To provide an introductory overview of the unit, show the six-minute thematic documentary, The Powers Herein Granted: The President and Federal Power, available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jh8Qpa4Aazw.
Distribute Handout A: The President and Federal Power and The United States Constitution.
Divide the class into pairs or trios and assign one section of the Constitution (in the first column of the chart) to each group. Have students become “experts” on their section of the Constitution, and then jigsaw into new groups with one member representing each section.
Reconvene the class and use an overhead to guide discussion and fill in the chart. See the Answer Key for suggested responses. Students may mention additional powers and responsibilities of the President, including his powers as Commander in Chief and to negotiate treaties. For activities on these presidential powers, see units two and four.
Conduct a large group discussion to answer the questions:
- Does the President have any lawmaking power? If so, how much?
- The President is charged with executing (or carrying out) the laws. Why do you think the Founders gave this power to a separate branch of government rather than the branch that makes laws?
- At the Constitutional Convention, some delegates worried that the President would become too much like a king. A single executive, one worried, was the “fetus of monarchy.” In describing the executive power, did the Founders do a good job of preventing that possibility?
Constitution of the United States of America (1787)
The Constitution was written in the summer of 1787 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, by delegates from 12 states, in order to replace the Articles of Confederation with a new form of government. It created a federal system with a national government composed of 3 separated powers, and included both reserved and concurrent powers of states.
Explore examples of executive orders signed by presidents throughout history and the potential controversies they create.
The Balance of Power between the Legislative and Executive Branches
The constitutional principles of the American Founding that guided American politics before the Civil War were increasingly altered as a new approach to governance become predominant in the early twentieth century. The rise of an administrative state centralized more power in the hands of federal agencies in the executive branch and blurred the relationship of the branches of government and their respective constitutional powers. Even though the Constitution specifically granted authority to Congress to regulate interstate commerce in its enumerated powers in Article I, Section 8, Congress increasingly delegated that authority to the executive branch.
The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
When Andrew Johnson became President upon Lincoln’s assassination, he hoped to restore the Union according to a plan that would be lenient toward the South. Lacking congressional support and political skills, Johnson found himself in a show-down with Republicans in Congress who wanted to remake the South in the image of the North, raise up blacks and poor whites, and guarantee full civil and political rights for the freedmen. This clash of goals and strategies led to the first presidential impeachment trial in our history—a test of the constitutional principles of separation of powers and checks and balances. In the end, the Founders’ mechanism of three co-equal branches of government proved strong enough to resolve the crisis.
Comparing Impeachments across U.S. History
Use this Lesson alongside The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson Decision Point to introduce students to the concept of impeachment and how it has been used throughout U.S. history.
The Impeachment of Bill Clinton
In the highly charged partisan politics of the 1990s, President Bill Clinton’s personal indiscretions led to the second impeachment trial in our history. Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr was investigating Clinton’s pre-presidential financial dealings. In a separate case, Clinton was being sued by Paula Jones for sexual harassment. Jones called a young White House intern named Monica Lewinsky who had been having an relationship with the President to give testimony. Clinton denied the Lewinsky affair under oath in his deposition in the Jones case. This denial caught Starr’s attention, who suspected the President had committed perjury and obstructed justice. Starr assembled a grand jury and issued dozen of subpoenas, and eventually offered Lewinsky immunity in return for her testimony. When Clinton testified for Starr’s grand jury, he gave evasive answers. He ultimately admitted the Lewinsky affair to the American people that night. The House of Representatives impeached Clinton in 1998 on strict party lines, but in the Senate trial, Republicans fell far short of the two-thirds majority needed to convict.