From the inception of the Constitution, there has always been a power struggle between the President and Congress. In the beginning, Madison and the
Jeffersonians were placed in a gridlock with Hamilton and his school of political
philosophy. Andrew Jackson fought to extend the powers of the President, then
Congress spent 50 years fighting to repeal the powers of the Executive. Abraham
Lincoln refined Jacksonian presidential politics, then Congress impeached his
successor, Andrew Johnson, for fear of another quasi – tyrannical President. Even
today, a Congress, whose majority is of the same party as the President, fights 24
hours a day to check the power of President George W. Bush. But why, and
Inherent Power Struggles Within the Constitution:
Article I, Section I – “All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives”
Article II, Section I – “The executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America”
Article II, Section II – “The President shall be the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States”
- The Founders’ ambiguous and contradicting language sets the stage for a power struggle between the Executive and the Legislative branches
- Being that the Founders were political masterminds, they realized that unique circumstances would demand some deviations from the restraints that the Constitution places on both the Executive and the Legislature
- Founders anticipated that during times of crisis’, the nation would need a more unilaterally decisive Executive
- Though the Commander and Chief clause was, more likely than not, created specifically for Washington, to assume that the Framers did not anticipate that in times of national crisis’ this power would be paramount, is to undermine the intelligence and foresight of the men in question.
- Thus, this study assumes that the Framers wrote the constitution ambiguously to afford both, the Executive and Legislative, branches the ability to flex and recoil political and constitutional clout in light of the crisis’ that are presented at any given time.
To more simply present my thesis, I would like to explain my stand as an opinion which holds that the powers of the President have not been enhanced or hampered over the last 250 years; instead I am arguing that the power of the Executive is enhanced during times of crisis’, due to the need of a unilaterally decisive Executive. The language found in the constitution, which was purposely written ambiguously, helps precipitate this occurrence. The President’s power is checked again by Congress once the crisis’ has subsided, maintaining a balance between the powers of Congress and the President. This also explains why, as a rule, a great/powerful executive is never proceeded by a more great/powerful president.
Historically, the greatest friction between the Congress and the President have been in relation to war, fiscal policy, social policy, and Power. My course work has taken a historical survey of all of America’s Presidents, especially those in office during times of “significant” crisis’, to support my claims. To better elaborate on my thesis, I use Lincoln and the Civil War, FDR and the Great Depression/ WWII, and George Bush and Operation Desert Storm as a means to gel the given claims.
- Lincoln and the Civil War
- Powers assumed, unilateral decisions, refinement of Jacksonian principles, intimidation of Congress, living legacy
- Johnson and the Attack on the President
- Repeal of powers, stripping of authority, veto power nullified, impeachment
- FDR and the Return of the Jacksonian Executive
- Passed provocative legislation, unilateral decisions, waged war on the Great Depression, entered WWII, most powerful Executive of the 20th century
- Bush and the Contemporary Paradigm
- Operation Desert Storm, used of Commander in Chief, public polling before and after war on Iraq, crisis as tool to pass tough legislation
- Clinton and the Assault on the Executive
- Hard times with Congress, public opinion polls, lack of political clout with chief legislators, non – living legacy
Contemporary Implications: The greatest implications the above stated project has is the fact that it affords a means to predict the way a President will serve his term in office and how the congress will act toward the President; whether he be a President that demands respect or one who forfeits it and whether the Congress gives in to the demands of the Executive or if the Congress comes down on t he Executive like a hammer on a nail. This can be accomplished by viewing the circumstances in which a President takes office, the manner in which he carries himself during his term, and the way in which the President leaves as Commander in Chief.
Conclusion: The President has neither gained nor lost power. There exists the same balance between Executive and Congress as there was when Washington was sworn in as America’s first President. The only difference between then and now, is the fact that today we must wade through the layers of insignificance and precedents that history has forged against us, the political thinker and historian.