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Executive Powers

Grades 9-12 | Historical Analysis | Source-Based

Source Lexile®: 1350L-1550L

Learning Standards




Prompt: While the Constitution grants Congress the sole authority to enact legislation, the power and discretion of how to enforce those laws lies in the Executive Branch of the United States' government. The president, who leads this branch, has the power to declare "executive orders" directed toward Cabinet members and regulatory agency leaders, who have significant influence on the implementation of government policy and affairs.


Read the following sources about executive orders and the powers of government. Write an essay in which you make a claim about whether or not presidents should be able to use executive orders to advance legislation. Use logic and evidence from multiple sources to support your position and address opposing viewpoints.



Source 1

How Executive Orders Work (excerpt) (Secondary Source)

by Dave Roos



History of Executive Orders in the United States


The very first presidential executive order was a proclamation signed by George Washington on April 22, 1793, giving instruction to federal officers to prosecute any citizens interfering with the war between England and France. In this case, Washington made the decree by executive order because Congress was out of session [source: Contrubis].


Similarly, Abraham Lincoln used an executive order to manage a constitutional crisis when Congress was out of session. The year was 1861, on the eve of the Civil War. Armed militias, under the banner of state control, were attacking federal troops passing through Virginia and Maryland. John Merryman was the leader of one of the most active militias, so Lincoln had him captured and locked up in Fort McHenry outside Baltimore [source: Vermeule]. Merryman's lawyers appealed for his legal right to appear in court to determine if he was being lawfully held, a concept known as habeas corpus. Through an executive order, Lincoln called for a suspension of Merryman's right to habeas corpus, something that only Congress could do in times of rebellion or invasion. Lincoln explained his actions to Congress, which later passed the Habeas Corpus Act of 1863, officially giving the president the power that Lincoln had assumed.


While Washington and Lincoln issued only eight and 48 executive orders respectively, other presidents issued thousands [source: The American Presidency Project]. Teddy Roosevelt was the first to break the 1,000 mark, thanks to his "stewardship" theory of executive power, in which the president should do everything that isn't explicitly forbidden by the Constitution to actively direct the affairs of the nation [source: Patterson].


World War I and World War II brought dramatic increases in the use of executive orders, as did the years spanning the Great Depression. Franklin D. Roosevelt issued 3,522 executive orders during his prolonged presidency [source: The American Presidency Project]. His very first was on Inauguration Day, when he ordered the closure of all banks for four days to begin restructuring the financial system under the New Deal.


The period that saw the greatest increase in the use of executive orders were the years spanning World War I to World War II, including the Great Depression. Given the military and economic crises of the era, Congress extended unprecedented power to the president to act in the best interest of a nation at war. For example, President Roosevelt used his executive authority to seize factories, mines, and other privately owned industrial facilities for wartime production [source: Contrubis]. As World War II drew to a close, Congress began to rein in the sovereign powers of the presidency.


The most significant episode in the post-World War II history of executive orders came during the presidency of Harry Truman.



Supreme Court: The Youngstown Decision


In 1952, President Truman was leading the nation through yet another war, this time in the Korean Peninsula. During war, the price of critical raw materials like steel is usually fixed [source: Paulsen]. Because the price of steel was unnaturally low, steelworkers weren't receiving their normal wages and raises. The result was a major labor dispute in the steel industry that threatened to cut off the steel supply in a time of war.


In an attempt to avoid an all-out strike, Truman brought in the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to strike a bargain between the steelworkers unions and management. When that failed, he called in the Federal Wage Stabilization Board, but the steelworkers rejected its recommendations [source: Contrubis]. On the eve of a nationwide steelworkers strike, Truman decided to invoke his presidential authority and issue an executive order for the federal government to seize control of the nation's steel mills. The mill owners immediately sued to block the seizure and the case of Youngstown Sheet & Tube v. Sawyer made it all the way to the Supreme Court.


