Has the Presidency Become Too Powerful?
Did the Founding Fathers intend for the president to have this much power?
By: Jeff Charles | September 23, 2021 | 639 Words
The president of the United States has the most significant job in the federal government, leading the executive branch. The U.S. president is arguably the most powerful person in the entire world. Is this how the Founders planned the nation to run?
In fact, the Founding Fathers did not intend for presidents to have the level of power and prominence they have today.
Original Intention For the Presidency
The Founders feared a situation in which the president would have too much power. They rejected the idea that a country should have a king because the original colonists were fleeing from that type of government. They did not want a government in which the president was essentially a king.
James Madison, who was a key figure in drafting the U.S. Constitution, wrote that power “is of an encroaching nature.” He believed it should be “effectually restrained from passing the limits assigned to it.” He was saying that power always tries to grow, so it has to be limited and stopped from growing too much.
For this reason, the Founders created a system of checks and balances in the federal government to ensure that no one branch could become too powerful. However, over time, the legislature passed laws that granted more power to the presidency.
Presidential Power Grows
Since the founding of the nation, the power and prominence of the presidency have slowly grown. One example of the significance the nation places on the president can be seen in the number of speeches they are expected to give. In his first term, President George Washington gave only nine speeches. Until President Andrew Jackson, presidents gave an average of three speeches each year.
But today, presidents give far more speeches. For example, President Joe Biden has not even finished his first year in office, but he has already given ten speeches and will give many more during his time as president. President Donald Trump gave 43 speeches over his presidency. In the past, the office of the president was not important enough for the nation to hear from them as often as we do now.
In 1977, the International Emergency Economic Powers Act gave the president the authority to declare a national emergency. It let the president “investigate, regulate, or prohibit … any transactions in foreign exchange.” This means the executive branch has sweeping powers to directly control how trade is done with foreign countries.
The law also allows the president to define what an emergency is. With these types of emergency powers, the president can prohibit companies from doing business in other countries.
War has also let the White House amass more power. During his second term in office, President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to grant him the authority to censor the press when the nation is at war. He also asked it to let him arrest people for promoting America’s foes, and to tamp down on writings that were “of a treasonable or anarchistic nature.” This can be seen as a violation of the First Amendment.
Congress passed the Espionage Act of 1917, which granted each of Wilson’s requests except for giving him the ability to censor the press. But Congress amended the Espionage Act to add the Sedition Act of 1918, which allowed the government to spy on civilians and limit speech that was considered harmful to the government.
These are only a few examples of how Congress and other forces have empowered the office of the president far beyond what the Founding Fathers intended. Once governments attain more power, it is very rare for them to give it up. If the president’s power grows even more in the future, the nation might end up having a king after all!