In this series about the Constitution, of which this is the fourth part and there are several more parts to come, we are exploring the natural unalienable rights recognized in the U. S. Constitution, keeping in mind the rights to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness that we covered in the preceding series about the Declaration of Independence. This part covers Article II of the Constitution, about the executive power, which resides in the President.
It is important at the outset of any analysis of Article II, to note that this Article provides that the President and Vice President of the United States shall not be elected by the direct vote of the people, but rather by electors who are appointed by each State in a manner to be directed by the legislature of each State. Each State has as many electors as the number of Senators and Representatives it has in Congress. While this provision has been the subject of much debate, it is actually perfectly consistent with the concept of a representative Republic that the Constitution frames, as opposed to the concept of a direct democracy, which the Constitution avoided. The idea was, and continues to be, that the elected representatives of the people, rather than the people themselves, would run the government to avoid a “tyranny of the masses.” Let’s revisit the movie The Patriot. Remember when Mel Gibson said that he would rather be ruled by one tyrant thousands of miles away (the King of England) than by many tyrants close to home? To avoid such tyranny, the Constitution established a system of checks and balances to avoid anyone, including the majority of the people at a moment of irrational passion, from doing anything that would be threatening to long term orderly liberty. The people elect the representatives, but the representatives run the government within a system that is purposefully made up of subsequent steps, to avoid irrational and passionate actions which may be detrimental to liberty. Thus, the people elect their State legislators and these representatives in turn provide for the appointment of the electors of the State, and then these electors, together with the electors of every other State, elect the President and Vice President by their votes. The election reflects the vote of the people indirectly, first through their Sate legislators and then through the electors chosen by the State legislators. While in theory the electors may elect another candidate, the practice has been that they elect the candidate that received the majority of the popular vote.
The above-described guarded approach to the election of the President and Vice President is further justified by the immense power that is vested in the presidency by this Article II. First, the “President shall be the 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.” This power is huge. It has the potential to make the President an absolute and dictatorial ruler as the commander of all the armed forces of the Nation, including the armed people as a whole, which constitute the Militia. It is opined by many historical analysts that this power was used by President Lincoln during the Civil War to the point that he became in many aspects an absolute dictatorial ruler in order to save the Union.
Subject to the consent of the Senate, the President is the one who conducts foreign policy by entering into treaties, appoints ambassadors, appoints the cabinet, may propose legislation, has some authority on the conduction of legislative sessions, may grant pardons, is entrusted with executing the law, and nominates the judges of the Supreme Court. This prerogative to nominate the judges of the Supreme Court, while subject to the consent of the Senate, is very important due to the power delegated to such court as we will see when we analyze Article III about the Judicial Power.
The Executive Power is by far the most expansive power vested in one person under the Constitution. The President, and in his absence the Vice President, may effectively exercise a monopoly of armed power over the Nation. While this may seem to be in contradiction with the intent to protect our natural unalienable rights, we need to remember that the Founding Fathers were realists, not utopians. They well knew that to safeguard life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, armed resistance against enemies may be necessary, and that an effective centralized power to direct the same may be indispensable.