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The Balance of Power between the Legislative and Executive Branches

70 min


  • Students will evaluate how the growth of an administrative state in the United States has affected constitutional principles.
  • Students will evaluate the shift of power from the legislative to executive branch in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
  • Students will analyze legislation to determine the ways in which it may have increased executive power and will understand the effects of such policies.

  • Administrative state
  • Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933
  • Apothegm
  • Bureaucracy
  • Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914
  • Economic Opportunity Act of 1964
  • Enlightened administrator
  • Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
  • Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
  • Interstate commerce
  • Interstate Commerce Act of 1887
  • Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC)
  • Hepburn Act of 1906
  • National Industrial Recovery Act of 1934 (NIRA)
  • National Recovery Administration (NRA)
  • Progressive
  • Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States (1935)
  • The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (1906)
  • War Industries Board

  1. As homework, have students read Handout A: Background Essay—The Balance of Power Between the Legislative and Executive Branches and answer the questions that follow.
  2. In class, discuss students’ answers to the questions as a large group and introduce the key terms for the lesson.

  1. Break students into four groups. Assign each group one of the following pieces of legislation:
    1. Handout B: Excerpts from the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887
    2. Handout C: Excerpts from The Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933
    3. Handout D: Excerpts from The National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933
    4. Handout E: Excerpts from the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964
  2. Students will work in groups to complete the column for their specific legislation on Handout F: Comparing Legislation.
  3. They should then create a visual representation of the legislation by developing a PowerPoint presentation, video, or skit. Each group’s presentation should explain the information on their graphic organizer on Handout F.

  1. Students should present their visual representation of the legislation to the class. The class should record the information provided in their graphic organizer.
  2. Briefly discuss how power has shifted from the legislative to executive branch over time and the pros and cons of such changes as a large group.

  1. Have students research one of the executive agencies that started in the nineteenth, twentieth, or twenty-first centuries and write a brief essay about their findings. The essay should include:
    1. The legislation or executive order that started the agency. (Is the agency still open? If not, when was it closed and why?)
    2. The reason for starting the agency.
    3. The powers of the agency.
    4. The actions the agency has taken in its history.
    5. The effects of agency actions on the balance of power between the branches of government.
    6. Examples of agencies include:
      1. Food and Drug Administration
      2. Environmental Protection Agency
      3. Federal Emergency Management Agency
      4. Federal Housing Administration
      5. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives
      6. Federal Bureau of Investigation
      7. United States Customs and Border Protection
      8. National Recovery Administration
      9. Interstate Commerce Commission
      10. Federal Trade Commission
      11. National Labor Relations Board
      12. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
      13. Works Progress Administration
      14. A list of additional agencies can be found at

Student Handouts

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