In a 6-3 ruling, the Supreme Court rejected Truman's executive order as unconstitutional [source: Paulsen]. For the first time, the judiciary imposed a limit on executive authority, stating that the power to issue executive orders must come from an act of Congress or the Constitution itself [source: Contrubis]. In Truman's case, he had the authority to delay a strike for 60 days under the Taft-Hartley Act, a provision known as a "cooling off period." But instead, he chose to seize the mills using an executive order -- an act not unlike President Roosevelt's seizures of factories and mines during World War II. Unlike Roosevelt, however, Truman was an unpopular president fighting an unpopular war, so he wasn't given as much free rein [source: Paulsen].


The Youngstown decision was critical because it established a standard for the exercise of executive power. In his concurring opinion, Justice Robert H. Jackson described three different situations and three corresponding levels of presidential authority:

  • The president acts with the most authority when he has the "express or implied" consent of Congress
  • The president has uncertain authority in situations where Congress has not imposed its authority -- either by inaction or indifference -- and the president takes advantage of this "zone of twilight" to make an executive decision
  • The president acts with the least authority when he issues an executive order that is "incompatible" with the expressed or implied will of Congress. Such an act, wrote Justice Jackson, threatens the "equilibrium established by our Constitutional system" [source: Contrubis]

The Supreme Court rejected Truman's seizure of the steel mills because it was incompatible with the expressed will of Congress in the form of the Taft-Hartley Act.


Now let's fast-forward to the Bush and Obama eras to look at more recent controversies over executive orders and the limits of presidential power.



Controversy Over Executive Orders


Executive orders offer a powerful and immediate way for a president to advance his policy priorities. A White House aide to President Bill Clinton described the lure of executive orders this way: "Stroke of the pen, law of the land" [source: Wolf]. President Ronald Reagan used the direct power of executive orders to peel back layers of government regulation that he and his administration believed were hampering economic growth. President George W. Bush signed executive orders that approved more aggressive surveillance after 9/11 and limited public access to presidential documents. And President Obama has increasingly relied on executive orders to forward his agenda in the face of an intransigent Congress.


President George W. Bush issued several controversial executive orders surrounding the gathering of intelligence in the war on terror. Arguably the most controversial was a secret executive order he signed in 2002, authorizing the National Security Agency (NSA) to eavesdrop without a warrant on phone calls made by U.S. citizens and others living in the United States. The NSA had previously been limited exclusively to intelligence gathering operations outside of the country [source: Risen]. Critics of Bush's executive order accuse the NSA of conducting unconstitutional searches under the president's authorization. The Bush administration defended the secret program as necessary to root out homegrown terrorist plots. The 9/11 attackers, after all, had lived in the U.S. while making the final preparation for their hijacking plot.


On his very first day in office, President Obama signed three executive orders to draw a clear distinction between the policies of his administration and his predecessor's. One of the orders essentially banned the use of "enhanced" interrogation techniques like waterboarding and instructed the CIA and the armed forces to strictly follow the interrogation procedures outlined in the Army field manual [source: CNN]. The most controversial executive order called for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within a year. Naysayers who called the order unrealistic were eventually proven correct: The president issued another executive order two years later allowing for the continued detention of suspected terrorists at Guantanamo, with or without a formal charge [source: Farley]. The third created a task force designed to review detention policies and procedures [source: CNN].


In the spring of 2012, President Obama launched an aggressive campaign of executive orders to combat what he viewed as an intractable Congress. Since Congress refused to vote on legislation that would forward the Obama administration's policies on the economy, job creation, education, energy, and foreign policy, the president and his advisers decided to do as much as could be done without Congress' help at all [source: Savage]. The campaign, called "We Can't Wait," has included tougher regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, a revamped deportation policy, and better education and employment options for returning troops [source: Rosenthal]. The president has received sharp criticism for flexing his executive muscle, but even his critics acknowledge that Obama is far from the first president to wield executive orders as a political weapon.




Source 2

The Most Infamous Executive Orders in American History (Secondary Source)

By Mike Rothschild


Presidential executive orders have existed since George Washington used one to declare a national day of thanksgiving for the signing of the Constitution. Using powers granted by that document, laws that presidents pushed through on their own have ranged from monumental to minutiae. Many famous executive orders, like the Emancipation Proclamation or the desegregating of the armed forces, did things that Congress was unable to do, while a few were massive overreaches of power, and got slapped down by Supreme Court decisions.


