The Founders at Philadelphia in 1787 were confronted with a series of
fundamental questions as they fashioned their executive creation. Would
the president possess almost monarchical authority, or would his powers
be more like those of the state governors? Should the presidency encompass
a single individual or perhaps a panel of executives? Would the federal
elect the president or would the nation's voters? Should the president serve
only a single, lengthy term or be eligible for reelection to several shorter
These were difficult issues for the Founders to resolve. Many had resented
the powerful royal governors who had presided over their states before the
Revolution. Others had equally strong feelings about the perceived weaknesses
of the Executive under the Articles of Confederation. Despite their differences,
however, the Founders agreed on who should serve as the first president he
was sitting in the same room with them. George
Washington, the hero of the Revolution and now the presiding officer
of the Philadelphia
Convention, was to many a living embodiment of the presidency. In no
small measure the powers granted to the Executive are a testimony to the
confidence placed in Washington's personal qualities of leadership and integrity.
Henry Clay Almanac (1844) and Abraham Lincoln biography (1860). During
the nineteenth century, political parties emphasized the character and accomplishments
of their candidates in carefully crafted campaign biographies.
The institution of the presidency as created by the Constitution represented
a bold new experiment in government. The president was to be many things the
head of the executive branch, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces,
and the head of state. His powers were wide-ranging and included the authority
to command the armed forces, veto congressional legislation, negotiate treaties
with foreign powers, appoint officials (including ambassadors and Supreme Court justices), grant pardons and
reprieves, receive foreign ambassadors, and call Congress into special session.
The constitutional process that they established for electing the president
reflected the Founders' concern that the right person be selected for a
job with a four-year term of office and unlimited possibility for reelection.
The ideal candidate would be, like Washington, a leader of national stature
who possessed the experience and maturity necessary to carry out his duties.
With so much power entrusted to the presidency, the delegates chose not
to enact a system in which popular votes alone could determine the outcome;
they feared that voters might select regional candidates lacking in national
To prevent this possibility, the Founders created the Electoral College.
In this body, each state was allocated as many electors as it had senators
and representatives in Congress. Members of the Electoral College were chosen
through methods determined by the state legislatures. To elect a president,
electors would meet in their respective states to cast their votes. The
candidate with the greatest number of votes would be named president, and
the candidate with the second greatest number of votes would be named vice
president. (This procedure was modified in 1804 by the Twelfth
Amendment, which placed the president and vice president as a "team"
running on the same ticket.)