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Presidency of the United States



Exactly how the executive branch should function and how much power it should have was a source of great debate for the authors of the U.S. Constitution. They ultimately decided on a president who would have broad power but who would be prevented from wielding too much power by the legislative and judicial branches. The Constitution sets forth very specific powers, duties, and responsibilities for the president. Other roles and responsibilities of the president have been shaped over time by constitutional amendments, presidential actions, Congress, and the public. Presidential power has grown substantially since the office began, due to the greater U.S. role in world affairs, the growth of government, and the actions of several presidents since the early 20th century. The presidency is also shaped by the vice president as well as the many executive departments and the presidential staff.

At A Glance

  • Article 2 of the Constitution stipulates a person must be a natural-born citizen of the United States, at least 35 years old, and a resident of the United States for 14 years to become president. Practically speaking, a major party candidate needs strong name recognition and the abilities to raise large amounts of money and win votes.
  • The Constitution states that the president is head of the executive branch, commander in chief of the armed forces, chief diplomat, and nominator of judges and executive branch officials. The president also has the power to veto laws and grant pardons.
  • The president has several roles that are not directly described in the Constitution, including the country's head of state, chief economic planner, and major spokesperson as well as party leader and fundraiser.
  • Presidential power has grown substantially over time due to the growing U.S. role in the world, the growth of the executive branch, increased media attention on the presidency, and the exercise of power in domestic policy by Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, and Ronald Reagan.
  • According to a prominent political scientist, presidential performance is a result of character traits, including style and view of the world, the situation in the country and the world during the presidency, and public expectations of the president and the moment.
  • The Constitution describes the use of the Electoral College for electing a president, which has sometimes propelled a candidate who failed to win the popular vote into office. The 12th Amendment corrected language in the Constitution that permitted a tie in electoral votes between two candidates of the same party and ensured that candidates elected as president and vice president would come from the same party.
  • Three amendments have changed constitutional provisions by stipulating that a presidential term starts on January 20 rather than March 4, limiting an individual to two elected terms as president (one in the case of someone who serves at least two years when succeeding to the office), and specifying the order of succession to the presidency.
  • The Executive Office of the President was created in 1939 to provide support for the president to govern effectively. Led by the chief of staff, it consists of several advisors and councils, the most important of which are the Office of Management and Budget, the National Security Council, and the Council of Economic Advisors.
  • Other than becoming president should the office become vacant, the vice president's chief constitutional duty is to serve as president of the Senate. In modern times, vice presidents have played greater roles in assisting the president in carrying out policies.
  • Article 2, Section 2, of the Constitution calls for the president to be advised by the principal officers in each executive department, a group known collectively as the cabinet, which has grown to include 15 executive departments, each with responsibility in a range of policy areas.
  • The president of the United States has broad executive power, exerted at times by the issuance of executive orders and the signing of executive agreements with foreign leaders. The president's power to veto laws and nominate federal judges gives the office influence over the other branches of the government.
  • A system of checks and balances keeps too much power from concentrating in the executive branch. Congress can override vetoes and must approve presidential appointments and the budget, and the judiciary can find executive branch actions unconstitutional.
  • Term limits and public approval of the job the president is doing have a great influence on what a president can accomplish in office.