Civics on Saturday: The Constitution, Part III- Article II

Just as Article I of the Constitution establishes Congress and defined its role, Article II creates the Executive Branch of government and sets out some guidelines and parameters as to what functions the framers thought the president and vice president should serve.

Section I of the article creates the office of president and vice president and decrees that they shall serve four year terms, though there’s no mention of a limitation on how many four year terms they can serve. The question of term limitations wasn’t really considered until FDR ran for his third stay in the White House. He died during his fourth term, and Congress proposed the XXII (22nd) Amendment, which restricted the term of president to eight years (or ten if the president takes over for one who is assassinated or otherwise incapacitated.

The president and vice president are not chosen by popular vote – directly by the people – but rather by an electoral college. They are appointed by the individual states and their numbers are equal to the individual states’ legislative members. The assumption was made, when the Constitution was written, that the citizenry wouldn’t be able to make an informed decision about whom to elect for such an important office and, if we consider the difficulties in travel and communication in the 1780s, I can’t say I disagree with that assumption. I’m still not entirely sure I completely understand how the electoral college works; it’s something I’ll do a bit more research about when I have a little more time.

The actual procedure the electors used to name a president was modified by the XII (12th) Amendment in 1804, and provided separate balloting procedures for both the president and vice president – as best I can tell, there was some hullaballoo between Jefferson and Aaron Burr, and the House of Representatives had to decide between the tied candidates.

The Article also names the requirements for a person to be elected into the Executive offices: they must be a natural-born citizen (leaving the Governator out of the running) and must be at least 35 years old at the time of his or her election. JFK was 43 when he was elected into office, though Teddy Roosevelt was made president at 42 after McKinley was assassinated in 1901. The president also must have lived in the U.S. for 14 years. The article also decrees that the vice president shall be named president in the event of “removal…from office, …death, resignation or inability to discharge the powers and duties” on the part of the president.

The article lays out some of the jobs the president is expected to fulfill, as well: s/he has recess appointment powers, s/he is required to give “information of the state of the union” to Congress, s/he is tasked to “receive ambassadors and other public ministers,” and, most importantly, the president is required to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” The process of impeachment – of removing a president from office should the officer be charged with “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors – is also outlined in the Article.

I have to tell you how difficult it is for me to not comment on the current office holder. I recognize that’s not what this forum is for, however, so I’m exercising great restraint (especially when we got to the impeachment part).

This is an awful lot of information. Are your brains full yet?




Filed under Civics and Citizenship

4 responses to “Civics on Saturday: The Constitution, Part III- Article II

  1. Yes, the election of 1800 was quite the mad scene.

    First, you had a sitting President, John Adams, running against a sitting Vice President, Thomas Jefferson. That’s because VP was given to the person with the second highest number of electoral votes.

    Jefferson’s plan to have Aaron Burr as his vice-president. The whole block of electors was going to vote for TJ, and one elector was going to withhold his vote for Burr, putting him in second. But OOPS, somebody screwed up leaving Burr and Jefferson tied. Jefferson expected that Burr would do the honorable thing and publicly withdraw himself from the running. Instead, Burr decided to see how this whole thing would play out…

    The election was thrown to Congress. People who supported John Adams HATED Jefferson, so a lot of them decided to throw their support to Burr, who was seen as a more reasonable man. It was quite the scandal.

    There are a ton of books on the election of 1800, but one of the most fascinating looks at the early years of our country is Gore Vidal’s “Burr.” In this book, Burr is the anti-hero who skewers the sainted Washington (who says disingenously, I would never have sought the office of President) and Jefferson (a paranoid control freak with a penchant for fucking slaves).

    It eventually worked itself out and Jefferson was the third President of the United States. Burr was not asked to join the ticket in 1804. Surprise!

  2. Michael! THANK YOU! I should have thought to throw this question your way – I LOVE your Presidential and Royal Trivia segments!

    Please – I’m relying on you folks to fill in my (many and vast) blanks about this. All I’m putting here is my meager research (it’s been a busy week) and what I can discern from the text (I’m a literary analyst at heart). If you have something to add, I’m practically begging you to hit the “submit comment” button.

  3. My brain is not full, just tired. The electoral college is one of my favorite parts of our government. Um. Ok, now that I sound like a nerd, let’s continue. My favorite part of my favorite part is that how delegates are chosen from the states is left up to the states. I do not believe Americans have a formal right (in the constitution) to even vote for their delegates to the college. It intrigues me.

  4. redroach

    The Jefferson/Burr thing is a real killer.
    Burr was technically running as TJ’s VP. He wound up with the same amount of Electoral votes as TJ, so the House of Representatives had to break the tie.
    TWENTY SIX (26) Tie votes later, Alexander Hamilton got a)Tired of all the bullshit b)decided Burr was a giant prick and had all the Federalist Party Congressmen vote for TJ.

    Problem solve, except for the fact that Hamilton and TJ hated each other, but Burr was a big prick, which is part of the reason he later shots AH.


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