional Origins of the Presidency
Delegates to the constitutional convention studied the writings of philosophers Montesquieu and Locke, analyzed the powers of the British monarchs, and studied the role of governors in the American colonial governments. The delegates decided they did not want a king; they wanted power to rest with the people. Debate arose over a single versus a plural executive, and a weak executive appointed by Congress versus a strong executive independent of the legislature. The final compromise created a single executive with powers limited by the checks and balances of the legislative and judicial branches.
Article II of the Constitution establishes the formal qualifications of the president:
- natural-born citizen
- at least 35 years of age
- resident of U.S. 14 years prior to election
- political or military experience
- political acceptability
- white male
- northern European ancestry
Historically, many candidates who have run for the office of the president have also shared several characteristics:
In the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama presented himself as a new type of presidential candidate.
Term and Tenure
The concept of a popularly elected president is an American invention. After much debate and compromise, the Founding Fathers created a single executive, elected indirectly through an electoral college for a four-year term. Until the addition of the Twenty-Second Amendment in 1951, the number of terms of the president was unlimited. After Franklin D. Roosevelt won the office an unprecedented four times, the Twenty-Second Amendment was added, limiting the president to two elected terms.
Succession and Disability
The Constitution provides that if the president can no longer serve in office, the vice president will carry out the powers and duties of the office. The Constitution does not state that the vice president shall actually become president; that tradition began with the death of W. H. Harrison. After the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Twenty-Fifth amendment was added to the Constitution, stating that the vice president becomes president if the office of president becomes vacant. That amendment also provides for the new president to nominate a new vice president, with the approval of a majority of both houses of Congress. The first use of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment occurred when Spiro Agnew resigned the vice presidency and was replaced by Gerald Ford in 1973. The following year it was used again when President Richard Nixon resigned; Vice President Gerald Ford became president; and Ford nominated, and Congress confirmed, Nelson Rockefeller as his new vice president.
The Twenty-Fifth Amendment also provides for presidential disability. If the president is unable to perform the duties of his office, the vice president may become "acting president" under one of the following conditions:
- The president informs Congress of the inability to perform the duties of president.
- The vice president and a majority of the cabinet inform Congress, in writing, that the president is disabled and unable to perform those duties.
The president may resume the duties of office upon informing Congress that no disability exists. If the vice president and a majority of the cabinet disagree, Congress has 21 days to decide the issue of presidential disability by a two-thirds vote of both houses.
Impeachment and Removal
The Constitution allows for the removal of a president from office through the impeachment process. Impeachment involves bringing charges of wrongdoing against a government official. The United States Constitution gives the House of Representatives the authority to impeach the president or vice president for "Treason, Bribery or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors." Once charges of impeachment have been levied against the president or vice president, the Senate then sits in judgment of the charges. The chief justice of the Supreme Court presides over the trial. If found guilty of the charges, the official may be removed from office. Conviction requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate.
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