Diving into the Constitution: Article II

The Federal government of the United States has three branches as laid out in the Constitution. Last week, we reviewed what the Constitution says about the Legislative branch (Congress, composed of the Senate and the House of Representatives). This week, we review the Executive branch (represented by the President and Vice President).

AN OVERVIEW

In Article II, the framers lay out the qualifications for President and Vice President, the way in which the President should be elected, how long the President should serve, what the duties of the office should be, and what should happen if the President becomes unable to serve. The Constitution does not address the subject of a federal workforce beyond the officials mentioned except to say that there will be “Departments” whose heads may be required to inform the President.

While Article I gives Congress the power to enact laws, Article II requires that the President “shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed”. See more on this power and Executive Orders below. The President has the power to make treaties with foreign countries and to declare war (as the Commander in Chief), but the Senate has the power to approve and disapprove the treaties. Section 2 also describes the President’s powers to appoint and to fill vacancies and to grant pardons.

Section 3 briefly describes the President’s responsibility to inform Congress (the annual “State of the Union” speech) and authority to convene one or both Houses on special occasions, to meet with foreign dignitaries, and to commission all Officers of the United States.

It is in Section 4 that we first encounter the requirements for impeachment. You may remember that Article I, Section 3 grants to the Senate the sole responsibility to try impeachments. Impeachment is the process by which a legislative body levels charges against a government official. Impeachment does not in itself remove the official definitively from office: it is similar to an indictment in criminal law (essentially the statement of charges against the official). When you look at the simple language of Section 4, you can understand why there might be disputes about whether charges against a specific official meet the standard for impeachment.

Our first President, George Washington, had been the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War and the President of the 1787 Constitutional Convention. He wanted to retire to his Virginia plantation after serving in those positions, but he was the unanimous choice for President. His inauguration was held on April 30, 1789 (yes, this means that there was no President of the United States of America from 1776 until 1789!). His Vice President, John Adams, stood by his side as President Washington took the oath of office and kissed a Bible in confirmation of his pledge.

President Washington warned against the divisiveness of political parties, but he remains the only American President never affiliated with a political party. The Constitution does not address the subject of political parties; and there is, therefore, no requirement that the President and Vice President be members of the same party.

As mentioned above, a power inferred from Article II is the President’s authority to issue Executive Orders. You may be surprised to learn that the first executive order was issued by President George Washington. In fact, he issued 8 of them. Many readers may think that the number issued by various Presidents has increased steadily over the years, but this is very far from the truth. The top four all time issuers were Franklin Roosevelt (3,721), Woodrow Wilson (1,803), Calvin Coolidge (1,203), and Theodore Roosevelt (1,081). No President since Dwight Eisenhower – even over two terms – has issued more than 400 orders. Click here to learn more about the history of Executive Orders. If you’d like to know more about what an Executive Order is and how it is carried out, click here.

One final note: our Constitution describes a chief executive who is very much like a CEO who is beholden to a Board of Directors. That’s because – like the other two branches of our Federal government – the President’s role is limited to providing specific services and making specific types of decisions. The real “heads of states/nations” are the Governors of the individual States or, in the final analysis, the individual Citizens from whom the power of the government is derived. Under the original Constitution for the United States of America, the President’s role was simply to decide HOW business is to be conducted. It was the role of Congress to decide what, when, where, how much, at what cost, and why business is to be conducted. That was because the Members of Congress were to act as Deputies (accountable fiduciary officers) of their home states. Keep this in mind. As we are continue our journey looking at the entire Constitution and all of the Amendments, we will discover how the roles of the branches have changed over time.

THE TEXT

Article II

Section 1

The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.

He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice President, chosen for the same Term, be elected, as follows:

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot for two Persons, of whom one at least shall not be an Inhabitant of the same State with themselves. And they shall make a List of all the Persons voted for, and of the Number of Votes for each; which List they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the Seat of the Government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate. The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted. The Person having the greatest Number of Votes shall be the President, if such Number be a Majority of the whole Number of Electors appointed; and if there be more than one who have such Majority, and have an equal Number of Votes, then the House of Representatives shall immediately chuse by Ballot one of them for President; and if no Person have a Majority, then from the five highest on the List the said House shall in like Manner chuse the President. But in chusing the President, the Votes shall be taken by States, the Representation from each State having one Vote; A quorum for this Purpose shall consist of a Member or Members from two thirds of the States, and a Majority of all the States shall be necessary to a Choice. In every Case, after the Choice of the President, the Person having the greatest Number of Votes of the Electors shall be the Vice President. But if there should remain two or more who have equal Votes, the Senate shall chuse from them by Ballot the Vice President. [the provision was changed by the 12th Amendment]

The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.

No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.

In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the Vice President, and the Congress may by Law provide for the Case of Removal, Death, Resignation or Inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what Officer shall then act as President, and such Officer shall act accordingly, until the Disability be removed, or a President shall be elected. [this provision was changed by the 25th Amendment]

The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be increased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.

Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:–“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

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 Offenses 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.

Section 3

He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper; he shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers; he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and shall Commission all the Officers of the United States.

Section 4

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

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Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presidency_of_George_Washington
https://constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/full-text

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3 thoughts on “Diving into the Constitution: Article II”

  1. This is an awesome post, Anne. I believe every US citizen should learn the Constitution so they can be clear on not only their own rights, but also the rights of the President, Vice President and members of both Houses and any branch of government. I also think this is the reason why we have so much anarchy in our country right now. Because most people, even private citizens, don’t know exactly what their rights are. And if you don’t know your rights, you can so easily be exploited because people who are more powerful will exploit that lack of knowledge for their own benefit. I guarantee that this is a factor in why the Left is condoning or committing so many illegal activities right now. They’re banking on the fact that so many citizens and yes, even a few leaders, don’t know their rights. Thank you so much for posting this. It’s something that so many people really need to know right now, in these uncertain times! ❤

    Like

    1. Oh, Cherie, your comment gives me great encouragement. Thank you for taking the time to recognize what I am trying to do with this current series. I encourage you to read each one starting with the Declaration of Independence and continuing through all of the Amendments. The Bill of Rights – the crown jewel of the formal recognition of natural rights – is scheduled for publication on 10/4. May we ever be faithful to the brave vision of the framers!

      Liked by 1 person

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