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Executive Powers and the Coronavirus

Since the beginning of the twentieth century, the executive has been the branch of government that Americans look to for leadership during times of crisis. The current COVID-19 pandemic is no exception, as people increasingly are expecting their governors and the president to make policy decisions to mitigate the impact of the virus. In this eLesson, students will explore the role of the executive in times of crisis and analyze the history of some executive agencies that are especially important during this time. Resources: Handout A: Federalist #70 Excerpts Warm-up (10 minutes): Tell students that the Federalist Papers were written to defend the proposed Constitution after the Constitutional Convention. Alexander Hamilton wrote Federalist #70 to discuss and defend the proposed executive branch. Have students read Handout A and answer the following questions.

  1. Do you agree with Hamilton that an “energetic” executive is essential in a republic? Why or why not?
  2. What “ingredients” does Hamilton list as things that constitute energy in the executive?
  3. Hamilton was conscientious about having an executive that could both be strong enough to uphold the law, but not so powerful that it could be a tyrant. Do you think the “ingredients” for safety from the executive are adequate? Why or why not?

Activity (30 minutes): Divide students into small groups and have each group research either the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Explain that each of these agencies are a part of the executive branch and under the control of the president. The CDC was founded in 1946 and located in Atlanta while FEMA was founded in 1979 and is located in Washington, D.C. Suggest to students that they use the official CDC or FEMA websites as a starting point for research. Students should use the following questions to guide their research and then present their findings.

  1. When was the agency created and for what reason?
  2. What are some significant events in U.S. history that the agency was involved in?
  3. What actions is the agency currently taking in the fight against coronavirus?