The Executive Branch

The President of the United States of America, by virtue of formally granted constitutional powers, has several significant leadership roles. While these roles are varied and diverse, they can generally be divided into two large areas of authority and responsibility: domestic policy and foreign affairs. So distinct are the two realms of presidential activity and so different are the degrees of success within each that political scientists generally refer to these two subdivisions as the "two presidencies."1

The Domestic Policy Presidency
In the domestic arena, the President, as Chief Executive, has the formal constitutional authority to oversee the execution and implementation of the law. The President also has the ability to significantly influence the legislative and judicial branches. Through the exercise of these powers, the President can exert wide-spread and long-lasting influence on the domestic policies of the nation.

The Foreign Policy Presidency
The Constitution establishes that the President of the United States shall be the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. As such, the President is the constitutional head of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, commissions all officers in the armed forces and appoints all high-ranking military leaders, such as the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. More significantly, while the Congress has the authority to "Declare War," Presidents since Washington have "made war" without explicit congressional cooperation.

1. Aaron Wildavsky, "The Two Presidencies," in Perspectives on the Presidency, edited by Wildavsky (Boston: Little, Brown, 1975).

Facts & Figures

Executive Quick Facts
Salaries of Federal Legislative, Executive and Judicial Officials

Historical Documents

Inaugural Addresses
Presidential Oaths of Office
State of the Union Addresses

Federalist Papers
No. 67 - The Executive Department
No. 75 - The Treaty Making Power of the Executive
No. 76 - The Appointing Power of the Executive
No. 77 - The Appointing Power Continued and Other Powers of the Executive Considered

AntiFederalist Papers
No. 67 - Various Fears Concerning the Executive Department
No. 68 - On the Mode of Electing the President
No. 69 - The Character of the Executive Office
No. 71 - The Presidential Term of Office
No. 72 - On the Electoral College; On Reeligibility of the President
No. 73 - Does the Presidential Veto Power Infringe on the Separation of Departments?
No. 74 - The President as Military King

Reasearch and Study Helps

Think About It

Is the President of the United States today more or less powerful than the Founders intended? Or is the amount of power wielded by the President about what they expected and wanted?

On what factors does presidential power depend? How much did the Lewinsky scandal diminish President Clinton's power as President?

Applying What You've Learned

Conduct research on the two major candidates for President. Compare their qualifications. Which candidate is better prepared to become President? Compare the candidates on the issues. Which candidate do you agree with the most on the issues?

Read a national newspaper, e.g. the New York Times or Washington Post, and look for stories about politics. How much coverage does the president (or presidential candidates) get compared to other politicians. Why is this the case? Is there too much coverage of the President?

Headlines & Editorials

Bush's First 100 Days Washington Post

Executive Branch on the Web

Online tour of the White House