Here are some of the most surprising and important executive orders in presidential history. Not all were beneficial to the public, but all were vital to American history.



The Emancipation Proclamation


While executive orders have existed since the Washington administration, they weren't named or numbered until the early 1900s. So, the most famous one has no official designation, only a name -- the Emancipation Proclamation. Issued on January 1, 1863, the proclamation was a declaration by President Lincoln, issued in his role as Commander-in-Chief, that declared over three million slaves living in the Confederacy as free.


The impact of the Proclamation has been hotly debated since the moment it was issued. Initially, it only freed about 30,000 blacks in areas that the Union had taken from the Confederacy. It had no effect on enslaved blacks actually in the South, nor did it free slaves in the Union border states of Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland, Delaware, and West Virginia. But as the Union took more territory, the slaves in it were immediately free, as were runaway slaves who crossed the border of the Union. It also clarified the moral cause of the Union, and explicitly marked the Confederacy as a slave state, ending any hope of British intervention on their side.



The Manhattan Project


Presented with the need to beat Nazi Germany to an atomic bomb, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8807 on June 28, 1941. It established the Office of Scientific Research and Development, which was given unlimited resources, and its director, Vannevar Bush, answered only to Roosevelt himself. The OSRD conducted research and development work in a variety of war-related areas, creating everything from guidance systems to new radar.


But the most important aspect of the OSRD was the S-1 Uranium Committee, which later came under the command of General Leslie Groves, was renamed the Manhattan Engineering District, and established a number of sites around the country for the mining and refinement of uranium, as well as the Los Alamos site -- where the atomic bomb was researched, built, and tested.



Japanese-American Internment


One of the most notable executive orders in American history is 9066, signed by President Roosevelt on February 19, 1942. In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, it ordered the removal and internment of all Japanese-Americans on the West Coast for fear of enemy spies and saboteurs. As a result, over 120,000 people -- 70,000 of whom were American by birth -- had to present themselves for transport and internment in a network of camps across the Southwest. The camps were often collections of shacks, surrounded by guard towers and barbed wire.


Less well-known is that about 14,000 ethnic Germans and Italians were interned, as were a number of Jewish refugees of German origin. After over two years of harsh confinement, EO 9066 was cancelled in December, 1944. Japanese-Americans were slowly allowed to return to their lives, but many had lost their homes and jobs. It took four decades before the US government made reparations to their families -- in the form of a $20,000 payment.



Suspension of Habeas Corpus


With the Civil War raging, President Lincoln took a drastic and controversial step to sign an executive order that suspended habeas corpus, the right of the accused to report unlawful detention. This was done in the guise of Commander in Chief, to stop a Southern-sympathizing legislator from blocking the movement of Union troops to Washington, which was virtually undefended at the start of the war. While the initial order only allowed for warrantless arrests between New York City and Washington, two years later, a Congressional act expanded it to the entire country. The Union army now had the right to arrest almost anyone without a warrant, and imprison them without a trial.


The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court declared Lincoln had no military right to suspend habeas corpus, but Lincoln persisted. The suspension was only overturned five years later, when SCOTUS ruled that civilians were not subject to military law.



The Creation of FEMA


By signing Executive Order 12148 on on July 20, 1979, Jimmy Carter kicked off the stuff of a thousand conspiracy theories. Authorizing the transfer of duties to the newly created Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the order was deemed necessary to combine disaster preparedness agencies spread across the entire federal government, putting it under the control of one director who wouldn't be hamstrung by administrative blocks or conflicting rules.



Ford Pardons Nixon


With controversy raging over a possible trial for Richard Nixon, President Gerald Ford issued Proclamation 4311, giving a full pardon to the former president for any offenses he might have committed during his presidency. On September 8, 1974, Ford addressed the nation and cited the variety of reasons he felt it was prudent to use his executive power to pardon Nixon. These reasons included the national stress of the former president going on trial, the difficulty of Nixon being fairly represented, and his declining health.


