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Expansion of presidential power: lesson overview

AP.GOPO:
CON‑4 (EU)
,
CON‑4.C (LO)
,
CON‑4.C.1 (EK)
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CON‑4.C.2 (EK)
,
CON‑4.C.3 (EK)
A high-level overview of how the presidency has been enhanced beyond its expressed constitutional powers.
How much power should the president have? On one hand, a powerful executive permits quick and decisive action, which is important for responding to current events. On the other hand, if the president gets too powerful, Congress and the people may lack the ability to hold him or her accountable.

Key terms

TermDefinition
formal powersPowers expressly granted to the president under Article II of the Constitution. Examples include making treaties, commanding the military, appointing Supreme Court justices, and vetoing legislation.
informal powersPowers claimed by presidents as necessary in order to execute the law. Examples include issuing executive orders and negotiating executive agreements.
single executiveAn executive branch led by a single person.
Twenty-second Amendment (1951)The Twenty-second Amendment to the US Constitution applies term limits to the office of the president. Under the Twenty-second Amendment, no one may be elected president more than twice, or serve as president longer than ten years.
War Powers Act (1973)Also called the War Powers Resolution, the War Powers Act limits the president’s power to deploy US armed forces. Every president since Nixon has contested the War Powers Act as an infringement of their role as Commander in Chief of the armed forces.

Document to know

Federalist No. 70 (1788) — “The Executive Department Further Considered,” written by Alexander Hamilton. In this essay, Hamilton argues that a single executive (led by one person as president, rather than several people acting as a council) is the best form for the executive branch of the United States.
He reasons that one president can act more quickly, and with more secrecy when necessary, than a larger group of leaders. He also argues that a single executive is less dangerous to democracy than a council, because it is easier to identify and remove one corrupt person than to discover who among several leaders is a bad actor.

Key takeaways

Beyond the Constitution — The Framers wanted a single executive to give energy and efficiency to the executive branch. But the extent of presidential power has been an ongoing negotiation—over time, presidents have claimed powers beyond the expressed constitutional powers in Article II, while Congress has made attempts to limit the president’s power through laws and Constitutional amendments.

What do you think?

What are the benefits of a single executive? What are the potential dangers?
Why do you think the president’s informal powers have grown over time?

Want to join the conversation?

  • blobby green style avatar for user scrublorf30
    Role as commander-in-chief - What presidents have used this power to expand the presidency
    (7 votes)
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  • leafers seed style avatar for user kdonato0005
    How may having a single executive lead to tyranny? How does the structure of the government help prevent tyranny?
    (4 votes)
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    • duskpin seedling style avatar for user Elizabeth Nichols
      Having a single executive could lead to tyranny due to the fact that they would not have to check with other powers and could use all of the power to themselves. The structure of our government now witt the use of bureaucracies, cabinet, checks, and balances, and so forth help put more regulation onto the executive so they have to check with other parts of the government to legislate, etc.
      (9 votes)
  • sneak peak yellow style avatar for user Jay C
    how has the president's power increased from the start of presidenticy?
    (4 votes)
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    • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Hecretary Bird
      Generally, the president's power will increase whenever there is a national crisis, or other need for strong, immediate action from the government. Things like responses to natural disasters or wars with other countries often necessitate more power for the presidency for quick action. After these crises and conflicts finish, the president doesn't want to relinquish the added power, so it stays with them. Additionally, today's society puts the president as the figurehead of the nation and so he has a lot more sway and reach over the American people than he would have used to, with the advances in media and communications technology that we have made.
      (4 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Heaven
    how did Jefferson expand the powers of the president? in other words, how might future presidents use Jefferson actions to justify their own?
    (4 votes)
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  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Miguel  Breton
    What are the benefits of a single executive? What are the potential dangers?
    (3 votes)
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  • marcimus pink style avatar for user StudentE
    what affect will this have on me
    (2 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Youngblood, A´Deja
    How does the use of executive orders cause the power of the presidency to expand beyond the framers’ intent?
    (2 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Izabela Scallions
    role as a commander, what presidents have used this power to expand the presidency?
    (2 votes)
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