The Presidency and the Constitution

"The Executive Power and the Constitution, Part 1"


The institution of the presidency as established by the American Founders has been drastically altered over the course of the last century. The modern executive branch spends most of its time and energy engaged in unconstitutional activities, while neglecting many of its constitutional obligations. Whereas the American Founders thought the purpose of government should be the protection of every citizen’s natural rights, today’s government— by means of a bureaucracy nominally overseen by the president—is oriented toward the protection of certain classes of citizens and detailed management of society’s problems. By contrast, the Founders thought that rights should be protected by all three branches: they are defined in law by Congress, violations thereof are adjudicated in the courts, and those who violate the rights of others are punished, according to law, by the executive.


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Discussion Questions

  • According to the Founders, what is the role of the executive in maintaining the rule of law and protecting the rights of citizens?
  • In what respects does the president share lawmaking authority with Congress, and why did the Founders believe this arrangement was necessary?
  • How was the presidency designed to be not only strong and energetic but also safe for liberty?

Q & A Session

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Thomas G. West is the Paul Ermine Potter and Dawn Tibbetts Potter Professor in Politics at Hillsdale College. He received his B.A. from Cornell University and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Claremont Graduate University.