Reaction to the pardon was merciless. As Ford had been named by Nixon to the vice presidency after Spiro Agnew's resignation, many pundits openly wondered if Nixon knew he was going to resign, and offered Ford the VP job in exchange for clemency. Ford would be blamed for the sins of the Nixon years, and lost to Jimmy Carter in 1976.



The New Deal


Signed on April 8, 1935, Executive Order 7034 established the Works Progress Administration, a massive new government agency designed to put the millions of people rendered unemployed by the Great Depression back to work. In the eight years it existed, the WPA created eight million jobs, with its workers building over 600,000 miles of roads, 125,000 bridges, 8,000 parks, and 850 airport landing fields. Much of the infrastructure built under the WPA is still in use. It also provided work for artists, musicians, and writers who beautified the country and created public artwork to lift downtrodden spirits.


The WPA was only closed down when war work led to nearly full employment.



Nationalizing the Steel Industry


Faced with a massive strike by the steel industry during the Korean War, President Truman signed Executive Order 10340 on April 8, 1953. This order nationalized all American steel mills and placed them under the control of Secretary of Commerce Charles Sawyer, effectively stopping the strike hours before it was to begin. Within an hour, the strike was called off and representatives for several major steel companies personally served a Federal judge with a demand for a temporary restraining order against President Truman. When that failed, they sued for a permanent one, and that case was heard.


Despite Sawyer personally offering the steel workers a small raise to come back, the case ended up in federal court. That court found against Truman, and the government promptly appealed. The case ended up in the Supreme Court, which ruled that despite the strike imperiling the war effort and possibly emboldening Russian aggression, the president had no constitutional authority to seize private property.



Confiscation of Gold


Due to a clause in the Federal Reserve Act of 1913, the US couldn't print paper money unless it was holding a certain amount of gold in reserve. With the country in the worst of the Great Depression, it became necessary to pump up the supply of available cash -- meaning the Fed needed to be holding more gold. To that end, on April 3, 1933, FDR signed Executive Order 6102, forbidding private ownership of anything but small amounts of gold bullion, coins, or certificates.


Citizens were ordered to turn in their gold within a month (to be traded for a cash amount), or face stiff penalties -- including jail time. Roosevelt was able to enforce these provisions thanks to a World War I law that had never been overturned: the Trading with the Enemy Act. Numerous gold traders and hoarders were arrested, with many serving jail time. Companies had their gold reserves seized, and even now, there is an urban legend that the government can seize the gold out of private safety deposit boxes at any time. This hoax came about simply because the government came into possession of the holdings of thousands of failed banks, much of which has still not been claimed.


The confiscation had its desired effect, as the government was able to print more money, causing lower interest rates and increased investment. US citizens were forbidden from owning large amounts of gold until well into the 1970s.



Restricting Access to Presidential Papers


Signed by the second President Bush on November 1, 2001, Executive Order 13233 caused enormous controversy for restricting access to presidential records. Previously signed executive orders called for presidential papers to be made available to the public 12 years after the term of a president ended. With President Reagan's papers about to be made public, Bush delayed their opening until he finally signed the order.


While this would seem to be a reaction to the 9/11 attacks, Bush had been postponing the release of Reagan's papers since shortly after he took office. The order stood for his entire presidency, until it was abolished by another executive order, this one signed by Barack Obama the day after his inauguration. Notably, the new executive order also makes the vice-president's papers public, which the previous order didn't.



Creating the Warren Commission


Just seven days after the JFK assassination, his successor, President Johnson, signed Executive Order 11130 establishing a commission to investigate the shooting, and whether Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone or as part of a conspiracy. The Warren Commission, named after the group's chairman, Chief Justice Earl Warren, delivered its report to Johnson in September 1964, and it was made public shortly after.


It determined that Oswald indeed acted alone, firing on President Kennedy from the Texas Book Depository with no help. A number of figures involved with the commission feared its report would lead to even more conspiracy theorizing and controversy, and they were right -- the Warren Report wasn't accepted by those who believed Oswald acted as part of an organized plot, and numerous other investigations have been carried out by subsequent government panels.



