Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Teaching about the U.S. Presidency. As the American Presidential election draws closer, I am sure many teachers and librarians are working to help educate students about the US Presidency. This essay has a good overview of the whole topic.

From the site:

Many consider the U.S. presidency to be the most powerful office in the world. What are its constitutional foundations? How has the role of the chief executive changed through the years? What World Wide Web resources are available for teaching about the U.S. presidency?

CONSTITUTIONAL FOUNDATIONS OF THE PRESIDENCY.

The delegates to the 1787 Philadelphia Convention, who framed the U.S. Constitution, brought with them various conceptions of executive power. Three questions dominated the framers' consideration of the role the executive would play in the new government. First, the delegates discussed whether the executive should be a single individual or whether multiple persons should share the office. Second, they considered at length the amount of power the executive should wield. And third, they debated the best means by which to elect the executive. Generally, deliberations on these questions involved the balance of power in the new government.

The framers feared that a powerful executive could usurp legislative authority and engage in tyrannical actions. The weak executives created by the state constitutions, however, proved unable to prevent state legislatures from trampling on the people's rights. The founding fathers sought to create a government in which, as James Madison explained in FEDERALIST 51, "Ambition must be made to counteract ambition." Madison deemed a balance of power necessary, and he called for a governmental arrangement in which it would be in the best interest of all citizens to resist executive encroachment.

Although they recognized the importance of strong leadership, Americans feared executive tyranny. To guard against the creation of an authoritarian monarchy, many delegates called for a plural executive. Advocates of a plural executive believed that vesting presidential power in more than one man would lessen the danger that leaders would abuse power. When the Pennsylvania delegate James Wilson moved on June 1, 1787 that the executive should consist of one person, a lengthy silence ensued. The framers eventually decided upon a single executive. They decided this on the basis that conflicts would be more easily avoided if there were only one executive. Also, they believed that Congress could more carefully watch and check a single executive.

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