The Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution in 1787 with three distinct branches of government in mind: the executive, the legislative, and the judicial. Americans had rebelled against England because of its tyrannical king, so the new country did not want a monarch. Power was to be separated among the branches,...
The Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution in 1787 with three distinct branches of government in mind: the executive, the legislative, and the judicial. Americans had rebelled against England because of its tyrannical king, so the new country did not want a monarch. Power was to be separated among the branches, and there were to be checks and balances to prevent any one branch from becoming too powerful. The system does this well: there is often gridlock in the federal government due to the three discrete branches.
The Founding Fathers were reluctant to have a strong presidency. But their reservations gave way to practicality. The government under the Articles of Confederation had not had a chief executive, and it was too weak. Also, it was widely and correctly thought that George Washington would be the first president, and his rectitude was beyond reproach.
The president is Commander in Chief of the armed forces. They carry out laws and supervise executive appointments. They can veto Congressional actions. Also, the president conducts diplomacy.
The powers of the presidency have evolved over time. For example, initially, only Congress was to have the power to declare war. But the United States has since entered many military conflicts without a declaration of war. This has been especially true since World War II. The United States has fought numerous wars since 1945, but not one of them has been formally declared.
In addition to the power to declare war, Congress has the power to overturn executive vetoes with a two-thirds majority—an example of checks and balances. Congress also makes laws—its most important power. It can impeach both presidents and judges. No president or Supreme Court judge has ever been removed by impeachment, but some federal judges have successfully been impeached. Congress also accepts or rejects the president's selections of judges. And finally, it has the power to ratify treaties that were negotiated by the executive branch.
In the early days of the nation, the judicial branch was weaker than the other two. Its relative weakness stemmed from the fact that its powers were not explicitly enunciated in the Constitution. But this situation changed when John Marshall became Chief Justice in 1801. In 1803, the Supreme Court established its right of judicial review. Judicial review—and the fact that its judges are appointed for life—helped make it an equal third branch of government.