Powers of the Presidency

The president of the United States is often regarded as the most powerful person in the world. However, the power of the president to get things done is often determined by the degree with which he won the presidency and his popularity among the people.

Constitutional Powers of the President

The president of the United States is given numerous constitutional powers. The framers of the Constitution, while seeing the need for a president who had broad powers, did not want to create a tyrant or a dictator. To combat this, each of the president's constitutional powers is checked by powers granted to the other two branches of government (the legislative and the judicial). The presidential powers include:

• The power to execute and administer the laws

• The power to appoint ambassadors, Supreme Court justices, and all other officers whose appointments are not specifically mentioned in the Constitution

• The power to receive ambassadors, thereby recognizing foreign governments

• The power to make treaties and executive agreements

• The power to control the military

• The power to recommend legislation

• The power to veto legislation

• The power to call Congress into special session and to adjourn Congress if they cannot agree on a date for adjournment

• The power to grant reprieves and pardons except in cases of impeachment

Over time, the powers of the president have expanded. Today there is a much stronger presidency than the one that was originally envisioned by the framers of the Constitution. The reasons for this are many and include the visibility of the office, the greater role the federal government plays in people's lives, and the powers various presidents have taken for themselves that have been upheld by the Supreme Court.


During Abraham Lincoln's time in office, he enacted strict wartime measures that curtailed people's liberty. He suspended habeas corpus, which meant that he could hold suspected war criminals without bringing them to court to ensure that they were being legally held. The power to suspend habeas corpus has continued to be used in times of war, including during the modern-day War on Terror, with the broad powers granted to President George W. Bush.

Due to the system of checks and balances, a power struggle can sometimes erupt between the presidency and other branches of government. For example, even though the Constitution grants Congress the right to declare war, it makes the president the commander of the military. John Adams was the first president to command the navy to fight without getting a formal declaration of war. The Korean War and the Vietnam War were both undeclared wars. In 1973, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution, which made rules that the president must follow when moving troops into battle. The president must report to Congress within forty-eight hours of the action, and the combat must end within sixty days unless Congress authorizes a longer war. The constitutionality of this resolution has yet to be decided.

Ultimate Check on the President

As previously stated, there are many checks that exist to make sure the president does not overstep the bounds of the office. The ultimate check against the president is that of impeachment. Impeaching the president is a two-step process.


Two presidents have been impeached by the House: Andrew Johnson in 1868 and William Clinton in 1998. However, in neither of these cases was the president removed from office. Andrew Johnson came close, though, only being saved by one vote. Richard Nixon resigned from office in 1974 in the face of being impeached by Congress.

The House of Representatives is given the power to bring formal charges against the president. This is actually called the power to impeach. The power to remove a president from office is entrusted to the Senate.

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