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Every four years, on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, millions of Americans go to the polls to choose a new leader in a free and open election. The candidates, nominated during the preceding summer at the conventions of their respective political parties, have waged vigorous campaigns. Through the media of radio, television, newspapers and magazines, they have made known their views on both national and international affairs and have become familiar faces to the people of the nation.
On Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, the successful candidate for the high office of president of the United States takes this oath of office: I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
This is the same oath that has been taken by every American president since George Washington. Yet, in the two centuries since the first president was inaugurated, the obligations and duties implied in the oath have changed. The key to the changes lies in the words “the Office of the President.”
Exactly what is the Office of the President? What was it originally intended to be? And what has it become?
The men who wrote the Constitution of the United States were opposed to the idea of an all-powerful head of state. America’s Founding Fathers thought of the presidency as an office of great honor and dignity but one with little real power. The American colonists in general favored the parliamentary system of government but did not believe that all governmental powers should rest within any one body. So, in framing the Constitution, they provided for three separate branches: legislative, executive and judicial.
Article I of the Constitution deals with the functions of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Not until Article II is any mention made of the president. This article states that the president shall be the head of the executive branch of the government. But, to limit and restrict the office, the Constitution provides Congress with checks against any president who may try to assume too much authority.
The framers of the Constitution believed that in the presidency they had created an office of prestige but little power. They would be astounded if they knew the changes that have occurred. The powers and responsibilities of the president have grown enormously. The president has become the leader of the country in fact as well as in name. His words and deeds affect the course of history not only in the United States, but also in every country throughout the world. The men who were presidents early in the history of the republic were able to carry on the duties of their office with little assistance. When George Washington served as first president of the United States, his staff consisted of a secretary, one or two clerks and household servants who acted as messengers.
But with the enormous growth in presidential power and responsibilities, the office of the presidency now must be run by a large staff.Today the president of the United States requires the assistance of more than 1,500 people. The employees assigned to jobs directly relating to the office of the presidency are staff members of the Executive Office of the President. The Executive Office was created by Congress, but it can be reorganized by the president through executive orders.
The president’s Cabinet is one of the most important parts of the executive branch of the government. The Cabinet was not provided for by the Constitution, nor was it created by an act of Congress. It developed through necessity. The Cabinet traces its beginnings to George Washington’s assembling his department heads in 1793 to discuss U.S. neutrality in the French Revolutionary wars. The Cabinet is made up of the heads of the 14 departments of the government. Its function is to advise the president on matters of the greatest importance. One of the first tasks of a new president is to select a Cabinet.
The first executive posts, which became the president’s Cabinet, were created in 1789. They were the following:
The present-day Cabinet includes the following heads of executive departments:
The president may also choose other members of government to serve in the Cabinet; the vice president, the White House chief of staff, and the director of the Office of Management and Budget may all join the Cabinet at the president’s discretion.