A President Or A King?
June 28, 2012 by Bob Livingston
During the Constitutional Convention, there was much discussion about the chief executive, how much power he should have, how long his term should be and whether there should be more than one. In fact, the lack of a chief executive was considered one of the glaring weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation.
Save Alexander Hamilton and James Wilson — who advocated for a strong chief executive similar to a monarch — delegates were most concerned that the executive would turn into a virtual king. During the Philadelphia Convention, Charles Pinckney said he was “for a vigorous executive, but was afraid the executive powers of the existing Congress might extend to peace and war, &c.; which would render the executive a monarchy of the worst kind, to wit, an elective one.”
When Wilson moved that the executive should “consist of a single person,” the Convention was silent. After Benjamin Franklin asked for opinions, John Rutledge said, he was “for vesting the executive power in a single person,” though not for “giving him the power of war and peace.”
George Mason said, “If strong and extensive Powers are vested in the Executive, and that Executive consists of only one Person; the Government will of course degenerate (for I will call it degeneracy) into a Monarchy–a Government so contrary to the Genius of the people that they will reject even the appearance of it…”
What would Mason, Franklin, Rutledge and Pinckney think of the Presidency now? Over the years, the President has usurped more and more authority from Congress, and Congress has ceded its authority willingly. Now the President and the man on the top of the Republican ticket who seeks to replace him both believe the President has the authority to make war without Congressional approval, kill U.S. citizens at his discretion and imprison Americans without charges and hold them indefinitely without trial.
It’s safe to say even Hamilton and Wilson would be mortified by those prospects.