Adonis Diaries

History of the USA Presidential Institution… Part 1

Posted on: December 30, 2013

History of The USA Presidential Institution…

In August 1786, Daniel Shays, a retired officer, lead a revolt of the debtors in Massachusetts in order to block actions of the creditors in courts. The proprietors, rich elite classes and politicians who defended the concept of public order were terribly worried of this turn of events.

What to do in periods of crisis, economic and foreign wars on the US territory?

Since May 1775, before independence, delegates from the 13 colonies took residence in Philadelphia and voted for the Declaration of Independence.

In Nov. 15, 1777, the same delegates adopted the Articles of Confederation and the North-West ordinance of 1787 related to colonization of territories westwards. These articles were applied on March 1781.

During the Confederation status, the power resided in a unicameral legislative body (printing money, naming military chiefs, voting laws and regulating justice differences among the States…)

This legislative body Congress was assisted by 3 departments: Finance, war, and foreign affairs and presided by an honorific President. When not in session, a counsel of States took care of the general affairs of the Confederation.

With the exception of Rhode Island, all 12 States dispatched representatives to Philadelphia on May 25, 1787.

A third of the delegates have fought in the independence war. Most of them were educated, had experience public affairs and were financially comfortable (proprietors of vast land and slaves). These delegates were later named “The Founding Fathers

They discussed for weeks and reached an agreement on Sept. 17, 1787 on a project that replaced the Confederation with articles of Federation and a centralized power. The power resides in the people and includes 3 separate powers: Legislative, Executive and Judiciary.

The project for discussion was conceived by the delegates of Virginia and the notes taken by James Madison were published in 1840 after his death.

The hardest of issues was the level of power attributed to the President: The southern States wanted a weak executive in order to preserve “individual freedom” and keep at bay tyrannical and monarchic tendencies… Thomas Jefferson was leading this group who apprehended the encroachment of the central power on the Rights of the States.

Alexander Hamilton in daily The Federalist pressed for a strong Executive: “A powerful executive which is the essential condition for good governance with a substantial budget to run the interest of the country facing powerful European nations…”

A third group of delegates offered the alternative of Collegiate Executive, emulating the model in Switzerland, where the authority is diluted in the name of liberties.

Mind you that 25% of the Constitutional text were dedicated to the Congress for just 5% to the executive. This means, the Founding Father gave Congress priority in the Constitution which initially had the power to vote on laws, taxing, declaring war, external commerce…

Slowly but surely, the first strong presidents (mainly George Washington and the third president Thomas Jefferson) implicitly encroached on the power of Congress when not in session under various excuses related to “time of crisis” and many loopholes not covered in the initial Constitutional text.

During a full century, most Presidents were of the weaker kinds in exercising their power because Congress took over the selection of the candidates.

The next post will discuss the power of the executive and the selection process as defined by the first Constitutional text

Note 1: Story taken from the French book “Les Presidents Americains” by Andre Kaspi and Helene Harter

Note 2: At the time of independence in July 4, 1776, the colonies had barely 4 million. Virginia was the most populous and richest of the 13 colonies. Massachusetts  was the second most influential in political clout and followed by New York. The other colonies were: Delaware, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Maryland, North and South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Connecticut, Rhode Island.

Note 3: By 1800, the 13 States had 300 dailies that constituted the main media to promote ideas, programs, political positions and candidates for the presidency and Senate. A little over 67,000 popular votes were expressed during the election of the Grand Electors.

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adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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