Forbidding Working with Strikebreakers


While several executive orders have been overturned by the Supreme Court, one of President Clinton's more controversial signings never even made it that far. His Executive Order 12954, signed on March 8, 1995, would forbid the federal government from entering into contracts with firms currently in a work stoppage and using strikebreakers.


The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit quickly ruled that the order was regulatory, and therefore preempted by the National Labor Relations Act. The Clinton administration didn't appeal, and the order was invalidated.



Forbidding Assassination


Stung by the embarrassment of having a number of CIA assassination operations made public, President Ford responded by signing Executive Order 11905 on February 19, 1976. The order reformed much of the intelligence community in the US, ensuring greater oversight and civilian control. It also explicitly banned political assassination as a form of espionage or regime change.


President Carter signed additional executive orders that strengthened Ford's reforms, though it's debatable as to what effect, if any, they had in reeling in the abuses of the CIA. It was also possibly made defunct by President Bush's signing of the Authorization of the Use of Military Force Against Terrorists in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.



Desegregating the Armed Forces


Even with chronic manpower shortages in almost every American war, black troops were usually given menial tasks, and only few saw active combat. Those that did were in segregated units -- and with white officers leading them. President Truman finally put an end to the segregation of the armed forces with Executive Order 9981, signed on July 26, 1948. It abolished racial discrimination in the military, and established a civilian committee to ensure the order was carried out.


Even so, it would take years for the armed forces to fully integrate. The Secretary of the Army was forced into retirement for refusing to desegregate (even a year after the order was signed), numerous black units with white officers fought in Korea, and the last all-black unit in the Army wasn't folded until September, 1954.



Desegregating Little Rock


On September 23, 1957, President Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10730, which federalized the Arkansas National Guard, in the guise of protecting African-American students attempting to enter Little Rock's Central High School. The so-called "Little Rock Nine" were the first black students to attempt entry into an Arkansas public school after the Brown vs. Board of Education decision declared segregation of schools illegal.


When Arkansas's governor ordered the National Guard to "preserve the peace" he meant turn the students away, in the guise of maintaining order. By federalizing the Guard, Eisenhower placed them under his control -- meaning he could order them to protect the students trying to integrate the school.




Source 3

Federalist No. 70: The Executive Department
Further Considered (excerpt) (Primary Source)

by Alexander Hamilton



To the People of the State of New York:


There is an idea, which is not without its advocates, that a vigorous Executive is inconsistent with the genius of republican government. The enlightened well-wishers to this species of government must at least hope that the supposition is destitute of foundation; since they can never admit its truth, without at the same time admitting the condemnation of their own principles. Energy in the Executive is a leading character in the definition of good government. It is essential to the protection of the community against foreign attacks; it is not less essential to the steady administration of the laws; to the protection of property against those irregular and high-handed combinations which sometimes interrupt the ordinary course of justice; to the security of liberty against the enterprises and assaults of ambition, of faction, and of anarchy. Every man the least conversant in Roman story, knows how often that republic was obliged to take refuge in the absolute power of a single man, under the formidable title of Dictator, as well against the intrigues of ambitious individuals who aspired to the tyranny, and the seditions of whole classes of the community whose conduct threatened the existence of all government, as against the invasions of external enemies who menaced the conquest and destruction of Rome.

There can be no need, however, to multiply arguments or examples on this head. A feeble Executive implies a feeble execution of the government. A feeble execution is but another phrase for a bad execution; and a government ill executed, whatever it may be in theory, must be, in practice, a bad government.


Those politicians and statesmen who have been the most celebrated for the soundness of their principles and for the justice of their views, have declared in favor of a single Executive and a numerous legislature. They have with great propriety, considered energy as the most necessary qualification of the former, and have regarded this as most applicable to power in a single hand, while they have, with equal propriety, considered the latter as best adapted to deliberation and wisdom, and best calculated to conciliate the confidence of the people and to secure their privileges and interests.


