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Today We Learn About: Evolution of Presidential Power

Presidential power evolves because our country evolves just as our language, culture, science and technology make progress. The office evolved significantly between 1787 and 1809 as men arrived in office with a particular view of presidential power, only to have this view shift upon taking office. The Constitutional Convention alone saw the presidency change from a vaguely defined office as it was in the Virginia Plan, to specific and powerful as in the Hamilton Plan, which proposed an executive chosen by the electors that would serve for life with the ability to veto all laws passed by the legislature.1 Washington believed himself to be, and acted as, the chief administrative officer of the entire government of the United States.2 John Adams wrote “the other branches are imbecile”, and “the executive power is granted, not the executive power hereinafter enumerated and explained.”3 This view may explain why Adams made some of the decision that he did. Thomas Jefferson arrived in office as a Strict Constructionist, but greatly expanded presidential power through the replacement of federal staffers, carrying out undeclared wars, and committing the nation to the Louisiana Purchase amongst many other expansive uses of power.4 These men had specific views of the presidency that they sought to embody and each executed the responsibilities of the office in a different manner that usually changed over time. Continue reading

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