The Constitution: Article II -- The Executive Branch, the presidency

  • George Washington, our country's first president.

    George Washington, our country's first president. Courtesy of National Archives

  • Retired educator Bruce Simmons of Aurora writes a guest column on the U.S. Constitution.

    Retired educator Bruce Simmons of Aurora writes a guest column on the U.S. Constitution.

 
By Bruce Simmons
Sixth in a series
Posted11/30/2022 6:00 AM

This is the sixth in a series of short essays about the U.S. Constitution and the first of two about Article II -- the Executive Branch. This offering discusses the office of the President, arguably the most unique head of government in the world's history.

Why would anyone want to become President of the United States? The salary is not impressive. It's a thankless job of preserving, protecting, and defending the Constitution. Everything said or done is scrutinized under the microscope of public opinion. Expectations are impossible. The duties are overwhelming.

 

Many misunderstand the powers of the office. Foreign leaders look to the president as the most powerful person in the world. Political scientists debate whether the president is even the most powerful person in the country because we are so concerned by the misuse of power.

The Framers designed a government that shares, separates, and limits power. There is no one answer on why a person would want to take that simple oath.

One thing is certain -- the United States was fortunate to have George Washington as our first chief executive officer. He was our Cincinnatus.

Cincinnatus was a poor Roman farmer who, in the fifth century BCE, was called upon twice by his countrymen to save the Republic. As the myth goes, this patriot twice left his dictatorial position of power after defeating those trying to conquer Rome.

To this day, groups around the U.S., like the Cincinnatus Association in Ohio, distribute Cincinnatus Awards to citizens who display the civic virtue required to sacrifice private pursuits to serve the public.

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He wanted all Americans to understand, like with Cincinnatus, that government service was just that -- service to preserve our culture from enemies of the state. This concept is called Civic Virtue. It is the cornerstone of our form of democracy.

The Framers positioned the Executive Branch in the Second Article of our Constitution.

Wary of dictators and noblemen, they wanted to stress that our Representatives in Congress had the major role in overseeing those responsible for running the day-to-day functions of the government.

Let's be frank. The person who is president is summoned once a year to address the Congress and give them a State of the Union address. The president cannot enter the Capitol without an invitation.

Likewise, members of Congress come to the White House by request or invitation only.

The president cannot interfere with the Supreme Court. The Justices of the Supreme Court also receive invitations to visit the other two branches, but must let those branches work without their input.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The separations in our government are stark and necessary. Rules and traditions, written or perceived, are ingrained. All are meant to ensure an ongoing smooth transition of powers every two years. No one is totally in charge.

Over the years, our nation has had a variety of presidents: Dualists (Jackson), supporters of racist policies (Wilson, among others), educators (Lyndon Johnson, among others), failed businessmen (Teddy Roosevelt and Truman), farmers (Washington and Jefferson, among others), lawyers galore, former congressmen, military generals (Grant and Eisenhower, among others), veterans, men who suffered from alcoholism (Andrew Johnson and Grant, among others), wealthy (Kennedy and Trump, among others), poor (Lincoln), genius level minds (Lincoln and John Quincy Adams, among others), some dimwits (you make that selection), and many smart individuals with no college degrees or formal training. And one African American. Several have been impeached.

All had two advantages -- the Constitution that outlined their responsibilities and powers and historical precedents to guide them through thick and thin.

When General Washington addressed the officers of the Continental Army at New York's Frances Tavern on Dec. 4, 1783, he had every intention of returning to his wife and plantation at Mount Vernon as a private citizen.

But, like Cincinnatus, he was called again to preside over the Constitutional Convention and, eventually, elected President of the United States.

Civic virtue cannot be overstated when our nation selects its president.

• Bruce Simmons of Aurora is a former teacher with more than 25 years experience teaching social studies and humanities. This is one in a series of essays describing the history and meaning of the U.S. Constitution. The next installment covers the responsibilities and powers of the Executive Branch.

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