That unity is conducive to energy will not be disputed. Decision, activity, secrecy, and despatch will generally characterize the proceedings of one man in a much more eminent degree than the proceedings of any greater number; and in proportion as the number is increased, these qualities will be diminished.


This unity may be destroyed in two ways: either by vesting the power in two or more magistrates of equal dignity and authority; or by vesting it ostensibly in one man, subject, in whole or in part, to the control and co-operation of others, in the capacity of counsellors to him. Of the first, the two Consuls of Rome may serve as an example; of the last, we shall find examples in the constitutions of several of the States. New York and New Jersey, if I recollect right, are the only States which have intrusted the executive authority wholly to single men. Both these methods of destroying the unity of the Executive have their partisans; but the votaries of an executive council are the most numerous. They are both liable, if not to equal, to similar objections, and may in most lights be examined in conjunction.

The experience of other nations will afford little instruction on this head. As far, however, as it teaches anything, it teaches us not to be enamoured of plurality in the Executive. We have seen that the Achaeans, on an experiment of two Praetors, were induced to abolish one. The Roman history records many instances of mischiefs to the republic from the dissensions between the Consuls, and between the military Tribunes, who were at times substituted for the Consuls. But it gives us no specimens of any peculiar advantages derived to the state from the circumstance of the plurality of those magistrates. That the dissensions between them were not more frequent or more fatal, is a matter of astonishment, until we advert to the singular position in which the republic was almost continually placed, and to the prudent policy pointed out by the circumstances of the state, and pursued by the Consuls, of making a division of the government between them. The patricians engaged in a perpetual struggle with the plebeians for the preservation of their ancient authorities and dignities; the Consuls, who were generally chosen out of the former body, were commonly united by the personal interest they had in the defense of the privileges of their order. In addition to this motive of union, after the arms of the republic had considerably expanded the bounds of its empire, it became an established custom with the Consuls to divide the administration between themselves by lot — one of them remaining at Rome to govern the city and its environs, the other taking the command in the more distant provinces. This expedient must, no doubt, have had great influence in preventing those collisions and rivalships which might otherwise have embroiled the peace of the republic.


But quitting the dim light of historical research, attaching ourselves purely to the dictates of reason and good sense, we shall discover much greater cause to reject than to approve the idea of plurality in the Executive, under any modification whatever.


Wherever two or more persons are engaged in any common enterprise or pursuit, there is always danger of difference of opinion. If it be a public trust or office, in which they are clothed with equal dignity and authority, there is peculiar danger of personal emulation and even animosity. From either, and especially from all these causes, the most bitter dissensions are apt to spring. Whenever these happen, they lessen the respectability, weaken the authority, and distract the plans and operation of those whom they divide. If they should unfortunately assail the supreme executive magistracy of a country, consisting of a plurality of persons, they might impede or frustrate the most important measures of the government, in the most critical emergencies of the state. And what is still worse, they might split the community into the most violent and irreconcilable factions, adhering differently to the different individuals who composed the magistracy.


Men often oppose a thing, merely because they have had no agency in planning it, or because it may have been planned by those whom they dislike. But if they have been consulted, and have happened to disapprove, opposition then becomes, in their estimation, an indispensable duty of self-love. They seem to think themselves bound in honor, and by all the motives of personal infallibility, to defeat the success of what has been resolved upon contrary to their sentiments. Men of upright, benevolent tempers have too many opportunities of remarking, with horror, to what desperate lengths this disposition is sometimes carried, and how often the great interests of society are sacrificed to the vanity, to the conceit, and to the obstinacy of individuals, who have credit enough to make their passions and their caprices interesting to mankind. Perhaps the question now before the public may, in its consequences, afford melancholy proofs of the effects of this despicable frailty, or rather detestable vice, in the human character.


But one of the weightiest objections to a plurality in the Executive, and which lies as much against the last as the first plan, is, that it tends to conceal faults and destroy responsibility.


Responsibility is of two kinds — to censure and to punishment. The first is the more important of the two, especially in an elective office. Man, in public trust, will much oftener act in such a manner as to render him unworthy of being any longer trusted, than in such a manner as to make him obnoxious to legal punishment. But the multiplication of the Executive adds to the difficulty of detection in either case. It often becomes impossible, amidst mutual accusations, to determine on whom the blame or the punishment of a pernicious measure, or series of pernicious measures, ought really to fall. It is shifted from one to another with so much dexterity, and under such plausible appearances, that the public opinion is left in suspense about the real author. The circumstances which may have led to any national miscarriage or misfortune are sometimes so complicated that, where there are a number of actors who may have had different degrees and kinds of agency, though we may clearly see upon the whole that there has been mismanagement, yet it may be impracticable to pronounce to whose account the evil which may have been incurred is truly chargeable.


"I was overruled by my council. The council were so divided in their opinions that it was impossible to obtain any better resolution on the point." These and similar pretexts are constantly at hand, whether true or false. And who is there that will either take the trouble or incur the odium, of a strict scrutiny into the secret springs of the transaction? Should there be found a citizen zealous enough to undertake the unpromising task, if there happen to be collusion between the parties concerned, how easy it is to clothe the circumstances with so much ambiguity, as to render it uncertain what was the precise conduct of any of those parties?


It is evident from these considerations, that the plurality of the Executive tends to deprive the people of the two greatest securities they can have for the faithful exercise of any delegated power, first, the restraints of public opinion, which lose their efficacy, as well on account of the division of the censure attendant on bad measures among a number, as on account of the uncertainty on whom it ought to fall; and, second, the opportunity of discovering with facility and clearness the misconduct of the persons they trust, in order either to their removal from office or to their actual punishment in cases which admit of it.


The idea of a council to the Executive, which has so generally obtained in the State constitutions, has been derived from that maxim of republican jealousy which considers power as safer in the hands of a number of men than of a single man. If the maxim should be admitted to be applicable to the case, I should contend that the advantage on that side would not counterbalance the numerous disadvantages on the opposite side. But I do not think the rule at all applicable to the executive power. I clearly concur in opinion, in this particular, with a writer whom the celebrated Junius pronounces to be "deep, solid, and ingenious," that "the executive power is more easily confined when it is ONE"; that it is far more safe there should be a single object for the jealousy and watchfulness of the people; and, in a word, that all multiplication of the Executive is rather dangerous than friendly to liberty.


A little consideration will satisfy us, that the species of security sought for in the multiplication of the Executive, is unattainable. Numbers must be so great as to render combination difficult, or they are rather a source of danger than of security. The united credit and influence of several individuals must be more formidable to liberty, than the credit and influence of either of them separately. When power, therefore, is placed in the hands of so small a number of men, as to admit of their interests and views being easily combined in a common enterprise, by an artful leader, it becomes more liable to abuse, and more dangerous when abused, than if it be lodged in the hands of one man; who, from the very circumstance of his being alone, will be more narrowly watched and more readily suspected, and who cannot unite so great a mass of influence as when he is associated with others. The Decemvirs of Rome, whose name denotes their number, were more to be dreaded in their usurpation than any ONE of them would have been. No person would think of proposing an Executive much more numerous than that body; from six to a dozen have been suggested for the number of the council. The extreme of these numbers, is not too great for an easy combination; and from such a combination America would have more to fear, than from the ambition of any single individual. A council to a magistrate, who is himself responsible for what he does, are generally nothing better than a clog upon his good intentions, are often the instruments and accomplices of his bad and are almost always a cloak to his faults.


I forbear to dwell upon the subject of expense; though it be evident that if the council should be numerous enough to answer the principal end aimed at by the institution, the salaries of the members, who must be drawn from their homes to reside at the seat of government, would form an item in the catalogue of public expenditures too serious to be incurred for an object of equivocal utility. I will only add that, prior to the appearance of the Constitution, I rarely met with an intelligent man from any of the States, who did not admit, as the result of experience, that the UNITY of the executive of this State was one of the best of the distinguishing features of our constitution.






Source 4

The Constitution of the United States (Primary Source)


Article 2, Section 2


The President shall be 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; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.


He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the Supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.


The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.











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